Chuck Jones’ animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! turns 50 years old today, having first premiered on CBS on December 18, 1966.
Though the MGM project was based on a popular children’s book by Dr. Seuss, it was Jones who led the push to make it happen. After convincing Dr. Seuss that he could create an animated adaptation, Jones created color presentation boards and shopped them around to corporate sponsors. Jones made over 20 presentations, including to companies like Kellogg’s and Nestle, but wasn’t able to convince anyone to fund the expensive project. Finally, an organization called the Foundation for Commercial Banks (“of all people,” Jones said) agreed to sponsor the special.
The generous budget resulted in fuller animation and higher production values than most other tv animation of the period. When How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was finished, CBS paid $315,000 for the rights to air it twice, in 1966 and 1967. It was a significant sum for the period. An article that ran in Variety in October 1966 was titled, “The Grinch—It Not Only Stole Xmas But Picked CBS’ Pocket for $315,000,” and the trade publication speculated it was one of the most expensive half-hours of television ever made. (By contrast, A Charlie Brown Christmas, which had come out the year before cost under $100,000 to make.)
The half-hour special, though well received by some critics, also generated a number of lukewarm reviews. The criticisms hardly mattered—the special garnered 38 million viewers in its debut showing, and went on to become a perennial network classic.
Below, Phil Roman, an animator on the special, talks about some of the elements that he feels made the special unique:
What follows is a selection of pre-production and production artwork from the film, followed by some stills from iconic moments.