How do you describe your collection?
I have the world’s largest collection of Rankin/Bass Productions memorabilia. The studio produced nostalgic favourites such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Mad Monster Party, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and other animated television specials. I am the official historian and biographer for the production studio and have written six books on the subject. I actually help with the many products that come out every year — there will be a lot more in the future! My books are loaded with images of collectibles and my Etsy store is, too!
I don’t just collect one thing — I have objects relating to advertising characters, the Batman television show, television westerns, Captain Action by Ideal Toys, The Monkees, The Munsters, Mego, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Hanna-Barbera, Famous Monsters, Soaky bath products, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Marvel superheroes 1966, The Green Hornet, Chicago Children’s Television, and others.
My collection is very visual. I collect things if they look cool and I care much less about the value of the object. I am just as happy with reproduction items as I am with the originals if they look good. Most of my collection is from the 1950s and 1960s. I feel this was the most creative period of pop culture. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, but re-runs of 1960s television shows drew me in.
I have no idea how many pieces there are in my collection, as I never tried to count. I still add things every week, so it is ongoing. All I know is the visual stuff inspires me to do the work that I do and that is keeping the history of Rankin/Bass Productions alive. Arthur Rankin hired all the wonderful icons of the Golden Age of Hollywood to be in the Rankin/Bass television specials and I collect things from all of their careers, too. In fact, On September 17th, 2021, I will be in a film about the life of Boris Karloff called The Man Behind the Monster. Boris appeared in two Rankin/Bass films: Mad Monster Party and The Daydreamer. The work that I do connects me to all kinds of iconic people and pop culture history.
I have appeared across the country at various events and my collection has appeared at several museums, too. My collection is diverse and was the first filmed for MeTV’s Collector’s Call series. They really didn’t know how to describe it and there was never another like it featured on the series. I now write articles for two pop culture magazines: ReMIND and RetroFan.
When and why did you start your collection?
Rankin/Bass Productions was a big part of my childhood. My Mom would always make sure we caught the television specials. They meant a lot to me in particular. I loved the puppetry of their Animagic style, which was done in Japan. I was always attracted to great visuals and designs and Rankin/Bass had all of that.
I collected things as a child, but not in the way that I did after reaching adulthood. Just after college, I started collecting the work of Jack Davis (my favourite artist and friend). Jack was a designer for Rankin/Bass Productions and ultimately led me to become the Rankin/Bass historian, along with Paul Coker, Jr. I also started collecting The Green Hornet, Batman, and The Munsters just before I got married. All of this stuff took me back to my childhood. I feel that I am lucky to be able to work with stuff that I absolutely love!
Collecting has also led to many, many contacts that I would never have otherwise made. I became friends with people like June Foray, Maury Laws, Phyllis Diller, Sara Karloff, Bob McFadden, Jack Davis, Dick Beals — all kinds of people who worked with Rankin/Bass and did many other things in the world of pop culture. I have many autographed objects from all of these people and have appeared with some of them at special events around the country.
My son, Josh, collects the art of Shag (Josh Agle). His work is very collectible, I collect it, too! Shag is my friend and we did two events for his Mad Monster Party print at both of his stores and we are planning events for 2022. It really is an enchanting world!
How do you display and store your collection?
This is where I feel my collection differs from many that I saw on Collector’s Call and other shows. I have a knack for displaying items — my house looks like a museum. I always display what I add to my collection and store very few things away. As I said, I don’t inventory it. I look at it every day.
Since my degree is in illustration, I look at everything through the lens of art composition. In fact, my photography teacher in college — who exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago — gave me the only A in the class solely based on the composition of my photographs. I wasn’t a photography major! I think I have an eye for how collections should look. I group things that go together, light them, and use art to supplement the display. I am doing this yearly now at the Orland Park Public Library with portions of my collection for Christmas. I find the challenge of it interesting and fun. I even restore many of the items I buy for my collection.
What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collection?
There are so many things. I have a one-of-a-kind Mad Monster Party collectible that is one of my favorites. Nothing has really eluded me. I watch a television series or film then look for all the related collectibles from that series or film. I pick out the things I like most and build a collection that way.
Most recently, I’ve been after items from television westerns and all the great Hartland toys! Hartland produced great figural riders and gunfighter figures with boxes. I have many of those now. This branched off into collecting Steve McQueen items. Meanwhile, I still acquire things for collections I have had for years. I just ordered another Jerry Lewis one-sheet from The Disorderly Orderly after watching the film. I have a great Beany and Cecil collection. A friend of mine was just admiring my Sean Connery James Bond collection. My Ideal Captain Action collection may be one of my Holy Grails because I built it during a period of my life where I could get what I wanted. I didn’t grow up with Captain Action, I grew up with Mego figures. My friend’s older brother had the Batman and Superman costumes. I was fascinated by them and wanting to learn more about them. When I had the opportunity to piece together a collection years later, I was like a kid again. Visually, they are very cool to look at!
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a similar collection?
Collect what you like. Don’t collect things based on value and don’t keep them in the package — enjoy them.
Collecting will keep you young and it makes life fun. As I said, it inspires me to do what I do and I am lucky that way. Life to me is full of surprises and my collection keeps me young and it also keeps me thinking about the good-old days. Things have changed so drastically in 2021! I feel that I am lucky that I knew how good things can be. I also feel that I have an advantage over people that lived during those great decades, as I can look back and see how great things were.
I have an old TV GUIDE bound volume collection from the CBS Library of Chicago. In the old TV Guides, the reviewer, Cleveland Armory, would rip apart the television shows of the 1960s, in particular. He would say classic shows like Batman, Star Trek, The Monkees, I Dream of Jeannie, etc. were trash and part of the television wasteland. Little did he know that, people would still be watching them today. If he could see what modern television turned into, he would be shocked. He had no idea how creative those shows were and that modern Hollywood is constantly trying to remake them, as they have no creativity today! I love being part of that history.
Rankin/Bass Productions means more to people than just television specials: the specials are part of their family history and holiday traditions. I am happy I am able to keep that magic alive for so many!
Discover more of Rick’s work on his website.
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