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Why All But Two Original Puppets From Rankin/Bass' Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Melted

The Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment classic, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," remains a holiday favorite for critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes, and also for a whole new generation of fans today. Burl Ives' narration, as Sam the Snowman, certainly lent the 1964's cartoon production some much-needed gravitas, but it was the stop-motion puppet animation that stole the show and helped make it the longest-running Christmas special in TV history. And the men behind the magic of those unforgettable puppets were Tadahito Mochinaga and Ichiro Komuro.

Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt set the record straight in 2020 about Mochinaga's involvement in the project. "Larry Roemer did not direct 'Rudolph,'" Goldschmidt said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "He was a business partner who had an in at NBC, and he got the special on TV, so Arthur [Rankin] gave him the director's credit. But really the director of 'Rudolph' was Tad Mochinaga. They gave a bigwig the credit instead."

Ichiro Komuro crafted the iconic characters for the holiday special, and he did so by hand. But do you know why only the Santa Claus and Rudolph figures still exist?

Santa and Rudolph were the only puppets not to melt in a hot attic

Yukon Cornelius, Hermey, and Charlie-in-the-Box were among the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" puppets destroyed, but somehow the Santa Claus and Rudolph figures slipped past the ravages of time. Barbara Adams served as a secretary for Rankin/Bass, and in the 1970s all the puppets came into Adams' possession, according to Artnet News. Unfortunately, Adams didn't take the proper precautions to preserve them, so all but two melted in her hot attic.

In 2005, Adams' nephew took the two surviving puppets on the PBS program, "Antiques Roadshow," where they were evaluated by the pop culture appraiser, Simeon Lipman, to be worth between $8,000 and $10,000 for the pair (via PBS). In 2013 and 2019, Lipman adjusted his estimate of the puppets' combined worth and predicted the figures would fetch somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000. The puppets then came into the possession of Kevin Kriess, who had the collectibles professionally restored by Screen Novelties of Los Angeles before he sold them to Peter Lutrario for an undisclosed amount of money (via the Chicago Tribune).

During the Icons & Legends of Hollywood Auction held by Profiles in History in 2020, Santa and Rudolph were sold to an unknown bidder for $368,000! The mysterious winner then donated the figures to the Center For Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia, where they remain on "semi-permanent loan." "These were beloved characters of my childhood, and I can think of no better place for them to retire," the donor said in a statement (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). And so Santa and Rudolph, as well as the beloved holiday special, will live on long after the passing of Rankin in 2014 and the death of Bass in 2022.