Saturday, September 9, 2017

Perry Como Statue: Canonsburg, PA


What does Canonsburg have to do with Christmas TV history? Do you like Christmas music/variety specials?

With summer winding down, I decided to hit the road again and enjoy a day trip. I wanted to stop at another site that connects to my love of popular culture and headed myself toward Canonsburg, Pennsylvania--just south of Pittsburgh. Canonsburg is the hometown of crooner Perry Como, and the city has erected a wonderful tribute to him in their downtown. I felt I needed to see it for myself.


Perry Como's career is intertwined with Christmas TV history. His first TV appearance was on Christmas Eve 1948.

I read online that the statue was located in downtown Canonsburg but I was worried about finding it. Turns out, it was quite easy to find! The statue is quite large and stands in a lovely landscaped courtyard in the city's center.


What's your favorite Christmas song by Como? I think my favorite is "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays."


The cement statue depicts Como holding a microphone. I thought this was a wonderful way to remember him. In addition to the statue, I found that the tree-lined main street of downtown Canonsburg featured grate covers around each tree with a Perry Como chart-topping hit song molded into each one. I ended up walking the full length of the street--on both sides--looking at each grate to note the song titles and the years each reached number one on the charts.




Once in Canonsburg, I also learned that the city is quite proud of another hometown son that made the hit parade--Bobby Vinton! I couldn't resist getting my photo with the street sign marking Bobby Vinton Boulevard.




Bobby Vinton Boulevard is also the location of a McDonald's restaurant that honors both Perry Como and Bobby Vinton with displays of memorabilia, photos, records, and more. That location was my stop after seeing the downtown statue.



Inside the restaurant, there is a lifesize, bronze statue of Como (and one of Vinton too). The walls are lined with displays of Como's recording career, photos, framed record cover albums, high school yearbooks, and more. Bet you never had a Quarter Pounder among Como memorabilia like this before!


Bus your own tables and reflect on a local boy who made good!


Across from the cash registers at McDonald's, I found a framed 7" Christmas record.



Among the framed Perry Como photos on the walls of McDonald's, I also found one from his later Christmas specials (bottom right). Remember the 1970s and '80s Christmas TV specials Como used to make each year from a different exotic, international location?



The McDonalds felt like a mini-museum. A back room even included a barber chair from one of the shops where Como used to cut hair before he left Canonsburg to become a professional entertainer.


plaque next to barber chair display.



As mentioned previously, the McDonalds also includes photos, records, displays and memorabilia honoring the singing career of Bobby Vinton as well. For our interests here, Vinton released several Christmas albums--got a favorite Bobby Vinton Christmas song?



Lifesize bronze bust of Vinton in the McDonalds in Canonsburg.


Click to enlarge--this chart covered an entire wall at McDonald's.

My day trip was a nice break from my routine. Christmas TV history is all around us, if we look for it. Have you ever traveled to a pop culture site too? Tell us about it in the comments below.

To revisit some of my past essays about Christmas pop culture destinations, check out the following links:

Dean Martin's hometown of Steubenville, OH
Rosemary Clooney's home in Augusta, KY
The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA
It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, NY
Lucille Ball's birthday celebration in Jamestown, NY
A Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, OH




Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Christmas Books--Part 2


This past week, I shared Part 1 talking about my book collection. Click here to see Part 1 again. To catch you up:

In the past two decades researching Christmas films and TV programs, I've spent countless hours in thrift stores and library basements seeking copies of overlooked and forgotten Christmas programs. Along the way, I've stumbled across (1) books that inspired Christmas movies, and (2) books created from Christmas programs. I've grabbed many of them when I found them. Unintentionally, I've accumulated quite a collection. Want to see what I've got?



Over the years, I have picked up several Little Golden Books adapted from Christmas entertainment. Have you ever seen the 1992 animated TV special The Poky Little Puppy's First Christmas? It aired on Showtime throughout the '90s.




Another Little Golden Book, this one was adapted from the animated TV special Noël which first aired Dec. 12, 1992 in prime time on NBC. This particular special stands out because it was written by Romeo Muller--the same man who also wrote everyone's favorite Rankin/Bass animated TV specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, among others. I don't think Noël lives up to the previously mentioned titles but when I saw the book, I had to pick it up.



I was excited to see this Little Golden Book. I'm also keeping an eye out for the soundtrack (on Rising Tide/Blue Eye Records) of the 1997 animated TV special Annabelle's Wish. The outstanding soundtrack features country music stars Randy Travis, Nanci Griffith, and Alison Krauss, among others. If you're not familiar, the story is a pleasant rural tale about a calf that wishes she could fly.




Some years ago, I also picked up this tattered Little Golden Book version of the 1983 animated short film Mickey's Christmas Carol. The Dickens' story is really boiled down to its essentials for this children's book version. It's fascinating to see which elements remain and which details from Dickens' original have been dropped.



I also have the Walt Disney Records edition of the book adaption of Mickey's Christmas Carol. I picked up this book in a thrift store and it is missing the cassette tape that originally accompanied it. There is no date inside the book for the copyright or even to suggest the printing date. However, the inside back cover recommends other Disney book and record sets which lists The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Mulan, so I'm certain this book came out after 1998.

If you're curious, this book is very different from the Little Golden Book edition. The written story is not the same, and the images on every page are different as well.




Another Walt Disney Records book I've found is The Small One. It too is missing the cassette tape. (I know it's a cassette because the book jacket includes the date 1987 and doesn't feature a sleeve to hold a 45 record). The book is adapted from the 1978 Disney animated short film--which was originally adapted from another book, written by Charles Tazewell. (Tazewell also penned The Littlest Angel, a Christmas story that inspired the 1969 Hallmark Hall of Fame musical, starring Johnnie Whitaker and Fred Gwynne).



While this cover isn't very inspiring, the illustrations inside the book are much better. A Wish for Wings That Work is the Scholastic book edition adapted from the animated TV special that first aired Dec. 18th, 1991 on CBS. The characters are from the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed. Here, Opus the penguin wishes he could fly.




This book is another Golden Book but a softcover edition from 1990 featuring the popular animated characters Alvin and the Chipmunks. The story is adapted from a 1983 episode of the Saturday morning cartoon series. The lesser-known episode "Merry Christmas, Mr. Carroll" has also been released under the title "Alvin's Christmas Carol," and yes, it's the Chipmunk version of Charles Dickens' ghost story. Have you seen this episode before? It shouldn't be confused with the more familiar 1981 animated special A Chipmunk Christmas.



Years ago, I picked up the used book version of the 1996 animated TV special Red Boots for Christmas. The special was produced by the Lutheran Hour Ministries and aired in syndication on TV for years. If I remember correctly, it was advertised that viewers could send for the book version of the animated special for free. Perhaps there are many copies of this book still in circulation.




I remember exactly where I found this book many years ago. I discovered it in a thrift store in a small Amish community in central Ohio. The 1979 Kids Stuff Records and book set is incomplete--I don't have the original record. If you can see it on the cover, there is mention that the book's illustrations are left simplified for children to use as a coloring book. Lucky for me, no child has added crayon or maker to the book's pages. Another oddity, the text inside the book is entirely in capital letters--which leads a 21st century-reader to feel like the story is being shouted!?

But you know why I grabbed this book immediately, right? It's the children's book version of 1951's Amahl and the Night Visitors--a Christmas TV special of much acclaim and history. Amahl was the first Hallmark Hall of Fame special, and the very first opera written specifically for television.




I also have these two storybooks from the 1985 theatrical release film Santa Claus: The Movie. Both were Happy Meal premiums distributed nationally by McDonald's during the holidays in 1985. (If you'll remember, the film includes Santa and the young boy Joe eating McDonald's hamburgers). The complete set includes two activities/coloring books that I haven't found yet. The covers are designed similarly but the titles are "Sleighful of Surprises" and "Workshop of Activities." Have you seen the four book set before?



Another book spun from 1985's Santa Claus: The Movie is this hardbound Weekly Reader edition. It is a longer read than the two soft cover picture books (above), however, the photos inside are mostly in black-and-white.



I also found this pop-up book from Santa Claus: The Movie. There are four pop-up scenes, including Santa arriving at the North Pole, the elves preparing for Christmas Eve, the elf Patch appearing on TV, and Santa racing across the New York City skies. It's pretty cool, even if it's not the most elaborate or complicated pop-up book I've ever seen.



This is the second pop-up scene with Santa and the elves in the workshop. Can you see David Huddleston as Santa Claus, and Dudley Moore as Patch the elf on this page? (center)




My collection also includes this novelization of the 1991 Beverly Hills 90210 episode "A Walsh Family Christmas" from the second season. You remember the episode--Steve leaves town to search for his biological mother in New Mexico, and twins Brandon and Brenda experience their first Christmas away from Minnesota. In the end, Brenda invites a homeless man in a Santa suit to join the Walsh family for dinner. Maybe I'll read this one again!



Unlike the book above, this story is NOT a novelization of an episode from a TV series. The 1997 book is an original Christmas story written about the characters made popular in the TV series Full House.  Here, Michelle is nine years old, and she's burdened by her visiting cousin Marshall when he causes her to be uninvited from a big Christmas party thrown by her best friend. I don't recall having ever read it but I'm sure fans of Full House would love it.

Do you collect Christmas books too? Have any adapted from film or TV stories? Share your comments below.


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com



Monday, August 28, 2017

Christmas Books--Part 1

 
In the past two decades researching Christmas films and TV programs, I've spent countless hours in thrift stores and library basements seeking copies of overlooked and forgotten Christmas programs. Along the way, I've stumbled across (1) books that inspired Christmas movies, and (2) books created from Christmas programs. I've grabbed many of them when I found them. Unintentionally, I've accumulated quite a collection. Want to see what I've got?



I have a hardbound copy of the 1970 novel written by Earl Hamner, Jr. that inspired the 1971 TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. You can check out my review here. TV fans know that the success of the 1971 Christmas TV movie sparked TV execs to create a TV series about the family depicted in the movie. The result was the nine-season-long family drama The Waltons.



My copy of The Homecoming was signed by the author--purchased when I visited the Walton's Mountain Country Store in Schuyler, Virginia in 2015.




This is a 1995 book published by Scholastic Books. It is a collection of holiday stories taken from Laura Ingalls Wilder's books about nineteenth-century life. These stories share the "Christmas celebrations in the little houses in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, on the Kansas prairie, and on the banks of beautiful Plum Creek in Minnesota." Most of us have seen the Christmas episodes of Little House on the Prairie that drew from Wilder's stories. Check out my review of the 1974 episode "Christmas at Plum Creek," the 1977 episode "Blizzard," and the 1981 episode "A Christmas They Never Forgot."




As I said before, I also have books that were written from the Christmas programs too. I have a copy of the 1974 Scholastic Book version of the 1972 TV movie The House Without a Christmas Tree. Here's my review of that movie again. When I was growing up in the '70s, we eagerly anticipated watching the annual broadcast of the TV movies The Homecoming and The House Without a Christmas Tree. I remain quite nostalgic about both of them.



I even have a 1947 hardbound edition with the dust jacket of Miracle on 34th Street. The Author's Note on the first pages of the book references George Seaton's screenplay and the Twentieth Century-Fox movie. The back cover has quotes from book reviews, and one is written from the Akron Beacon Journal--my current hometown newspaper. So that's kind of charming.



This was the first in my collection of books written about Christmas TV programs. I received this hardbound book as a holiday gift from a good friend in 1990. The book recreates the exact story in The Simpsons half-hour animated special using dialogue and images from 1989's "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire."




Somewhere all the way, I picked up this hardbound book too. It's from 1965 and is a Parents' Magazine READ ALOUD AND EASY READING PROGRAM Selection.




The artwork is amazing! Most of it is original--adapted from the animated TV classic but not identical to what you see onscreen. Love this book.




This is a comic book version of the 1970 animated TV special Christmas Is. The holiday special featuring Benji and his sheep dog Waldo was just one of several animated TV productions created by a Lutheran ministries group. (Do you also remember The City That Forgot About Christmas, Easter Is, and the 4th of July-inspired Freedom Is?).


An inside peek at the 1970 comic book.

I stumbled across this comic book for sale online. I'm not sure the seller knew what it was that he was selling so I was able to purchase it for next to nothing. In my circles, this is a collector's item! I wrote a little bit about this comic here on my blog in 2012.





I also own a copy of the official comic adaptation of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol from Airwave Comics. I'm not sure the year this comic was released but my copy is signed by all four of the artists that worked on it. I acquired my copy from the artist/writer Chris Yambar--a fellow Northeast Ohio resident. The front and back inside covers include a Gerald McBoing Boing recipe for Razzleberry Dressing!

Do you have any books that connect you with Christmas movies or TV programs? I'll share more from my book collection in Part 2--coming later this week.

[See Part 2 HERE]


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Detroit Festival of Books 2017




Last month, my publisher 1701 Press had a booth at the first-ever Detroit Festival of Books. The all-day event was held in Detroit's historic public market, Eastern Market. The turn-out from readers and book collectors was fantastic! Many, many thanks to all the people who showed up and the wonderful new friends I made. It was quite a rush--in July, no less--to meet so many people excited about Christmas entertainment! And, I extend congratulations and much gratitude to the efficient event organizers who hosted the successful happening.




Between conversations with readers, I stood on a chair to take a photo of some of the crowd. Michigan is filled with people interested in reading books in print. Don't believe the hype that says "No one reads anymore" or "Print books are dead." It's just not true.




While I was in Detroit, I decided to enjoy myself and go record shopping. In Ferndale, I found a used record store and hit the jackpot! They had a sizable Christmas music collection and I found several vintage records that I needed for my growing collection. As you can imagine, I'm usually looking for holiday records that tie into television, film, and popular culture. Here are a few of the records I got in Detroit:


from 1965 musical TV special

I've been looking for this for a few years--the music from ABC's 1965 musical The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood. The production stars Liza Minnelli, Cyril Ritchard, Vic Damone, and the British Invasion band The Animals. I'm very excited to finally have my own copy of the original soundtrack. If you haven't seen the production, you should. Several years ago it was officially released on DVD so it's fairly easy to find.


(1974)

I've been keeping an eye out for this album for a while now too. It's a collection of Christmas carols sung by professional singers but Earl Hamner himself (the original creator and narrator of the TV series The Waltons) provides some storytelling. Will Geer (Grandpa Walton) can be heard too! Great album cover--I may just hang this on the wall! I'm so happy I finally found this.


(1983)

I grabbed this record as fast I could! This LP is the 1983 release of the 1973 animated TV special The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas, by DePatie-Freleng. There is both music and spoken word on the record. I'm pleased that it includes the original voice actors: Tommy Smothers, Louie Nye, and June Foray. More on this record release from the expert Greg Ehrbar: http://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/depatie-frelengs-bear-who-slept-through-christmas-on-records/



1970 animated production

Ha! This one is still sealed. According to the cover (I haven't opened it yet), this record is the story and music from the soundtrack of the 1970 animated production Santa and the 3 Bears. Should I open it or keep it in sealed, original condition? I don't know yet. Decisions, decisions....



(1967)

Ooohh I've been looking for this one too. This is a recording from the soundtrack of Rankin/Bass' cel animated TV special Cricket on the Hearth. It features Danny Thomas and his real-life daughter Marlo Thomas, as well as Ed Ames, Hans Conried, Abbe Lane, Paul Frees and even Roddy McDowall. This TV special is one of the lesser-known Rankin/Bass Christmas stories--one adapted from a Charles Dickens tale. This LP was probably a promo copy--it has a small hole punched through the top left corner, but I'm just glad to finally have my own copy.


(1979)

I didn't know what this was when I pulled it from a box of Christmas records in the store, but for one dollar it was coming home with me. The album's cover shows considerable wear but for one dollar, who can complain!? Storytelling and music with Mel Blanc--what's not to love? Again, I defer to Greg Ehrbar for more info: http://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/bugs-bunnys-high-fructose-christmas-record/



(1984)

This was another one that I just grabbed and added to my growing pile. I didn't care what songs were on it, it was one dollar and it was coming home with me. Now I see it includes familiar holiday carols, such as "Deck the Halls" and "Sleigh Ride," as well as less familiar ones, like "Children Go Where I Send Thee"--a song that always reminds me of Tennessee Ernie Ford's Christmas TV specials. There are also original holiday songs written just for the Cabbage Patch Kids! It's a little nuts.


(1962)

Although this album cover has seen better days, it IS 55 years old so copies aren't that plentiful. This recording is the spoken-word story of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, the live action Disney TV movie based on an original story by Mary Mapes Dodge, which takes place during the mid-nineteenth century in Holland. The story is set over the Christmas holiday. The movie originally aired in 1962 on The Wonderful World of Disney, in two parts. Do you remember this movie adaptation?





I don't see a year on the album cover--and I can't find anyone else suggesting a year on the internet. If you know when this was recorded or released, let me know. I believe I have the photo rotated--the title should not go across the top but along the left-hand side of the album. Anyway, this record used to belong to a radio station--it has a station identification written across the back cover.

The LP is a collection of ten recordings by Hollywood entertainers expressing their thanks, gratitude and holiday greeting to members of the U.S. Navy for their service. The celebrities speak over Christmas music. It's actually pretty cool. Celebrities on this album include Eddy Arnold, Phyllis Diller, Jack Webb, Norm Crosby, Florence Henderson, Robert Young, Gary Crosby, Shirley Jones, George Maharis, and Edie Adams. I'm guessing it's from the late 1960s or early '70s. The mother from The Brady Bunch and the mother from The Partridge Family on one record!? yup.



(1980)

This is another weird one that I'm pleased to have found. It is still sealed and I haven't opened it yet. It is a spoken word recording of the 1980 Salvation Army annual Christmas program. The program consists of two parts--"A Search for Beauty" and "Christmas-Reflections by Starlight," featuring actor Michael Landon. There are chorale and orchestration credits on the back cover so clearly Landon is speaking over music. Again, it's still wrapped and sealed in the original plastic and I haven't decided to open it yet, but...it IS tempting.

Do you collect Christmas records? Have you seen the documentary movie Jingle Bell Rocks about Christmas music collectors? When I visited Christmas music collector Jeff Fox last year, we also went record shopping--here's that post again. I hope your summer is going well. Christmas is just around the corner.


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com