Arthur Rankin, Jr., one-half of the iconic animation duo Rankin/Bass, died on January 30th at his Harrington Sound, Bermuda home. He was 89. The news was first reported by his local paper The Royal Gazette.
Rankin’s studio may be best known for its beloved Christmas specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1969), and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970), but they also produced dozens of other holiday specials, TV series like The Jackson 5ive (1971) and ThunderCats (1985), and feature-length projects that include Mad Monster Party (1967), The Hobbit (1977), and The Last Unicorn (1982). This online filmography gives an overview of the vast amounts of content the studio produced throughout its existence.
Rankin Jr. was born in 1924 in New York City to actors Arthur Rankin and Marian Mansfield. He started his entertainment career working in the distribution department of RKO, before becoming an art director at ABC in the late-1940s. “These were days when no one knew anything about television,” he told a newspaper reporter in 1996. “I painted sets and did graphic design.”
In the mid-1950s, he launched his own company, Videocraft, to direct and produce live-action TV commercials, and Jules Bass soon joined the company as his co-producer and business partner. In 1960, they produced their first stop motion TV series, The New Adventures of Pinocchio, a historically important show that represents one of the first American series to be animated overseas. (It was made in Japan.) The studio, which changed its name to Rankin/Bass Productions in the mid-1960s, jumped back and forth between stop motion (they called their process ‘Animagic’) and hand-drawn productions, and later added live-action to the mix, too.
Ranin discusses his early life and entertainment career at length in this two-part video interview:
After closing Rankin/Bass in 1987, Rankin continued to work on occasional animated projects. He conceived and produced the animated feature adaptation of the King and I (1999), and reunited with his partner Jules Bass to produce the 2001 holiday special Santa, Baby!
Rankin is survived by his wife Olga and two sons, Gardner and Todd. His studio’s pre-1974 library is owned by DreamWorks Classics, the post-1974 productions are owned by Warner Bros, and most of R/B’s features are owned by French distributor StudioCanal. His studio’s prodigious output is well documented in Rick Goldschmidt’s out-of-print book The Enchanted World Of Rankin/Bass: A Portfolio. An informative four-hour interview with Bass can be viewed on the Emmy’s Archive of American Television.