Jules Bass, who brought ‘Rudolph the Reindeer’ to TV, has died aged 87


What kind of Christmas would it be without Rudolph or Hermey the ambitious dentist, the friendly Frosty or the mischievous Heat and Snow Misers?

Jules Bass brought them all to vivid, animated life on television. And its producer and director Arthur Rankin Jr. partner, he not only contributed to the indelible classic canon of Christmas specials, he helped popularize the genre.

Bass, who directed such beloved Christmas specials as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman,” died this week, publicist Jennifer Ruff told CNN. He was 87 years old.

Born Julius Bass, the Philadelphia native went to college in New York, where he met Rankin. The pair, then working at an advertising agency, first came together to create commercials but wanted to move into creative programming.

After Rankin toured an animation studio in Tokyo, he and Bass decided to create a series of stop-motion animation, a technique they would call “Animagic”. The first effort was the children’s show “The New Adventures of Pinocchio”, also the first series produced by the company that would become Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment.

But the pair left a lasting mark on television with the 1964 premiere of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a stop-motion special based on the Christmas story and popular song. The 55-minute special expanded the story to include a cast of misfit toys, a snowman narrator voiced by Burl Ives, a skinny Santa, and an eccentric mustachioed searcher named Yukon Cornelius.

“Rudolph’s” unique animation style and lovable cast were a hit with critics – the New York Times called it a “charming and melodious hour of fantasy” – and with audiences. Since then, it has become one of the longest-running Christmas specials in history, airing on television almost every year since its first edition.

The pair created more stop-motion Christmas specials like “The Year Without a Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” as well as the traditionally animated hit “Frosty the Snowman.” Many of these specials still air each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

Bass and Rankin worked together for decades, working on feature films and animated adaptations such as “Mad Monster Party.” “The Hobbit” and “The Return of the King.” The duo also produced the classic TV series “Thundercats.” They continued to work together until Rankin/Bass folded for good in 1987, though they would reunite on 2001’s “Santa, Baby!” in a special

“A partnership comes from two people supporting and complementing each other,” Rankin said in an interview about his work with Bass. Rankin died in 2014 at the age of 89.

Bass’s artistic partner was the more vocal of the two, regularly handling interviews and press for their projects, said Rick Goldschmidt, the pair’s former colleague who wrote “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass.” Bass was content to stay out of the limelight and continue his work, which includes writing the children’s picture book “Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon” and the romance novel “Headhunters,” which was turned into the 2011 film “Monte Carlo” starring Selena Gomez. An “awesome cook” according to Ruff, Bass also created a children’s cookbook of vegetarian recipes that naturally featured Herb the dragon.

In the 2010s, he attempted to mount a musical about composer Oliver Messiaen, who composed music while imprisoned in a German POW camp. The show never made it to Broadway, but Bass’ love of music shone through in his various projects. He wrote the lyrics to beloved songs in many of the films they directed together, including “The Year Without a Santa Claus” from Heat and Snow Misers and “The Greatest Adventure” from “The Hobbit.”

The final song was a simple but moving story that encapsulated Bilbo Baggins’ life-changing decision in just a few lines, and remains one of Bass’ most moving creations: “The greatest adventure lies ahead; today and tomorrow should be said. The choices, the changes are yours. The mold of your life is up to you to break.’