8 Jolly Happy Facts About Frosty the Snowman

CBS
CBS

By the end of the 1960s, the production team of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass had a well-established niche in the annual holiday TV schedule. Their “Animagic” stop-motion animation specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy were eagerly anticipated each December and were well on their way to “classic” status. In 1969, the Rankin/Bass team introduced yet another holiday-themed special based on a song, Frosty the Snowman. The special premiered on Sunday, December 7, following the network’s annual revival of 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. Here are a few things you might not have known about the legendary animated special.

1. IT WAS A HIT SONG LONG BEFORE IT WAS A TV SPECIAL.

The song “Frosty the Snowman” was written by Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson in 1950 (with a melody that is strikingly similar to 1932’s “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee”) specifically as a means of capitalizing on the success of Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The record wasn’t as huge as “Rudolph,” sales-wise, but Frosty’s story was nevertheless perpetuated via Little Golden Books and Dell Comics.

2. RANKIN/BASS WASN’T THE FIRST TEAM TO ANIMATE FROSTY.

In 1954, United Productions of America (UPA) brought Frosty to life in a short cartoon that is little more than an animated music video for a jazzy version of the song. It introduced the characters mentioned in the lyrics visually, from Frosty himself to the traffic cop. The three-minute, black-and-white piece quickly became a holiday tradition in various markets, particularly in Chicago, where it’s been broadcast annually on WGN since 1955.

3. FROSTY WAS VOICED BY A NOT-SO-FAMILY-FRIENDLY STAND-UP COMEDIAN.

Deadpan comic Jackie Vernon was known for his “slideshow” routines, where he’d narrate slides (unseen by the audience) and “change” them with a handheld clicker. Quite often his routines ended with a graphic description of some sexual perversion that he’d innocently stumbled onto via the recommendation of some stranger, about whom he’d always comment “… and I thought, ‘Gee, what a neat guy!’”

4. THE NARRATOR WAS UNIVERSALLY REGARDED AS A NICE GUY.

Jimmy Durante was a jazz pianist, singer, and comedian whose career spanned a little over 50 years. In the 1950s, he was a regular not only at Las Vegas’ Desert Inn, but also at the Guardian Angel Cathedral, where he stood outside and greeted fellow parishioners with the priest after Sunday mass each week. Durante loved children, and is famous for turning down a performance fee at the Eagles International Convention in 1961. When asked by the organizers, “What can we do, then?” Durante replied in his trademark Brooklynese: “Help da kids.”

5. LEGENDARY VOICE ACTORS JUNE FORAY AND PAUL FREES WERE REPLACED AFTER THE ORIGINAL AIRING.

The original film featured June Foray performing the voices of both the schoolteacher and young Karen, who accompanied Frosty to the North Pole. Paul Frees was the Traffic Cop and Santa Claus, and the two combined to voice the remaining schoolchildren. For reasons unknown (even to Foray herself), nearly all the children’s voices—including Karen’s—were redubbed by unidentified child actors for the 1970 airing. All subsequent TV appearances and video releases contain this new soundtrack. The original is only available on the 1970 soundtrack LP and a 2002 CD release by Rhino.

6. FROSTY WAS PARTIALLY MADE IN JAPAN.

Frosty the Snowman was the first Rankin/Bass Christmas special to utilize traditional animation (versus the stop-motion method used in their other projects). Paul Coker, Jr., a long-time MAD Magazine illustrator, provided both the main character and background drawings. The animation was done by Mushi Studio, the Japanese company founded by Osamu Tezuka to produce Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion cartoons.

7. FROSTY’S HOMETOWN IS ARMONK, NEW YORK.

Lyricist Steve Nelson lived in nearby White Plains and loved to visit the historic hamlet of Armonk as a young man. The Village Square mentioned in the lyrics of the song is now the Armonk Historic District in the town of North Castle. Local historians also claim that the traffic cop who hollers “Stop!” is based on former chief of police John Hergenhan. Armonk hosts an annual Frosty Day parade and celebration that is officially listed as one of the “10 Best Things To Do in Westchester County.”

8. FROSTY HAS MAGIC FINGERS AS WELL AS A MAGIC HAT!

Watch carefully when Frosty attempts to count to 10: He has five fingers on one hand for a brief moment, then when he clasps his hand and flexes his digits, he’s down to four fingers. Maybe that falls under the category of “animation blooper” rather than “magic.”

11 Surprising Facts About George R.R. Martin

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Game of Thrones fans know the epic HBO series is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but beyond the TV show, how much do they really know about the author? Sure, they know it’s taking him a really long time to finish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, but what about him as a person? Here are a few things you might not know about the man who brought us the world of Westeros.

1. As a kid, he made money selling monster stories.

The famed author grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father was a longshoreman. "When I was living in Bayonne, I desperately wanted to get away," Martin told The Independent. "Not because Bayonne was a bad place, mind you. Bayonne was a very nice place in some ways. But we were poor. We had no money. We never went anywhere."

Though his family didn't have the means to travel outside of Bayonne, Martin began to develop a love of reading and writing at a very young age, which allowed him to imagine fantastical worlds beyond his New Jersey hometown. He also learned that writing could be a profitable endeavor: he began selling his stories to other kids in the neighborhood for a penny apiece. (He later raised his prices to a nickel.) Martin's entrepreneurial efforts came to an end when his stories began giving one of his kid customers nightmares, which eventually got back to Martin's mom.

2. He is obsessed with comic books.

In 2014, Martin sat down for a Q&A about his career at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Though, given his love of fantasy worlds, it might not be surprising to learn that Martin is a comic book fan, he also credits the genre with inspiring him to begin writing in the first place.

"I’m so grateful for comic books because they were really the thing that made me a reader, which in return made me a writer," Martin said. "In the 1950s in America, we had these books that taught you to read, and they were all about Dick and Jane, who were the most boring family you ever wanted to meet ... I didn’t know anyone who lived like that, and it just seemed like a horrible thing. But Batman and Superman, they had a much more interesting life. Gotham City was much more interesting than wherever it was where Dick and Jane lived.”

3. He built a library tower in Santa Fe.

In 2009, Martin bought the home across the street from his house in Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned it into an office space with a library tower built inside. The tower is only two stories tall, because of city building restrictions, but it seems only fitting that the author/history buff would want to be surrounded with books while he writes.

4. A fan letter got his professional writing career started.

Martin's love of comic books is what got his professional career rolling, too. "I had a letter published in Fantastic Four, and because my address was in there I started getting these fanzines and I started writing stories for them," Martin said during the same Santa Fe Q&A. "Funny enough, people writing stories in these fanzines at the time were just awful. They were just really bad, which was good because I looked at these awful stories and knew I could do better than that. I may not have been Shakespeare or J.R.R. Tolkien, but I was certain I could write better than the crap in the fanzines, and indeed I could."

5. A failed novel led to a television writing career.

More than 10 years before A Song of Ice and Fire debuted in 1996, Martin wrote a book called The Armageddon Rag in 1983. Though it was a critical disappointment, producer Phil DeGuere was interested in adapting the project with Martin's help. While that never came to fruition, DeGuere thought of Martin when they were rebooting The Twilight Zone in the mid-1980s and brought him on board to write a handful of episodes. He later did some writing for the live-action Beauty and the Beast series, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

6. Network television standards were not a fit for Martin's style of writing.

Though Martin found success as a television writer, the constant back-and-forth about what they were or were not allowed to show proved to be too much for the writer. "[T]here were constant limitations. It wore me down," Martin told Rolling Stone. "There were battles over censorship, how sexual things could be, whether a scene was too 'politically charged,' how violent things could be. Don’t want to disturb anyone. We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people ... The character had to remain likable."

7. He owns an independent movie theater.

In 2006, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe closed its doors, which saddened many locals who were regular patrons, Martin among them. Several years later, Martin decided to give the theater a second life and, after a slight makeover, reopened its doors in 2013. Today, in addition to independent films, the theater holds regular special events—including screenings of Game of Thrones episodes. There's also an onsite bar that serves Game of Thrones-themed cocktails, like the signature White Walker.

8. Martin credits HBO with changing the rules of television.

Network television standards may have been too tame and regimented for Martin's tastes, but all that changed with HBO and The Sopranos, which he credits as paving the way for a series like Game of Thrones to exist in its current form at all.

"I credit HBO with smashing the damn trope that everybody had to be likable on television," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The Sopranos turned it around. When you meet Tony Soprano, he’s in the psychiatrist office, he’s talking about the ducks, his depression and that stuff, and you like this guy. Then he gets in his car and he’s driving away and he sees someone who owes him money, and he jumps out and he starts stomping him. Now how likable was he? Well you didn’t care, because they already had you. A character like Walter White on Breaking Bad could never have existed before HBO."

9. Martin thinks it's important for writers to break the rules.

While he's an admitted fan of William Goldman, Martin has a very different opinion of noted screenplay expert Syd Field. "There is a book out there by Syd and it’s his guide to writing screenplays and it’s probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been done for the movie industry,” Martin said. “For some perverse reason, it has become the bible not for writers but for what we call 'the suits,' the guys at the studios whose job it is to develop properties and give notes to supervise screenplays. They take Syd Field’s course and they buy the book and they start criticizing screenplays like, ‘Well you know, the first turn is supposed to be on page 12 and yours is not until page 17, so obviously this won’t do!'"

"Syd just writes downs these ridiculous rules," Martin continued. "If there really was a formula as he says, then every movie would be a blockbuster. We would just connect A, B, and C and we would have a great movie and everyone would pack the theater to see it. But every movie is not a blockbuster. Many movies that follow his rules precisely actually go down the toilet."

10. He’s a skilled chess player.

"I started playing chess when I was quite young, in grade school," Martin told The Independent. "I played it through high school. In college, I founded the chess club. I was captain of the chess team." Eventually, Martin discovered that he could actually make some money off this skill.

"For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday, but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills."

11. He has a very specific way of writing, which is why he hasn't finished the winds of winter.

Fans have been waiting for a while for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Martin has been honest about why it's taking him so long. "Writer’s block isn’t to blame here, it’s distraction," he said. "In recent years, all of the work I’ve been doing creates problems because it creates distraction. Because the books and the show are so popular I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It’s like suddenly I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who’s passing up a free trip to Dubai? I don’t write when I travel. I don’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t write on airplanes. I really have to be in my own house undisturbed to write. Through most of my life no body did bother me, but now everyone bothers me every day."

Can You Guess the Meaning of These Dothraki Words?

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