by Rick Goldschmidt

As the Rankin/Bass historian, I am constantly asked "Why do you think the Rankin/Bass specials have lasted this long?" and part of my answer is always the fact that they were written by a wonderfully talented man who strived to bring a little happiness into everyone's life named Romeo Muller.

Romeo Muller, Jr. was born in the Bronx August 07, 1928 and raised in Long Island. He began his career in the arts very early on. At Age 11, he became a puppeteer and took his show to the grade schools. "He made some marionettes and his Father constructed a theater," says best friend Ken Donnelly. "Romeo also wrote the shows!"

As Romeo furthered his career in the theater he joined an acting troup called "Theater Go Round" in Virginia Beach with producer/friend Lesley Savage. "Romeo was an actor, then he became a director, writer and producer and we had so much fun," Says Savage. At this time Romeo wrote plays such as "Angel With The Big, Big Ears" and "The Great Getaway," which eventually became the Rankin/Bass off-broadway play "A Month Of Sundays." Since Romeo was a big man at six feet, two inches tall and three-hundred pounds, he decided to stray away from acting and turn his attention to writing.

After writing some hilarious material for comedy legend Jack Benny, Romeo was discovered by CBS founder William Hailey and selected to be a staff writer for the prestigous Studio One at Philco Theatre. He wrote one of the most popular episodes for the Studio One series entitled "Love Me To Pieces Baby."

In 1963, Romeo met with producer/directors Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass and began a relationship that would last for years. Rankin/Bass asked Romeo to write a screenplay for their first network television special entitled Return To Oz, which aired on NBC's The General Electric Fantasy Hour. The show was a success and set the stage for the most popular holiday television special of all-time, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. A little known fact about Romeo's Rudolph script is that he embellished a very short story into an hour-long broadcast and added a variety of characters into the special that never existed before. He created Sam The Snowman "a nicely-nicely Damon Runyonesque character," Yukon Cornelius, Hermey the Elf, Clarice (named after a mid-western friend of his that got married shortly before the special), the Abominable Snowmonster, the Island Of Misfit Toys and the list goes on. This was a blockbuster project for Romeo and it set the tone for future scripts. "One thing that Romeo always did," Says Donnelly, "He never killed off the villians. Villians never died....he would make them to look ridiculous or reform them in the end." Romeo would also incorporate personal experiences and friends into his screenplays. As a child, Romeo and Friend would talk about monsters climbing out from behind a mountain. After writing Rudolph, he asked his friend to view the special and see if he noticed anything familiar and of course he wrote a scene where the Abominable peaks over a mountain top.

Romeo's Resume of Rankin/Bass specials is impressive to say the least. He penned such shows as The Hobbit (for which he won a Peabody and Christopher award), Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, The Little Drummer Boy, Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Frosty The Snowman, Jack Frost, Cricket On The Hearth, Mouse On The Mayflower, The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Enchanted World Of Danny Kaye, The Easter Bunny Is Comin' To Town, Frosty's Winter Wonderland, Rudolph's Shiny New Year, The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold and many, many more. He was also invloved with the Rankin/Bass TV series and created and wrote the Tom Of T.H.U.M.B. series for The King Kong Show, while Don Duga designed the characters. He was also the co-creator and writer on The Tomfoolery Show and The Jackson Five series.

"What a talented writer," says Paul Coker, Jr. "I would get these scripts to design the characters from and I immediately recognized the wonderful writing style Romeo had for the specials. It was amazing and made my job easier."

Which was his favorite of the Rankin/Bass specials? The Little Drummer Boy! Arthur Rankin called Romeo one morning and informed him that he had told NBC about a Romeo Muller story that would be delivered that afternoon. In one hour, the clean, simple story, which Muller thought was the best Christmas show he had ever done, came to him. He typed it up and dictated it over the phone to Arthur's secretary and Arthur rushed it to NBC that evening and sold the show.

What was Romeo's least favorite Rankin/Bass Special? The Easter Bunny Is Comin' To Town. The script went through eighteen drafts and he felt that too many people put their ideas into the special. This is a big surprise to me because The Easter Bunny Is Comin' To Town has always been one of my personal favorites.

Romeo's work with Rankin/Bass extended beyond the animated holiday specials. His off-broadway play "A Month Of Sundays" opened in October of 1968 and closed shortly thereafter. Described as a 'flop' in Variety, it is remembered fondly by actor Allen Swift. "I thought it was a good play and it took alot of energy to pull off," says Swift. In the Variety review, it says "Allen Swift, as the capitalistic heavy, has the preponderance of the best lines and delivers them stylishly."

Romeo also acted in the Rankin/Bass live action feature film Marco and even co-wrote the songs with Maury Laws. His presence in the film is very comical and there are plans to issue it on DVD in the future. Romeo and friend Zero Mostel have a few nice scenes together.

Romeo was a simple man who enjoyed having dinner with friends and watching old movies. He would screen his old movie collection for friends and charitable organizations. He also collected old toy trains and whenever he could write a train into one of his screenplays, he did. This is why we have the train with square wheels in Rudolph, Chugs in The Easter Bunny Is Comin' To Town, and he wrote a holiday TV special around a Blue Comet train with The Little Rascals Christmas Special. Trains were Romeo's passion and he built a large track in his High Falls home. On NBC's Today Show Romeo told Jane Pauley, "I still haven't gotten my Blue Comet train. I can't afford it (laughs)."

Romeo passed away as I was making early progress with my Rankin/Bass book in 1992. Arthur Rankin broke the bad news to me from New York and I dedicated the book in part to Romeo. It took a while to learn Romeo's story and this website has benefited greatly from the assistance of Romeo's brother Gene! "Romeo just wanted to bring peace and happiness to people!," says Gene. Romeo certainly has done this in a big way. Romeo was sent a Christmas card by a fan that he treasured for years and Gene read it at Romeo's memorial which stated "...Those specials were as much a tradition in my parents home as the Christmas tree itself, and have become a tradition with my own children. You must be very proud of the joy you have brought to children all over, even me, a simple girl from the mid-west. Without knowing it, your visit to our homes each Christmas through your specials, was just as important as a visit from Grandma and Grandpa. My son thinks you are the greatest thing since sliced bread and in all honesty, his mom thinks so too. God bless you during this holiday season, and once again 'Thank You' for everything you've given." Romeo is certainly missed and is probably getting ready to recite his favorite Christmas story 'Noel' (which he did annually) to somebody bigger than you and I this Christmas. ~ Rick

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