The Marvelous Mr. Muller, a/k/a "Mr. Christmas"


Copyright 1995 by George Zadorozny

A few years ago I discovered something strange and wonderful. As a devotee of animated children's films, naturally I have watched quite a lot of them over the years. Most were enjoyable but far from extraordinary. On those rare occasions when I did run across one that was good--really good, as in "hallelujah, shoot off fireworks, this one's great!"--a curious coincidence emerged. It turned out that nearly all of those splendid films had been written by one man, named Romeo Muller.

What films am I talking about? Most of them are Christmas or other holiday films, and the most famous of these is *Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,* the puppet-animation classic from 1964, with music and lyrics by Johnny Marks (Don't confuse this with the uninspired 1940s version from the Max Fleischer studio, which otherwise did excellent work on Betty Boop and the early Popeye cartoons.)

I remember watching the 1964 Rudolph as a child, delighted and enraptured by the story it told. Do you remember? Sam the Snowman as narrator (voiced and sung in the performance of a lifetime by Burl Ives); Rudolph the misfit and rejected reindeer; Rudolph's friend, Hermy the Elf, also a misfit because he doesn't like to make toys but wants to be a dentist; Yukon Cornelius, the prospector who befriends them both; the Abominable Snowmonster of the North (whom Yukon, in prospector slang, invariably calls a "bumble"); the Island of Misfit Toys, and its winged lion king; and many other characters and story threads. The presentation, interweaving, and resolution of all of these elements is positively Shakespearean in deftness, wit, poetic brevity and beauty of expression, depth, pathos, joy, moral instruction, and the sense that all ends as indeed it should. Grounded in a deep and sparkling love of all creation, these qualities characterize all of Romeo Muller's films.

So far as I've been able to determine, his other animated Christmas films are:

  • The Little Drummer Boy (1968; voices of Greer Garson & Jose Ferrer)
  • Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970; narrated by Fred Astaire)
  • Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976; narrated by Andy Griffith)
  • The Stingiest Man In Town (1978; a musical version of Dickens's Christmas Carol, and narrated by Tom Bosley)
  • Jack Frost (1979; narrated by Buddy Hackett, and with a dazzling performance by Paul Frees--best known as the voice of Boris Badenov--as bad guy Kubla Kraus)
  • The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold (1981; this is a little-known gem, with Art Carney as Blarney Kilakilarney, chief leprechaun)
  • Noel (1992; narrated by Charlton Heston) (a glorious film).

Muller's non-Christmas works are likewise a feast for the mind and the heart. Among them is *Here Comes Peter Cottontail* (1971; narrated by Danny Kaye, and with Vincent Price as the voice of the wicked bunny, Irontail). Although an Eastertime story, it manages to encompass all of the year's major holidays, in a plot that amply and nimbly justifies such multi-holiday extravagance. Others, likewise well worth your and your children's enchanted attention, include *The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town* (1977; narrated by Fred Astaire); *Puff the Magic Dragon* (1978; with Burgess Meredith as Puff); *The World of Strawberry Shortcake* (1980); *Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City* (1981); *Strawberry Shortcake in Pets on Parade* (1982; these three films are narrated by Romeo Muller as the Sun; all the later Strawberry Shortcakes are written by others and are poorly done); and *Peter and the Magic Egg* (1983; narrated by Ray Bolger).

After seeing Mr. Muller's name turn up on about 10 of the above films, I was so moved by their artistic greatness that I did something unprecedented for me. I wrote him a fan letter! I tried to get an address from the library, but all they could tell me was that he was a member of the Screen Writer's Guild. I wrote to him care of the Guild. The theme of my letter was that so long as there is such a thing as childhood, his films will endure and be cherished. I never did get an answer, but that was okay--writers are often shy. At any rate, I really hope that Mr. Muller got my fan letter; he certainly has my love and esteem.

I continued to seek out his films, and on January 4, 1993, I came across this notice in the newspaper:
"ROMEO MULLER, 64, a writer of animated children's television Christmas specials--including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy and others--died December 30, 1992, at his home in High Falls, N.Y.
Mr. Muller, whose Christmas specials were watched by millions in America, was known as 'Mr. Christmas' or 'Mr. Santa Claus' to his friends and family, said his brother, Eugene Muller, who said his brother had cancer but died in his sleep, apparently of a heart attack. . . ."

I was grief-stricken by this, and greatly saddened by the thought that thismagnificent writer's voice was now silent, and could tell the worl= d no more of his marvelous and enchanting tales. But there were still films of his I hadn't seen.

Two Christmases later, I finally got hold of a copy of his last film, *Noel,* which had been broadcast (but which I had missed) in December of 1992, the month that he had died. Although most of his films are secular, *Noel* adroitly reveals his Christian faith, telling the story of the life and death of a living Christmas tree ornament who, through spreading happiness, earns resurrection and immortal life. Such, I am sure, was Romeo's faith; and such, I hope, his fate. His death, coming so soon after Christmas Day, can perhaps be understood as a subtle sign of a wonderful destiny for this warmhearted and wonderful human being.

{POSTSCRIPT. In Christmas of 1993, an animated film called *The Twelve Days of Christmas* was released by Goodtimes Home Video. Apparently based on a sketchy outline by Romeo Muller, it was completed by another writer. Unfortunately the tone of film is mostly wrong--far too sarcastic to be Muller's--but there are some aspects of it which are pure Muller, such as the ingenious and inspired explanation of the origin of the song after which the film is named. The very best thing about the film is that it is followed by an extensive biography of Muller, with many pictures, and interviews with those who knew him. This and the other films mentioned above (if in print) are available from The Whole To on Company, 1-800-331-6197; or from Videofinders, 1-800-448-5238.}

George Zadorozny



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