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Maury Laws, Rankin-Bass Composer-Arranger, Dies at 95

Laws arranged and conducted the "Rudolph" song score and was Grammy-nominated for writing the music for TV's animated "Hobbit."

Maury Laws, who as musical director for Rankin-Bass productions supervised the scoring of such animated TV classics as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “The Hobbit,” died March 28 in Appleton, Wisc. He was 95.

Laws’ greatest achievement in TV was arranging and conducting all of the music for the 1964 stop-motion animation version of “Rudolph,” which featured new songs by original “Rudolph” songwriter Johnny Marks. Laws’ warm orchestral settings for such songs as “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “There’s Always Tomorrow” and the title tune helped to make the hour-long show a holiday season perennial.

CREDIT: Courtesy Family of Maury Laws

The success of “Rudolph” led to a series of animated specials by the Rankin-Bass company. Laws worked with Fred Astaire on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” (1970), Danny Kaye on “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” (1971), Angela Lansbury on “The First Christmas” (1975) and Judy Collins on “The Wind in the Willows” (1987), often writing the songs with lyricist and co-producer Jules Bass and then creating the dramatic underscore.

Laws was nominated for a 1979 Grammy for the music of “The Hobbit,” a 1977 animated TV adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien prelude to “The Lord of the Rings” novels. He later scored “The Return of the King,” a 1980 TV-movie sequel also based on the Tolkien saga.

Rankin-Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt told Variety that “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” and “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” were among the composer’s favorites. “Maury’s music was full of magic,” Goldschmidt said. “He wrote his music with a super-bouncy feel loaded with glockenspiels and xylophones. He said this came from his work on holiday commercials for General Electric, a few years before ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ His songs are as much a part of Christmas as decorating the tree and exchanging presents.”

For the big screen, Laws scored the Hans Christian Andersen anthology “The Daydreamer” (1966), the cult favorite “Mad Monster Party” (1967) with Boris Karloff, the live-action Marco Polo musical “Marco” (1973), the fantasy “The Last Dinosaur” (1977) and the period adventure “The Bushido Blade” (1981).

His television credits also included the Saturday morning cartoon “King Kong” (1966), “Cricket on the Hearth” (1967), “The Little Drummer Boy” (1968) and the animated classic-literature anthology “Festival of Family Classics” (1972).

Laws was born in Hurdle Mills, N.C., in 1923. He taught himself to play guitar and was performing professionally by the age of 16. After service in World War II, he settled in New York to pursue a musical career, eventually becoming an arranger for such singers as Betty Hutton and Vaughn Monroe.

He wrote the arrangement of the hit novelty tune “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini” without credit in 1960. He met Bass while scoring TV commercials in 1962 and joined the Rankin-Bass company, doing orchestrations for its “Return to Oz” special in 1964 before “Rudolph” catapulted them into the major leagues.

In his later years, Laws arranged a suite of his Rankin-Bass music for orchestras. As he told writer Greg Ehrbar for “The Cartoon Music Book”: “I can’t believe how much people really want to hear this music. We had no idea what it was to become when we first created it. Of everything I’ve ever done in my life, this has become the biggest thing to people, and I couldn’t be more delighted and gratified.”

Laws is survived by his wife Karen, three children, two sisters, nieces and nephews. Services will be private, although plans for a memorial are underway.

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