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Celebrating 50 years of Rudolph

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Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art has launched its latest exhibition, 50 Years Of Rudolph, an inside look at the much-loved Christmas television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

It was the production for which Bermuda resident Arthur Rankin, who died at the beginning of this year, was best known, although the list of movies and television shows for which he was responsible is a long one, and filled with familiar names.

The show features the original camera used in the pioneering special.

The show introduced television audiences to Mr Rankin's now legendary ‘Animagic' stop-motion animation process in 1964 as well as vintage puppets, sets and many other items relating to the writer/director/producer's love of Christmas.

Rudolph is now the longest-running, highest-rated special in the history of American network television. Aired annually ever since it debuted, Rudolph will be broadcast by CBS on Tuesday evening.

It has become such an important part of American culture that the US Postal Service has issued four new postage stamps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the family classic.

Mr Rankin, who was a Harrington Sound resident, died at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in January after a short illness. He was 89.

Tim Hodgson, consulting editor of The Royal Gazette, wrote about Mr Rankin and the genesis of a television institution earlier this year. “After working as a graphic designer and art director at ABC after service in the Second World War, Mr Rankin began making commercials for sponsors, a sideline that proved so successful that he left the television network in 1952 to form his own company.

“Creative partner Jules Bass, who worked for an advertising agency, joined him in 1955, when they formed Videocraft International, later named Rankin/Bass Production.

In 1962, Mr Rankin was trying to come up with the basis for an NBC Christmas special for General Electric and thought of his Greenwich Village neighbour Johnny Marks, whose song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had been a huge success for Gene Autrey in 1949.

“Mr Rankin, Mr Bass and writer Romeo Muller fleshed out a story based on the song, adding a whole cast of characters, including the Misfit Toys.

“Composer Mr Marks was afraid that his hit could be tarnished if the television project was a flop, but when it aired on a Sunday afternoon before Christmas that year, the ratings vanquished any fears of failure.

“Narrated by Burl Ives, the Oscar-winning actor and folk singer, who is also heard as the voice of Sam the Snowman, Rudolph recounts the tale of a shy reindeer whose Christmas spirit is dampened because his shiny nose has made him the laughing stock of all of Christmasville.

“After that debut broadcast, ‘everyone wanted a Christmas film like Rudolph,' Mr Rankin later recalled.

“The result was an entire calendar's worth of Rankin/Bass animal seasonal specials still aired at Christmas (The Little Drummer Boy, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and Frosty The Snowman among many others), Easter (Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail), US Independence Day (Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas In July) Thanksgiving (The Mouse On The Mayflower) and New Year's Eve (Rudolph's Shiny New Year). With partner Bass, Mr Rankin later branched out from holiday specials to animated feature films including Mad Monster Party (1967), a tongue-in-cheek mash-up that featured Frankenstein, Dracula, the Werewolf, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and other famous horror movie icons, with voice work provided by classic monster actor Boris Karloff, and the Peabody Award-winning TV special The Hobbit (1977), based on the JRR Tolkien fantasy.

“Among the live action TV movies of the week also produced by Mr Rankin and Mr Bass are two shot entirely on location on the Island, The Bermuda Depths (1977) and The Ivory Ape (1980). ‘We constructed the plots of those films around Bermuda because I liked to work close to home,' Mr Rankin once joked. The Masterworks Rudolph show will run through the Christmas season and end on January 13, 2015.”

The exhibit was curated by Paul Pegnato with help from Alana De Silva.

Masterworks has devoted an entire gallery to the work of Mr Rankin, called Arthur's Galaxy. Masterworks says of Mr Rankin: “Many of his works will last through another millennium; others were dreams and ideas that never came to fruition. We will never know all of the reasons that some work remained on the drawing board. One thing is abundantly clear however, and that is Arthur Rankin spent his life using his fertile imagination and creativity for the enjoyment of millions.

“On display is a mere smattering of some of his life's work.”

Turning Japanese: The Rick Faries Gallery was transformed to resemble the Japanese studio of Arthur Rankin, where he used to create his stop-motion animation
Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art opened its doors on Saturday for their new exhibit, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer turns 50. To mark the anniversary of the 1964 television show, the Rick Faries Gallery was transformed to resemble the Japanese studio of creator Arthur Rankin used to create his stop-motion animation. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Emilia Furtado age 5, adds her own personal touch to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as she enjoys the arts and crafts section at Master Works to celebrate the anniversary on the 50-year-old television show. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art opened its doors on Saturday for their new exhibit, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer turns 50. To mark the anniversary of the 1964 television show, the Rick Faries Gallery was transformed to resemble the Japanese studio of creator Arthur Rankin used to create his stop-motion animation. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Bright and beautiful: Isla Curtis, age 6, shows off her colouring of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer during opening night of the new Masterworks exhibit, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer turns 50

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Published December 08, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 08, 2014 at 1:30 am)

Celebrating 50 years of Rudolph

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