Christmas Classics PERSON OF THE DAY: Jack Rollins

September 15th, 2013

On this day in 1906, Walter E. “Jack” Rollins was born in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. Better known as Jack Rollins, he is the songwriter credited with co-writing, supposedly with Steve Nelson, the Christmas holiday song Frosty the Snowman that is part of AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CLASSICS. That success came in 1950, just a year after Rollins, and supposedly Nelson again, collaborated on the popular Easter song Here Comes Peter Cottontail.

Rollins also co-wrote the song Smokey the Bear in 1952 after a wildfire swept across the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico, during the course of which firefighters noticed a lone bear cub climbing up a charred tree to escape being further burnt from the flames. The cub was rescued from his perch and given immediate veterinary care and ultimately was sent to the National Zoo in Washington. The story about the bear cub and its rescue lead to a national public service campaign to prevent forest fires with Smokey the Bear serving as mascot.

Rollins achieved a fair level of success with his children’s holiday songs, especially with the Gene Autry recording of Frosty the Snowman that sold over a million records. Rollins also co-wrote others songs for such country singers as George Jones and Eddie Arnold.  Success, however, seemed to have come late in his career, one dotted with menial jobs. In 1940 he worked for a bakery. Eight years later he was a baggage clerk for Penn Station in New York. It was at that time when the 44 year old baggage clerk found the time to pen Frosty the Snowman and a number of other songs, and practically every night Rollins used to ask Frank (Zeb) Martello, the host of WOR mutual radio, to play them.

According to a letter from a Martello family member, Rollins and the radio host became friends and together they may have written five songs, including Rollins’ two most popular holiday songs Frosty the Snowman and Peter Cottontail. But Rollins asked Martello to take his name off the songs because some other well-known people, including “a guy by the name of Steve Nelson, for one, wanted his name on the songs before he would promote them.

After the two songs became big hits, Martello was asked by his wife why he had removed his name from the two songs, insisting that he was always being the nice guy. Martello replied “Jack has a lot of talent, he deserves a break.” When asked if he ever regretted doing that, Martello said, not really, but I guess mom could have used the money.”

Jack Rollins died in Cincinnati on January 1, 1973. The kind-hearted Zeb Martello on hearing the sad news was quoted to have said, “God Bless Jack, but I still have a lot to be thankful for.”

Jack Rollins

Jack Rollins