Christmas My Way: Day Eight (TV Thursday)

This past Tuesday, CBS ran RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER for the umpteenth TV Holiday season. Originally shown on NBC in 1964, this sleigh guide has been a perennial every year since then. This year, despite it’s age, RUDOLPH was the second highest rated show on any network Tuesday night. Simply amazing for something that has been seen so many times, but it has become so important to the season that you sit and watch it every Christmas season.

I did, and I already have it on DVD!

The question though, is “did you see all of it?”. Over the years, many shows are altered from their original broadcast form due to time constraints, increased commercial time or updating the credits if the original show was sponsored by a single company. This may also happen if there are inferior source copies that won’t allow a quality showing. At rare times, it may be because of copyright on a song or an objection to material.

RUDOLPH is a great example of this.

RUDOPLH premiered on December 6th, 1964 (my 9th Birthday!!!) under the umbrella title THE GENERAL ELECTRIC FANTASY HOUR. It premiered outside of primetime, at 5:30 PM EST. All the ads were for GE small appliances and some featured the elves interacting with the appliances. It had different end credits. The original airing did not include a final scene with the Island Of Misfit Toys. More on that after this reel that has much of the original material that does not appear anymore…

In 1965, in response to viewer demand, a scene was added at the end. In the original show, Santa makes a promise to the Island Of Misfit Toys that he will come back for them, but he simply heads off to deliver his workshop toys on Christmas Eve. Viewers felt that showed that Santa had broken a promise, and they added the scene where he goes back and takes the Misfit Toys with him.

Other cuts and changes are chronicled on the Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer Wiki page. Just click the link.

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS has also suffered the same fate. When released in 1965, it was sponsored by Coca-Cola and had actual product placement in the print. Over the years, those were removed. Trims were made for additional commercials or to fit a time slot. Even the version that runs on ABC TV has some trims to allow it to buddy up to a second holiday cartoon in a one hour time slot.

Footage of the Coca-cola opening and placements, as well as any other cuts, are very hard to find.

Charlie Brown Christmas Wiki Page

A similar fate befell MISTER MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL over the years. Because of it’s original 53 minute running time, subsequent showings required trimming scenes. Because the show used the conceit that Magoo was actually going to star on Broadway as Scrooge, there was an opening number that shows Magoo in his standard guise of driving to the theater and causing havoc because of his bad eyesight. This framing device was usually cut.

Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol Wiki Page

Many other Christmas specials suffered the same fate. Most DVD release include all or most of the original cuts, but not always. So, hold on to your childhood memories of TV Christmases past, because they may be the most complete versions of these.


Christmas My Way: Day Seven (Frosted Window Panes)

Last Christmas season was a very tough on for me. Besides being the first Christmas dealing with my pulmonary disease unknowns, it was also the last Christmas season that we got to spend with my Dad.

On Nov. 30th, I bought my father a Christmas snow globe to place by his chair for a little holiday spirit.(That’s it to the left). I had picked it up from a Rite Aid on impulse while picking up other items. We did not do a lot of decorating at the apartment because Dad was afraid of damaging the windows or walls hanging lights.

After watching a Sixers game with him, I gave Dad his night pills and got him to go in to sleep for the night. Little did I know that he would bring himself back out around 11 PM to do something that he wasn’t supposed to do: he decided that he had to put clothes in the dryer that night. Our dryer had a lint screen that had a little “bump” to keep it in place, but also required a good tug to remove it to clean it. He gave it that stubborn tug and lost balance, falling backwards and slamming his head into a door jam, creating a huge lump.

He still had consciousness, and was only worried about a quarter that he had dropped. It fell by the door to my bedroom. He used the quarter to scratch his lottery tickets that he always dreamed he would win big on. I left the quarter right where he dropped it and it was the last thing that was removed from the apartment when I moved Tommy and myself out to my sisters.

I drove my Dad to the hospital while my brother Joe took my brother Tommy to my sisters and then joined me at the hospital. On the way to the hospital, I put B-101 on the radio, since they were playing Christmas songs. My dad sang along the entire 20 minute ride to Lankenau Hospital’s emergency room.

My dad never returned home. He spent the entire Christmas season in the hospital in increasingly failing condition. He passed 7 weeks later.

So, with your indulgence, I’d like to share some of my Father’s Christmas favorites with you. Dad was a real sentimentalist for the holidays.

First of all, he started looking for Christmas films on TV the beginning of October, really annoyed that he had to wait. He loved the classics, but ever since my mother passed in 1994, he especially loved to watch holiday films that either reminded him of her or gave him a good cry of remembrance for her.

He loved SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE because Tom Hank’s character shared the same feeling of loss that my Dad did. While not necessarily a Christmas film, the film does have a lot of action set during the holiday season.

He also loved a TV film starring ED ASNER AND MAUREEN STAPLETON called “THE GATHERING” . This was the story of a family patriarch whose family is falling apart. He is separated from his wife, his kids are strangers, and one has run to Canada as a draft-dodger. When he is confronted with his own mortality and is told he does not have long to live, he decides that he needs to get his entire family back together for one last Christmas.

Another favorite was a film called “ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS”. This is a “Wonderful Life” style story of hopelessness and redemption, complete with Harry Dean Stanton as an harmonica playing angel. The story is about a woman who has lost the spirit of Christmas and the spirit of living each day. She struggles to feed and provide for her family in a depressed town. An accident that might have been set in motion by an small action earlier leads to the death of her husband and her descent into “George Bailey” territory.

And my dad loved his Christmas songs. They usually had a traditional or country flavor and you better not fool around with the arrangements. He also loved classical and religious carols, because they reminded him of my mother, who had a tremendous operatic voice. You knew that he liked it when you heard him quietly singing along.

His big music thrill over the holidays was always the Andre Rieu holiday concerts on PBS. Andre Rieu is a new style classicist who plays violin and leads a Viennese orchestra. I took my dad to see him a couple of times.

He also loved his country Christmas songs. Eddy Arnold was one of his favorites.

And he loved the Ave Maria, because my mother could sing the heavens out of it.

Merry Christmas, Dad!

My little brother Tommy and Santa

Christmas My Way (Day Six: Tunesday)

With the rainy weather and the quiet day feel, I figured Tuesday should be Tunesday, a day to simply post some of my favorite Christmas recordings. Nothing much to read, just shake your jingle bells and enjoy.

Something nice and mellow from RAY CHARLES “Christmas Time”

Something more up to date and more playful. RELIANT K “Sleigh Ride”

THE DRIFTERS: “White Christmas”

FRANK SINATRA: “The Christmas Song”

And finally for today, VINCE GILL “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

Christmas My Way (Day Five: Melancholy Santa)

I hope you made it through your Thanksgiving weekend well. If you ventured out to shop, i hope you found what you wanted without having to go to war over it. If you watched some football, I hope that your team won (My Eagles did not), and if you had Turkey on Thursday, I hope the turkey haze has dissipated by now.

Yesterday, we got a bit silly about Christmas, but today, we get a bit more melancholy. I’m going to present to you a few of my favorite holiday things and tell you why they are not all filled with comfort and joy.

First up is the holiday classic HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS, introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 film MEET ME IN ST LOUIS. While thought of as a holiday film, ST LOUIS is actually a year in the life of a family facing the prospect of moving to a bigger city just as the rest of the world is about to come to St. Louis for the World’s Fair.

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS , written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine, was originally a quite depressing rumination on enjoying that Christmas because the following year might bring changes that will never allow the same dynamic again. Don’t forget, the family in the film were faced with being uprooted from their home and moving to New York City. The setting of the song, with Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) sad about leaving, and eventually destroying the “family” of snowmen she has built.

Garland and the director , Vincente Minelli, criticized the lyrics as too depressing and new lyrics were written. Below are those original lyrics as well as the scene from MEET ME IN ST LOUIS.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork,
Next year we will all be living in New York.

No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.

But at least we all will be together, if the Fates allow,
From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

A similar vibe exists in the song WHITE CHRISTMAS, written by Irving Berlin. Originally introduced in the film HOLIDAY INN, the song is nostalgic about Christmases past, filled with snow and the accompanying sights and sounds of winter. In the film WHITE CHRISTMAS, it seems more literal to be about the plot point that the Inn in Vermont is about to suffer a green Christmas because of the warm temperatures.

WHITE CHRISTMAS has a preamble, an opening verse that is not usually performed. This verse puts the context of living in Southern California at the holidays when you have come from a snowy climb, and waxing nostalgic for those days. These lyrics have been performed by CARPENTERS on their version.

The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.

There’s never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December the twenty-fourth,—
And I am longing to be up North—

I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS has the same melancholy feel, but is more wistful, filled with good memories and longing. Written in 1943, it was rumored to be about Buck Ram (the lyricist) longing as a homesick college student. Because of World War Two, it became a touching song for soldiers far from home. My favorite version is by VINCE GILL.

Finally, a note about THE Christmas movie, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Directed by Frank Capra, this is a tale of “what if”. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is an upstanding citizen and beloved neighbor in the town of Bedford Falls. He runs the local building and loan, started by his father. He is known to kind and caring, and always bends for those who need.

His nemesis is Henry Potter, a notorious slumlord (Potter’s Fields) and a majority shareholder in the bank. George has always but his own dreams on hold in order for others to succeed, such as passing up his own desire for a trip in order to pay for his brothers college. As the film goes along, the depression that has affected other banks has come to Bedford Falls. The Building and Loan is brought close to insolvency, but George is able to stave Potter off in his attempt to close the bank on George’s father.

George takes over, and is face again with disaster when his Uncle Billy loses a large deposit. Potter, who has found the money, instead threatens to close the bank. George starts to crack under the decades long pressure of being the “nice guy” and contemplates suicide.

At this point, he is saved by Clarence, an angel in training who was sent to try to save George. He shows George a nightmarish life that would have been had George never existed. In the end, George returns home and finds that the townspeople have come to his monetary rescue.

Capra was a hugely populist director and made many films about the triumph of the human spirit. But, if you look at most of his films, they are populated by a darkness that borders on depressing. Most people remember the final reel of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE but the film has over 90 minutes of store leading up to that final redemption that shows George beat down and driven to suicide. In the end, Potter still has the money, there is still a threat of bank examiners and troubles still exist. The happy resolution is that an angel finally gets his wings.