'Tis the season of classic holiday television specials, and the city of Philadelphia has ties to several of the most popular annual offerings. Check out how Philly is tied to everything from "It's a Wonderful Life" to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
* One of the the biggest stars from the 1946 holiday movie "It's a Wonderful Life" hailed from Philadelphia. Actor Lionel Barrymore, who played the film's evil banker, Mr. Potter, was born in the City of Brotherly Love in 1878. (Fun fact: The star of the movie -- Jimmy Stewart -- was also a Pennsylvania native. Stewart was born and raised in Indiana, Pa., and the town's downtown area still hosts an "It's a Wonderful Life" festival every December.)
* Producer Jules Bass, of the famous Rankin-Bass production team, was born in Philadelphia in 1935. Bass collaborated with Arthur Rankin Jr. to produce some of the first animated TV Christmas specials, including "Frosty the Snowman" and the stop-motion animated specials "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." In 2005, a Pennsylvania toy company restored two of the original puppets from Rankin- Bass's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," decades after they were thought to have been discarded. The long-lost Rudolph and Santa puppets were purchased by the online toy company and meticulously restored shortly after the special's 40th anniversary."Rudolph" remains the longest-running animated holiday special of all time.
* More than a decade before Rudolph and Frosty hit the air waves, the very first animated holiday special got its start in Philadelphia. The 1950 made-for-TV film short, "The Spirit of Christmas," featured a cast of Mabel Beaton marionettes in dramatizations of Clement C. Moore's poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas" followed by a performance of the Nativity, and was broadcast annually in the region before airing in other parts of the country. (The DVD version of the special is even called "The Spirit of Christmas: The Philadelphia Holiday Classic.") Need a refresher? You can catch a clip here.
* And if you think the narrator's voice on the popular Yuletide comedy "A Christmas Story" sounds familiar, it may mean you're old enough to remember Jean Shepherd's early-1950s Philadelphia radio show. Long before the author and radio personality's semi-autobiographical stories from his book "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" were adapted for the 1983 screenplay he narrated, Shepherd hosted a late-night radio show on KYW. By the way, you can catch Shepherd's face in the 1983 film. He had a cameo role as the angry gentleman who directed Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) to the end of the Santa Claus line at the department store.
Victoria Leigh Miller is a freelance writer and lifelong Pennsylvania resident.
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