Chuck Jones' collaboration with MGM on this masterpiece came from the fact that he'd signed on earlier to do a new series of Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts...but I never knew back in the 1960s that there ever were any new Tom and Jerry shorts bearing his name in the credits. I never saw them on TV until 1977. No matter. This first-ever half-hour animated adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book was the best made-for-TV product he and MGM ever teamed up to tackle.
Jones and his associates found they had to take a couple of liberties with the story as depicted in the book in order to make an acceptable half-hour TV special out of it. The first was to decide what colors to use on everything and everybody. The book illustrations were all black-and-white with occasional red or pink accents, and CBS had just begun broadcasting virtually all their prime time programs in full color. The decision to give the evil Grinch green skin was as appropriate as having Boris Karloff supply his voice. The second was the need to pad out the story with extra scenes without dialogue in order to fill out a half-hour of air time, which led to the scenes of the Grinch's sleigh making its wild journey down the mountain toward Whoville, the Grinch's inventive ways of stealing the Whos' stuff, and his frantic effort to save the sleigh and its contents from falling back down the mountain after his change of heart.
Jones perhaps took it upon himself to make a third departure from the book, based on the way he was accustomed to drawing some of his characters. Dr. Seuss' original depiction of Cindy-Lou Who was somewhat indistinguishable from the other Whos, but Jones took the character and transformed her into an adorable, sweet little girl with big, winsome blue eyes.
Also helping to pad out the story were the songs especially composed for the special. But two of them temporarily fell victim to CBS' time cuts over several broadcasts. The network eventually did away with a few verses of "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch", and there were even a few '70s airings in which the entire "Trim Up The Tree" number was cut. CBS eventually restored it, but why bump off an entire song from "Grinch" and "Rudolph"? Presumably it was to add more time for ads and promos, but I feel another reason to cut whole songs was because the industry and many regular folks were feeling a bit downbeat by all the Christmas cheer that tried to shoehorn its way into a nation soured by the dismal doings that dominated the mid-'70s (inflation, shortages, war, political scandals).
NBC's two big late night stars expressed displeasure with the season in their own unique ways: Johnny Carson did a post-Christmas gag in which he was decked out in holiday attire in front of a festive street scene singing the first line of "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" before getting pelted with pies, and Tom Snyder's discussion with a guest about eroded holiday feelings mentioned one wag who confessed that the "gift" he wanted most for Christmas was "January 2nd".
But let's get back to the "real" Grinch. This was the first animated Christmas special I was able to see in color from the very first broadcast, and I even remember what I ate for supper than night while watching it: a bowl of Campbell's Golden Mushroom soup, which had just been introduced on store shelves. I thought the redesigned Cindy-Lou Who was "cute" and the Grinch's pool-shooting the balls off the tree and rolling into a mouse hole, down and out a rainpipe and into an open bag was "neat".
Several people who couldn't afford cable TV or didn't want to bother with it accused Ted Turner of being a Grinch himself in the late '80s when his cable networks gained exclusive broadcast rights to the special; it was once limited to multiple showings on Cartoon Network (shades of "It's A Wonderful Life" back when that film languished for years in public domain and got snatched up by about half the broadcast and cable outlets in every TV market who ran it it almost daily until NBC got the exclusive rights to it...)
The up side to this move, however, is that all the missing footage from latter-day CBS broadcasts is now fully-restored. Later, the WB network pacifed those without cable by running it once every Christmas season. That network eventually perished and became The CW, which opted not to air the Grinch. But later, ABC was able to air the special two or three times during the season; at the time of this writing, that kind gesture continues. Unfortunately they cut out a few bits of it to air extra commercials. What someone needs to do is hire another animation firm to make a Seussian Christmas segment perhaps involving some of his other characters, such as The Cat In The Hat or Horton the elephant, time it so it just fits in a 22-minute space and pair it with a fully-restored HD print of "Grinch" in a one-hour slot on ABC. Failing that, if you're one of those cable-less viewers and have a DVD player, just pick up a copy on DVD and you can see the Grinch anytime. The officially-licensed copies cost less than a month of cable.
One final fact worth noting: the show's original sponsor--a banking institution--was somewhat bothered by the story's underlying message: Christmas doesn't come from a store.
The costly and time-consuming work that Rankin-Bass put in on "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and a later "Smokey The Bear" special that was also produced in Animagic may have accounted for the fact that "Frosty" was presented as a traditional animated cartoon, as well as the fact that the company's next yuletide offering, "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" (1970) would require a budget to accommodate more Animagic work.
"Frosty" was nonetheless a good-looking cartoon, and the subplot about the magic hat that brings Frosty to life originally belonging to a zealous magician trying to retrieve it was an intriguing idea that made the overall story all the more engaging. It also featured more big-name stars doing the voices than the previous Rankin-Bass endeavors. Jimmy Durante, the narrator, was known primarily to my generation as the commercial spokesman for Kellogg's Corn Flakes (my family and I had seen him in a live performance at the old KRNT Theatre in Des Moines, Iowa at the beginning of the '60s), and at the time of "Frosty"'s debut he was headlining a new ABC variety hour with the Lennon Sisters (which sank after that one season). Jackie Vernon, the voice of Frosty himself, was a favorite nightclub and talk show comic. And Billy DeWolfe, voice of Prof. Hinkle the magician, had recently come off two short-lived CBS sitcoms, Good Morning, World in 1967, and The Queen And I which came and went quickly at the beginning of 1969 (and like many new shows that year, had the support of absolutely no one in the Johnson family besides me). Billy's trademarks were his clipped, aggressive speech pattern used to comic effect in character potrayals opposite a character who would serve as his antagonist, and his frequent use of the phrase "Busy, busy, busy!"--a line which the writers of the "Frosty" special allowed him to use in his potrayal of Hinkle.
There is one noticeable continuity error in this special. Pay close attention to the scene in which the little freight train--with Frosty, Karen and Hocus Pocus inside the refrigerated boxcar--stops briefly to let an express train "full of happy Christmas travelers" pass safely, whereupon the three "stowaways" get off before Professor Hinkle can do so while it's stopped. On paper it made sense...but someone in charge of backgrounds at Rankin-Bass made a serious goof and positioned the straight track for the express to speed by BEHIND the portion of the angled track holding the smaller train--meaning that it didn't even have to stop. It could have kept right on going with no danger whatsoever of getting rammed by the express train or vice versa! Of course, that could have helped stack the deck in Hinkle's favor...
My own memories of watching this special for the first time are more bittersweet than with the other four mentioned earlier. I was in my final year of Junior High at the time, and was feeling pressure from all sides from those concerned that I was still watching cartoons at age 14. This first "Frosty" broadcast also suffered the same fate as did most of my favorite TV shows during the 1969-70 season: it wasn't shown in its regular time slot in the Kansas City area. KCMO-TV, which already lost considerable ground with me for waiting until Saturday afternoons to run CBS' The Good Guys, decided to run "Frosty" much closer to Christmas on December 23 via tape delay; at least they ran it sometime. Finally, 1969 was, on the whole, not a great year for us. My father had taken ill just after Thanksgiving and had to spend most of December in a K.C. hospital. The resulting expenses, as well as his inability to do any serious Christmas shopping or make other seasonal preparations hampered the holidays for us that year. The hospital personnel decided he was well enough to come home on Christmas Eve and spend the next day with us, but on December 27th he was taken back to his hospital room, where he lived just long enough to see 1970 being rung in before his death a few hours later.
But years later, in somewhat more upbeat times for us all, Frosty still endures, as do the Grinch, Charlie Brown and the "Peanuts" gang, Rudolph and Mr. Magoo's portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Happy holidays, everybody.
NECESSARY DISCLAIMER: Mr. Magoo, the "Peanuts" characters, and the Grinch and Cindy-Lou Who are the respective properties of United Productions of America (UPA), Charles M. Schulz and United Features Syndicate, and Theodore Geisel a/k/a Dr. Seuss. This site is not in any way affiliated with any of these individuals or those who currently hold the rights to use of their likenesses. This site was merely created by me as an informational source regarding the televised projects described herein, for the sole purpose of individual reader enjoyment. No intentional copyright infringement is implied by this site's creator.
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