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Huffington Post - Never mind the reindeer who saved Christmas. Meet the woman who rescued Santa & Rudolph

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Huffington Post - Never mind the reindeer who saved Christmas. Meet the woman who rescued Santa & Rudolph

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Never mind about the reindeer who saved Christmas. Meet the woman who rescued Santa & Rudolph

You remember the end of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," right? As this stop-motion holiday special draws to a close, Santa Claus first turns to the camera and wishes the audience watching at home a Merry Christmas. Then Santa and his sleigh -- pulled by Rudolph and a team of six other reindeer -- flies off into a moonlight sky.

Copyright Classic Media Inc. All rights reserved

That seems like a pretty happy ending, don't you think? Well, in real life, the 9-inch tall Claus and 5-inch tall reindeer puppet that were used in the making of this 1964 Rankin/Bass production wound up spending the next 40 years under less than ideal conditions.

First NBC (which initially aired this holiday special on December 6, 1964 on its "General Electric Fantasy Hour" program) had these puppets shipped from Japan to New York City so that they could then be used as part of the publicity campaign for this program. Once that work was done, Santa and Rudolph were returned to Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass (i.e. the two executives who ran Videocraft International, Ltd., the production company that actually made "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"). And eventually Arthur and Jules gifted these two puppets to one of Rankin/Bass's longtime secretaries.

1964 publicity photo for the initial airing of "Rudolph
the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on NBC's "General
Electric Fantasy" show

"And she then made Santa and Rudolph part of her family's holiday decorations," explained Seamus Walsh, one of the modern stop-motion masters who now works at Screen Novelties, a Los Angeles-based animation studio which later played a key role in these puppets' restoration. "And that secretary's children and grandchildren then spent the next 40 years or so playing really roughly with Rudolph and Santa. Throwing that little reindeer puppet through the air pretending that he could fly and force-feeding Santa candy and chocolate."

In the end, the Rudolph puppet wound up with a snapped neck. Not to mention a missing glowing red nose. And poor Santa lost his fluffy white eyebrows as well as half his mustache. And since that they no longer looked like the characters who had appeared in that now-classic holiday special, Santa and Rudolph were now retired to the attic.

Appraiser Simeon Lipman examines the Rudolph & Santa Claus
stop-motion puppets during a May 2006 broadcast of PBS's
"Antique Roadshow" program. Copyright WGBH
Education Foundation. All rights reserved

And they probably would have stayed there -- alone and forgotten like those forlorn playthings on the Island of Misfit Toys -- if it hadn't been for the secretary's nephew. Who -- when he came upon Rudolph and Santa up in the family's attic in 2005 -- decided to bring this stop-motion puppets on PBS's Antiques Roadshow and find out what they might now possibly be worth.

At that time, Santa and Rudolph were appraised for $8,000 - $10,000 for the pair. The secretary's nephew then decided to sell these holiday icons to Kevin A. Kriess, a lifelong fan of the Rankin/Bass TV specials. And Kriess' first goal was to restore these stop-motion puppets to pristine condition.

Robin Walsh with the Santa Claus stop-motion puppet

"Which is why Kevin then reached out to us. Or -- rather -- my wife Robin, who handles restoration for the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta," Walsh continued. "And she was the one who then handled all of the restoration work that needed to be done on the Santa and Rudolph puppets."

Robin took an almost Hippocratic approach to this restoration project. Gently peeling back Rudolph's tattered fur to reveal ...

Robin begins her restoration work on the Rudolph stop-motion puppet

Reveal what? To learn more about what Robin Walsh actually did to restore the Santa Claus & Rudolph stop-motion puppets, you can either click on the headline above or go straight to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-hill/rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-puppets_b_2357403.html.

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  • Thanks for letting us know what happen to the R-B Santa and Rudolph, Jim.  I'm glad the characters survived - goodness knows, many  items of similar significance to pop culture haven't! - but I'm always disappointed to hear that items like the Santa and Rudolph puppets are locked away where only the person who bought them will ever see them.  

    Alas, I suspect that there are few people who agree with me, and even fewer who'd make the effort to see these important pieces of our cutural history. when this issue comes up, I always think of that  scene in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" where Indy yells that a rare and priceless artifact "...belongs in a museum!", to which the villain retorts, "So do you!"

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