Romeo Muller, who wrote such perennial Yuletide TV specials as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,””Frosty the Snowman” and “The Little Drummer Boy,” died yesterday morning at his home in High Falls, N.Y.
Muller, who was 64, had been diagnosed as having cancer of the pancreas just a month ago.
Muller was something of a legend in the New York area, where it was his practice to read his Christmas stories both on the radio and during his visits to local schools.
Muller was a tall man with a white beard who bore more than a slight resemblance to Santa Claus. And over the course of his long career in TV, he had the pleasure of having the likes of Fred Astaire, Jimmy Durante and Burl Ives portray his characters.
In addition to Christmas specials, he also penned “Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Many of these specials, which were animated and produced by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, remain holiday traditions to this day. “Rudolph” aired for the 28th time this past Christmas season.
While the rights to many of these earlier specs are owned by Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video, up until his death Muller still received residuals.
But the money was of secondary concern for Muller. During an interview with Variety last month, he said, “I get a little Christmas bonus every year based on writing done in 1964. I don’t care about the money, though. I’m just so proud of these shows becoming Christmas traditions.”
His latest foray into the Yule spec market was this year’s “Noel.” NBC aired the original story about a magical ornament on Dec. 4. Unlike much of his earlier work, “Noel” was not based on a popular song but on an original story.
The success of many of Muller’s early work made it tough for new holiday fare to become hits. The writer himself even wrestled with the difficulty of creating sequels like “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland.”
Not long ago, he described the problem of trying to top “Rudolph” as follows: “There are not that many good stories out there, ‘Rudolph’ was tough to write a sequel for. After he shines his nose, all he can do is teach others about confidence, which is what ‘Rudolph’s Shiny New Year’ is all about.”
Muller is survived by his father and a brother.