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Bradley Bolke: A voice from the past

Posted By Peter D. Kramer On December 19, 2012 @ 2:07 pm In Faces & Places,Video | Comments Disabled

Meet Jangle Bells and Chumley the Walrus


(“The Year Without a Santa Claus,” airs on at 4 p.m. Dec. 22 on ABC Family. Dobbs Ferry’s Bradley Bolke provided the voice for Jangle Bells, the character on the left. Photo courtesy Rankin&Bass and ABC Family.)

Since its 1974 premiere, there has been no year without “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” the Rankin & Bass stop-motion Christmas classic about that fictional holiday when the North Pole’s most famous resident wanted time off for good behavior.

Every year, Santa has a cold, thinks he’s irrelevant, wants to skip Christmas, Mrs. Claus threatens to do the job instead, Heat Miser and Snow Miser battle and Mother Nature settles the matter.

And every year, Bradley Bolke and his wife, Kitty, tune in to watch it in their Dobbs Ferry apartment. (It’s on at 4 p.m. Dec.22 on ABC Family.)



(Retired actor Bradley Bolke, who was the voice of Chumley the Walrus on “Tennessee Tuxedo” and Jangle Bells the elf on the Christmas classic “The Year Without a Santa Claus” is pictured in his Dobbs Ferry apartment. The elf on the shelf? Jangle. Photo by Mark Vergari/The Journal News.)

“I have copies of it, but we watch it every year, and every year we watch it — even though we’ve seen it God knows how many times — we say ‘This is a good show,’” says the 87-year-old Bolke, whose name is pronounced “BOWL-kee.”

Bolke can be forgiven if he’s partial to the show: After all, he’s in it. He provided the voice for Jangle Bells, one of a pair of slightly dim Christmas elves in Santa’s employ, the other being Jingle Bells (voiced by the late Bob McFadden).

The Mount Vernon native found regular work as a commercial and voice actor, which was sort of the family business. Bolke’s older brother, Dayton Allen, was a fixture on “The Steve Allen Show,” the voice of “Deputy Dawg” and the original Phineas T. Bluster on “The Howdy Doody Show.” Allen died in 2004.

“Now, I’m a retired actor,” jokes Bolke, who has lived in Dobbs Ferry since 1958. “In fact that’s what it says on my unemployment card.”

Bolke’s most famous cartoon character is the lovably dim Chumley the Walrus, sidekick to the wise-cracking zoo penguin Tennessee Tuxedo. While that entire series was re-released in a boxed set just this year (“Tennessee Tuxedo And His Tales: The Complete Collection”), it hasn’t had the staying power of that perennial Christmas bauble with Heat Miser and Snow Miser.

He was also present at the creation of Vaughn Meader’s classic comedy album, “The First Family,” in which he played a shoe-banging Nikita Khrushchev. That album, which sold faster than any other comedy album to that point, was recorded on Oct. 22, 1962, the same night that President John F. Kennedy was delivering a crucial speech on the Cuban Missile Crisis. The audience was in the studio, unaware that the superpowers were on the verge of a monumental showdown.

“The Year Without a Santa Claus” was recorded in one day in New York City, with Shirley Booth (Mrs. Claus) and the rest of the cast, minus Mickey Rooney, who added his Santa voice in a separate session.

Eight or nine years ago, they held a reunion of Rankin & Bass actors and creative team at the Museum of Television and Radio.

“After it, I asked Arthur (Rankin) if Jangle was a caricature of me and he said it was. I’m thin-faced with a big nose.”

Finding Jangle’s voice wasn’t too hard, Bolke recalls, going into voice as he says: “I guess he kind of wasn’t a really smart guy. ‘Hi, Mrs. Claus.’”

Bolke says there was nothing particularly memorable about that recording session, when Jangle emerged from his voicebox.

“It turned out to be a classic, but it’s the same thing with ‘The First Family.’ It was another job,” he says. “You come home and you don’t realize it’s going to become a classic.”

It turns out Bolke isn’t Dobbs Ferry’s only tie to “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” Rhoda Mann, who played the all-powerful Mother Nature in the show, also lives in the village.

“We don’t see each other that often, but we talk pretty regularly,” says Bolke.

After retiring, Bolke and his wife began to sponsor a $100 humor award at Dobbs Ferry High School, The Bradley and Katherine Bolke Award, to a graduate who “in the opinion of the selection committee, either through performing, writing or any artistic endeavor, is outstanding in humor or wit.”

“I still get fan mail,” Bolke says, with a bit of wonder in his voice. “I don’t know how they find me, but they write to tell me that this is their favorite show, or that Tennessee Tuxedo is their favorite show. It’s a certain group that I don’t quite understand. It’s not very fancy vellum that they write on, it’s more loose-leaf spiral notebook paper and I don’t think they’re allowed to use sharp implements.”

“This is my fan base,” he says with a giggle.

Here are a few more facts about Bradley Bolke:

1. “People ask me why I became an actor. I like to sleep late,” he jokes.

2. He still gets a check when “The Year Without a Santa Claus” airs. “Sometimes it’s $20, sometimes it’s $30. With that show, it’s fame, not fortune,” he says.

3. At Mount Vernon’s A.B. Davis High School (back when it was a high school), Bolke’s brother, Dayton Allen, was a classmate of “Honeymooners” star Art Carney.

4. He studied radio and minored in speech and English at NYU, and graduated early, at age 19. “My tuition and commuting and books was $2,000 for my degree.”

5. His first paying job was in the summer of 1945, a television series directed by TV pioneer Fred Coe.

“At that time you did a show and it was all live, but there was nothing to be nervous about because at that time, there were only about a thousand TV sets.”

6. “Something they hadn’t perfected yet in early TV was cool lighting. Boy it was hot,” he says. “Those early days of television, you really shvitzed.”

7. He met his wife, Kitty, when he was making the rounds trying to find work in Manhattan. She was a receptionist.

8. The engineer and one of the partners at Aura Recording on West 52nd Street — recording “Tennessee Tuxedo” — was Ben Stern, Howard Stern’s father.

9. He was in an Off-Broadway show called “Jonah,” a biblical comedy.

“I got great reviews in the Wall Street Journal, but it got bad reviews and it didn’t run too long. There was one scene between Jonah and someone else and I was onstage, tied to a post. The dialogue was so boring, I fell asleep a couple of times.”

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