Catching Up With Aaron, ‘The Little Drummer Boy’: Teddy Eccles
I had the pleasure of interviewing child actor Ted Eccles, billed as Teddy Eccles in many significant television and movie appearances in his long and successful career. Our focus was on Rankin/Bass’ The Little Drummer Boy (which is well-covered in my book, the 20th Anniversary edition of The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass: A Portfolio (Miser Bros Press). “When I get autograph requests these days, it is always for The Little Drummer Boy, My Side of the Mountain [a feature film Ted starred in] and for M.A.S.H. It seems that M.A.S.H. collectors try to collect everyone that appeared in the series,” says Eccles.
Ted’s first credited television appearance was as Christopher Robin in Bil Baird’s marionette puppet rendition of Winnie the Pooh for Shirley Temple’s Storybook series in 1960. Teddy was only 5 years old and appeared both with the puppets and Shirley Temple and recited some amazing lines of dialogue for a 5-year-old!
Ted appeared in many of my favorite television series including The Lucy Show, The Munsters, The Beverly Hillbillies, Mr. Ed, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Guns of Will Sonnett, etc. I asked Ted about his Munsters appearance. “I remember that Fred Gwynne took an immediate liking to me, for whatever reason. He was very friendly and worked well with kid actors, which isn’t always the case with adult actors. Later I was up for a part in a new series starring Fred called Anderson and Co. I believe I was chosen by Fred to play the part. The pilot didn’t sell, but it did end up airing as a TV movie,” says Eccles.
Ted had a flair for comedy. All you have to do is watch his performance as Milby Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies to see it. I saw The Family Jewels in his credits and I had to ask him about working with one of my favorites, Jerry Lewis. “Jerry, like Fred Gwynne, worked really well with kids, but all of my scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. I played Donna Butterworth’s boyfriend in the film, but Jerry decided to change the storyline as filming went along,” says Eccles.
Animation fans are familiar with Ted’s voice work in Hanna-Barbera’s The Herculoids as Dorno and as the voice of Tooly in Hanna-Barbera’s The Three Musketeers, which was part of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, but he will forever be remembered as the voice of Aaron in Rankin/Bass’ Holiday TV classic The Little Drummer Boy.
“With the Hanna-Barbera stuff, I recorded with the other actors in the cartoons, at the sessions in recording booths. For The Little Drummer Boy, I recorded at a microphone in the middle of a studio and Arthur Rankin Jr. read the other actors’ lines to me for about two hours. Then Arthur gave me a tape of a song he wanted me to rehearse and come back to the studio to sing. I began to panic a bit. I was not a good singer. In fact, in the Lucy Show Christmas episode, “Lucy the Choirmaster,” I sang so poorly that Lucy told me just to mouth the lyrics to “The 12 Days of Christmas.” What ended up happening was my agent got me a part in the film In Cold Blood and she told Arthur I had to start shooting the film right away, so Arthur ended up getting Dick Beals (Speedy Alka-Seltzer) to sing “Why Can’t the Animals Smile?” in The Little Drummer Boy. I thought he did an excellent job of capturing my voice. He made me look good!,” says Eccles.
I became friends with Beals just after writing my first book and he had forgotten he worked with Rankin/Bass Productions. I actually reminded him that he sang the song. Ted’s performance as Aaron in The Little Drummer Boy is cherished by many fans; in fact, the special is one of Rankin/Bass’ finest! I should also mention that Sid and Marty Krofft fans know Ted from the live-action series Dr. Shrinker. I let Sid Krofft know that Ted wanted to reconnect with him, possibly for his Instagram show.
Today, Ted works as a television producer and primarily as a film editor. “Strangely enough, years later I worked for LIVE Entertainment [a company owned by Jose Menendez, who was murdered by his sons, which resulted in a famous media trial] and I ended up doing the trailer for the Little Drummer Boy and Frosty the Snowman video releases,” says Eccles.
Today Ted is going through 10 million feet of Fox Movietone footage that was not acquired by Disney. The footage covers red carpets and other significant events from 1948-73. Ted masters the footage in North Hollywood, but primarily resides in Texas now and can be reached at his website.