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Jules Bass, 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' producer, died at age 87

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One of the creators of a terrifying television monster has died.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER")

LARRY MANN: (As Abominable Snow Monster, roaring).

CHANG: It may be a Christmas movie, but the Abominable Snowman in "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" has given children chills for more than 50 years. That 1964 TV classic was produced by production company Rankin/Bass, and Jules Bass died Tuesday. NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Rankin/Bass stop motion movies are part of American childhoods, and they are uncanny in a good way. They have the strange, unsettling qualities of a dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER")

BURL IVES: (As Sam the Snowman) If I live to be 100, I'll never be able to forget that big snowstorm a couple of years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RICK GOLDSCHMIDT: The animation style is called Animagic.

ULABY: That's Rick Goldschmidt, a Rankin/Bass historian, talking to NPR in 2004. It took more than a year, he said, to painstakingly animate a movie that lasted just under an hour.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GOLDSCHMIDT: They're dolls with wire joints. And they're very intricate. They cost about $5,000 to make back in 1964.

ULABY: Prior to 1964, Jules Bass worked in advertising in New York - very much the era of "Mad Men." He teamed up with Arthur Rankin Jr. to make commercials. Rankin, who died in 2014, remembered his collaboration in an interview on The Television Archives (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARTHUR RANKIN JR: He was a creator and a writer. And he was also a lyricist.

ULABY: Just like a character in "Rudolph."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER")

CARL BANAS: (As Head Elf) Now let's try out the new elf song I wrote. And remember, it's for Santa. And a one and a two and a three.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho...

ULABY: No one expected "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" to be such a success. It still airs frequently over the holiday season, and it's helped inspired movies such as "Toy Story." Rankin said after "Rudolph" first aired, he and Jules Bass became the go-to guys for stop motion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RANKIN: We had no problem filling our production schedules, our personal lives and our company's ability to produce. We couldn't produce all the stuff they wanted to buy from us.

ULABY: The stuff would include other Christmas specials, monster specials and kids' cartoon shows that would help define a generation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THUNDERCATS")

LARRY KENNEY: (As Lion-O) ThunderCats, ho.

ULABY: From "ThunderCats" to the animated movies "The Last Unicorn" and "The Hobbit," the latter with another scary monster.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HOBBIT")

THEODORE ISIDORE GOTTLIEB: (As Gollum) My precious. It is my precious.

ULABY: Jules Bass retired to France, where he wrote vegetarian cookbooks for kids. He died at an assisted living center in Rye, N.Y. He was 87 years old.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER")

IVES: (Singing) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw it... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.