About Christmas TV History

Monday, December 28, 2009

Screening Tonight

We had a screening tonight of several fun programs mentioned in the book. The above image is the cover of the program for the event. Tonight's schedule:

"Too Many Christmas Trees" from The Avengers (1965) pg. 80 in The Christmas TV Companion

"The Star" from The New Twilight Zone (1985) pg. 36

Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life (1993) pg. 13

My Santa! (2005) pg. 104-5

"Christmas Episode" from The Jack Benny Show (ca. 1950s) pg. 114-15

Christmas Visit (also known as Santa Visits Antarctica) (1959) pg. 42-3

Santa Claus' Story (ca. 1950s?) pg. 124-25

And, my dear friend Michael added a short clip of the holiday musical number "Yeh Pal Chanehal" from the Bollywood film, Kalicharan (1976).

I selected these programs because this particular audience is one that appreciates TV science fiction and cult TV series. I provided a little bit of introduction and commentary before each program and it seemed to be quite a success. Perhaps next Christmas this event could be inspiration for your own MYOM with friends and family.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Happy Kwanzaa!! I'm disappointed with the meager TV offerings of Kwanzaa specials this year. I did find The Black Candle airing on TV One network earlier today. And, a few Kwanzaa-themed episodes that I have already seen--including Everybody Hates Chris, the animated Proud Family, Handy Manny and Rugrats.

I'm especially disappointed in my local PBS affiliates for they are usually my best resource for Kwanzaa programming. This year nothing. They were pretty bad with broadcasting the national Christmas programs as well--my local PBS didn't broadcast any of the Christmas performances until Christmas Eve. I can only speculate that due to the bad economy with budget cutbacks and smaller donations that they must have limited options. I found little in terms of Hanukkah programming as well. This is very unfortunate for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa participants because PBS has always been a major resource for these holiday-themed entertainments. And, for the rest of us who enjoy watching Kwanzaa and Hanukkah programming as well.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

24 hour Movie Marathons

Why are you sitting in front of the computer when you could be sitting in front of your TV watching A Christmas Story 24 hour movie marathon on TBS or the Home Alone 24 hour movie marathon on Fox Movie channel? Drink Ovaltine!!

Book signing at Skullz Salon today

Thanks to all who stopped by my book signing today--made a few new friends. Thanks to the good people at Skullz Salon including Angelique, Amanda, Haley and Jeremy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

LAST book signing of 2009

If you live or are visiting Northeast Ohio, come down and see me at my last in-store appearance and book signing of 2009.

I'll be at Skullz Salon in downtown Kent (125 S. Water St. in Kent) from 5-8 pm Wednesday, 12/23. Come and talk to me about classic Christmas TV and get your book signed by the author. I'll also be selling copies of my book for the last minute shoppers with pop culture junkies on their Christmas lists. See you there!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Post-Apocalyptic Christmas Cartoons

Hugh Harmon's 1939 Technicolor MGM cartoon: Peace on Earth.

The re-make is 1955's Cinemascope MGM cartoon by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera: Good Will to Men.

A Christmas Miracle!

Another fantastic review just came in. Thanks John Kenneth Muir!

John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Film/TV

Three Godfathers

SET YOUR DVRs: for Thursday, 12/24 at 8:15 am (EST) on Turner Classic Movies channel to see the classic Christmas western 3 Godfathers.

Ever see John Wayne in a Christmas movie? Here's your chance. The 1948 film directed by John Ford sees three bank robbers crossing the desert to escape the posse chasing them only to realize they are without enough water supplies to reach the next town. They come across a pioneer family that have died of thirst, except for one survivor: a baby. The three men and the baby begin their arduous journey back to civilization in search of water, knowing that they will be punished for their crimes, if they are lucky enough to survive.

This film's story has been told many times. It was first made as Hell's Heroes in 1930, directed by William Wyler and it is also a 1936 movie, Three Godfathers, directed by Richard Boleslawski. I recommend checking out the 2003 adaptation, Tokyo Godfathers, made by Satoshi Kon. This spectacular anime movie re-invents the Western into the story of an abandoned baby found by three homeless people in Tokyo: Hana, the former drag queen that longs to be a mother; Miyuki, the teenage runaway; and Gin, the middle-aged drunk. Satoshi Kon also made the very popular, feature length animated film, Paprika.


We are coming up fast on Christmas. SET YOUR DVRs: for Tuesday, 12/22 at 8pm and 8:30 pm (EST) for Comedy Central to watch the two Christmas episodes of Futurama.

My TV schedule seems to suggest that the network is broadcasting the 2000 episode, "A Tale of Two Santas" at 8pm and the 1999 episode "Xmas Story" at 8:30 pm--out of order. Let's hope they air them in sequence.

In "Xmas Story," Fry first learns of the legacy of Christmas in the year 3000. Santa is now an evil robot who's naughty/nice evaluator is out of wack and he visits once a year--not to leave toys but to violently punish the naughty. People now spend Christmas Eve barracading themselves in their homes, looking for ways to survive the rampage of Santa Claus! Of course Fry finds himself on the streets after dark on Christmas Eve in pursuit of a gift for Leela unfortunately leading the deadly Santa back to the Professor's place.

In "A Tale of Two Santas" the crew flies to the North Pole of Neptune to deliver children's letters to Santa begging him not to visit and destroy Earth. While there, they incapacitate the evil Santa allowing Bender to take over the role of the generous, toy-deliverying Santa. However, no one on Earth is expecting this good Santa and Bender is captured and sentenced to be executed for Santa Claus' previous crimes and destruction.

These episodes have become Christmas classics, chock full of additional pop culture references. My favorite is the nod to O.Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi" when the crew all cut off their hair in order to buy combs for each other.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Very Supernatural Christmas

SET YOUR DVRs: for Thursday, 12/24 at 9 pm (EST) on the CW for Supernatural's holiday episode, "A Very Supernatural Christmas."

In this 2007 episode, the Winchester brothers investigate a string of disappearances, speculating that they are looking for the Anti-Claus: an evil monster who comes down the chimney and steals people from their homes. I discuss this episode in the Macabre Chapter of the book on page 15.

In a flashback scene to 1991, a young Sam is watching a Rankin/Bass animated Christmas special on TV--can you tell which one?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Part 3: Rankin/Bass Voice Actors in Other Christmas Programs

Ever wondered what the celebrities who loaned their voices for our favorite Rankin/Bass animated specials looked like? Want to actually SEE them in other Christmas programs? Look for them in the following:

Comedic actor Red Skelton provided his voice for 1976's Rudolph's Shiny New Year as the narrator, Father Time. The curious lock of red hair on Father Time's forehead is actually a reference to Skelton's own ginger appearance. Skelton was an extremely popular comedic actor with his own television series for twenty years, The Red Skelton Show. Before that he was even popular on the radio. His humorous style included joke telling, pantomime and a regular cast of characters he brought to life in narrative sketches within his show including Clem Kadiddlehopper--a confused rube, Willie Lump-Lump--the drunk, and Freddie the Freeloader--an adorable hobo character. Two of Skelton's Christmas shows from his TV series are Christmas classics including "The Cop and the Anthem" an adaptation of the heartwarming but twisted tale from American writer O.Henry starring Skelton's lovable Freddie the Freeloader character. Skelton also used his hobo character in the second classic "Freddie and the Yuletide Doll" which is Skelton at his best, pantomiming a skit about the lonely Freddie finding a rag doll on a park bench and fantasizing a day full of events for the two desperate souls on Christmas.

Singer/actor Danny Thomas and his real-life daughter and actress Marlo Thomas lend their voices to the 1967 animated classic Cricket on the Hearth. Danny Thomas plays the toymaker, Caleb Plummer while Marlo plays Caleb's daughter, Bertha. Rumor has it that Danny Thomas' family sitcom Make Room for Daddy offered several Christmas-themed episodes, unfortunately they are impossible to find. (If you've seen them--let me know!) However, Marlo Thomas's groundbreaking comedy series, That Girl, made two Christmas episodes "Christmas And the Hard Luck Kid" in 1966, "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, You’re Under Arrest" in 1967 and a New Year's episode "Should All Our Old Acquaintance Be Forgot" in 1968. All three of these holiday episodes are easily available for viewing on DVD.

Actor Cyril Ritchard provided the voice for the character Father Thomas in the 1975 animated special The First Christmas which is more commonly retitled The Story of the First Christmas Snow. Ritchard made his career mostly playing roles for the stage but can be seen in the 1965 TV special The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood, as Lone T. Wolf. This special is easily available for viewing on DVD and stars a very young Liza Minnelli as Red Riding Hood, crooner Vic Damone as the Woodsman and British Invasion rockers Eric Burdon and the Animals as the wild Wolf Pack. Those are some rockin' woods Red Riding Hood is walking through!

And, the talented Morey Amsterdam breathes life into the caveman character One Million B.C. in 1975's Rudolph's Shiny New Year. The actor with the distinctive voice also appears on one of the most treasured classic TV Christmas episodes of all time: 1963's "The Alan Brady Show Presents" of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Amsterdam plays joke writer Buddy Sorrell, the co-worker of Rob Petrie (Van Dyke). In this Christmas episode-within-a TV-show, (we watch the Christmas variety special of "The Alan Brady Show" as the holiday installment of "The Dick Van Dyke Show"), Buddy not only sings with the ensemble cast but plays "Jingle Bells" on the cello. Sing along with me: "Alan Bra-a-a-dy, Alan Bra-a-a-dy, Alan Braaa-dy...."

Meet John Doe

SET YOUR DVRs: for Tuesday, Dec. 22nd at 12:30 am (EST) on Turner Classic Movies channel to see the film Meet John Doe.

Many people are surprised to discover that film director Frank Capra made a Christmas movie about a suicidal jumper--before It's A Wonderful Life's George Bailey stood at the bridge railing. The 1941 film Meet John Doe stars Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in another story about a man literally pushed to the edge on Christmas Eve. Here, John Doe is so disgusted with humanity and the state of the world that he publicly threatens to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of a building. There are many twists and turns in this very powerful and emotional film. Some critics and viewers believe it to be superior to the more popular and ubiquitous It's A Wonderful Life. I'm curious what you think. Check out my discussion of this film on pages 108-109 in the book.

Radio Interview

I was recently interviewed over the phone for a Cleveland, OH radio program--my first radio interview! It was a little nerve-racking. The host hadn't seen my book before the interview and so I didn't know what kind of questions to expect. He was very easy to talk with and made the experience flow very naturally but...I was totally just reacting to him off the top of my head.

radio interview--on the right, click on the buttons next to "Christmas TV Companion."

Listening to it now three days later--I realize I misspoke. Near the end of the interview I said there is no Outer Limits Christmas episode. What the--? There's an episode of the New Outer Limits, from 1995 entitled "The Conversion" that is a holiday story. It stars John Savage and Frank Whaley. I KNOW this but I guess in the moment I forgot. I'm my own harshest critic. I wanted to talk more about the Eight is Enough Christmas episode but he cut me short. That's okay. I could have gone on and on about Elf.

It was an interesting and intense experience but I'm ready for my next radio interview! A friend of mine told me that the interview would most probably be edited and trimmed but listening to it again--NOTHING was trimmed or edited. I will try to say 'uhm' less often next time. LOL!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book Signing at Square Records today

***My book events attract all the cool cats in Akron, OH

***The Christmas TV Companion Companion

***It was great to meet fans of the book. While at Square Records, I even found a few minutes to find the perfect Christmas gift for my boyfriend: the soundtrack to the 1987 film "Wings of Desire" on vinyl. Ssshhh! Don't tell him.

Christmas on Mars

SET YOUR DVRs: for Friday, 12/25 at 1:15 am on the Sundance channel to see the fantabulous sci-fi film, Christmas on Mars.

This film was the personal project of Wayne Coyne (the lead singer of the alternative band from Oklahoma, The Flaming Lips) and from interviews I've read with him, it took many, many years to complete. But I can appreciate that. If you haven't seen it yet (it just came out last year) it has a classic science fiction film sensibility to charm every viewer--but an experimental and alternative cinema flavor as well. This film is perfect to watch as a midnight movie on late night Christmas Eve. My discussion of the film can be found on page 43-44 of the book.

I included a photo of our little Christmas tree this year--every year my boyfriend and I like to decorate with a different theme. This year our theme is sci-fi. I'm not sure it's finished but we only have one more week before it's too late to make improvements. We were generous with our interpretation on the theme--there are weird robots on it, a couple original Star Wars action figures, several E.T. figures (which isn't really connected to Christmas, I pointed out to him) and far too many R2-D2s. My boyfriend is proud of the paper-made blue police call box TARDIS on there from Doctor Who. But really they are left over from last year's British-themed Christmas tree. There's even a mogwai creature from the movie Gremlins--how did that get on there?

Friday, December 18, 2009

O. M. G. Diane Werts Knows I'm Alive!

Breathe, Joanna....keep breathing.

For Better or Werts

It's nice to get recognition in one's own field. There are only so many of us. The few, the proud, the TV obsessed.

Oh hey...and someone else is into the book: PopCereal
Maybe Santa will bring Mr. Miller a copy?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Akron Book Signing--Saturday

If you live in the Akron area, I'll be signing books at Square Records store (824 W. Market St. Akron OH) on Saturday, Dec. 19th from 2-5 pm.

Come down and talk classic Christmas TV with me. Or buy a last minute Christmas gift for that vinyl record collector in your life. Or Hell, buy a book! I'll be the one with the green pen in my hand.

Part 2: Rankin/Bass Voice Actors in Other Christmas Programs

Ever wondered what the celebrities who loaned their voices for our favorite Rankin/Bass animated specials looked like? Want to actually SEE them in other Christmas programs? Look for them in the following:

Billy DeWolfe provided the voice for the character of Professor Hinckle in 1969's Frosty the Snowman. But you can also see him as the fussy, irritable next-door neighbor, Mr. Jarvis, in the 1970 holiday episode "It’s Christmas Time in the City" on The Doris Day Show. This episode is also special because Ms. Day sings a beautiful version of the classic Christmas song, 'Silver Bells.'

Art Carney lends his voice talent to 1981's The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold. Carney appears often in Christmas-themed programs, including The Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978 as the pro-rebellion local outpost trader and the classic 1955 episode of The Honeymooners' entitled "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas" as Ralph's best friend and neighbor, Ed Norton. (This episode is a very quirky re-telling of the familiar O.Henry story "The Gift of the Magi" but here Ralph hocks his favorite bowling ball in order to buy Alice an orange juice squeezer shaped to resemble the head of Napoleon. It warms the heart, doesn't it?) Carney also appears in everyone's favorite Twilight Zone holiday episode, "The Night of the Meek" from 1960 as the embittered drunk that finds himself with a supernatural sack that is able to produce the perfect gift and fulfill people's Christmas wishes. This particular episode is certainly in my top five for all-time favorite Christmas TV episodes.

Comedic actor, Buddy Hackett provided the voice to the groundhog narrator, Pardon-Me Pete, in 1979's Jack Frost. Hackett can also be seen as Ebenezer Scrooge in the TV special-within-a-movie, Scrooged.

Actress Greer Garson who can be heard as the beautiful voice of the storyteller in The Little Drummer Boy and its sequel The Little Drummer Boy, Book II can be seen in the 1941 film Blossoms in the Dust--a movie closely associated with the Christmas holiday. Though not a holiday-themed story itself, this film dramatizes the real-life Edna Gladney, a Texas woman in the early twentieth century that worked to help unwanted children from being raised in orphanages and instead placed in homes. The film's story about orphans and its themes of compassion and charity make it a holiday favorite on television.

And, Angela Lansbury brought life to Sister Theresa in 1975's The First Christmas, now more often retitled The Story of the First Christmas Snow. Ms. Lansbury appears as super sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the ninth season Christmas episode of her series Murder, She Wrote entitled "The Christmas Secret." How many people know that Lansbury was also in the Jerry Herman Broadway musical Mame in the 1960s and it is her version of the hit song "We Need A Little Christmas" that became popular and most often can be heard played on the radio at holiday time?

Animator Corky Quakenbush

People keep asking me about the insane Christmas animated shorts that aired on MadTV. If you haven't seen them, you're missing something.

Raging Rudolph

The Reinfather

A Pack of Gifts Now--this is my favorite!! Rudolph plays Martin Sheen's character in Apocalypse Now, with Hermey as Dennis Hopper's reporter and bald Santa as Brando. "The Ho-Ho-Horror." THIS is why I love Christmas TV.

These shorts were animated in stop-motion by Corky Quakenbush--check out his site: Space Bass Films. These animated shorts are certainly worth owning.

Among other things, he also animated the intro to Denis Leary's Merry F#$%in' Christmas Special which will air at 3 am (EST) on Comedy Central, Dec. 25th and at 2: 30 am (EST) Dec. 26th.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

RiffTrax Christmas Shorts program

I went to my local movie theater tonight to see the latest RiffTrax release--that's an older film given the Mystery Science Theater 3000-style audio-commentary. Tonight's program was Christmas-themed shorts so I was eager to see which classic shorts were to be riffed. There were several Christmas-themed Castle Film releases, a cartoon and two non-holiday themed shorts as well. It was fun. I was hoping they would give commentary for the several shorts that I mentioned in the book but they didn't. But they did a good job of mocking and spoofing the shorts they chose.

One of the shorts they riffed on is called "A Christmas Dream" and it contains scenes of a hand-sewn sock doll that comes to life while a little girl sleeps. Rightly the audio-commentary crew played up how creepy the doll looks and how weird for the little girl to be so amused by the creepy doll that is now ALIVE.

I was hoping that they would spoof on "A Christmas Fantasy" a short I discuss in the macabre/horror chapter in the book. It too is a public domain, black-and-white short that is easily available on cheap DVDs. The story is clearly intended to be an idyllic scene with two beautiful, innocent children that fall asleep in front of an elaborately decorated Christmas tree. The two tots dream of a Scandanavian (there's windmills?!) winter landscape with ice skating dolls and white snow. Santa's arm reaches into their dream to snatch the dolls and place them on the children's laps as they peacefully sleep. Then the camera cuts to Santa Claus--and suddenly this idyllic dream turns into a nightmare! The film production crew had obviously cut corners on the costume budget and his suit is lumpy and dirty-looking. Santa wears a full face-mask in addition to his beard. And this deranged Santa is hovering over these beautiful, sleeping children!! It's the most frightening Santa I've seen. It's hilarious.

I'd also loved to have seen Santa Claus' Story--also mentioned in my book. This one depicts two adorable children catching Santa Claus coming down their chimney on Christmas Eve. So Santa decides to stay awhile and tell a story to the youngsters. However, the story he tells is just weird footage of monkeys and chimps!? The monkey footage looks like it's newsreel footage of monkeys in a zoo fighting over food. The other sequences are chimpanzees with their handlers playing dress-up and doing ridiculous things for the camera. It's just stupid fun to watch and makes no sense whatsoever! Like Santa has nothing better to do on Christmas Eve....

But there's something even weirder about this short--something I never mentioned in the book. The next time you watch it, pay attention to the character named Virginia (there's a little boy, Jackie and a little girl, Virginia). She's played in one brief scene by an actress that is a little girl and in the other scenes, she's played by an adult little person in a wig!? I can't make this stuff up.


Okay--what about MY favorite weird or unusual Christmas program? I'm glad you asked!

I'm actually asked this quite a bit by the people who interview me for newspapers, radio shows and blogs. And I have to admit, I frequently give a different answer each time I'm asked. It's hard to pick just one.

TODAY my favorite is the holiday episode of the children's animated program Chowder, entitled "Hey, Hey It's Knishmas!" The writers of this series have created a parallel to Christmas--not exactly Christmas, just slightly off. (This trend to not name Christmas in children's programming is actually quite common--I can only speculate that it's an effort to multiculturalize the holiday without offending anyone.) But this parallel is more psychedelic and surreal than tolerant of multicultural traditions. If you are familiar with the series, then you know that the characters and the action centers around food stuffs--and in the holiday episode the food stuff activity is Schmingerbread house-building. (And, no that's not a typo--it's a parallel experience to gingerbread houses, I guess.) My favorite is the parallel Santa creature: Knish Krinkle. He only comes to kid's houses if they have a sincere Schmingerbread house (sounds like the Great Pumpkin, huh?). But when he does, it is very bizarre: he's shaped like a wormy caterpillar with a blue face. He writhes through the house, speaking not words but spews 'blech' as he vomits the gifts he delivers. I know--weird huh?

If you want to see it for yourself, SET YOUR DVRs: for Thursday, Dec. 17th at 8pm (EST) for Cartoon Network. Or, it airs again Sunday, Dec. 20th 8:30 am (EST) as well as several more times before Christmas day.

Another Raving Review

Book reviews are still coming in!! The Retroist--check out the site.


Thanks to everyone that participated. This was fun, wasn't it? Our winner is Amanda By Night with her entry A Very Brady Christmas. However, we also have honorable mention prizes for the other entries: Wings, Gina and Ronda. My publisher will contact you about where to send the prizes.

If anyone is interested in watching A Very Brady Christmas, I believe it is scheduled for broadcast on ABCFamily channel next Tuesday, 12/22 at 1 pm (EST). There is a funny sketch within Denis Leary's Merry F#$%&in' Christmas Special with filmmaker Morgan Spurlock where he attempts to watch A Very Brady Christmas movie twice a day for 30 days. In this spoof of Spurlock's documentary film Super Size Me and his TV series 30 Days, Spurlock is once again pushed to his physical limitations--it's hilarious. Denis Leary's 2005 holiday special will broadcast on Comedy Central, Friday 12/25 at 3 am (EST) and again Saturday 12/26 at 2:30 am (EST). This special is best viewed late into the night anyway.

Thanks to everyone that played along!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chiller Christmas Eve

Good news for horror Christmas TV fans! Chiller TV network (upper tier digital cable/satellite network) is running a holiday marathon on Dec. 24th--that's Christmas Eve for many of us--and they will be airing several programs mentioned in the book, including:

--Millennium's holiday episode "Omerta" mentioned in The Big Lebowski MYOM

--The Twilight Zone's "Night of the Meek"

--TV's Tales from the Crypt's Santa with an ax episode "And All Through the House"

--the campy horror film Jack Frost and it's sequel Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer.

They are re-running these programs throughout the day--see the schedule here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Contest Entry #4!!!!

Here we have entry no. 4 from my good friend Ronda! Enjoy!

Ronda writes,

My favorite Christmas Movie is “ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE”. Yes, I know its sappy. But what kind of movie gives you a look at what your life would be like had you not been in it? Growing up in the same home town never getting a chance to move out...always putting others in front of your needs, keeping the family together at all cost. Giving up on your dreams so that you can help others reach theirs.
If everyone would just take a few life lessons from good ‘ole George, just think what kind of happier world we would live in. Do I hear a bell ringing Clarence?

Nothing sappy about this now-classic movie. It’s good watching anytime of the year! And, hello, Jimmy Stewart? Classic. Thanks Ronda!

Incidentally, here’s a great Frank Capra-directed Christmas double-feature: Meet John Doe (1941), starring the ever-awesome Barbara Stanwyck & Gary Cooper, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Every emotion, from the highest triumphant high, to the lowest, saddest low, is covered right here in just 2 films!

Contest Entry #3!!!!

Yay! Here is contest entry no. 3. From Amanda By Night, who writes a great blog: Made for TV Mayhem --do check it out!

Amanda writes:

Let it be said I like a little schmaltz with my holiday and I got it in spades with the overtly sentimental made for TV movie A Very Brady Christmas (1988), which features the family reuniting under much more realistic circumstance (what do you mean Wally lost his job? That’s so unfunny…). The best line in the whole movie is when Marcia says to her husband, “Don’t be sorry, just be Wally.” I love Wally!

There will always, always be a place in my heart for all things Brady Bunch! Thank you Amanda! Here's a picture of me meeting Barry Williams in 2003, in Youngstown, Ohio. I'm the one on the right.

Keep your entries coming! Only a few (shopping) days left! Here's a quick link to the rules & the brilliant prizes you'll get: rules/prizes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Guest That Would Never Leave

SET YOUR DVRs: for Saturday, 12/19 at 8pm (EST) for Turner Classic Movies channel for 1942's The Man Who Came to Dinner.

If you saw my earlier post, you may know that I call this black-and-white classic one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. Originally a Broadway hit on the stage, the film is adapted from the play written by legends George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

It's a wonderful comedy about a horrible, devilish tyrant of a celebrity houseguest that has overstayed his welcome and just won’t leave. His meddling, selfish schemes drive everyone in the household into chaos over the Christmas holiday. Multiple story lines interweave in this fast paced witty plot--you’ll love it the more times you watch it! See actress Bette Davis in one of her few comedy roles, Jimmy Durante entertains with a song and the actress best remembered for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in 1939’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ appears here as the dizzy wife.

The film is filled with pop culture references to its day: the character of the horrible houseguest, Sheridan Whiteside was based on real-life critic, writer, and radio personality, the acerbic Alexander Woolcott; Banjo is based on the horny, rambunctious Harpo Marx; and,the stylish and witty Beverly is modeled after Noel Coward. Even if you have no idea about the pop culture references--it makes no difference. The film is still charming and hilarious enough without catching all the added layers of meaning.

Rankin/Bass Voice Actors in Other Christmas Programs

Ever wondered what the celebrities who loaned their voices for our favorite Rankin/Bass animated specials looked like? Want to actually SEE them in other Christmas programs? Look for them in the following:

Shirley Booth gave her voice to bring Mrs. Claus to life in 1974's The Year Without A Santa Claus. Booth also appeared in the holiday episodes "Hazel’s Christmas Shopping" and "Just 86 Shopping Minutes to Christmas" from the 1960s TV sitcom about a savvy maid--a character inspired from a comic strip.

Mickey Rooney lends his voice as Kris Kringle in 1970's Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, as Santa Claus in 1974's The Year Without A Santa Claus and as Santa Claus in 1979's Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July. Rooney can be seen in the holiday episode of the family sitcom Full House entitled "Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen" from 1994. He's made several appearances in Christmas movies but my favorites are 1990's Home for Christmas and 1938's Love Finds Andy Hardy--which also stars Judy Garland and Lana Turner. yeah!

Jimmy Durante sings and narrates the story in 1969's Frosty the Snowman. You can see him in one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies, 1942's The Man Who Came to Dinner. This film is filled with pop culture references of its day and Durante plays a rambunctious character named Banjo that was a then-obvious nod to Harpo Marx. If you haven't seen it, this film is a fast-paced, hilarious story that is sure to please. How often have you seen actress Bette Davis in a comedy? Have I convinced you yet? Durante is also in The Great Rupert from 1950--a very weird movie worth catching if you've never seen it. Not wanting to spoil it for you, I'll just say an absurd squirrel plays a primary role in moving the storyline forward.

Of course, these actors where originally hired to lend their voices because they were already celebrities of their time. But these Rankin/Bass animated classics have outlived their original context and have been embraced by a younger generation that may not be as familiar with the work of these celebrities. Maybe seeing the actors in live action programs will give those interested a renewed enthusiasm for the voices that seem so familiar.

If you like this post, let me know--I can post more live action programs with Rankin/Bass voice casts.

New Reviews--They're still coming in!

I got two NEW reviews just today!! Check it out:

Opinionated? Me?

local newspaper The Falls News Press--my book cover photo was bigger than the others. Nyah!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Contest Entry #2

I have here, official Entry #2 in my Holiday Contest! Yay!

For a quick recap of the rules and the loot involved with the contest, check out this previous post.

And, remember to send entries to: dominic@1701press.com

OK. Here's Entry #2, from Gina, who says:

I grew up in the 80s, so I remember really liking Pee-Wee Herman’s Christmas special. It was perfectly done and totally wacky just like his regular show, only he had a ton of crazy guest stars joining in the fun. I think Pee-Wee forces Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello to work like slaves on his huge Christmas card list! I remember Oprah being there, and Cher too.

I don’t know if it was the weirdest Christmas special I’ve ever seen, but it definitely made an impression!

Thanks Gina! Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special is impressive!

Christmas-themed Diaster Movies

I know you're thinking what I'm thinking: there just aren't enough Christmas-themed disaster movies!! But thank god the good people at Fox Movie Channel are thinking about us.

SET YOUR DVRs: Saturday, 12/26 on Fox Movie Channel, at 5:30 pm and then 8 pm (EST) for Terror on the 40th Floor and The Poseidon Adventure.

1974's Terror on the 4oth Floor is a movie I haven't seen yet and have been searching for it for awhile. Rumor has it that employees at an office Christmas party become trapped on....the 40th floor of a skyscraper when the building goes up in flames.

1972's The Poseidon Adventure is one I originally saw at the drive-in. (I also saw the more recent re-make at the drive-in. Hhhmmm...) Anyway, this classic disaster movie takes place on a cruise ship over the holiday when a tidal wave flips the luxury liner over and quickly begins filling with water. It's a great holiday moment when the survivors must scramble up the giant Christmas tree in order to scale to higher decks for oxygen as the ship rapidly fills with water. Good times. Another key scene is the one between Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters when the older, heavy-set woman volunteers to swim through a water-filled passage in order to help save the others. Can you guess what happens to our hero? Glug-glug-glug.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More reviews

Amuse yourself by reading a few more reviews of the book:

The Youngstown Vindicator newspaper--front page, Dec. 3rd

Culture Kills...Wait, I Mean Cutlery

The Film Frontier

Tell me or them what you think--we'd love to hear from you!!

The Avengers Christmas

The following is an excerpt from "The 12 Days of Cult TV Classics" listings in the book (pgs. 80-81) of holiday episodes from cult TV series. Below are installments from the classic British spy series The Avengers.

A black-and-white episode of The Avengers classic “Too Many Christmas Trees” from 1965 sees John Steed feeling uneasy after experiencing a week’s worth of disturbing Christmas nightmares. So Peel invites him to join her in attending a Dickens-themed masquerade over the holiday. Here Steed finds the origin of his Christmas dreams in a group conducting psychic experiments, infiltrating and influencing his behavior through his bizarre dreams. He and Peel fight off a masked, murderous Father Christmas in a room full of mirrors, foiling another plot to steal state secrets. Note their costumes: Emma is dressed as Oliver Twist while Steed is Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities.

There’ s also the 1963 New Year’s episode entitled “Dressed to Kill” where Steed is invited to a New Year’s Eve costume party aboard a train. Suspicious of the invitation, Steed, dressed as a cowboy, invites Cathy Gale to trail him. She does, cunningly hidden under monk’s robes. Sure enough, the party guests are left stranded in the club car at a deserted train station. They soon determine that the only thing they have in common is an appointment to purchase a parcel of land at an auction the following day. While they figure out that they are being prevented from making the purchases, they also begin accusing each other for the responsibility for the kidnapping. Could it be the policeman, the archer, Napoleon, or the pussy cat?

s fans will also be familiar with 1969’s episode “Take-Over.” With Tara on her own vacation, Steed heads to the country to visit friends and partake of the relaxing activities of country living, such as hunting and enjoying good food and drink. He’s expected by his friend because they reunite each February to celebrate Christmas--an annual tradition, Steed explains, ever since Steed and he were prisoners in China. They had made their own calendar and later found that they had over-calculated the date, and had been celebrating the holiday in February. But Steed’s Christmas reunion is not to be when he discovers strangers occupying his friend’s home, holding him hostage with a devious scheme in mind. Of course, Steed cleverly fakes his own death, appearing to drown in a mud pit. What latest plot to alter the world’s course is being enacted at his friend’s home?

Here's an interesting extra that's not in the book:

True devotees of the British espionage series may want to put champagne on ice and don a bowler hat in order to celebrate this Christmas in style. You may want to watch the British-made 1951 film A Christmas Carol in order to see a very young Patrick Macnee in the role as the young Jacob Marley in several brief scenes when Scrooge revisits his Christmas past. Critics and fans often agree that this version of the Dickens tale, starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, is their favorite rendition. But just between us Avengers fans, we know what makes this version extra special. In at least one version of the re-release of the film onto DVD, Macnee himself provides an introduction to the film.

A Contest Entry!

I have a contest entry to share! First, a quick recap of what my contest is:

In 75 words or less, name your favorite weird or unusual Christmas TV episode, special or film--and explain what makes it weird or unusual to you. Get creative and impress us.

And here's a link to the original post for the full details and what you get when you win!
Contest rules and the loot the winner gets!

Entry # 1 is from our good friend Wings, who writes:

Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas.
Henson and his crew created something heartwarming. The characters aren't your typical Muppets, but rather are more realistic, grounded in a life that is rich, not with material items, but with love. The story has elements of “The Gift of the Magi” and teamwork. Great themes to share with your loved ones.

The production is wonderful to watch. The Muppets are 3D versions of characters from an illustrated children's book. The attention to detail with the sets and costumes adds to the charm throughout.

Also great are the songs. You won't hear them on Christmas radio stations, but they are as catchy as any holiday tunes. After repeated viewings, you will find yourself singing them!

While Emmet isn't as obscure as some specials, it isn't as mainstream as Rudolph. That is too bad. We could use more homespun tales, at least once a year.

Well said! Check back soon, I have more entries to post and will get them online in the next few days!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Several more reviews of the book

I've received several more fantastic reviews of the book. I'm so pleased that it makes such a big impression. I've been living with this project for so long, it's amazing to read other peoples' reactions to it! Thank you everyone.

No Smoking in the Skullcave

Popped Culture

Classic Cleveland Media

Hanukkah is coming....

Every year more and more Hanukkah (or Chanukah, if you like) specials are produced for television. If you're looking to watch a hanukkah-themed special, check your local PBS listings. In my experience, they are the richest source for this programming.

The smart-ass in me loves the made-for-TV movie The Hebrew Hammer starring Adam Goldberg, Andy Dick and Judy Greer. Goldberg plays the orthodox Jewish Hero-of-the-streets--ala 1970s blaxploitation detective John Shaft--that rallies to save Hanukkah from the Christmas-centered newest Santa, played by Dick. You gotta love the chutzpah of the creative genius behind a character like Moredechai Jefferson Carver. I mention this movie in my book on pg. 28 within the Cool MYOM listing. This usually ais repeatedly on Comedy Central but it is also available on DVD.

Also mentioned in the book, on pgs. 48-49 within the Star Trek MYOM suggestions, the animated classic Lights. It does more than share the story of the miracle of the burning lamp in the temple that inspires the Hanukkah celebration but beautifully explores the richer history and culture of the Jewish peoples through the ages. Voices are provided by actors Leonard Nimoy, Paul Michael Glaser (that's 1970s TV's cop, Starsky on Starsky & Hutch) and Judd Hirsch (on 1970s TV series Taxi and the more recent Numbers.) Lights may be from 1983 but I still see it regularly broadcast this time every year--usually on a local station, early on a Saturday afternoon. Check your local listings.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Book Signings

For those that live in Northeast Ohio, I wanted you to know that I'll be making two in-store appearances for book signings in the upcoming weeks.

Saturday, Dec. 19th between 2-5 pm, I'll be at Square Records store (824 W. Market St. in Akron), and

Wednesday, Dec. 23rd between 5-8 pm, I'll be at Skullz Salon (125 S. Water St. Kent, OH) right downtown.

So if you'd like to come down, meet the author and buy a book or get the one you already have signed, these would be two great opportunities for that. Let your friends and family know--the book makes a fantastic last-minute Christmas gift for any TV and pop culture junkie.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Marilyn Monroe in a Christmas movie??

SET YOUR DVRs: Wednesday Dec. 9th at 8am (EST) on the Fox Movie Channel for the feature length movie, O.Henry's Full House.

This is an incredible black-and-white, Hollywood movie with a star-studded cast. Five of O.Henry's most popular short stories are dramatized with legendary writer John Steinbeck appearing on screen to introduce each vignette. The first story is the holiday favorite The Cop and the Anthem which stars actors Charles Laughton, David Wayne and yes, Marilyn Monroe. She appears in a minor role as a woman on the street that encounters Laughton--but she's easy to spot and recognize. This vignette is directed by Henry Koster, a well-respected artist and immigrant that fled Nazi Germany for Hollywood.

Additionally, the last of the five stories is the holiday classic The Gift of the Magi starring Farley Granger and Jeanne Crain, and directed by Henry King. This film is discussed on pg. 25 and 126 while O.Henry's The Cop and the Anthem and its adaptations are discussed on pgs. 125-128.

Recent Interview

My book appeared on a fellow blogger's site last week. Not only was it reviewed but I was interviewed and I couldn't be more happy with the result. It's always nice to know when someone likes your book. Check it out:

I Screen You Screen blog


Now for a little fun. I'd like to hear from you:

In 75 words or less, name your favorite weird or unusual Christmas TV episode, special or film--and explain what makes it weird or unusual to you. Get creative and impress us.

My publisher has kindly offered to read all the submissions and pick the winner. We'll post the responses as we get them and the winner will be announced at NOON on Wednesday, December 16th. Send your entries to: Dominic@1701Press.com. You may enter more than once. The winner will get two brand new DVDs I recently found which contain rare Christmas animated TV specials I've never seen on DVD until now.

Disc 1: "Christmas Classics" includes the following:
--George and the Christmas Star--an animated, 30 minute special from 1985, written and directed by Gerald Potterton with music by Paul Anka. It's included in the book in the sci-fi chapter on pg. 46-47.
--Paramount's Famous Studios Screen Song from 1949, the cartoon Snow Foolin' where viewers sing along with the bouncing ball to the song "Jingle Bells."
--A 1947 Little Audrey cartoon from Famous Studios Noveltoons entitled Santa's Surprise.
--A 1948 Famous Studios cartoon Hector's Hectic Life.
--the Fleischer cartoon for Jam Handy, entitled Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
--1936's Fleischer classic, Christmas Comes But Once a Year featuring the character Grampy--who was first introduced in a Betty Boop cartoon. This animated short is also within Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special and is presented by the King of Cartoons. See page 64-65 for my discussion of the special and the cartoon.

Disc 2: "The Gift of Winter" includes the following:
--1974's The Gift of Winter which features the voice cast of actors Gilda Radner and Dan Ackroyd. This 30 minute animated special by animators Leach and Rankin has very unusal looking image design. It is discussed on pg. 97-98 in the book. This is the same creative team that produced the equally charming, Halloween special The Witch's Night Out.
--Paramount's Famous Studios Screen Song from 1948, the cartoon Winter Draws On where viewers sing along with the bouncing ball to the song "Alabamy Bound."
--Fleischer animation from 1946 entitled Hawaiian Birds.
--Another Fleischer cartoon Peeping Penguins from 1938.
--a repeat from disc 1 of Snow Foolin'.
--a 10 minute animated short from 1982 entitled Gifts of the North Wind, a Norweign fairy tale of sorts. I'm unfamiliar with this cartoon but a young viking confronts the North Wind and receives three gifts: a magic tablecloth, a magic sheep and a magic stick in order to surive the brutal winter weather. It appears dubbed into English and it bears the familiar character design that is produced for anime. Very intriguing.

These cheaply produced DVDs contain some rare animation and so I'm hoping you will appreciate the sacrifice in quality for accessibility. These are not bootlegs but DVDs I bought at the local grocery store. Good luck--I can't wait to hear from you.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

24-Hour Christmas Movie Marathons

The annual tradition of the twenty four-hour marathon of the movie A Christmas Story has really touched everyone. People who usually don't watch much TV at all still seem to know about how that movie runs continuously over the holiday. I'm frequently asked about that phenomenon and I usually respond in two parts:
1) I think it's a nice alternative to the TV Yule Log (looped broadcast of a burning fire in a fireplace). It's the kind of movie that appeals to both young and older viewers. But since everyone has seen it already, it's nice to just have on the TV in the background while the family gathers and goes about their usual traditions. Thus it has become just another Christmas tradition for many families. The story is so familiar to everyone that it's more about catching your favorite scenes throughout Christmas Eve or the following Christmas Day than about sitting and watching the movie in its entirety during the marathon.
2) I'm surprised more networks don't do the same marathon idea since it has become such a popular Christmas experience.

But last year, a rival cable network did just that--and broadcast twenty four hours of Will Ferrell in Elf. I have to admit, in my house, we flipped back and forth between the two marathons the whole holiday. I see that this year the Fox Movie Channel is airing a twenty four hour-marathon of Home Alone. Maybe next year: twenty four hours of A Very Brady Christmas?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adult Swim

SET YOUR DVRs: tonight 12/5 at 11 pm (EST) on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programs: The PJs followed by The Boondocks.

The PJ's Christmas episode entitled "How the Super Stole Christmas" airs tonight. This stop-motion program from the 1990s features an adaptation of the familiar Grinch story in this episode. Hilarious. I discuss it on pg. 86.

And, The Boondock's holiday episode entitled "A Huey Freeman Christmas" is one of my personal favorite Christmas episodes. I love how Jasmine equates Jesus with Santa Claus--very blasphemous but clever. But the most charming storyline is watching Huey organize his school's holiday pageant--ala Charlie Brown--taking it to a whole new level, demanding Hollywood A-list actors audition and re-writing the story to make it meaningful to his generation. Of course, he's underappreciated and the teachers have to wrestle control over the project away from young Huey. Brilliant. I love a good 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' reference. This episode is discussed on pg. 84 of my book.

If you love the classic 1960s animated specials, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and A Charlie Brown Christmas, then you HAVE to watch their legacies. These are two of the best.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Naughty but Nice

SET YOUR DVRs: Saturday 12/5 for 1:45 pm (EST) on TCM channel to watch the movie Holiday Affair.

This classic Christmas romance movie is noted here because it stars the handsome and irresistible Robert Mitchum. I included Mitchum in the Cool MYOM listings on pg. 25. Mitchum was a well-known Bad Boy of Hollywood, actually serving jail time for getting busted smoking pot (he claims he was framed.) Anyhoo....he's irresistible to not just me but to Janet Leigh's character in Holiday Affair. This is the same actress that many may recognize from Hitchcock's Psycho.

This film was so charming that it inspired a remake in 1996 starring David James Elliott and Cynthia Gibb. Elliott is recognizable from his starring role on the long-running JAG TV series and Gibb has been in many made-for-TV movies. This version is adaquate but few actors best Mitchum for machismo. My favorite Mitchum movie is 1958's Thunder Road which he wrote, produced and starred in. He also sang the theme song! Very ambitious for a convicted pot-smoker.

Christmas movie fans know that Mitchum also appears in 1988's Scrooged as Bill Murray's character's network executive boss, Preston Rhinelander. Mitchum also plays the lead in the noir/horror film The Night of the Hunter, a film which ends with a Christmas scene.


I've received several comments/questions asking about where people can watch the things I've listed in the book. I'm glad you asked!! I specifically chose those listings included because, well...they are interesting but also because of accessibility. In this blog I've been highlighting the broadcast of many of the entries within the book--and more notices are coming. But one of the glorious thing about Christmas material is that there is always a market for re-releasing old programs. Every year, new Christmas treasures become available for purchase or rental. It's usually just a matter of finding it. In a previous post I mentioned Christmas With the King Family and the Bell Telephone Hour Christmas specials. But there are many more.

Research secrets: I use every available resource for finding/watching Christmas materials. This includes: the library, Netflix, Blockbuster.com, local video rental stores, Goodwill and used markets, YouTube, and borrowing from friends. I also love to head straight to the bargain bins and look for the dollar DVDs. These cheaply produced DVDs are AMAZING resources for old and seeminly lost Christmas programs. But beware: the manufacturers of these dollar DVDs love to change the name of the programs. So you have to be creative and willing to obtain duplicates. Just yesterday a friend told me she acquired a new DVD entitled "Santa Claus Defeats the Aliens." But immediately I could recognize that it's a copy of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." Sometimes the thrill of the search makes it all worthwhile.

This week at the grocery store--of all places--I found DVD copies of two rare animated Christmas programs I had feared may become lost forever. I wrote about both of them in the book because I had found them on VHS from my local library and had hoped they would find a new life. Sure enough, both are now available. I'm going to announce a contest soon to give them away--so stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Barbara Stanwyck

SET YOUR DVRs: for Turner Classic Movies channel this Sunday, 12/6 at noon (EST) and 2 pm (EST) for Christmas in Connecticut and Remember the Night.

One of my favorite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck, is known for her melodramas and her unique character style of being tough on the outside but soft on the inside. Most people remember her for her femme fatale role in Double Indemnity. But she also appeared in the lighter, holiday films Christmas in Connecticut and Remember the Night. These aren't just classic films they are standards. And should be.

If you're a fan of Double Indemnity, you may want to see Remember the Night as Stanwyck once again shares the screen with actor Fred MacMurray.

The lifeless remake of Christmas in Connecticut, starring Dyan Cannon, was actually directed by now-Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. There's some holiday trivia sure to impress at the Christmas dinner table.

And, if you're looking for something different--wait until 12/22 on TCM to watch Barbara Stanwyck in the Frank Capra classic Meet John Doe. You already know Jimmy Stewart isn't going to commit suicide by jumping from the bridge this year--so watch 1941's Meet John Doe to see if Stanwyck can keep Gary Cooper from jumping from the roof of a building. The holidays sure can be rough!

Not enough Stanwyck yet? Well, then get the Christmas episode of the TV western, The Big Valley, entitled "Judgment in Heaven." It's on disc 5 of the first season--at the local public library or your favorite online DVD rental provider.

Star Wars Holiday Special

It seems everyone is talking to me lately about the Star Wars Holiday Special. Tis the season, I guess. I spend five pages of the book discussing it, speculating on what went so horribly wrong. I still can't believe that I didn't see it--or even know about it when it originally aired in 1978. I was their prime target: I was 10 years old, a devoted Star Wars merchandise acquirer and a TV junkie. I'm speculating that my parents actually plotted to keep me from knowing about it and thus watching it as a way to curb the toy demands I was making back then. Lousy parents. But like most everyone else, I had heard the rumors about it and the bootleg VHS copies that floated around for years. Thank god for You Tube--now everyone can now share in the pain of knowing just how bad it really is.

If you are someone who giggles at the mere mention of the SWHS title, you may find some sick joy in watching 2005 's made-for-TV movie Chasing Christmas, starring Tom Arnold. I'm not actually recommending you watch this movie--except that it includes a reference to the 1978 clinker. For you curious few, you may find it entertaining that Tom Arnold's character is treated to a travel in time--ala Ebenezer Scrooge--where he finds himself back in 1978, among other dates. In the scenes during 1978, the Star Wars Holiday Special is supposedly playing on the TV over the bar. A nice nod to a specific time and place in American history. But more devoted Christmas TV watchers may recognize that in this scene from 1978, the SWHS is airing on Christmas Eve--but it actuality it only aired once and it was November 1978. So....there I've gone and spoiled the excitement of it all. But perhaps its enough to know that this more recent made-for-TV movie was attempting to make a nod at such a remarkable piece of television holiday pop culture. Maybe, just maybe I've saved you from another Tom Arnold Christmas movie.