You know Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but how about Hardrock, Coco and Joe, Suzy Snowflake, and a black-and-white version of Frosty the Snowman?
If you are from or live in the greater Chicago area, or received WGN on cable across the country, those cartoons are part of your Christmas traditions. Since the 1950s, the three short animations, each less than 3 minutes long, have played on WGN-TV each December.
“[A] Local TV host here in Chicago, Frazier Thomas, used to be on the CBS affiliate here and started playing ‘Suzy Snowflake,’ and it was just a holiday short that they offered to local stations to air," said Davie Plier, a WGN Radio host and the Vice President of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. "When he finally came over to WGN in 1955, he added ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and then later the most popular one ‘Hardrock, Coco and Joe’ and just played them as a holiday treat for the viewers."
HARDROCK, COCO AND JOE
Centaur Productions created the story of Santa’s most famous elves in 1951. “Hardrock, Coco and Joe” come to life through stop-motion animation, with the puppets placed and photographed for each frame of the short.
"Stop-motion animation was something really brand new like that in the 1950s, and it wasn’t until the Rankin/Bass ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeers' and so forth that premiered in the 1960s in color that stop-motion became so popular," said Plier. "But these are some of the earliest works of Disney animator Wah Ming Chang and producer George Pal.”
Here comes everyone’s favorite personified Snowflake. “Suzy Snowflake” is another stop-motion creation from Chang and Centaur Productions. The snowflake who’s “tap-tap-tapping” on your window was voiced by Norma Zimmer. And while various artists have covered the song, the animation’s rendition is performed by The Norman Luboff Choir, a group who also sang with Frank Sinatra.
FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
You may be familiar with the 1969 Rankin/Bass “Frosty the Snowman” special, but more than a decade before, the first Frosty came to life. UPA Studio produced their black-and-white “Frosty the Snowman” animation in 1952, which features an a cappella, jazzier rendition of the popular song.
In 2007, it took engineers an entire summer to restore the footage of all three shorts, digitally re-mastering them for a new generation.
“I think here in Chicago—we very much value our traditions and this is a tradition to hear and see these shorts on Christmas Eve," said Plier. "This is really now covered four, five generations, so my parents watched this back in the 1950s, I watched in the 1970s and 80s, my children know these shorts just as well as I do.”
This holiday season, you can catch all three animations on WGN on Christmas Eve as part of Bozo, Gar & Ray’s special. That program will broadcast between 1 to 3 pm CST.