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.”

'143,' Fred Rogers's Code for "I Love You," Gets Its Own Holiday in Pennsylvania

Family Communications Inc./Getty Images
Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

"It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three."

That quote from Fred Rogers has become a symbol of the children's entertainer's legacy. The number 143, his special code for "I love you," is used by a charity inspired by Rogers, and it was spotlighted in the recent documentary movie Won't You Be My Neighbor? Now, Mister Rogers's favorite number has its own holiday in Pennsylvania.

As Philly Voice reports, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf declared May 23 to be 143 Day in the state. Rogers was born in Westmoreland County near Pittsburgh and he spent his whole life in the area. By honoring the famous Pennsylvanian with his own holiday, the organizers behind the statewide 143 Day campaign hope to inspire residents to be kind to their neighbors on May 23 and every day of the year.

The initiative encourages schools, businesses, and citizens to share their acts of kindness on social media with the hashtag #143DayinPA. A "kindness tracker" on the campaign's website keeps how many time the hashtag has been used, and so far, over a 6000 acts of kindness have been shared online. And if someone has trouble thinking of ways to honor the spirit of Mister Rogers, the campaign's "kindness generator" can come up with a suggestion for them.

One hundred and forty-three was more than just a fun saying for Fred Rogers: It was a lucky number he made part of his lifestyle. The television personality even went so far as to go swimming every day to maintain his weight at the number.

[h/t Philly Voice]

10 Bizarre Documentaries That Are Stranger Than Fiction

A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
Top Knot Films

Documentaries have grown considerably more ambitious since Fred Ott’s Sneeze, an 1894 clip that documents the irritated sinus cavities of its subject in just five seconds. They can inspire, as in the case of 2019’s Academy Award-winning Free Solo, about bold mountain climber Alex Honnold. They can shine a light on cultural overachievers like Fred Rogers, the subject of 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And they can parse political history, with films like 2003's The Fog of War shedding light on decisions that shaped the world.

Other documentaries set out to chronicle true stories that, were they presented as a fictitious, might be hard for people to believe. We’ve profiled such films in previous lists, which you can find here, here, and here. If you’ve already made your way through those tales of cannibals, tragic love affairs, and twist-laden true crime, here are 10 more that will have you staring at your television in disbelief.  

1. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

When Idaho native Jan Broberg was 12 years old in 1974, her neighbor began to take an unseemly and inappropriate interest in her. What begins as a disturbing portrait of predation quickly spirals into an unbelievable and audacious attempt to manipulate Jan’s entire family. Director Skye Borgman’s portrait of seemingly reasonable people who become ensnared in a monstrous plot to separate them from their daughter has drawn some shocking reactions since it began streaming on Netflix earlier this year.

2. The Wolfpack (2015)

Confined to their apartment in a Manhattan housing project for years by parents wary of the world outside their door, the seven Angulo siblings developed an understanding about life through movies. The Wolfpack depicts their attempts to cope with reality after finally emerging from their involuntary exile. Hulu subscribers can watch it now.

3. Three Identical Strangers (2018)

The highly marketable conceit of director Tim Wardle’s documentary is that triplets born in 1961 then separated spent the first 18 years of their lives totally ignorant of their siblings. When they reconnect, it’s a joy. But the movie quickly switches gears to explore the question of why they were separated at birth to begin with. It’s that investigation—and the chilling answer—that lends Three Identical Strangers its bittersweet, haunting atmosphere. It’s currently on Hulu.

4. Tickled (2016)

A ball of yarn bouncing down a flight of stairs is the best metaphor we can summon for the narrative of Tickled, which follows New Zealand journalist David Farrier on what appears at first glance to be a silly story about the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” In the course of reporting on this unusual subculture, Farrier crosses paths with people who would prefer their hobbies remain discreet. When he refuses to let the story go, things grow increasingly tense and dangerous. HBO subscribers can see the film, and it’s also available as a $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime.

5. Billboard Boys (2018)

In 1982, an Allentown, Pennsylvania radio station sponsored a contest in which three men agreed to live underneath a billboard. The last man remaining would win a brand-new motor home, a considerable incentive in the economically-struggling area. Three contestants went up, but things didn't go as planned. It's available for free to Amazon Prime members.

6. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

How far would you be willing to go for a new pick-up truck? That’s the deceptively simple premise for this documentary chronicling an endurance contest in Longview, Texas, where participants agree to keep one hand on the vehicle at all times: The last person standing wins. What begins as a group seeking a prize evolves into a battle of attrition, with all the psychological games and mental fortitude that comes with it. The film can be hard to find, but you can watch the first nine minutes on YouTube for free (above) and then catch the rest for $9.99 on iTunes.

7. My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

At the age of 4, upstate New York resident Marla Olmstead began painting sprawling abstract art that her parents sold for premium prices. Later on, a 60 Minutes report called into question whether Marla had some assistance with her work. Was she a child prodigy, or simply a creative girl who had a little help? And if she did, should it matter? My Kid Could Paint That investigates Marla’s process, but it also sheds light on the world of abstract art and the question of who gets to decide whether a creative impulse is valid. You can rent the film for $3.99 on Amazon.

8. Beware the Slenderman (2016)

In 2014, two Wisconsin girls came to a disturbing decision: In order to appease the “Slenderman,” an internet-sourced boogeyman, they would attempt to murder a classmate. The victim survived, but three lives have been altered forever. Beware the Slenderman explores the intersection where mental illness, social media, and urban mythology collide to result in a horrific crime. It’s available to HBO viewers or as a rental on Amazon for $3.99.

9. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992)

For years, Richard Kuklinski satisfied his homicidal urges by taking on contract killings for organized crime families in New York and New Jersey. Following his arrest and conviction, he agreed to sit down and elaborate on his unusual methodologies for disposing of victims and how he balanced his violent tendencies with a seemingly normal domestic life that included marriage and children. (You can see an example of Kuklinski's chilling disposition in the clip above.) In addition to The Iceman Tapes, which originally aired on HBO, Kuklinski participated in two follow-ups: The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman in 2001 and The Iceman and the Psychiatrist in 2003. See them on HBO or watch the original and both follow-ups for free on Amazon Prime.

10. Tabloid (2010)

Filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War) details the unusual love affair between beauty queen Joyce McKinney and Kirk Anderson, who alleged McKinney kidnapped and assaulted him after believing he had been brainwashed by the Mormon church. That’s only the beginning of this twisty—and twisted—story, which illustrates how people can perceive the same event in completely different ways. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.

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