December 23, 2006

BETTER THAN EVER:

Rudolph and Santa, as Good as New (BRENDA GOODMAN, 12/23/06, NY Times)

Since Dec. 8, visitors have been flocking to see Rudolph and Santa Claus at the Center for Puppetry Arts here, where they will be on display until Jan. 13. [...]

Shortly after “Rudolph” was completed, the tiny Rudolph and Santa puppets were taken home by a Rankin-Bass employee. She gave them to her children, who fed Rudolph crayons and red Play-Doh. Over time, his glowing red nose was lost and his felt fur deteriorated. Santa’s fluffy white eyebrows and half his mustache vanished.

In 2005, the nephew of the original rescuer found the puppets in a family attic and brought them to be appraised on the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow.” Created for about $5,000 each in 1964, they were valued at $8,000 to $10,000 for the pair. The family sold both figures to Kevin A. Kriess, the president of TimeandSpaceToys.com and a lifelong fan of the Rankin-Bass films. Mr. Kriess declined to reveal the purchase price, but said he had promised the family he would restore the puppets and show them publicly.

For restoration, he turned to another stop-motion studio, Screen Novelties, in Los Angeles. There, Robin Walsh, a puppet maker, ordered kid mohair for Santa’s beard, consulted museum restoration experts for the best ways to clean painted wood and grimy wool, and discovered, by freezing frames from “Rudolph,” that Santa’s mouth had once been painted. The broken lead wires in the puppets’ arms and legs also needed to be replaced.

The hardest thing, Ms. Walsh said, was getting over her fear of handling the puppets.

“I was holding my childhood in my hands,” she said.


Here's how much things have changed: believe it or not, I had the only color tv in our freshman dorm (1979) and we ended with around 45 people in there watching Rudolph--a crowd matched only by the US-Finland gold medal game and the telecast of Bob Hope at Colgate.

Found a set of little molded-plastic ornaments for $5 at CVS the other day and they took pride of place on our tree.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 23, 2006 10:50 AM
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