The above newspaper ad, from the 1970s, is courtesy of Long Beach, Calif., friend David Grudt. It brings back memories of the roughly 50-minute film, "Santa and the Three Bears," that used to air on Thanksgiving when I was a child in Long Beach. The film disappeared for a while but never went away. Ii once caught it on the long-gone commercial Ogden Channel 20, or was it was another channel. Lately though, it's come back, thanks to streaming services. It's on Amazon Prime, and that includes the brief live-action bookends. Here's a review of it. -- Doug Gibson
"Santa and the Three Bears" — If you lived in Southern California long ago, this 1970 blend of live action and cartoon was a Thanksgiving afternoon staple on KTLA Channel 5.
The animation is mediocre, but the story has a simple charm. A forest ranger teaches two excitable bear cubs about Christmas while their grouchy mother bear wants them to hibernate for the winter. The ranger agrees to play Santa for the cubs on Christmas Eve, but a storm keeps "Santa" away ... or does it? The best part of the film is the live-action beginning and ending, where the ranger sits by the Christmas tree with his grandaughter, a sleepy cat and many toys.
The songs by the way, are fantastic. Simple lyrics, but sung with Christmas cheer, passion and beauty. I find myself watching this film every Christmas season for the live action sequences, and the songs.
The ranger is voiced and played by Hal Smith, best known as Otis the town drunk on "The Andy Griffith Show." Grumpy Mama Bear was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma on "The Flintstones"). The uncredited director of the live action is incredibly Barry Mahon, who made soft-core sex films in the 1960s with such titles as "Nudes Inc." and "The Sex Killer." Another kiddie film he directed is Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, reviewed here.