13 classic TV stars we saw in cherished Christmas movies
Choose your favorite Santa: Ed Asner or Hal Smith?
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Over the years, we've seen a lot of actors step into the Santa's shoes on both big and small screens. Some of the most iconic performances have actually come not from the North Pole but from classic TV, where even a top actor like Ed Asner didn't consider it stooping to step into Santa's sleigh. Flip through our favorite appearances, then read more about these holiday roles below:
Ed Asner famously portrayed Santa Claus in Elf, the 2003 Christmas comedy starring Will Ferrell, with a supporting cast that also featured classic TV icon Bob Newhart as Papa Elf. It was a role that came well after Asner had already successfully spun off his character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show into his own series Lou Grant, but for some TV stars, the Christmas movie they took part in came before their TV career started.
Donna Reed is probably the most famous face from TV (The Donna Reed Show) associated with Christmas, since her movie It's a Wonderful Life (starring James Stewart) is one of the most unique fantasies spun from the holiday season. But the year after we watched Reed and Stewart discover their true meaning of Christmas, one of the biggest Christmas movies of all time arrived, and on its cast? One of TV's most familiar faces.
In 1947, Miracle on 34th Street debuted, winning Oscars for Best Writing and Original Story, plus another win for Best Supporting Actor for Kris Kringle star Edmund Gwenn. And although the spotlight was difficult to steal, it's likely I Love Lucy fans fondly remember William Frawley in his role as a political advisor who cautions the judge not to rule against Santa's very existence.
It wasn't until the 1970s when we would see another stream of TV stars blast into cherished Christmas movies, starting with a little storytelling from Hal Smith of The Andy Griffith Show. Smith starred in the animated special Santa and the Three Bears, voicing the characters of Uncle Hal, Mr. Ranger and Santa. Then, for fans of Rankin/Bass' spirited stop-motion holiday specials, you'll be delighted to recognize F Troop star Larry Storch as Papa in the 1979 classic Jack Frost. And while the Star Wars Holiday Special has its own seasonal flavor, who could forget seeing comedic stars Bea Arthur, Art Carney and Harvey Korman as bonus gifts in the cast?
In the 1980s and '90s, more joy could be found for fans of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, when Carl Kolchak himself stepped into the now-classic A Christmas Story as The Old Man Parker. We also saw John Goodman turn up with button eyes as Frosty in Frosty Returns (which is billed as not quite a sequel to the 1969 original, but it's still cool). Then the Tool Man from Home Improvement Tim Allen went and made himself a merry franchise in The Santa Clause.
But perhaps the most nostalgic gift that came in the 1990s was Mickey's Christmas Carol, which featured Hal Smith again, this time as Goofy/Jacob Marley's Ghost, as well as Mister Ed star Alan Young in the role of Scrooge. Like cookies left for Santa, it's a treat to hear both classic TV stars voice iconic Disney characters, and for many revisiting Mickey's version of the Dickens tale has been a time-honored tradition for the past 35 years.