The Year Without A Santa Claus is my all-time favorite Rankin-Bass Christmas special. There’s just no beating the charm of the hopelessly dated plots, proudly corny character designs, and jerky stop-motion animation.

But the real reason Year Without stands apart from the pack is the Heat Miser and Snow Miser. For starters, there’s the theme songs each sings. Once you hear ’em, you’ll be humming the tune for the rest of the year. Need proof? Here’s the Snow Miser song. (If you’re at work, put some headphones on!)

But beyond the enjoyment of the TV special itself, watching Year Without lets me launching into my story about Dick Shawn. Mr. Shawn was the voice of the Snow Miser. He was an up-and-coming comedian in the 50s. He was a contemporary of Jonathon Winters and styled the same manic, zany, weird delivery.

Unfortunately, he just never had that One Major Break to catapult him to Super Stardom. The movie role that he is best remembered for is the “Hitler” character from Mel Brooks’ original “The Producers” starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostell. He was also the distraught hippie in “It’ a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

But he toured a lot — and his act was big on college campuses.

So, he’s playing the University of California in San Diego in April 1987… He’s worked his set up to a fevered pitch, launching into a bit about nuclar war… He was his manic self as he began to imagine the holocaust. Nobody would survive, he explained, except the audience in the little sheltered theater! Then he shouted, “And I would be your leader!!”

And then he fell face-first onto the stage.

The crowd erupted into thunderous applause. The house positively shook as Shawn lay on the stage, unmoving.

The applause died down… aside from a few nervous giggles… and still no motion from the comic. An audience member rushed up.

Dick Shawn, of course, was dead.

New York Post columnist Cindy Adams remembered what Shawn said about trying to find the right audiences for his brand of comedy: “I can’t work places like Vegas or the Catskills where people are belching. Maybe I belong in colleges. At least if I die, I die in front of intelligent people who know what I’m talking about.”

Year Without a Santa Claus airs throughout the Christmas season on ABC Family.

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