Rick Goldschmidt: Rankin/ Bass Historian

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, October 25th, 2014


By Tom Ward

As far as I’m concerned Rick Goldschmidt might have one of the coolest jobs that I’ve ever heard of because he is the official Historian/ Biographer of Rankin/ Bass Productions. So you might be asking the question what is so special about working for Rankin/ Bass and just who are they? Well, maybe you aren’t familiar with the name of Rankin/Bass, but I promise you that the shows they produced over the past few decades you will know immediately. The company was originally founded by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass on September 14th, 1960, as Videocraft International, Ltd. The American production company was known for its seasonal TV specials, particularly its work in stop-motion animation which they called “Animagic” which was created in Japan. It was their historic 1964 airing of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for NBC that cemented their place in the annals of TV history. The television special was a stop-motion animated adaptation of the hit Johnny Marks song “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. It featured Burl Ives in the role of Sam the Snowman and an original score composed by Marks. Rudolph became one of the most beloved and longest-running Christmas specials in television history. Over the next few decades Rankin/ Bass would go on to produce a impressive list of TV specials, cartoons and films like: Frosty the Snowman, Little Drummer Boy, Santa Claus is coming to Town, Mad Monster Party, Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Return to Oz, The Hobbit and way too many more that would take up all the space in my column.

Rick Goldschmidt is the go-to-guy when it comes to anything involving Rankin/ Bass. The Chicago native has written 3 books on the subject. THE ENCHANTED WORLD OF RANKIN/BASS was the first one he wrote and he did a much larger edition a few years ago for the 15th anniversary edition which Arthur Rankin Jr. actually financed for him. Sadly, Mr. Rankin passed away in January of this year and Rick was invited to Bermuda for what would have been his 90th birthday party. Goldschmidt said,” That’s because he didn’t want to have a somber wake and funeral. He wanted to have a party with all of his friends.” During my recent conversation with Goldschmidt I asked him how he got involved with Rankin/ Bass? Rick recalled,” Initially, how I got hooked up with them was because I went to Columbia college in downtown Chicago. I was an illustrator which is what my degree is in. I started calling up Jack Davis because I decided I liked humorous illustrating better than just regular illustration. So I started to migrate into that area and Jack’s art was the art that I emulated the most. I knew that he worked on Rankin/ Bass’s Mad Monster party which was one of my favorite features that they did. I found out he worked on the King Kong show and the Jackson 5 TV show as well. He did a lot of other things for them and told me to get in touch with Paul Coker Jr. who was another artist that I really liked. He put me in touch with Arthur Rankin, but I never read anything about him at all. I think I called Arthur up in Bermuda from my work. I caught him by surprise and he was like yeah right when I told him I wanted to do a book on them. He told me to send him 2 chapters on what I was doing and I’ll let you know if I’ll work with you on it. So I did. Back then it was much more difficult to put something together like that. Now this was around 1989 or 1990. I had a friend who had a computer so I kind of cut and pasted things together and sent it to Arthur. He was like maybe this guy is serious. So he pretty much gave me his life story on a mini cassette and we just went from there.” Goldschmidt added, “The thing about Rankin/Bass was they were very prolific doing some 30 TV specials and did a dozen Saturday morning series. Also, they did another dozen feature films which included films for the ABC Friday night movie on television. When you count all the projects they did it totals to about a 100. They were always concerned about the next project so they didn’t care about what they did 2 years ago. They moved their offices a few times and a lot of stuff got thrown away. In fact, one of their offices was in a building with the museum of television I believe. One of my friends has a friend who garbage picked a few of Jack Davis’s paintings out of the dumpster and I’ve got one of them. I had already been a collector showering movie and toy shows so I had a lot of connections helping to round up the stuff. It’s interesting just how much they didn’t save. In later years, Arthur really appreciated the fact that I rounded a lot of the stuff up and put it in perspective to show his life had great meaning and that’s what I’m most proud of.”


Goldschmidt’s vast historical knowledge includes the world of Chicago television. Around Christmas time it’s a good bet you’ll see Goldschmidt on the airwaves in Chicago on shows like WLS radio, WGN-TV, CBS NEWS, ABC-TV and numerous other media outlets.  He has written some extensive stories on Chicago TV kid favorites like Garfield Goose, Ray Rayner and Bozo Circus. Rick said,” I used to work next to the WGN studios and I became a regular guest on the morning news. So I got to walk around and see the studio a lot pretty much by myself. I even ate breakfast in the cafeteria and I remember flashing back to the time when I was in 3rd grade going to the Bozo circus show. It’s too bad they didn’t have video back then. My brother got to play one of the games and we sat right in the front towards the middle in the audience. I remember Ringmaster Ned let me hold his microphone during a commercial and then he gave me a $50 monopoly bill for doing it. I’m sort of a historian of Chicago kids television too.” Talking with Goldschmidt for me was like a blast from the past as he informed me about some fascinating tidbits regarding the actors who brought to life those great shows I fondly remember from my youth like Bob Bell who played Bozo the Clown and Ray Rayner( host of his own morning show, Bozo show in the afternoon) and Frazier Thomas( Family Classics & Garfield Goose). “These guys weren’t becoming rich, but they did as much as they could do to make as much money as they could back then. The only ones still alive are Don Sandberg who played ‘Sandy the clown’ and Marshall Brodine who portrayed ‘Whizzo’ and he did the TV magic cards commercials.” Said Goldschmidt. Recently, Goldschmidt appeared on ME TV with his old friend and fellow Chicagoan Rich Koz best known as the TV host ‘Svengoolie’ doing a brand new segment talking about Mad Monster Party. Goldschmidt mentioned to me that he just pitched the idea to ME TV of hiring him to give them some direction on showing some classic animation on their network on Saturday mornings. He said,” They’ve kind of dabbled in that over the years, but they never really did it. Boomerang Network just announced that they won’t be showing any classic animation anymore. That means that there is no channel showing classic cartoons. So we get some rights to old shows like Speed Racer and some of the classics on a Saturday morning and we would grab an audience.”

It turns out that Goldschmidt’s degree in illustration has come in handy especially when ENESCO Corporation called him up at a book signing asking him to design and give direction for their classic Rankin/Bass figurines. Also, He has consulted on many toy lines and has appeared at several Comic Cons and book stores with www.timeandspacetoys.com Goldschmidt said, “I helped with the U.S. postage stamps that are coming out with Rudolph in a few weeks. Also, The new updated Rudolph book should be out by November 18th because I will be at Notre Dame where I will be speaking to the student body there about Rudolph.” Goldschmidt stated,” A lot of different companies own the Rankin/ Bass films and I deal with a lot of these companies. There are so many hands dealing with them now that they get lost in the shuffle. The company that owns all their really popular stuff is DreamWorks. They’re hiring me to help promote the Rudolph 50th anniversary DVD and Blu-Ray.” In my discussion with Goldschmidt I inquired if he ever got to meet any of the famous actors that did the voice roles for the iconic specials that Rankin/ Bass produced? He said, Rankin/ Bass hired all of these great, great movie stars and I was lucky to become friends with most of them before they died like Art Carney and Phyllis Diller. Phyllis and I corresponded a lot before she passed away. She was not only a nice person, but she was an artist too.” In addition to his extensive work for Rankin/Bass, Goldschmidt is an accomplished musician. He is the lead singer for the band The Starving Artists and has recorded with members of the group Gin Blossoms. If you would like to contact Rick Goldschmidt which I highly recommend checkout www.miserbros.com. Rick keeps a daily blog at www.enchantedworldofrankinbass.blogspot.com or you can reach him at Rickgoldsc@aol.com.


Before ending my call I wanted to know if his family shared the same passion he exhibits for Rankin/Bass? Rick laughed saying,” They all are very supportive, but Rankin/Bass isn’t their thing. They appreciate what I do and the Rankin/Bass shows, but are not avid fans.” Rick’s daughter Sara is in her 6th year at the University of Illinois at Champaign studying to be a vet. His son Josh is in his 2nd year at University of Illinois at Chicago, studying to be an accountant. Rick’s fiancé Denise Amelio along with his kids have helped at him at some of the Comic Cons he has attended as well as other events. It’s nice to see that a man like Rick Goldschmidt has stepped up to preserve, protect and promote the legacy of the late Arthur Rankin Jr. and Rankin/ Bass. His dedicated hard work and diligent attention to detail has beautifully captured and documented the tremendous achievements that Rankin/Bass contributed to the world of family entertainment.


Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com












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