Christmas traditions come and go.
Some, like plum pudding and hideous sweaters, are gladly forgotten. Others, even the most beloved, simple fade away though time and technology.
For Chicagoland and northern Indiana, a group of adored children’s Christmas characters have been sadly swept away by today’s traditions, but hopefully will make a return…with the help of YouTube and broadband Internet.
Several times each Christmas season starting in the 1950s, the Chicago television station WGN broadcast a popular trio of stop-motion animal cartoons: “Hardrock, Coco and Joe”, “Suzy Snowflake” and “Frosty the Snowman”. These cartoons were often hosted by the long-running WGN character Bozo the Clown.
“Hardrock, Coco and Joe – The Three Little Dwarves”
The three dwarves Hardrock, Coco and Joe also worked as Santa’s helpers (dwarves, NOT elves). Hardrock drove Santa’s sleigh while Coco helped navigate. Joe, the smallest of the three, did little more than provide a little comic relief with his ridiculously deep voice.
Although Hardrock, Coco and Joe’s entire show lasted only a few minutes, it had a lasting cultural footprint. Famed crooner Gene Autry covered the special’s song in a comic parody. Modern television shows like Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and TV Funhouse also referenced the 1951 cartoon.
Singer and actress Rosemary Clooney had a 1951 Christmas hit with her song “Suzy Snowflake” which inspired the Chicagoland classic stop-motion cartoon.
Unlike “Hardrock, Coco and Joe” it doesn’t center on the Christmas holiday, but simply personifies a snowflake itself (as Suzy) and sings about the fun children can enjoy in winter. The song proved so popular that Clooney rerecorded it in 1978.
“Frosty the Snowman”
Long before the more familiar 1969, full-color Frosty, there was a black-and-white Frosty that capitalized on the success of the brand new Christmas character. The song “Frosty the Snowman” was a 1950s hit for Gene Autry, Jimmy Durante, Perry Como and Nat King Cole, among many other singers.
To capitalize on the success of the song, producers released a three-minute cartoon featuring an a cappella version of the song. As brief as it was, this Frosty was coupled with characters Suzy Snowflake and Hardrock, Coco and Joe to form a tidy block of Christmas cartoons (and sing-along tunes) for baby boomers across northern Indiana.
This black-and-white Frosty has regretfully been eclipsed by the larger and longer Frosty cartoon from 1969. Even with its simple animation, for many, this original Frosty remains the REAL Frosty.