Monday, January 26, 2015

Laverne and Shirley Christmas (1978)

Last December, a group of us tweeted during the airing of this 1978 episode on MeTV's marathon of holiday programming. Thanks again to everyone who joined me during the Twitter Party--I had a lot of fun, as usual. Do you follow me on Twitter? I post daily Christmas TV listings, links to new posts on this blog, and other Christmas entertainment updates at @TistheSeasonTV

I've already shared on the blog here about the 1976 Christmas episode of Laverne & Shirley entitled "Oh Hear the Angels' Voices." The 1978 Christmas episode, "O Come All Ye Bums," was created for the series' fourth season. Although both Laverne & Shirley Christmas episode titles are derived from popular carol lyrics, each episode is quite distinctive. The 1976 episode is a variety show-within-a-show that takes place at a mental hospital and the 1978 episode is about the Pizza Bowl's annual charity Christmas dinner.  Let me explain further.

As they sing carols and decorate the tree together, Shirley scolds Laverne for not knowing the correct lyrics to the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  For example, Laverne sings "Three blind mice..." instead of "three calling birds."

"O Come All Ye Bums" begins with Shirley and Laverne decorating their Christmas tree and preparing for the upcoming holiday. A knock at their front door produces Rags, the neighborhood hobo (Laverne calls him a bum--a label Rags himself embraces even after Shirley protests.  I think viewers are supposed to see Rags as destitute--perhaps even homeless--but a friendly, well-known character in their neighborhood.)  Rags has come to Laverne's apartment to ask about her father Frank and the annual Christmas dinner for the needy at the Pizza Bowl.  Laverne promises to track down her father and find out about his plans for the dinner.

At the dept. store, there's a funny physical comedy bit with the girls playing tug-o-war over bargains with another shopper.

Squiggy explains to the children waiting in line that Santa will return after he feeds his reindeer named Donner, Dancer, Smasher, and Blitzkrieg.

Later, we see Laverne and Shirley Christmas shopping at Meckler's department store.  The roommates' attention is drawn to the store's Santa Claus and his assistants.  Lenny and Squiggy are earning extra Christmas money working as Santa's fairy and elf.  Much to Laverne's surprise, her father Frank is working as the store's Santa Claus in order to earn some additional money he needs in order to pay for this year's charity dinner at the Pizza Bowl.  But we know Frank is quick to anger.  After one naughty child pulls on Santa's beard, a ruckus ensues that catches the attention of the store manager.  Sure enough, Santa is fired from his job!

Laverne recognizes her father under the false beard.  He confesses he took the extra job because the Pizza Bowl had a bad year.  He needs extra money to afford to host the charity Christmas dinner.

Recognize the rotten little boy who gets Santa fired?  That's Scott Marshall in the blue hat--the series creator Garry Marshall's real life son.  If you've watched as many 70s episodes as I have, you may recognize Scott from episodes of Happy Days and Mork and Mindy too!

If Frank can't afford to feed the needy at the Pizza Bowl this year, the gang decides to come together and help raise funds themselves.  Carmine, Laverne, and Shirley stand on a street corner in downtown Milwaukee to carol and collect money.  Unfortunately, the gang occupy a busy street corner--one where a bell-ringing Santa Claus and a Salvation Army band are also fundraising for charities.

Carmine, Laverne and Shirley have the best of intentions with their fundraising effort.

But the police are called in to calm the musical melee.

Recognize the tambourine shaking Sister Sarah?  That's actress Lynne Marie Stewart who also plays Miss Yvonne on Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

There's stiff competition between the three groups for the attention of people passing by on the sidewalk.  Eventually, the escalating noise levels between the three groups attracts the attention of a police officer.  Laverne, Shirley, and Carmine, who don't possess a license to solicit money, are required to stop fundraising.  How will they ever be able to afford to feed the needy this year?

Rags (played by character actor Hamilton Camp) brings spam, someone else brings a can of corn, and another brings a banana! Violá--it's Christmas dinner!

On Christmas Eve, Frank is troubled because he feels that he's let everyone down by not being able to host the annual charity Christmas dinner.  When Laverne arrives, she's accompanied by the neighborhood's needy who have all brought one food item with them! Although they won't be feasting on turkey and all the traditional fixings, Rags and his group remind everyone at the Pizza Bowl that they look forward to Christmas dinner each year as a time to spend with their friends--not for the meal itself.

Lenny and Squiggy save the day--it's a Christmas miracle!

After everyone feels the warmth of friendship this holiday, Lenny and Squiggy arrive at the party bearing a roasted turkey and stuffing.  It turns out a local butcher offered to give Lenny and Squiggy a complete Christmas dinner as long as they agreed to never date his daughter again.  Everyone is happy this Christmas season!

Realizing the spirit of Christmas is about being together and not about the trappings, everyone lifts their voices and sings "O Come All Ye Faithful" at the Pizza Bowl party. 

I think my favorite scene of this episode is the closing tag.  Shirley finds Laverne sitting under the tree early Christmas morning eager to exchange gifts.  The friends rip open the wrapping on their gifts at the same time--to uncover identical gifts.  Each roommate has given the other an autographed, framed photo of Elvis Presley.  Although both women are very happy with the new 8x10s of their singing idol, Shirley responds, "At least I spelled 'Presley' correctly." This classic punchline cracks me up every time I hear it.

Best friends exchange identical gifts--it's funny every time!

Are you interested in joining a twitter Christmas party in July?  Since Christmas programming airs year round, I'm thinking we should be able to find something fun to watch during the month of July that we can all watch together and comment on at Twitter.  Are you interested?  Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

CHiPs Christmas (1979)

Are those quotation marks necessary?
I've been enjoying watching episodes of CHiPs every weekday on MeTV over the last several months.  But when I read our guest blogger's essay about BJ and the Bear from last week, I was reminded that one of the episode's guest stars, Pamela Susan Shoop (she played Alison in "Silent Night, Unholy Night"), also appeared in another Christmas episode in 1979--in "Christmas Watch" on the TV drama CHiPs.  What an exciting Christmas Shoop must have had that year!

CHiPs officers listening to the story of the stolen bell.

Who would steal from these cute kids?

Let me walk you through this yuletide episode.  The California Highway Patrol officers are reminded by Sgt. Getraer that they should be on high alert for thieves over the holidays.  Sure enough, a local church reports that their youth group had raised funds to purchase an antique bell for the belltower.  When the precious delivery is made, a man and a woman claiming to be from a contractors service convince the youth group leader that the bell needs further repairs and offer to fix it before the Christmas Eve service.  Later, the reverend discovers the church and its parishioners have been ripped off.  Officer Poncherello feels badly about the church's loss and promises to work hard to find the thieves.

Recognize Rev. Warmer?  That's actor William Schallert.  Just last year, I blogged about his appearances in the Christmas episodes of The Patty Duke Show and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

TV viewers follow the couple responsible for stealing from the church.  We see that they have several cons going this Christmas.  Another theft we see them work is to pass themselves off as potential buyers to private owners looking to sell their vehicle.  The "husband" checks under the hood and asks to take a test drive while offering his driver's license and several credit cards to the owner to hold as collateral.  When the couple never returns the automobile after the test drive, the police discover the ID and credit cards are fakes.

"We saw the ad in the newspaper about selling your fancy blue station wagon.  Can we take it for a test drive?"

"We'll be back in a few moments--WE PROMISE!" 

Making the crime even more crippling, the "husband" waits several hours after stealing the auto and then calls the private owner on the telephone posing as a police officer.  Sure that the owner has already called the police, the thief requests that the owner come to the local police department and identify the car thieves.  When the owner leaves her home, the car thieves break in and empty her residence of its valuables and Christmas gifts too!  What a nightmare.

Pamela Susan Shoop plays Alice Piermont, half of the criminal couple that is responsible for ruining Christmas for so many.

Before the inevitable car chase at the end of the episode, there are a few minor stories as well.  Three inebriated men in a car pull up to the CHiPs station house fuel pumps and ask the officers to fill up the gas tank!  Turns out the men have just left an office Christmas party and are too drunk to really know what they are doing--or where they are doing it.  Yes, they are removed from the vehicle and taken somewhere to dry out.  Later, the driver of the vehicle returns to the station, now sober, and thanks Ponch and John for stopping him before he hurt someone. TV junkies may recognize that quite a few cop shows include a Christmas storyline about drunk drivers behind the wheel after leaving the office holiday party.

Drunk driver pulls up to police station and asks for a fill-up.  Oh boy!

Of course, Officer Grossman is "supervising" the decorating of the tree.

Ponch's Christmas improves once his mother arrives.

There's also a story line about Ponch missing his family this Christmas.  What he doesn't know is that his fellow officers have made arrangements for Ponch's mom to come to Los Angeles from Chicago to spend the holiday with him.  After her arrival, she gets to see how important his work is to the community he serves.  She also witnesses her son return the 15th century bell to the children at the church on Christmas Eve--but you knew that was going to happen, right?

Although there isn't enough time to install the bell, each child in the congregation is offered the chance to ring it at the Christmas Eve service.

Although "Christmas Watch" is a typical episode of the series, it is nice to see the Christmas episode pull at the heart strings.  (Maybe "typical" is overstating it.  There WASN'T a fiery explosion during the car chase at the end).  One of the thrills that I enjoy in watching this series again is identifying all the guest stars.  This episode doesn't disappoint with actors William Schallert and Pamela Susan Shoop.  It was a happy Christmas in 1979, wasn't it?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

BJ and the Bear Christmas (1979)

One of the participants from last summer's Christmas in July blogathon recently spoke to me about sharing his passion and sense of humor for the Christmas episode of the unforgettable TV series BJ and the Bear. Please welcome Dan as today's guest blogger. Daniel Budnik writes about all sorts of things. He is co-author of Bleeding Skull: A 1980s Trash Horror Odyssey. Many of his movie reviews are up on He is currently at work on a book tentatively titled Low Budget Action Films of the 1980s. He is also working on a murder mystery, which is fun to think about but tough to plot. At the moment, he isn't on social media but that will be rectified soon. He'll keep you posted.

Has anyone seen B.J’s rig? It’s big and red and has a chimp inside.

BJ & The Bear
“Silent Night, Unholy Night”
Original Airdate: December 15, 1979

Tom Spencer (Ted Danson) is an attorney who has been collecting incriminating information in a diary on a corrupt Sheriff named McCandles (Dana Eclar). Right before Christmas, McCandles finds out about the diary and sends some men to search Spencer’s office and his home. Tom contacts his wife Alison (Pamela Susan Shoop) and asks here to bring the diary from their home to the Federal building downtown and pick up their two kids on the way. Ali is nine months pregnant and almost set to give birth. But, she says sure. Christmas at the Federal building might be fun. McCandles sends his men after Ali and he will do whatever he has to in order to protect his name.

Attorney Tom Spencer is played by actor Ted Danson.

The face of a woman who just realized that Ted Danson is on the other end of the line.

Meanwhile, ex-Vietnam vet, stalwart truck driver and Hunk of the Long Haul, B.J. McKay (Greg Evigan) and his chimp named Bear are hauling a load of turkeys. If the viewer knows the mechanics of an episode of BJ & The Bear, they know that sooner, rather than later, B.J. and Ali will meet up and go head-to-head with McCandles. But, it’s Christmastime, so maybe B.J. can call in a special friend? And, it being Christmastime, B.J. just might have to help birth a baby in his truck.

Stay calm, ladies. The gentlemen have arrived.

On October 4, 1978, a 2-hour TV movie premiered on NBC called BJ & The Bear: The Foundlings. It introduced America to the truck driving, chimp filled world of hunky hero and ladies’ man B.J. McKay. It also introduced B.J.’s nemesis, super-redneck Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins.) The movie was a Glen A. Larson production and no one seemed to know the psyche of the American public around that time better than the recently deceased Mr. Larson. He was two months ahead of Every Which Way But Loose, which featured truck driving Clint Eastwood and an orangutan. And, he was three months ahead of the premiere of The Dukes of Hazzard, when redneck sheriffs would become all the rage. Obviously, there was nothing B.J. and his best friend Bear could do but become huge hits.  In February of 1979, the first season began. Then, the show returned for a full season in September of 1979. 21 glorious episodes, including "Silent Night, Unholy Night." An episode that follows the formula that the show had established with one big difference.

Bear frees captive turkeys! Film at 11!

The basic formula of BJ & The Bear is this: B.J. and Bear are out and about, trucking. They live in the truck. It is their home and their livelihood. They meet up with someone in distress (or are dragged into a situation) and save the day. Usually, the person in distress is a lovely young lady and B.J. gets a little smooch time with her. I always wonder, when I watch the show, if this is a program about a trucker who helps people out because he’s a hero or a trucker who likes the ladies so much he’ll help them out for a few smooches and some squeezing. I never can tell. “Silent Night, Unholy Night” however, falls squarely into the latter camp. When B.J. meets Ali, it is not a cute moment. She is nervous. She tries to pass a car on the highway and almost hits B.J. Her car bursts into flames and B.J. rescues her.

Post-auto explosion, pre-sweet Christmas friendship.

At first, B.J. is obviously charmed by this woman but in a different way than the other ladies in the show. (Heck, there is a flashback episode called “B.J. Sweethearts” which is clips from previous episodes showing him romancing ladies.) Ali has a husband, two kids and a third on the way. B.J. wants to help her get to her kids (who are at a school party.) Unfortunately, the McCandles’ problem is building. He knows B.J. has Ali. The cops begin to mass up on the big red truck and the people (and chimp) inside.

If you can’t find time to sing kids some carols while saving the day, you’re not much of a hero.

 Even though the tension is mounting and the slightly unhinged McCandles is approaching--even though the sun has gone down and it is starting to snow--B.J. has time to sing “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire)” to the kids at the party. After that, when Ali’s kids are made safe, the chase is on. And, yes Virginia, B.J. does drive through a police roadblock causing huge explosions in the cold, cold night. But, it’s necessary. They’re on their way to visit a friend of B.J.’s who can help.

No one threw a Christmas party like Glen A. Larson and B.J. McKay.

Captain Cain, played by the late Ed Lauter, is that friend. Cain is a very by-the-books mega-stern police officer. He had appeared in three previous episodes of the show (including several episodes of the spinoff The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.) Cain agrees to help Ali and B.J. But, McCandles is crazier than anyone thought. And a final chase ensues, ending in--SPOILER ALERT--Ali giving birth in the back of B.J.’s cab. Suffice it to say, everything turns out OK. And, although the episode has all the chasing and shooting and fighting of normal episodes, this one has priorities elsewhere.

Santa Cain!

“Silent Night, Unholy Night” seems far more interested in Ali and B.J. and their relationship together then in all the action. McCandles is a presence in the episode. But, much of the time he is represented by police cars in the darkness lurking around. McCandles and his cronies are used in the same way that the Navy boat (captained by Ed Lauter) in the Magnum P.I. episode “Operation: Silent Night” was used.  They add tension to a story that, if it wasn’t there would be, basically, B.J. drives a pregnant lady to a school, picks up her kids and then takes her to her husband, Ted Danson. (McCandles isn’t even part of the climax, which is the birth.)

Sheriff McCandles. His name is almost Christmassy.

One of the joys of the episode is that, in and amongst this chaos and Christmas chicanery, it’s obvious that B.J. is crazy about Ali. (And she might be crazy for him.) But, unlike all the other episodes with all the other ladies, Ali is not about to leave Ted Danson. We see these big smiles on their faces as they talk to each other. But, there’s no intimation of romance. It’s just two strangers thrown into a dangerous situation who have become platonically infatuated with each other. And it’s cool. The look on Greg Evigan’s face when he tells a police officer that he just delivered a baby is priceless. The falling snow makes it even better. It is this element of the episode that lends to its conclusion being semi-bittersweet.

B.J. McKay, Amateur Gynecologist. Service with a smile.

A moment of BJ & The Bear background: in Season 1, it was B.J. and Bear. Lobo and his cronies crop up three times (especially in the backdoor pilot episode “Lobo”). But, it’s mainly B.J. and his chimp pal. In Season 2, they introduce (at least for about half the season) the truck stop Country Comfort. The truck stop has a group of regulars at it (including Andre the Giant and Janet Julian). It kind of gives B.J. a home. (Although, if he travels the country and lives in his truck, one would think he wouldn’t get there often.) The beginning and ending of “Silent Night, Unholy Night” takes place in Country Comfort. At the start, it’s a tree trimming contest. In the end, it’s the annual Christmas party.

Bittersweet endings at the Christmas Party.

So, the final sequence in this episode involves B.J. arriving with Bear at the Christmas party. They’ve been through hell and back but they’re ready to party and people there love them. But, then Ali arrives. And B.J.’s face lights up. But, she can’t stay. Obviously. She just gave birth to her third child and Ted Danson is waiting. But, they say goodbye and it’s very sweet, feels very genuine. The episode ends with a melancholy B.J. walking into the festive Christmas party. It’s a sort of flip on Dr. Banner leaving a person he’s befriended on The Incredible Hulk and heading off down the street. Normally, B.J. is either with the gal or leaves the gal in a state of McKay-induced bliss. This ending is a melancholy twist that fits the tone of the episode. One could watch “Silent Night, Unholy Night,” almost a midpoint in the show’s run episode-wise, to see what BJ & the Bear did well when it was at its best.

B.J. may have lost Ali but Janet Julian is in that party somewhere.

My relationship with this show is complicated. I did watch it when I was young. But, I was very young, maybe 7 or 8. So, my tastes were not the best. Three years ago, I acquired copies of the episodes and watched the show all the way through. And, even though some of it is kind of dumb, some of it can be mediocre, some of it is repetitive and the music can drive one to drink, it works. Part of it is The Power of Mr. Evigan. He’s a charmer who plays the part of the hero well. Bear is fine too. But, the show has an innate Goodness to it. Much of which comes from the main TV Drama Law from back in the day, which is that no matter how bad it gets, by the end, things will be OK. It’s something to shoot for in your average day, I think.

In the past three years, I have watched the series through 4 times. (I sometimes watch it as I work.) It’s not a guilty pleasure because I don’t believe in those. Life is short and there’s a lot of work to do. Fill up your down time with things you love. A guilty pleasure is something you do when you should be doing something else. And it’s not Comfort TV. I would guess that The Brady Bunch is the only thing I watch that I would call Comfort TV. I can put that on in the background and read or listen to music or whatever--seeing the Brady family on TV brings me comfort. BJ & The Bear is more than that to me. Unfortunately, what it is precisely, I haven’t figured out yet. I do know that this Christmas episode is excellent. A good hour of TV and an excellent representation of the show with some nice twists. I wish I was at the Country Comfort Christmas party scrapping with Andre the Giant, having a martini with Bear and talking to Janet Julian. Thanks, Glen and Greg and Bear.

The heart of the episode. The joy of Christmas.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Year in Review (2014)

Before I move on to new content in the new year, I thought I'd provide a little look back on the previous year.  I was a little surprised by a few of last year's most popular blog posts and reviews--maybe you will be surprised too.  Here they are: 2014's most viewed posts:

1.  1993 Christmas episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Maybe this episode is popular because it includes a musical performance by 90s pop music hitmakers Boyz II Men.  Now I have their song "Let it Snow" stuck in my head. 

1964's "Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk" from Gilligan's Island.

2.  The Gilligan's Island Christmas episode
This 1964 episode is often overlooked as a classic Christmas TV installment.  Not only is it from the first season's black-and-white episodes, but the title doesn't contain the word "Christmas" and it's a retrospective, clip show.  It pleases me that people are digging around on the internet looking for information about it.

3.  The post that introduced our Christmas in July blogathon
It makes sense that people would be clicking on this post over and over--it introduced our very popular mini-questionnaire and instructed participants how to join in the fun.  Don't miss the conclusion of our Christmas in July party.  Here is the link to the list of all 33 participants and their replies to the mini-questionnaire.  I was very pleased with the response last year.  Should we do another mini-questionnaire with all-new questions for this year's Christmas in July?  Or should we do something different?  Let me know what you think.

4.  My commentary about the 50th anniversary of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
The golden age of Christmas TV animation is always a popular subject.  Hold on to your hat: A Charlie Brown Christmas turns 50 years old later this year.  What a perfect time to reflect back on what these animated TV specials mean to us personally and as a culture.

5.  2014 TV movie The Christmas Secret
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries network has recently begun airing their own original holiday programming (2013 was their first year doing this).  I saw that The Christmas Secret broke the network's ratings record.  Good for them.  Did you catch this new Christmas TV movie in December?

As I plan my upcoming schedule, do you have any requests?  Let me know in the comments below.  Happy New Year!  May all the best things in life come to you in 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Shirley Temple's Storybook Christmas (1960)

This review first appeared on the website Holiday Film Reviews as an exchange for guest blogging. I love guest blogging--especially for JA Morris and RigbyMel of Holiday Film Reviews who I first met on my book tour through the South in 2010.  What a fortunate meeting!  It's always nice to meet people with whom you share much in common!  Thanks for hosting me, JA and RigbyMel.

Yes--THAT Shirley Temple had a TV show!
Christmas is certainly a time of nostalgia.  Most of us reflect back to simpler times, especially to our childhoods, when Christmas was still filled with fantasy, magic, and life lived at a slower pace.  With this in mind, I'd like to share about an often overlooked Christmas episode of the TV anthology series Shirley Temple's Storybook.  The 1960 episode "Babes in Toyland" was created during the second season after the series had changed its name to The Shirley Temple Show--but it's the same series.  Most installments of the family-friendly series were a re-telling of popular fairy tales or children's literary classics. "Babes in Toyland" however is an hour-long adaptation of the 1903 operetta by Victor Herbert.

In this 1960 episode, a now grown Shirley Temple introduces and narrates the story accompanied by her own children.  Left to right: Charlie Black Jr., Lori, and Linda Susan.

The 1960 TV adaptation is a comedy version of Babes in Toyland and is loaded with music and dancing.  The story is a familiar one--youngsters Alan and Jane are being looked after by their mean and nasty Uncle Barnaby who wants to cash-in on the children's generous inheritance.  Barnaby decides he desires their money sooner, rather than later, and hires three cutthroat thieves to set the innocent children adrift in a leaky boat.

Uncle Barnaby (Jonathan Winters) is a greedy, nasty man.  However Winters' comedy style of mugging for the camera deflects a great deal of what potentially could be a frightening story.

The adventure story continues when the children survive the open seas and wash up on nearby shores.  Alan and Jane are discovered by the gypsy witch Floretta and find themselves among friends with the band of dancing gypsies. That is, until Floretta sells knowledge of the children's whereabouts to Uncle Barnaby.  Alan and Jane escape and run into the frightening Spider Forest, eventually entering Meantown.

Jane and Alan (foreground) arrive at the gypsy camp where there is much dancing and merry-making.

Jane and Alan are jailed in Meantown, accused of the crimes of smiling, niceness, and kindness!

The nasty residents of Meantown find a way to jail the youngsters in the center of town.  Once again, Alan and Jane escape just one step ahead of Floretta, Uncle Barnaby, and his three bumbling henchmen.  The next stop on Alan and Jane's flight is the kingdom of Toyland, where all the toys for Christmas are made.  The children feel happy and safe amongst the land of the dancing toys and ask the royal Master Toymaker if they can stay forever.

To avoid being recognized by Uncle Barnaby, the children hide in plain sight as a dancing ballerina and wooden toy soldier during the Toyland parade.

The king likes the children however Floretta, Uncle Barnaby, and his minions arrive in Toyland to take Alan and Jane back home.  In the end, the Master Toymaker and the gypsy witch stand up for the children and Uncle Barnaby's evil scheme is thwarted.

In the end, the cast gathers to sing "Toyland," the most recognizable and still popular song from the original operetta.

You may already be familiar with other filmed adaptations of the operetta Babes in Toyland.  The most noteworthy include the 1934 movie starring comedians Laurel & Hardy which has since been re-issued under the title March of the Wooden Soldiers. Walt Disney created his own version in 1961 starring Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands. Let's not forget the surreal 1986 TV movie version starring Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves. And, in 1997 an animated version was created featuring the voice talents of Jim Belushi, Lacey Chabert, Christopher Plummer, and Charles Nelson Reilly.  Most of the adaptations alter the story quite a bit from the original plot.  However, I think the best adaptations are the ones that feature the original music by Victor Herbert and Glen MacDonough.

While imprisoned in Meantown, Jane sings "Go to Sleep, Slumber Deep" to her brother Alan, another song from the original operetta.

Shirley Temple's "Babes in Toyland" features the best of the original Herbert compositions including "Toyland," "Go to Sleep, Slumber Deep," "I Can't Do the Sum," and "March of the Toys."  In addition to these familiar Babes in Toyland tunes, the 1960 episode features numerous shorter musical performances.  This is an asset in an hour long program which allows for more performances to be included while preventing slow, drawn out segments.  The program also squeezes in two major dance sequences--the gypsy camp scene and the Toyland parade at the end--which makes this Christmas TV variety program even more entertaining.

Can you recognize Shirley Temple under the fake nose and chin, gray wig and kerchief, and long pointy finger nails?  She's Floretta, the gypsy witch.

Recognize these comedic actors' faces? Left to right: Joe Besser, Jerry Colonna, Carl Ballantine.  Center is Jonathan Winters, of course.

Even if you're not already familiar with the music from Babes in Toyland, you will be impressed with the stellar ensemble cast in this 1960 musical comedy.  Not only does Hollywood icon Shirley Temple introduce and narrate this adventure story, but she also stars in it as Floretta, the fortune-telling gypsy witch.  The evil Uncle Barnaby is played by Jonathan Winters.  The three bumbling cutthroats--Gonzales, Gonzorgo, and Rodrigo--are played by Jerry Colonna, Carl Ballantine, and Joe Besser, respectively.  And, the children, Alan and Jane, are played by Michel Petit and Angela Cartwright.

Jane and Alan lost in the Spider Forest.  Jane is played by actress Angela Cartwright who was also on The Danny Thomas Show in 1960.  Later, she would appear in the TV series Lost in Space--and sing in the movie musical The Sound of Music.

An added bonus: keen viewers may be able to spot animatronic fantasy figures--just like the kind that used to fill department store window displays at Christmas time--in the background of the Toyland scenes.

In addition to the music, dancing, and amazing cast, I think 1960's Babes in Toyland has something else going for it. The production was staged live which means the camera captures the authentic performances as they occur--and a few unpredictable moments as well. For example, the boat scene includes Petit nearly knocking over the ship's mast to which he is bound.  You can also see the boom microphone above the actors' heads in several shots. Although the camera moves a bit more slowly than we are used to, and the sets are often flat backdrops, I'm still caught up in the fantasy and adventure of the storytelling and music.  I love the more simple production values of this 1960 TV episode.  The lack of CGI elements isn't a weakness but rather its strength--a reminder of simpler times when entertainment included the viewers' imagination.  At Christmas time when I want to feel nostalgic, it's comforting to watch a program that also makes me feel nostalgic for quality Christmas entertainment.

Yes--Babes in Toyland is available for viewing on DVD.