About Christmas TV History

Saturday, December 31, 2011

TV Confidential

This holiday season you may have heard me on the radio discussing Christmas on TV.  I was lucky to have been a part of several interviews on TV Confidential.  If you missed those pieces, you can still listen to the podcasts at TV Confidential's archives.

Show #118:  Author Greg Ehrbar and I discuss our favorite Christmas programs along with the show's regular hosts Ed Robertson, Tony Figueroa and Donna Allen.  Click here for the link to Show #118.  Ed calls me "...the holiday TV guru..."  I like that alot!  Can you guess which are my own personal favorite Christmas specials?  I was extremely impressed with Greg--isn't he sharp?  I loved his reading of the TV special Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.  In the audio, you can hear me tittering during Greg's reading of that classic Rankin/Bass Animagic special.  I recently got two of Greg's books, Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records (2006) and The Cartoon Music Book (2002), which I'll be reviewing here on my blog soon.

Show #114:  November was my first appearance on TV ConfidentialClick here for the link to Show #114.  I discuss my obsession with The Peanuts character Peppermint Patty, the inspiration for writing my two books, the common themes in Christmas TV stories, the sidebars in my encyclopedia and my love the Christmas episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show.  I also spoke about my upcoming appearance at the screening of the Christmas TV movie The Homecoming and the Waltons cast reunion.  Click the links to read my blog posts about those experiences: Waltons Part 1 and Waltons Part 2.

This was just a fantastic experience.  Thanks again to TV Confidential for this opportunity and Ed Roberston, Donna Allen and Tony Figueroa.  I also want to thank the other guest on Show 118, author Greg Ehrbar, for his generosity during the radio show.  Don't forget: I was recently on two podcasts of Galactic Watercooler as well.  Check it out!   Do you regularly listen to podcasts?  Which ones do you like?  Let me know.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Galactic Watercooler

In the hub-bub of the holidays, you may have missed the interviews I did with Galactic Watercooler (GWC), the "...community of friendly people who enjoy and participate in geekdom..."

From the GWC website:
"Each week (for five years running) GWC’s geek hosts jump into new material, becoming fans and passing on the experience with the help of what’s widely recognized as the friendliest community in science fiction and fantasy. Rolling Stone magazine called GWC “the NPR of BSG,” and Howard Stern agreed, describing GWC (and geeking in general) as a “guilty pleasure.” Past topics include The Guild, Alien, Eureka, Eve Online, Star Trek, Terminator, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible, Tron, War Games, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Cosmos, Avatar, Batman, Transformers, X-Men, Iron Man, Mass Effect, SyFy and sci-fi programs, individuals such as Will Smith, Felicia Day, Joss Whedon, and many more!"

"We’re interested in TV shows, movies, comics, novels, gaming, science, and music. We’re interested in each other. We like to chat about just about any topic. We’ll listen and give informed feedback, and at the end of the day we think of GWC as a clubhouse for a (very large) group of friends."

I discuss Christmas on TV in two recent podcasts: #302 and #303

Podcast #302: I follow rock legends Donnie Iris and the Cruisers at about the 1 hr 22 min mark. Listen here.  Highlights: Hear me blank when I'm asked about 1990s Christmas episodes.  I don't know what was wrong with me?  Remember our Christmas in July on this blog last year?--it was nothing but 1990s programming.   I couldn't remember any of it.  hahahaha.  But I really love being called "a bad ass"--I think they get my Christmas geekness!  To respond to Chuck who asked if there is an A-Team Christmas episode?  Sorry to disappoint but I've never found one. 

Podcast #303: in Christmas Part 2, I talk about sci-fi Christmas entertainments.  My contribution starts at 1 hr 33 minutes in.  Listen here.  Highlights: I'm asked about the Star Wars Holiday Special, Futurama, Doctor Who and Make Your Own Marathons suggestions for Star Trek and The Big Lebowski from my book The Christmas TV Companion

What a fun experience this was.  I hope you enjoy listening to it.  While you're at GWC's site, I hope you find other interesting stuff to join in on and check back with them again in the new year.  Thanks again to D.X. Ferris for getting me hooked up with GWC.

This song STILL totally rocks out!  And I love love love those glasses.

Proving what a small world we all live in, I'm laughing about a couple small coincidences here.  The first is that I'm a big fan of Donnie Iris and though I've never met him, I've spent a good deal of time in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, the small industrial town nestled in the mountains outside of Pittsburgh area--the hometown of Donnie Iris.  There's a restaurant there, Shakespeare's Restaurant and Pub, where I used to go quite regularly to celebrate my special occasions when I lived near there, in Youngstown, Ohio several years back.  When we were in Ellwood City, we would always talk about Donnie and sing his back catalog.  So I've always felt this connection to his music--and now I follow him on GWC.  How awesome is that?

More proof of what a small world it is is that Joseph Minadeo created the GWC podcast intro and outro music they discuss at the very beginning of podcast #303.  Joseph and his wife Kendra, performing as Bellows, created the trippy sounds and video installation for my last book signing in Akron, Ohio.  Click here to see what I wrote about that experience.  The video link below is an extension of that performance A Bellows ChristmasClick here for the video link.  Thanks again Bellows!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saint (2010)

English release: Saint, directed by Dick Maas
Some of the more interesting Christmas films in recent years have been overseas imports.  Did you see the much talked about Finnish film Rare Exports in theaters last year?  How about the 2010 Dutch film Saint?  Here's your chance:  Saint is showing at the Cedar Lee Theatre at a midnight screening on Friday Dec. 23rd.

Despite a decades long--perhaps centuries long--cover-up by police and governmental officials, one man predicts the inevitable return of a murderous ghost who seeks to punish during the holidays.  This horror film with a sense of humor sees the ghost of Saint Nicholas return only upon the night of December 5th when the moon is full.  Then, the angry saint atop a horse and accompanied by his unearthly minions roams the streets looking for chimneys to descend to find bloody vengeance against the living.

In 1968, young Goert is the sole survivor of a visit from St. Nick
The one man, Goert, who believes the legends of the vengeful St. Nick does so because he lost his entire family to this holiday violence when he was a young boy.  Now grown up and working as a police officer, Goert is dismissed as a kook until it's almost too late.  He finds another sympathetic soul willing to help him hunt down the murderous ghost--a teenager who has also seen and survived St. Nick's rage.

Who doesn't love a good ghost story at Christmas?
Fans of Christmas horror movies may be looking for similarities between Saint and the classics Christmas Evil and Silent Night, Deadly Night.  However, this killing Santa Claus has always been a corrupt force--even as a member of the clergy over 500 years ago.  In Saint, the legacy of this wicked member of the clergy has been re-written resulting in the modern mistaken belief that Saint Nick is a family-friendly do-gooder.  The conspiracy by the police and society stems from an unwillingness to see their own hypocrisy.   Unfortunately, this Christmas spirit can not be stopped by mere police weapons or a cover-up.

Up on the housetop, click-click-click
Don't worry if you're not really knowledgeable about the folklore of Sinterklaas or the Saint Nicholas legend of the Netherlands.  This movie provides enough exposition to allow you to follow the story and then understand how it twists the legend in order to make it a frightening tale.  There is some gore here though I would have preferred to see even more ribbons of red fill these Christmasy streets of Amsterdam.

If you don't live in Cleveland, don't fret: this movie can also be seen on DVD.  I just saw it on my local video rental store's shelf last night under the title Saint Nick.  Thanks to Bob at Cleveland Movie Blog for suggesting this title. 

What scares you at Christmas time?  (besides the opportunity for Aunt Agnes to give you yet another ugly Christmas sweater).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Christmas Wish List

"All I want is what I have coming to me.  All I want is my fair share."
There are a few things I'm hoping to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

 If you know me, you know what a James Garner fan I am.  I NEED this book.

My Official James Garner Fan Club membership card--look at the date!

I also need this newly released DVD.  It's the 1956 musical The Stingiest Man in Town--a lost TV special until a copy was recently found.  I gotta see this!

I also need the new Black Keys album.  And the new posthumous release for Amy Winehouse.

What's on your list of must-haves this holiday season?  Have you been naughty or nice?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top 5 Scrooge Stories

While media critics debate over which adaptation of Charles Dickens' tale A Christmas Carol is better than the rest, let me throw in my two cents.  In my top five picks, I'm less concerned with faithfulness to the original text but rather its ability to entertain year after year.  In no particular order:

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a cabbie played by actor David Johansen--also a member of the protopunk band The New York Dolls

--1988's Scrooged

Bill Murray comedies are some of my favorite films.  I love that the Scrooge character, Bill Murray's Frank Cross, is a TV network executive who has lost his heart while producing the grandiose and grotesque show-within-a-show TV special Scrooge.  This story's details are what make the film stand up over repeated viewings.  I love the parody clips shown at the movie’s opening.  These are promos being watched by the IBC Network execs previewing the holiday TV specials for that season.  They include the ultra violent The Night the Reindeer Died starring Lee Majors as a commando who saves the North Pole, Bob Goulet’s Old Fashioned Cajun Christmas with the popular entertainer singing and boating through the swamps, and a sappy sitcom holiday episode of the TV series Father Loves Beaver.  Do you recognize jazz legend Miles Davis as the trumpet playing street musician in a brief scene? How about Hollywood bad boy Robert Mitchum as Frank Cross' boss--or Dynasty's Blake Carrington actor John Forsythe as the Jacob Marley character, Lew Hayward.  That's barely scratching the surface of the great cast and witty cultural references found in this film.

--1962's Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol

This is the very first animated special made specifically for television.  Yes, two years before the Rankin/Bass classic Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  The story is another show-within-a-show format, however here the near-blind Magoo plays Scrooge in a Broadway musical.  Not only is the character design visually distinctive and stunning, the music is equally top-notch, penned by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.

Ebenezer Blackadder is tired of his good will and generous nature becoming an excuse for people to treat him like a door mat.  Rowan Atkinson as Black Adder.

--1988's Black Adder's Christmas Carol

Though this story is self-contained, fans of the British TV comedy Black Adder will get even more enjoyment from the ridiculousness of the story and characters.  In this Christmas special, Ebenezer Blackadder is the kindest, most generous man in Nineteenth Century London.  But when the Ghost of Christmas visits him and shows him visions of his conniving ancestors, Black Adder decides to change his ways and pursue the earthly rewards of a villainous lifestyle!  This reverse Christmas Carol is too good to be overlooked.

--1971's Christmas Carol, directed by Richard Williams

This Academy Award-winning animated short (it runs an efficient 30 minutes) is a true classic. Right from the start, viewers can recognize that this is a high quality production.  The smudgy look of the dark streets of Victorian London to the extreme close up shots of Ebenezer’s blue eyes as he disparages Christmas, mark this cel animated tale as visually breathtaking.  However, it has a superior voice cast as well, including Alastair Sim as Scrooge.  Remember him in 1951's filmed version of A Christmas Carol?  It's the film most often cited as critics' favorite adaption in large part to Sim's performance in the lead role.  The 1971 animated classic incorporates a exceptionally spooky ghost of Jacob Marley--it's unforgettable.

--2000's A Diva's Christmas Carol

Scoff if you must, but this TV movie still remains entertaining.  With multiple references to 1980s-90s music industry and show business culture, this Scrooge story still rocks.  Vanessa Williams makes a convincing female Scrooge--far superior to Susan Lucci's Ebbie, Cicely Tyson's Ms. Scrooge or even Tori Spelling's A Carol Christmas.  Williams is so convincing, she successfully turned her wicked diva role into a full-time character as magazine mogul Wilhelmina Slater on TV's Ugly Betty.  In addition to Williams and her amazing vocal talents, this movie also features Duran Duran's John Taylor as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Rozonda 'Chili' Thomas from 1990's pop group TLC as Marli Jacob, the deliciously opinionated Kathy Griffin as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and even legendary record producer Nile Rodgers appears as himself.  This TV movie has the right sense of humor when Ebony, the selfish demanding pop star is mocked by The Ghost of Christmas Future (a Behind the Music documentary) who shows her her potential inflammatory tombstone inscription: "She was the wind beneath our wings."  Who wouldn't be transformed by that threat?

Though my top five may be comedy heavy, I'm not alone in taking pleasure in laughing during what sometimes can be the wearying and exhausting holiday season.  With the exception of the hard-to-find 1971 animated Christmas Carol, all these comedies are available for viewing on DVD.

What are your favorite versions of A Christmas Carol?  Do you watch it every year?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Recently I was a guest contributor on the Cleveland Movie Blog.  I wrote a review about the 1947 theatrical release movie Miracle on 34th StreetClick HERE to see my review.  Last week, I also contributed an older post from my blog about the 1983 movie A Christmas StoryClick here to see that review.

Cleveland Movie Blog is a blog dedicated to reviewing the movies playing in Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio region, as well as providing news and information about local filmmakers and movie related events.  Editor Bob Ignizio is a friend to this blog.  Last July he wrote a review here for the Christmas scene in the 1997 movie Boogie NightsClick HERE to see that review again.

Please feel free to check out my review of Miracle on Cleveland Movie Blog and while you are there, check out the reviews of other films on that site.  And of course, you are welcome to check out past Christmas entertainment reviews on this site by utilizing the SEARCH feature along the right hand side of the blog.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Amends (1998)

 Today I'm the guest blogger on another site Authors By Authors.   I wrote a review about the 1998 Christmas episode of the paranormal TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled "Amends."  Click HERE to see my review.

Authors By Authors is a blog dedicated to book reviews written by authors.  It is owned by Kiki Howell, a friend to this blog.  She has written several reviews here including one this past July of the TV movie A Season for MiraclesClick HERE to see that review again.

Please feel free to check out my review of Buffy on Authors By Authors and while you are there, check out the reviews of other books on that site.  And of course, you are welcome to check out past Christmas entertainment reviews on this site by utilizing the SEARCH feature along the right hand side of the blog.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Waltons Christmas Cast Reunion Recap--Part 2

Marquee on Loews Jersey Theatre
Friday, December 2 at the Legendary Loews Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, NJ was the once-in-a-lifetime 40th anniversary screening of the Christmas TV movie The Homecoming and a 13 member cast reunion from The Waltons.  I was there and a part of the event, serving as the reunion cast panel discussion moderator.  Click here for Reunion Recap--Part 1.

during my interview with David Huddleston
The week before the Dec. 2nd event was filled with activities.  On Monday, I interviewed actor David Huddleston.  David portrayed Sheriff Ep Bridges in The Homecoming and the character A.J. Covington in the first season Waltons episode "The Literary Man."  But the character actor has a long life filled with amazing roles including Jeffrey Lebowski in The Big Lebowski, Olson Johnson in Blazing Saddles and my favorite:  Santa in 1985's Santa Claus: The Movie.

David signed an 8x10 for me.
After the Waltons cast arrived in New Jersey on Thursday, all of those involved in the production went to visit the newly opened 9/11 Memorial.  If you go, bring twice as many tissues as you think you will need.  It's very sad there but the Survivor Tree is inspirational.

The names of the deceased are engraved in the marble walls on both pools. Photo credit: Bootie Bell Chewning

On Friday morning, The Waltons cast appeared on the Today Show.

Friday afternoon, we had a sponsorship luncheon.  A cake decorator, Candy Repsher Knappenberger and her crew from Pennsylvania, presented an amazing cake of the Waltons home, barn, shed and truck.  Notice the lights within the cake in the windows!  It was a sight to behold and an emotional moment for everyone there.  The dedication that went in to making this cake was breathtaking.

As the lights in the cake windows go out, you can just hear "Goodnight John-Boy, Goodnight Elizabeth," etc.
Musician John Walmsley and Ellen Geer's husband, musician Peter Alsop performed a song.

I had a ring side seat for Walmsley and Alsop's humorous song
Friday night we had a red carpet arrival at the theater with limos, cameras and screaming fans for the Waltons cast.  It was exciting.

The Waltons cast exit the limos and line up for photos--I'm dead center, trying to stay out of the melee.  Photo credit: John J. Buxbaum
Waltons cast poses for photographers. Photo credit: John J. Buxbaum
 After the event, I enjoyed a relaxing dinner with Radames Pera and his wife Marsha Mann.  Of course, the conversation eventually turned to rock n' roll where we discussed the LA underground scene and Mann's band Cipher in the late 1970s-early 1980s, Sonic Youth, Love & Rockets, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Black Keys, the Killers and more.

Radames Pera and myself after the Waltons reunion

I'm with Marsha Mann after the reunion
The following day, on Saturday Dec. 3rd, a group of us went into Greenwich Village to see Richard Thomas in the off-Broadway comedy, Standing on Ceremony.  I've been to the City several times but this was my first New York theater experience.  It was amazing!  The cast included Richard Thomas, Craig Bierko, Polly Draper, Harriet Harris, Mark Consuelos and Beth Leavel.  Anderson Cooper was in the audience that night!

Richard Thomas after the performance on Saturday

Actress Harriet Harris after the performance

The whole week was whirlwind of activities and experiences.  I'm very grateful to McCastmore productions for including me in the program and allowing me to be a part of the event.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. She is currently updating and expanding the encyclopedia for a 2021 release. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com

Our group after the performance. Left: Kami Cotler, Richard Thomas, Ellen Geer, Peter Alsop, Lynn Hamilton

Taking the train into the City: Left: Lynn Hamilton, Bootie, JoAnne and myself
Goofing around while waiting for our train on Saturday night: Bootie, JoAnne, and Jason.
McCastmore Productions with David Huddleston.  Left: Ray, Tim, David Huddleston and Jason.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Glee: Extraordinary Merry Christmas (2011)

Glee Christmas 2011: Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel with Chewbacca
 This year's Glee Christmas episode included Artie directing his very own holiday TV special for his local PBS station.  He decided to take his inspiration from 1978's Star Wars Holiday Special and 1963's Christmas special from The Judy Garland Show.  How awesome is that?  Not only did Artie insist on filming his variety special in black and white just like The Judy Garland Show but he incorporates costumes of the characters from the Star Wars Holiday Special.  Have you seen these two classic Christmas TV specials?

The Judy Garland Show's Christmas Show (1963).  Left: Mel Torme, Judy and Jack Jones.
The holiday episode of the short-lived variety series, The Judy Garland Show, stars singers Jack Jones and Mel Tormé, as well as Garland’s children, Joe, Lorna and Liza. The show opens with the camera looking through the windows of a home, focusing on the maternal Miss Garland singing the melancholy ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ while affectionately grasping Joe and Lorna. Of course, this is the memorable song that she made popular in the 1944 movie, ‘Meet Me in St. Louis.’ Judy invites the TV cameras into her home for this Christmas TV special, to share the holiday with her family as her good friends, Jack Jones and Mel Tormé informally drop by. Both young Joe and Lorna adorably sing off-key songs, and a seventeen year-old, Liza Minnelli is here entertaining too--the best is her song and dance jazz number to ‘Steam Heat.’ 

Liza Minnelli with her mother Judy in 1963's Christmas Show
Garland and her children sing and dance ever so casually, as if improvising, yet the choreography and the off-stage orchestration suggests otherwise.  In fact, all the entertainment appears informal--as if a natural extension of the singer’s lifestyle, yet it’s so perfectly conceived and painstakingly arranged, it can’t be that natural.  Twice when a team of stylized Santa Clauses raucously bursts through Garland’s front door to dance in the middle of her living room, the audience is once again reminded of how choreographed this improvised moment truly must be. 

Despite her professional demeanor, Judy really seems to be uncomfortable, at times appearing to be forcing the Christmas spirit.  She seems distracted and fidgety, not really focused during the entire show.  And later, tension can be felt when Garland sits at the piano to sing with Tormé the song so synonymous with the holiday that it’s often overlooked that Tormé himself co-wrote it--‘The Christmas Song.’  Harmonizing along side the ‘Velvet Fog,’ Judy accidentally flubs a line and Tormé reacts jovially, laughing and making the aside comment, “Close....” But there is clearly some friction when Judy purposefully alters the next line to add a lyric from her signature tune ‘Over the Rainbow’ on top of his masterpiece.  The first lyric change was a mistake but she’s clearly manipulated the lyrics vengefully the second time. 

Judy (center) with son Joe (left) and daughter Lorna (right)
Although she shares the stage with her children, with everyone singing and enjoying each other’s company, at the end of the show when Judy sings ‘Over the Rainbow,’ you can feel the same uncomfortable feeling, much like the opening in ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.’  Judy has to belt out another of her signature songs, which undermines the small, intimate moment she’s sharing with her children.

However, even when Judy isn’t at her best, she’s still better than most.  This explains why her Christmas special remains a very popular vintage favorite.  This installment is currently available for viewing on DVD.

1978's Star Wars Holiday Special is a two-hour long TV special featuring much of the cast from the original film, including Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, as well as Chewbacca, Darth Vader, the Stormtroopers, C3-PO and R2-D2. Airing only once, this special became the stuff of legend:  creator George Lucas ignores its existence; fans debate the rumors that it was the worst thing to ever air on TV, let alone the fact that it was a disappointment for  Star Wars disciples.  For years, bootleg VHS copies floated around college dorms.  Then, it was sold illegally on internet auction sites.  Recently, it has become more accessible because of its instant availability over the internet. But this has only served to prove to a wider, more curious audience with expectant high hopes just how incredibly awful it truly is.

Chewie with his family: wife Malla, son Lumpy and father Itchy.
Within the mythos of this galaxy far, far, away, they do not celebrate our Christmas but their own holiday called Life Day.  When the story starts, Han Solo and Chewbacca  are delayed from returning for the Life Day celebrations on the Wookie planet, Kashyyyk,  because they are forced to battle Imperial ships along their route.  Meanwhile, Chewie’s family grows more worried with each passing hour of his absence, distracting themselves with mindless activities.  His son Lumpy watches various entertainments on a hologram display.  His wife Malla continues to prepare the holiday meal and watches a cooking demonstration on a video screen while Chewie’s aged father, Itchy, concerns himself with more ‘adult’ pursuits--indulging his fantasies with a virtual reality contraption, they call ‘a Mind Evaporator.’ Luke Skywalker checks in by way of a video screen as does Princess Leia to greet the Wookie family on the holiday, adding to growing tensions that Chewie and Han haven’t arrived yet. 

Eventually, Darth Vader sends orders to catch the rebels by setting up a blockade around Lashyyyk, making it even more challenging for Chewbacca and Han Solo to return on Life Day. The Imperial guard turn up at the Wookie home and ransack the place looking for confirmation of their rebel sympathies, but Lumpy keeps himself busy watching an animated segment about his father and his friends on an adventure. When Chewbacca does finally return home, the family gathers to celebrate Life Day, where they each raise an orb to transport themselves to some enigmatic, celestial plane, reuniting with Luke, Han Solo, C3-P0, R2-D2 and Princess Leia, who sings a song about the holiday’s meaning.

Bea Arthur at Mos Eisley's cantina in Star Wars Holiday Special
In the tradition of television holiday spectacles, there are musical numbers and special guest stars, including: Art Carney, who plays the pro-rebellion, trading post owner and visitor to the Wookie home; comedic actor, Harvey Korman, appears in several roles, including the cooking instructor, transmitter assembly teacher and a fawning customer in the cantina.  Singer/actress Diahann Carroll appears as the sexy, fantasy singer in Itchy’s Mind Evaporator; 1970s rock band Jefferson Starship (featuring Marty Balin) performs on a hologram display; and, singer/actress Beatrice Arthur appears as the bartender at Mos Eisley’s cantina and performs a boozy song.

This TV special is the first introduction of the bounty hunter Boba Fett, a character who goes on to appear in the later films and captures the imagination of many Star Wars fans.  He can be found in the animated segment which was originally made by Canadian animators, Nelvana.

For more about both of these classic TV specials, see my book The Christmas TV Companion (2009) available for purchase on this blog or at Amazon.com.

The Waltons Christmas Cast Reunion Recap--Part 1

It is the 40th anniversary of the Christmas TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.  (Click here to see my review of this movie again).  This 1971 TV movie adapted from the book by Earl Hamner received such high ratings and praise that it inspired the TV series The Waltons.  The much beloved TV series ran on CBS for nine seasons followed by six more TV movies.  As you know, last Friday December 2, in Jersey City, NJ, The Homecoming was screened at the Legendary Loews Jersey Theatre followed immediately by a 13 member Waltons cast reunion and panel discussion.  As the Christmas TV expert, I was asked to be the panel discussion moderator.

Top row left: Eric Scott (Ben), Kami Cotler (Elizabeth), David Harper (Jim Bob), Mary McDonough (Erin), Jon Walmsley (Jason), Ellen Geer (Eva Mann), Radames Pera (Paul Mann).  Bottom row left: David Huddleston (Sheriff Bridges/AJ Covington), Judy Norton (Mary Ellen), Joanna Wilson, Marsha Mann, Michael Learned (Ma Walton), and Lynn Hamilton (Verdie Foster).

Before the screening of The Homecoming, that night began with a reception/photo opportunity for the sponsors with the special guests.  The above group photo was taken at that event and I grabbed Marsha Mann (Radames Pera's wife) to join me to slip in line to get my picture taken with the Waltons cast.  Yes, Richard Thomas is not there--he would join the cast reunion panel discussion later in the evening.  (That night he was performing in the Off-Broadway play Standing On Ceremony and joined us after his show was over).  Actor Hal Williams who played Harley Foster on The Waltons is also missing from the photo but he would later join the panel discussion later that night.

Paul Hamner reading the introduction from Earl Hamner.  Photo credit: John J. Buxbaum
After this reception, we were all seated in the theater and an introduction, written by Earl Hamner Jr., was read by his brother Paul Hamner.  Paul has the same Virginia accent as his brother Earl--the rich tones that we've all heard in each of the Waltons episodes when Earl voiced the narrator's commentary.  Also, Richard Duggan, the real-life son of actor Andrew Duggan who played the father John Walton in the TV movie, addressed the crowd and shared his appreciation for the event.

Michael Learned during her tribute to Patricia Neal.  Photo credit: John J. Buxbaum
We also were treated to home movies from Kami Cotler's family who had recently found old Super 8 film they had taken from the location shoot in Jackson Hole, Wyoming during the production of The Homecoming in 1971.   Seeing the children playing in the snow and behind-the-scenes frolics was a rare treat.  After we watched a digital print of The Homecoming, the program included a tribute to actress Patricia Neal who played Olivia Walton in the movie.  There was a video montage and Radames Pera and Michael Learned who had both worked with Neal shared their special memories of her.

The cast on stage singing Christmas carols--that's me still seated on the right.  Photo credit: John J. Buxbaum
After an intermission, the cast were seated on couches with myself in the middle.  They reminisced about the filming of The Homecoming and then they recalled their memories about working on The Waltons.  Radames Pera and Ellen Geer who worked together in the first season episode "The Ceremony" shared those experiences and working with the Waltons cast.  Lynn Hamilton spoke about the very special episode "The Scholar" from the first season where her character Verdie is first introduced, and Hal Williams who played Harley Foster from the second season until the ninth season also shared his experiences.  David Huddleston spoke about being in both The Homecoming as Sheriff Ep Bridges and about the first season episode "The Literary Man" in which he plays A.J. Covington a writer who's life influences John-Boy.

Some of the cast during the panel discussion--I'm actually just to the left of Jon.  left to right: Jon Walmsley (Jason), Richard Thomas (John-Boy), Judy Norton (Mary Ellen), Eric Scott (Ben).
It was when David Huddleston was sharing his personal memories that Richard Thomas arrived and walked on stage just as David mentioned the name John-Boy.  It was perfect timing for Richard to join the cast discussion and the crowd leapt to their feet in applause!

Jon Walmsley and Judy Norton singing
After the cast reunion discussion, Richard Thomas read the poem "The Night Before Christmas" by Clement Moore for the audience.  Then the evening's entertainment ended when all those on stage stood and sang Christmas carols led by musician Jon Walmsley, the musical brother Jason from the TV series.

The marquee outside the Legendary Loews Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, NJ

This once-in-a-lifetime event was amazing.  I still feel giddy and exhausted from the week's events that lead up to the special event on Friday Dec. 2nd.  Seeing this TV movie on the big screen was thrilling and emotional.  When I was growing up, The Homecoming (1971) and The House Without A Christmas Tree (1972) were the two Christmas TV movies we most looked forward to watching.  It really feels exciting to know that so many others still love and appreciate this movie as much as I do.

Stick around for Part 2--for more highlights from The Waltons cast reunion event.

**Special thanks to John J. Buxbaum who took many of the photos from the event.  Obviously, I couldn't take photos during the event that I participated in.  See more of his photos HERE.


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. She is currently updating and expanding the encyclopedia for a 2021 release. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com