This week’s cover features scenes from the holiday classic Frosty the Snowman, which first aired on December 7, 1969. Though best known for his work on Frosty, Riverhead’s Don Duga, has had a remarkably successful and varied career.
“Frosty the Snowman kind of opened a lot of doors for me. When you work on something, you kind of just do it and move on; but people liked it!” Duga says. Originally from Hollywood, Duga went to the Choinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he wanted to study painting.
“I was never going to be in animation,” Duga laughs. “I was going to be a painter! But my drawing teacher said that you actually get paid if you do animation.”
The Choinard Art Institute had many famous animators in their faculty, including Shamus Culhane, the lead animator of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
After graduating from Choinard, Duga storyboarded countless cartoons and projects. “The first project I worked on was Mr. Magoo,” Duga reflects. But Duga’s big break was at Rankin/Bass Productions. “I came to New York from California and lived in the village,” he notes. “I met with Arthur [Rankin, Jr.] and Jules Bass; they had a little studio in the city, with a garden, and they called me in and gave me my first project, which was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The holiday special, which was animated with puppets, was far along in production and Duga didn’t get credited for the project. Rankin/Bass Productions’ holiday specials helped the studio gain exposure; at one point, they were commissioned to work on cartoons for Smokey the Bear. Many Rankin/Bass productions had great vocal talent, as well. “Arthur was great at getting people [to perform]. He had a lot of great actors,” Duga says. Frosty the Snowman for example, starred Jackie Vernon and Jimmy Durante.
Duga has lived in Riverhead since 1980. “When I lived in the village, friends of mine were staying out here on the North Fork,” he recalls. “I went with them and fell in love with it.” Duga has a great fondness for Riverhead and is glad it’s experiencing a renaissance; he drew a September, 2012 cover for Dan’s Papers featuring a whimsical version of the village.
Duga is still a very active artist and continues to work on special projects and shows. In July, Duga did an art show called “Surviving Sandy,” featuring art inspired by the resilience of those affected by Superstorm Sandy, at the 73 Main Boutique and Gallery. More recently, Duga was a featured artist at 73 Main’s “Grey Gardens” exhibit, where he presented several paintings of the legendary mansion. The artist is currently preparing for his holiday show at Dark Horse Restaurant on Saturday, December 14. “I make up these cards with Frosty the Snowman in a parade [with the other characters] with a blank space, and when kids come in I draw them into the space,” he says with a smile. “There’s a lot of fun and festivity.” A staple of the East End art community, Duga’s lovely work is a timeless treat that people of all ages can enjoy.
Meet Don Duga and check out his work at the Dark Horse Restaurant, 1 East Main Street, Riverhead on Saturday, December 21, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. (he also met fans at Dark Horse on December 14) For more information about the show call 631-208-0072.