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He’s Hardrock, He’s Coco, I’m Joe! – Stop Motion Christmas TV Classics [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

Ask anyone that grew up in Chicago or Western Pennsylvania about Hardrock, Coco and Joe and you’ll instantly bring a smile to their face. Three black and white Christmas stop motion classics have been airing on television stations since the 1950’s. They still delight kids of all ages to this day.

Suzy Snowflake, Frosty the Snowman, and Hardrock, Coco, and Joe: The Three Little Dwarfs are two minute and 45 second short films that were broadcast on only two television stations in the US, WGN-TV in Chicago and WJAC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Johnstown, PA. Originally produced in the early 1950’s, these short films aired annually as part of children’s programming to get the little ones fire up for the Christmas season. These classics were seen by so many families over the years, they have become a holiday season tradition that even adults now look forward to.

As the kids grew into adults, and children’s programming dwindled, their airing would no longer be restricted to just kids. On WJAC, they can be seen airing all over the programming schedule from prime time to Saturday Night Live to Channel 6 News 11 at 11.

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania as I did, I would watch these over and over every year on WJAC. My grandmother still stops and pause for a moment to check them out, while she’s flipping through the channels.

While the stop motion is very low budget and crude by today’s standards, those who grew up with these shorts have a special place for them in their heart. Seeing these as a kid, I knew Christmas is here!

Thousands of viewers have checked them out on Youtube. Let’s take a look at each and uncover some little known facts!

HARDROCK, COCO, AND JOE: THE THREE LITTLE DWARFS

Premiering in 1956 and created by the now-defunct company, Centaur Productions, Hardrock, Coco, and Joe tells the short story of three elves who wish to accompany Santa as he makes his annual flight.

The stop motion was designed by artist Wah Ming Chang. Chang would become famous a decade later for designing props and aliens for the original Star Trek series. Chang created the first Starfleet communicator and tricorder. He also created the costumes for the salt vampire, Gorn and the false Balok puppet from episode The Corbomite Maneuver.

Chang would also assist in designing the base model look for Walt Disney’s Pinocchio character and created deer models for Bambi.

Singer Gene Autry would also record his own version of the The Three Little Dwarfs that featured a higher version of Joe’s voice and was released on record.

I love the shot of the Asian-looking Santa with his tongue sticking out as well as the close up shot of the reindeer that makes it look like they’re galloping up an invisible Stairmaster. This rendering of Santa, may be based on Chang himself according to an online article.

Also notice the WJAC bug in the lower left from this home recording.  Amazon also sells this as a single for 99 cents.

SUZY SNOWFLAKE

“Here comes Suzy Snowflake.” I can probably sing this word for word to you. But, I won’t, since you probably just watched the video above.

Another production of Centaur Productions, which was also designed by the aforementioned Chang, the lyrics were written by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett. Tepper and Bennett would work together for decades writing songs for major singers, including penning 43 songs for Elvis Presley alone.

Here the song is performed by Norma Zimmer from The Lawrence Welk Show, but it was originally performed and made famous by Rosemary Clooney. She would star opposite Bing Crosby in another holiday classic film, White Christmas.

This is another home recording from WJAC-TV.

FROSTY THE SNOWMAN

What is this? This is not the talking snowman that most people remember! This was aired in 1954, 15 years before the animated network TV cartoon special.

This short animated version featured a jazzy version of the classic tune animated by UPA (United Productions of America).  UPA started off producing animated theatrical shorts in the 1940’s and all the rights to their works are now owned by DreamWorks Animation.

To date, the only DVD release of these shorts is part of the two hour television special, Bozo, Gar and Ray: The WGN Classics. While the show itself is not available on DVD, the shorts and others from the special have been released separately by the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago and can be ordered here.

The intention of the original airings of these cartoons was not for the stations to create a holiday memory, but to simply fill large gaps of airtime. During TV’s early days, programming was expensive, and these were a cheap way to fill the time. According to a Johnstown History blog run by a news producer at WJAC, these three shorts may have actually aired first on WJAC in 1952, before airing on WGN on Garfield Goose in 1956. It is said they were brought to Johnstown by George Gore, a respected news-reel journalist who became famous filming the 1936 Johnstown flood. He knew people in the community and at the station, as well in Los Angeles.

THE 411

Title: Hardrock, Coco, and Joe: The Three Little Dwarfs; Suzy Snowflake, Frosty the Snowman
What: black and white short holiday films that have aired on television for nearly half a century
Lengths: 2 min 30 secs to approx 2 min 45 secs
Stations still airing on: WGN (Chicago, IL); WJAC (Johnstown, PA)

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:

I was always under the impression, that these aired everywhere. But when I gave friends from other cities a pop quiz as to whether they have ever heard of these, the answer was no. At least I can honestly say I keep learning new things sharing these blogumns with you.

Check these out and pass along these holiday classics with your friends and family. WGN is a Superstation, so these may have gotten some limited national exposure that way, but WJAC is in local TV market 102, with about 295,000 homes. They are a holiday tradition for me, my family and local friends.

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