Classic Christmas cartoons that were shown each Christmas on WGN-TV out of Chicago.
When I was growing up in Oglesby, Illinois (a town of 4,200 approximately 90 miles southwest of Chicago) in the 60s and early 70s I couldn’t wait for the Christmas specials on television. Besides watching movies like Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol between Thanksgiving and Christmas, those Christmas specials, which usually aired the first and second weeks of December, were much anticipated by kids.
When we knew that A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy were going to be on, we knew that Christmas was just around the corner.
However, growing up not far from Chicago and being fed a steady diet of Chicago programming like The Ray Rayner Show, Garfield Goose, and Family Classics with Frazier Thomas on WGN TV, Channel 9, there were three more Christmas “shorts” that signaled Christmas coming soon: Hard Rock, Coco, and Joe, Suzy Snowflake, and a cool, jazzy Frosty the Snowman.
Produced in 1956 by Centaur Productions, Hardrock, Coco and Joe is a story about three of Santa’s helpers who ride on sleigh with Santa every Christmas. It is a stop motion animated cartoon created by Wah Ming Chang, who specialized in sculpture, stop-motion animation and odd props. (Perhaps that is why Santa looks Asian in the short.)
According to the narrative song, Hardrock drives Santa’s sleigh and Coco navigates with maps. Santa “has no need for Joe, but takes him because he loves him so.” Part of this primitively-made cartoon’s charm and appeal (when you are a kid even the most primitive or crudely made cartoon seems appealing—consider Clutch Cargo, for example) is that Joe, the smallest of the three elves and the most boyish-looking, sings with a deep bass voice.
Donner and Blitzen, away, away
Wah also did a lot of the props on the original Star Trek TV show, for instance (he built the communicators that predated cell phones, as well as the Tribbles) and some of Elizabeth Taylor’s most notable headdresses and jewels in the film Cleopatra.
Suzy Snowflake another holiday favorite on WGN-TV was also made by Wah and was based on a 1951 song of the same title by Rosemary Clooney.
Here comes Suzy Snowflake dressed in a snow-white gown.
Tap, tap, tapping on your windowpane to tell you she’s in town.
Here comes Suzy Snowflake, soon you will hear her say,
“Come on everyone and play with me, I haven’t long to stay.
If you want to make a snowman, I’ll help you make one…1, 2, 3.
If you want to take a sleigh ride, the ride’s on me.”
Here comes Suzy Snowflake, look at her tumblin’ down.
Bringing joy to every girl and boy, Suzy’s come to town.
It’s a bit surreal, watching Suzy dancing in the air and though primitive by today’s standards, back when I was a kid watching it, it was easy to suspend whatever disbelief a ten-year-old was capable of suspending at that age of innocence.
Although many people remember the 1969 Rankin-Bass 30-minute Frosty the Snowman TV special that featured the voice of Jimmy Durante, the song (originally popularized by that singing cowboy himself Gene Autry) had inspired a 1954 bouncy, jazzy three-minute animated film. The film was a perennial Christmas favorite on WGN-TV along with Hardrock, Coco, and Joe and Suzy Snowflake.
I like these vintage animated cartoons. While primitive by today’s standards, there is definitely something heartwarming about them now. And it’s nice to wax a little more nostalgic at this time of the year when the spirit of the season fills your heart and your soul.