Arthur Rankin Jr. passed away yesterday at the age of 89. The Royal Gazette article of today remembers him as Bermuda’s own movie mogul.
Quoting from the article,
He “cornered the market for Christmas specials with his US partner Jules Bass…. Starting in the early 1960s, Mr. Rankin won the hearts of TV audiences with whimsical stop-motion animation. His company, Rankin/Bass Productions, created perennial classics such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that made broadcast history.
“He wrote, produced or directed more than a dozen feature films, including two of just three feature-length films shot in Bermuda: the 1978 cult classic “The Bermuda Depths” and 1980s “The Ivory Ape” — as well as the animated TV series “ThunderCats” and “SilverHawks”, on top of more than 1,000 TV programmes.
I remember first meeting Arthur in 2004 with an introduction by Lee Lovett when I was beginning my career and starting work on my first major documentary production, Rare Bird. Arthur was at first a mix of encouraging and intimidating, and he had a great love of nature and therefore supported the idea of Rare Bird, he was less convinced in the beginning that I was the person to make it. Over white wine in his Harrington Sound home he asked me to describe my vision for the film. I have no idea what I said but it wasn’t good enough. I remember him replying, “ Every filmmaker must set out with a distinct vision for the their film, they must see it before they begin.” He was right about that. I am sure he knew from his decades in the business that it is not for the faint hearted. I remember him later telling me about his initial struggles getting people in the U.S. to buy into the idea of Rudolf and he eventually produced it through Japanese animators to great success. After I released Rare Bird and began work fundraising for my next major production The Lion and the Mouse, a cheque arrived in the mail, it was from Arthur. At some point he had changed his mind about me and became my sponsor and supporter. We had begun work together a few years later on a campaign at his request but it was not meant to be and got delayed in development as so many projects do.
More recently I had the pleasure of spending time with Arthur during my 2013 Screenwriting in Paradise workshop with Jan Harlan, Stanley Kubrick’s producer and screenwriting teacher Jim Fernald. He still had childlike enthusiasm for the world, and for nature as he proudly showed off his garden, unhindered by the ascending climb up the path, which was slowed by his age nor did he blink an eye at the discovery of a Sagres mini stashed in his beloved banana patch. He told us of his love for golden shower trees and I later sent him the picture of my tree when it hit full bloom last summer.
Mr. Rankin was and continues to be a great inspiration. It always makes me laugh when people say its impossible to film a feature film in Bermuda, as with Bermuda Depths and Ivory Ape, Arthur Rankin did just that and as long a go as the seventies and eighties. He was not a man to be told he couldn’t do something, and he did many great things in his life, but foremost he was a storyteller. I remember one story he told us last year about how he happened to find himself staying in a house close to Gregory Peck in France one summer, and one day they passed each other riding bicycles. Arthur stopped and immediately began a speech in his best Gregory Peck voice, “ On the far wall is a mural by American Artist … (I can’t remember the name) depicting man’s quest for immortality.” It was Gregory Peck’s speech at the 1939 worlds fair where they were both tour guides and would pass each other giving the same speech over and over again at the NBC studio exhibit. Needless to say, 1939 was years before their chance meeting in France and before either of them enjoyed the career success they are noted for. It should also be noted that Arthur’s wife Olga appeared in the TV movie The Scarlet and the Black with Gregory Peck in 1983. Arthur added in this same conversation, with a touch of sadness that he felt he would only be remembered for Rudolph.
The last time I saw Arthur, shopping in Lindos, he said “Let me know if I can do anything for you, help you in anyway and I will.” I don’t think he realized how much he already had. I think all of us in Bermuda will remember him for Rudolph indeed but for all his other films, projects, and for me a lesson in perseverance and yes vision. He will be missed, and my condolences go out to his wife Olga and family. In man’s quest for immortality I think Arthur did pretty well even if it has something to do with a red nosed reindeer!
Arthur Rankin Jr. July 19th 1924 – January 30th 2014.