Frosty cavorts with his creators. From a comic book cover.


Original Medium: Popular music
Sung by: Gene Autry
First Appeared: 1950
Creators: Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins
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Frosty the Snowman was a response to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. When song writers Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins saw what success Gene Autry was having …

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… in 1949, singing Rudolph's song, they decided to write their own silly but catchy song doing variations on an icon of Christmas. It took them months to decide on a living snowman as their subject, but they still had it ready in time for a 1950 release. Autry, delighted with the opportunity to ride his own recording's coat-tails back to the top of the charts, recorded it, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, it's hard to beat Rudolph's heart-warming story, that of the youngster ridiculed for being different, who outstrips his tormentors not in spite of his abnormality but because of it (also found in such diverse toons as Dumbo, Gerald McBoing-Boing and X-Men). And indeed, Frosty (who merely came to life, had some fun, then melted, promising to return) wasn't as big a hit as Rudolph. But he was quite big enough to become a cross-media phenomenon and an enduring classic.

Western Printing and Publishing adapted Frosty's story into cartoons twice during 1951 — once as a Little Golden Book, and once, through its affiliation with Dell Comics, into a comic book, as the 359th issue of Four Color Comics (the catch-all title that put magazine cartoon characters like The Little King, TV characters like Winky Dink and other characters from sound recordings like Bozo the Clown into comic book form). The Little Golden Book remained in print for years. It wasn't the custom back then to keep individual comic books available through additional printings, but Dell devoted a new issue of Four Color to Frosty each winter until 1961-62.

The property continued to coast through the 1960s, selling new copies of the record plus various items of merchandise such as dolls and coloring books. The next big break came on December 7, 1969, when CBS aired Frosty the Snowman, a half-hour holiday special. The story was fleshed out by setting Frosty on a quest to reach the North Pole before he melts, pursued by a villain out to get his hands on the magic hat that had brought him to life. Frosty's voice was done by Jackie Vernon, a comedian and occasional face actor who has no other voice credits. The bad guy, Professor Hinkle, was Billy DeWolf, also a face actor who hasn't done much other voice work. The voice veterans in the production were June Foray (Rocky the Flying Squirrel), who played Frosty's traveling companion, a little girl named Karen; and Paul Frees (Ludwig von Drake), who played Santa Claus. It was narrated by character actor Jimmy Durante, whose rendition of Frosty's song has become as familiar as Autry's. (Durante did have at least one other toon connection — he played Knobby in the first Joe Palooka movie.) The producer, Rankin/Bass Productions, was also responsible for seasonal specials starring such traditional characters as Jack Frost (no relation), The Little Drummer Boy and The Easter Bunny.

Rankin/Bass followed it with Frosty's Winter Wonderland on December 2, 1976. This one took its cue from The Bride of Frankenstein and set the kids who'd created him to the task of making Frosty a female companion. Vernon reprised his role as Frosty, with Crystal (his girlfriend) played by Shelley Winters, another with myriad face roles and few other voice credits (tho she did have a part in the live-action portion of Disney's Pete's Dragon). It was narrated by Andy Griffith, yet another.

The studio completed its association with Frosty, with the off-season (first aired July 1, 1979), feature-length TV movie Rudolph & Frosty's Christmas in July. The next time Frosty was animated was Frosty Returns, which CBS first broadcast on December 1, 1992. It was produced by Bill Melendez Productions, well known for animating Charlie Brown. Here, Frosty was played by John Goodman (Sully in Monsters, Inc.). The narrator was Jonathan Winters (Mayor Cod in Fish Police).

The Little Golden Book and the comic book series are long gone. But Frosty remains in the public eye through endless re-airings of his TV shows — and, of course, because his song, both versions, continues to be heard Christmas after Christmas.


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Text ©2004-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins.