The Fascinating Background of Arthur Rankin of Rankin-Bass


Today is the birthday of the late Arthur Rankin, Jr (1924-2014), one half of the famous animation production duo Rankin-Bass. I would have blogged about him anyway, being such a huge fan of their perennial holiday classics, but I discovered added layers of fascination that plug in with other areas of interest of this blog that make his background doubly significant here.

Come now, Herbie, the world has plenty of dentists

Rankin-Bass is of course known for such productions as Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (1964), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970), Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971), The Jackson 5ive (1971), The Osmonds (1972), Willie Mays and the Say Hey Kid (1972), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), and The Hobbit (1977). It’s inevitable that I celebrate these programs, I think, which made such a mark on me in my childhood.


But today I wanted to share my recent revelation that Rankin comes from America’s foremost acting dynasty, one that begins way back in the mid 19th-century and continues all the way to the present day.


It begins with Rankin’s great grandfather McKee Rankin, one of 19th century America’s greatest stage stars starting in the 1860s. Rankin had three daughters, all of whom were actors themselves, and all of whom married actors. The oldest, Gladys Rankin, married Sidney Drew (himself of a great acting dynasty), thus becoming the first “Mrs.” in the stage and screen team of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. The youngest, Doris Rankin, married Lionel Barrymore. (This adds to the delightful knot, for Barrymore’s mother was also a Drew).


The middle Rankin daughter Phyllis Rankin married Harry Davenport, a stage and screen star best remembered today for playing Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind (1939). Phyllis and Harry had a son, named Arthur Rankin, who was a (very minor) movie actor himself (he chose his mother’s surname —  it had better marquee value). And HIS son, Arthur Rankin Jr. was the animator. I find this remarkable extended family too seductive not to jump down the rabbit hole, and there are many other notable relatives in their tree I haven’t mentioned yet. Drew Barrymore, anyone? Read more about the family here.

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