About Christmas TV History

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Pee-Wee Herman Show on HBO

Tonight is the big premier of The Pee-Wee Herman Show on HBO. Pee-Wee's new live stage show first debuted in Los Angeles in early 2010 and continued on Broadway in late 2010. Now this same show is taped and airing on HBO tonight.

I was one of the unlucky fans to have tickets to the first proposed comeback show--for Los Angeles in November 2009. The show was canceled in order for it to be rescheduled in a larger venue--and my opportunity to see it was eliminated. A friend of mine was able to see the show on Broadway last November and gave me the above Playbill from the show. Thanks again to Ande for her generosity. My only hope to catch the show is to now watch it on HBO. Here's hoping someone who gets HBO will invite me over so I can watch it :(

I've written about 1988's Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special before. It's one of my ultimate favorite Christmas TV specials ever. Click here to see that post. If you've seen the special, you already know why it's a favorite. It's an amazing star-studded, tongue-in-cheek tribute to musical variety Christmas TV specials of the past. It's also Pee-Wee at his best. What's today's Word of the Day? How about "comeback."

"Merry Christmas Everybody, Merry Christmas Every One."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold

Happy St. Patrick's Day! As we celebrate Irish heritage today, we can reflect on the many influences Irish culture has had on Christmas traditions. Not only do we have Bing Crosby's hit song "Christmas in Kilarney" but we also enjoy the 1981 Animagic classic TV special The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold. This stop motion animated special sometimes airs on Freeform's 25 Days of Christmas marathon schedule each year--and clips are often available for viewing on youtube.

This half-hour complex story is derived from Irish folklore and includes characters such as leprechauns, a sailor and a terrible banshee. It also features the recognizable voice talents of Art Carney and Peggy Cass. Of course, you may remember Art Carney as the actor who played the neighbor Ed Norton on The Honeymooners. He also appeared in everyone's favorite Christmas episode of The Twilight Zone--1960's The Night of the Meek. But cult TV fans will remember Carney for his role as the trading post owner in the much maligned The Star Wars Holiday Special. Here, Carney voices the leprechaun narrator Blarney Kilakilarney.If you haven't seen it in a while, here's a TV preview. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Eva Marie Saint and Alfred Hitchcock

Tonight I had planned on attending the TCM Road to Hollywood show in Cleveland, OH. A local theater was screening Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece North By Northwest, hosted by TCM's own Robert Osbourne and featuring the Oscar-winning actress Eva Marie Saint. I know, right? Despite our best efforts and arriving an hour early, we couldn't find parking AND the long line of people out the Cleveland Institute of Art entrance and down the block was too disparaging. The promise of standing in that endless line--in the cold--brought my evening's plans to an abrupt end. (I saw my future: just as I stepped up to the theater entrance, a shade is lowered: SOLD OUT!)

Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando in 1954's 'On The Waterfront.' Go and watch the breath-taking scene again where these two talk by the swing set--GO NOW!

Despite my frustration and sadness, I'd still like to share here with you the tremendous contributions Eva Marie Saint and Alfred Hitchcock have made to Christmas programming.

Actress Eva Marie Saint has appeared in five Christmas TV movies:

--2000's Papa's Angels (see page 521 in my encyclopedia Tis the Season TV). This movie also stars Cynthia Nixon and Scott Bakula. It can still been seen each year on television (either Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel--maybe both).

--1988's I'll Be Home for Christmas (see pg. 327). This is my favorite World War II drama that takes place at Christmas. It also stars a very young Courtney Cox.

--1978's A Christmas to Remember (pg. 157). I haven't seen this one so if anyone else has, let me know!

--1964's Carol for Another Christmas (see pg.106). This is the VERY rare TV movie written by Rod Serling. Saint's role is small in this ensemble cast. It is a 1960s political adaptation of the Dickens classic.

--1947's A Christmas Carol. Rumor has it this TV version of the classic Victorian Christmas tale was Saint's TV debut. So little can be verified about this production, I wasn't able to put it in the encyclopedia. If you have seen it, let me know. IMDb says John Carradine also starred in it!

The anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, known for its dark tone and suspenseful stories, produced three amazing Christmas episodes:

--1955's Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid
--1956's Back for Christmas
--1958's The Festive Season

All three are located in my encyclopedia Tis the Season TV on pages 13-14. All three are also easily available to watch on DVD. If you've read my book The Christmas TV Companion, you'll know I love the episode Back for Christmas which originated as a story written by John Collier and was later adapted into another TV episode--on Roald Dahl's TV series Tales of the Unexpected. (This episode is also available on DVD for viewing).

I'm a huge Brando fan--ENJOY!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

I don't just have a voracious appetite for watching television but I also read books about TV.

I recently completed the 2010 release Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Olsen and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim. Every person who has ever watched the 1970s TV drama Little House on the Prairie has been touched by the nasty villainous character Nellie Olsen. Now fans of the TV series and character can find out what it is like to be the actress who brought that bitchy character to life.

Alison Arngrim today, embracing her ability to bitch about AIDs and sexual abuse.

This autobiography is everything you want it to be. It is written in a strong voice that is both clever and culturally literate. She dishes not just about her own personal experiences as a Hollywood child actress but also about those she worked alongside including Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson. Arngrim and Gilbert (the actresses who play Nellie and Laura) were actually best friends on the set! Arngrim also includes details from the most remembered scenes of our favorite episodes from Little House that feature the wicked Nellie Olsen.

My favorite section was Chapter Eleven where Arngrim describes the behind-the-scenes experiences on filming everyone's favorite Nellie moment: when Laura pushes the nasty Nellie, who is seated in a rickety wooden wheelchair, down a hill and into a frog pond. This is the 1976 episode entitled "Bunny." If you will remember, this third season episode's story starts when Nellie falls from her horse Bunny and pretends to be paralyzed. Since the horse used to belong to Laura, the middle Ingalls daughter feels guilty for Nellie's injury and agrees to help the paralyzed child now stranded in a wheelchair. Laura eventually discovers that Nellie isn't actually immobilized but is just using Laura as her own personal slave. The episode climaxes when Laura pushes Nellie in a wheelchair over the edge of the hill in order to prove to everyone in Walnut Grove that the blonde bitch has been faking it the whole time. This is everyone's favorite nasty Nellie moment because it's one of the most satisfying scenes where Nellie gets what she deserves at the hands of Laura.

Nellie pushed down the hill in a wheelchair. Don't feel sorry for Nellie--she deserves worse!

Fans of Little House on the Prairie will remember that this hilarious episode's story picks up from the Christmas storyline in the 1974 episode "Christmas At Plum Creek." Nellie Olsen acquired Laura's pony after Laura traded it to her for a Christmas gift for her mother. "Christmas At Plum Creek" is a heartwarming story about sacrifice with a hint of O.Henry's popular tale "The Gift of Magi." Not only does Laura feel the loss of her cherished pony at Christmastime but she must face, in this later episode, the indignity of Nellie claiming Laura's horse is not just untrained and dangerous but Nellie also heaps guilt on poor Laura for her phony paralysis.

I know I'm not the only one who jeered each time the villain Nellie Olsen came on my TV screen in the 1970s. It's a wonderful read to learn just how the actress that brought this delicious bitch to life feels about being one of TV's most hated characters. Not only has Arngrim grown to embrace the strength of her TV character but she's been able to use this courage to speak out for those suffering from AIDs and those who have been sexually abused. Who could have anticipated that this insufferable TV character would be brought to life by an actress that inspires the best in all of us?

Part 1 of "Christmas At Plum Creek" from Little House on the Prairie