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Fans are shouting out with glee

A collector restores Santa and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from the classic 1960s animated feature.

December 05, 2007|Doug Whiteman | Associated Press

COLUMBUS, OHIO — They look terrific for a duo whose holiday act debuted 43 years ago.

Though one still carries around a spare tire of belly fat, it doesn't seem to have aged him, and the other is still a bright, shining guy despite some rough times.

Rediscovered and restored puppets of Santa Claus and Rudolph that were animated for TV's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are making holiday appearances, delighting fans of the special that has been a perennial favorite since its first airing in 1964.

In the animated feature, inspired by the Johnny Marks song, Rudolph is laughed at and excluded from reindeer games over his glowing red nose. He finds acceptance at the Island of Misfit Toys before reuniting with Santa one foggy Christmas Eve.

"It's like meeting a celebrity, like meeting Clint Eastwood, or ['Batman' stars] Adam West and Burt Ward. These are icons," said Rick Goldschmidt, historian of the Rankin/Bass animation studio, who accompanied the 8-inch-high red-suited Santa and 4-inch-high Rudolph with antler nubs to a comic book convention last month.

Two years ago the figures were acquired by current owner Kevin Kriess. Santa's face was stained, there was mold under his beard and half his mustache was gone. Rudolph was missing the red light bulb from his nose, said Kriess, a longtime fan of the special whose Harmony, Pa.-based business sells action figures based on movies and TV shows.

Kriess, 44, said he bought his two treasures from a person whose family had received them years ago from a relative who worked for Rankin/Bass. For many years, the delicate wood, wire and fabric puppets had been treated casually as toys and holiday decorations.

Arthur Rankin Jr., who with producing partner Jules Bass created the "Rudolph" special for original sponsor General Electric, said the figures were just going to be thrown out, so his secretary took them home and gave them to family. No effort was made to preserve them, because no one imagined the show would become a classic.

Kriess took the figures to Los Angeles stop-motion animation studio Screen Novelties International, which restored them. Kriess said the company did the work mostly as a labor of love and charged only $4,000.

Kriess has scheduled pre-Christmas appearances in the Chicago area and at his store near Pittsburgh.

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