Saturday, February 1, 2014

Arthur Rankin Jr. Dies at 89

An Animation Legend Passes On

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Arthur Rankin Jr.
Do you recognize this? You should. You've seen it enough times.
So, who is Arthur Rankin and why should you care that he passed away recently?

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Arthur Rankin Jr.
Yes, Arthur Rankin Jr., this is about you.
Well, Rankin was an animator, producer and director, the son of actors Arthur Rankin and Marian Manfield. His grandfather was Harry Davenport, an accomplished actor some might recall from playing Dr. Meade in a little film called "Gone With the Wind" (1939). Obviously, a talented family.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Arthur Rankin Jr.
That is Arthur Rankin at the piano at left, in Toronto 1964. You've heard their work.
He was an unknown art director at ABC in the 1940s, where he developed his expertise in both animation and television, both of which were to be integral to his career. In the early 1960s, Rankin teamed up with Jules Bass and founded a film production company which they named Videocraft International. It specialized in stop-motion, cel-animated features which were distinctive for their doll-like characters. They took great pride in their work and made the highest-quality animation of the day outside the Disney studios.

Arthur Rankin Jr.
Arthur Rankin Jr. hard at work
Still not ringing a bell?

Videocraft started out in 1960 with a syndicated tv series called "The New Adventures of Pinocchio." There were 130 five-minute chapters which ultimately were combined to make 25-minute episodes of five chapters each. It wasn't much, but it started the ball rolling. It has gathered force ever since.

We're getting closer to why a casual tv viewer might remember Mr. Rankin, but we're not quite there yet.

The Last Unicorn Arthur Rankin Jr.

Other tv projects followed, including "The Ballad of Smokey the Bear" (1966), "The Wacky World of Mother Goose" (1967), "Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town" (1970), "The Little Drummer Boy" (1968), "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (1974) and the 1980s animated series "Thundercats." Rankin and Bass also directed "The Last Unicorn" (1982) starring Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, Alan Arkin, and Robert Klein.

Rankin also produced and directed episodes of the animated series "Jackson 5ive" in the early 1970s and directed an animated version of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1973). Arthur Rankin Jr. has lots of other credits, too many to list.

By this time, many will have figured out who Arthur Rankin was. There might be one or two, though, who are still wondering why on earth there is a post about some minor animator from long ago.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Arthur Rankin Jr.

Well, the crown jewels of Videocraft (which is now known as Rankin/Bass, which pretty everyone should recognize) were a couple of half-hours holiday animation projects. They were called "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964) and "Frosty the Snowman" (1969). They run every year on one of the major television networks and always (including this past year) are among the highest-rated programs of the night - over forty years after they first aired. More people have seen those two programs than just about anything else ever created. Ever.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Arthur Rankin Jr.
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
That is why true animation fans will care that Arthur Ranking Jr. passed away on January 30, 2014, at age 89 in Bermuda and is survived by his wife Olga and sons Todd and Gardner.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Arthur Rankin Jr.


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