Jules Bass, Director of Iconic Christmas Specials, Dead at 87

Jules Bass, one-half of the producing duo behind the iconic Christmas specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, has died. Bass was 87. The animator co-founded Rankin/Bass Productions with his friend, the late Arthur Rankin Jr., and together they produced over a dozen animated TV specials from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Bass died Tuesday in Rye, New York from age-related illnesses. His death was confirmed by publicist Jennifer Fisherman Ruff, reports Deadline. He was predeceased by his daughter, Jean Nicole Bass, who died in January at age 61.

The animator was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 16, 1935, and edited at New York University. He was working in advertising in 1960 when he co-founded the company that would become Rankin/Bass Productions with Rankin. They started with the traditionally-animated series The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1960. Four years later, they scored their biggest success with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a stop-motion special based on the song written by Johnny Marks. The special is a perennial classic and now airs on CBS during the holiday season.

The success of Rudolph made Rankin/Bass the premiere studio for Christmas specials. They went on to produce The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty The Snowman (1969), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1980), and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985). The studio perfected the formula of taking a Christmas standard and building a story around the tune to produce unforgettable specials.

Rankin and Bass also branched out into other subjects with Mad Monster Party (1967), a theatrically-released movie with the voices of Phyllis Diller and Boris Karloff, and the Easter special Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971). They also produced several animated hits during the Saturday morning cartoon boom, including Silverhawks, Thundercats, and The Jackson 5ive.

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In 1977, Rankin and Bass produced one of the first adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth stories. They directed The Hobbit, which earned screenwriter Romeo Muller a Peabody Award. In 1980, they released a follow-up, The Return of the King, which adapted material from the final Lord of the Rings book. It aired on ABC. Rankin/Bass also produced a few theatrically-released films, their most famous being 1982's The Last Unicorn.

Bass left filmmaking behind in 1987 but continued producing works for children. He wrote a series of books centered on the character Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon.