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Christmas special turning 50

You'd never know it to look at him, but Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer turns 50 tomorrow.

The Christmas special by Arthur Rankin Jr first aired on December 6, 1964 — it's now the longest-running show in the history of American network television.

The anniversary will be celebrated with a special exhibit opening tomorrow at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.

A part of the Botanical Gardens gallery has been transformed so it resembles the Japanese studio Mr Rankin used to create his stock-motion animation.

People can enter the exhibit in two ways: through the main door or, for maximum effect, through a tiny, crafted cubicle. Either way, you enter into a great hall with a high ceiling. Vintage puppets, sets and other items related to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are on display.

The famed television special will play continuously as part of the exhibit.

“We're trying to replicate a little what it would have been like in a studio in Japan,” said volunteer curator Paul Pegnato.

“The puppets are the best aspect. They're supple and on TV they appear dynamic, exciting. They're inanimate objects that people know and have known for years and we're trying to recreate that feeling you had as a child, where it's like a Christmas morning with all the extra sparkle and extra glow.”

Mr Rankin, 89, died at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in January after a short illness.

The US Postal Service issued four new postage stamps last month, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his Christmas classic.

“Arthur made Bermuda his home as a result of one or two visits to the Island and then built the love of his life, Banana, on Harrington Sound,” said Masterworks' executive director Tom Butterfield.

“He became Bermudian in 1975 and shot Bermuda Depths here in 1977 and The Ivory Ape here in ‘78, employing many Bermudians as extras. He also employed Bermudians to do some stills of on-site shooting. We're so lucky he wanted to become a Bermudian and Bermuda then was ripe to take him in for citizenship. It's not something we can do so easily today.”

Mr Rankin gave his support to Masterworks because of his friendship with Mr Butterfield.

“During the early days of insecurity I had to talk Masterworks up a lot,” he said. “I feel blessed to have been a friend of Arthur's.

“I think it helped that he was a completely self-made man and Masterworks was independent of any Government support.

“I think he had respect that we were forging ahead with an idea of our own. I believe that was the tie for Arthur.

“I had not foreseen we would add Arthur to the lexicon of great names now in our collection including John Lennon and Mark Twain, visitors who left a footprint known around the world. Arthur is in that league — Rudolph is better known in China than Bermuda is. When Arthur's work landed in our lap it was a scramble to pull the show together. We hadn't taken on board that Rudolph would be 50 this year [but] we know by phone calls coming in very appealing to families and parents and to children.”

Masaki Iizuka, one of the show's original producers, “really fuelled the spirit of the exhibit”, Mr Pegnato said.

“The exhibit includes some set reproduction with a few of the characters associated with Rudolph. And yes, Rudolph is in one of the sets.”

The exhibit will share some secrets about the history of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, he added.

One such secret is that the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was recorded by Gene Autry on a 78rpm.

Producers didn't rate the song as a potential hit, and stuck it on the “B” side.

The exhibit will also share how Johnny Marks wrote the song based on a promotional booklet haded out to millions of Montgomery Ward customers.

“The song became the number two Christmas song of all time, behind Bing Crosby's White Christmas,” said Mr Pegnato. “Johnny Marks was Arthur's neighbour in an apartment building in New York City.

Arthur was trying to talk him into letting him make a show based on the song. Marks didn't want to do it as he didn't want to damage the reputation of the song.

He was worried because it was such a beloved song and if the show wasn't a success he didn't want it to reflect on the song. As it turns out, it made the song even more popular.”

The exhibit runs through January 13. For more information visit www.bermudamasterworks.com

A celebration: Paul Pegnato is the man behind Arthur Rankin's Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer exhibit at Masterworks

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Published December 05, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 05, 2014 at 2:07 am)

Christmas special turning 50

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