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Jules Bass, Co-Producer of TV Holiday Staples, Is Dead at 87

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Jules Bass, who created an animation empire with his business partner, Arthur Rankin Jr., that produced perennial Christmastime television favorites like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman,” died on Tuesday in Rye, NY He was 87 .

His death, at an assisted living facility, was confirmed by Jennifer Ruff, whose mother was Mr. Bass’s first wife.

The Rankin/Bass studio was a major force in animated programming, mostly on television, from the early 1960s to the late ’80s. Some of its TV shows and movies used traditional hand-drawn cel animation, but it carved out a separate specialty in the stop-motion puppet animation familiar to viewers since “Gumby” in the 1950s.

Rankin/Bass’s stop-motion specials included “Rudolph” (1964), featuring the voice of the folk singer Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman; “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” (1970), with Fred Astaire as the narrator and Mickey Rooney as the voice of Kris Kringle; and “Jack Frost” (1979), with Robert Morse voicing the title role.

“Frosty” (1969), narrated by Jimmy Durante, used traditional animation.

To create the stop-motion effect, animators in Japan painstakingly shot thousands of pictures of the tiniest movements and gestures of inches-tall puppets. When run at 24 frames a second, the images generated a whimsical sort of herky-jerky animation that became the Rankin/Bass signature.

“When I saw their cartoons, they left a great impression on me because they had dimensionality versus drawn animation,” said Tom Gasek, a professor in the school of film and animation at the Rochester Institute of Technology who was inspired by Rankin/Bass’s work to become a stop-motion animator. “They were not high quality by any means, but they were charming and their designs were very smart.”

Mr. Bass and Mr. Rankin were often credited as the directors of their work and offered input on scripts and storyboards. But they played different roles at the company, said Rick Goldschmidt, the studio’s official historian.

Mr. Bass composed much of the music. He hired and worked closely with the musical supervisor, Maury Laws, and ran the company’s business in Manhattan while Mr. Rankin was in Japan supervising the animation.

“Where Jules is really the star of Rankin/Bass is as a songwriter and his partnership with Maury,” Mr. Goldschmidt said in a phone interview.

Mr. Rankin, who was the studio’s chief executive, also sold the shows to TV networks and made sure they were delivered on time.

“After a while, we were never seen together — I’d be doing production in Tokyo and he’d be recording a soundtrack in New York,” Mr. Rankin said in an interview in 2003 with the Museum of Television and Radio, now the Paley Center for Media. “If we were together, one of us wasn’t necessary.”

Mr. Bass was rarely quoted publicly, and little is known about his private life. But the two partners spoke during a joint interview with The New York Times in 1982 when their animated theatrical feature, “The Last Unicorn,” was released.

When they were asked who did most of the directing — the movie credits both of them — they initially said they did it together.

“Anything he can do, I can do better,” Mr. Rankin said.

Mr. Bass countered: “He never worked a day on the film. I did everything.”

Peter S. Beagle, who wrote the screenplay for “The Last Unicorn” and the novel it was based on, recalled in a phone interview that his dealings with Mr. Bass “were very professional.” But, he added, “he was very private, and I never had a true sense of what was going on deepest in his head.”

He added, “I’m grateful that the film came out pretty much as I wrote it.”

Julius Bass was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 16, 1935. His father, Max, was a wholesale beer salesman, and his mother, Bernice (Palat) Bass, was a homemaker.

He attended New York University, where he studied marketing from 1952 to 1954, but he did not graduate. He was hired by Gardner Advertising in Manhattan, where he met Mr. Rankin, who was making TV commercials under the banner of his company, Videocraft International.

Mr. Bass joined Videocraft in the mid-1950s, and the two men produced commercials, occasionally using animation, for agencies that represented clients including General Electric and the A.&P. supermarket chain. They wearied of commercial production and shifted to animation in 1960 with a TV series, “The New Adventures of Pinocchio,” which used the stop-motion technique Mr. Bass had discovered in Japan.

The company eventually changed its name to Rankin/Bass, and its work toggled between stop-motion and traditional cel animation.

Although Rankin/Bass was best known for its Christmas programs, it also made TV movies like “The Ballad of Smokey the Bear” (1966), which was narrated by James Cagney; “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” (1971); and “The Hobbit” (1977), which earned a Peabody Award. They also produced animated TV series like “King Kong” (1966), “The Reluctant Dragon & Mr. Toad Show” (1970), the “Jackson 5ive” (1971), “TigerSharks” (1985) and “Thundercats” (1987 ).

Mr. Bass and Mr. Rankin ended their partnership in the late 1980s after their company was acquired by Lorimar-Telepictures, which was subsequently bought by Warner Communications, which is now Warner Bros. Discovery. Mr. Rankin died in 2014.

Mr. Bass later wrote three children’s books. “Herb the Vegetarian Dragon” and “Cooking With Herb the Vegetarian Dragon,” illustrated by Debbie Harter, were both published in 1999. “The Mythomaniacs” (2013), with illustrations by Lawrence Christmas, is about a teenage magician who sends a group of readers of his father’s fairy tales into the books as characters.

He also wrote an adult novel, “Headhunters” (2001), about four women from New Jersey who go to Monte Carlo and pretend to be among the world’s wealthiest women. It was adapted into a 2011 film, “Monte Carlo,” starring Selena Gomez.

Mr. Bass leaves no immediate survivors. His daughter, Jean Nicole Bass, died this year. His marriages to Renee Fisherman and Sylvia Bass ended in divorce.

The power of two of Rankin/Bass’s best-known productions has reverberated for decades since they were released: Both “Rudolph” and “Frosty” remain highly rated cornerstones of CBS’s pre-Christmas programming.

In 2014, CBS promoted “Rudolph” on its 50th anniversary with ads that used stop motion to show the renowned reindeer and Sam the Snowman walking around the network’s backlot, meeting the stars of some of its other shows, including Mayim Bialik of “The Big Bang Theory” and Michael Weatherly of “NCIS.”

“They’re the fabric of our Christmas hearth, the wood in the Christmas fire,” George Schweitzer, CBS’s former president of marketing, said in a phone interview. “You knew Christmas was coming when Rudolph and Frosty showed up on CBS.”