‘Frosty The Snowman:’ Happy Birthday, You Adorable Snowman!
With a corncob pipe, that button nose and those eyes made out of coal, Frosty the Snowman has been making children laugh and play for eons. In 2019 it marked the 50th anniversary of the character’s eponymous Rankin/Bass classic TV special, which first aired on CBS Dec. 7, 1969.
As historian and biographer for the Rankin/Bass library of TV specials and series, I once asked the late, great Arthur Rankin Jr., the special’s coproducer and co-director, why he chose a different type of animation from his other specials — cel animation — when he created Frosty. He shared, “I wanted a Paul Coker Jr. Christmas card look. Mushi studios captured the Coker look exactly.” For those not familiar with Coker’s name, you would recognize the talented illustrator’s work in Mad magazine and on countless Hallmark greeting cards and advertisements. “It was easy to do with the beautiful scripts that I was sent written by Romeo Muller,” shared the 90-year-old Coker, on imagining the look of Frosty.
The creation of Frosty involved many talented individuals. Mushi Production studio produced the animation in Japan, Muller wrote the enduringly appealing story, and the brilliant voice cast consisted of Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon, Billy De Wolfe, June Foray and Paul Frees.
When it comes to Frosty’s follow-up story, there is some drama. In my opinion, the true sequel to the original special was Rankin/Bass’ 1976 TV special for ABC titled Frosty’s Winter Wonderland. CBS made the mistake, year after year, of airing the awful Frosty Returns (which was produced by another studio), right after the Rankin/Bass original. When Rankin was asked about Frosty Returns, he said, “It is like saying no more gloves on Mickey Mouse. It doesn’t work!” In the true sequel, Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, which is narrated by Andy Griffith, Frosty marries Crystal (Shelley Winters), and Jack Frost (Frees) is Frosty’s best man. Rankin and Jules Bass had specials airing on all three major networks simultaneously by 1976, so that is why Professor Hinkle, Hocus Pocus, Karen and the others in the Frosty cast do not return in the sequel — ABC wanted something unique and slightly different from the original CBS special.
I was fortunate to coproduce the CD release of the original MGM soundtrack LP with Warner Music Group in 2002 for Frosty’s Winter Wonderland. The soundtrack features June Foray as Karen, as opposed to the real little girl actress who replaced June at the last minute and remains uncredited. Maury Laws and Bass always put a bouncy, magical score in their films and TV specials. The late Laws (who passed on March 28, 2019) said, “For that one [Frosty the Snowman], we only had the one song, but I found different ways to work the theme throughout.” Our new book is dedicated to Laws’ memory.
Goldschmidt celebrates Frosty’s with a book titled “Rankin/Bass’ Frosty the Snowman 50th Anniversary Scrapbook” (Miser Bros Press) available at www.miserbros.com