About Christmas TV History

Monday, August 29, 2011

My History Channel Adventure

People ask me all the time about my appearance on the History Channel.  If you've heard about it before, pardon me for telling the story one more time.  It all started as a series of emails, followed by a flurry of phone calls.  Before I knew it, I was flown to Los Angeles, California.  My part in the documentary was being filmed during April (2010) for the TV special to be released in time for the holiday season. 

I remember I wore my Grinch t-shirt on the plane so the production assistant could more easily identify me from the other passengers at LAX.  And, I had him take me through the In-n-Out Burger drive-thru before he even dropped me off at the hotel.  (Yeah, I'm a huge Big Lebowski movie fan and they don't have In-n-Out Burger fast food restaurants in the Midwest).  My on-camera interview was to take place the following day.

My filmed interview took place in the morning so I took my time ordering a leisurely room service breakfast and looking over the notes and research I had prepared in order to discuss some twenty plus Christmas specials and movies.  They had a make-up professional on site to apply the required layer of 'beauty' on my face before I went on camera.  After make-up, I was taken into a room, seated in front of a green screen, hooked up to a microphone and my interview began.  It felt like I spoke non-stop all day (if you know me, you know I can go on and on talking for hours about Christmas on TV).  I believe I spoke for more than an hour about everything from The Star Wars Holiday Special to A Charlie Brown Christmas.  I remember being asked about the animated Grinch special, Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, the legendary Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet and three or four of the Rankin/Bass animated favorites. 

Bowie and Bing
When it was over, I was brain dead.  For the rest of the day, I had Christmas TV moments pop into my mind and I felt frustrated for not mentioning better, more nostalgic or favorite scenes during my brief time in front of the camera.  That kind of second guessing myself feeling follows every interview I do.  I'm very grateful to the wonderful professional people at Workaholic Productions who included me in the TV special and made my interview an easy going experience.

I had the rest of the day to spend in Los Angeles so I took full advantage of my opportunities.  My first stop was to the UCLA campus to the visit the Film and Television Archive.  I had an appointment to view a very rare TV movie: 1964's Carol for Another Christmas, written by Rod Serling.  Until that moment, I had only read about this movie, usually discussed only amongst academics, but I really wanted to see it for myself.  I'm glad I did too.  Although it aired only once, it is an amazing slice of Cold war culture.  It certainly should be seen by every Rod Serling fan.

After that, I did what every other TV junkie does--I headed over to West Hollywood to get more ink at High Voltage Tattoo, the shop owned by Kat Von D and the subject of the TV series LA Ink which airs on TLC.  On the day I was there last April, the TV crew was there in the shop shooting an episode for the show's fourth season.  Kat was giving her friend Rooftop a tattoo on his lower back.  I was just a walk-in client.  The episode aired last fall but I'm not on camera.  The following day with my arm bandaged up, I flew back to Ohio to await the release of the holiday TV special on the History Channel.

Finally in December, the History Channel debuted their new documentary entitled The Real Story of Christmas.  I think it turned out fantastic.  Trust me, I've seen ALL the Christmas TV documentaries and this is a good one.  For all the talking I did, I only ended up in about four seconds worth of camera time.  Since I sound fairly intelligent during my millisecond of fame, I'm extremely happy with the results.  Shucks, I'm grateful to be included at all.

If you didn't watch The Real Story of Christmas last holiday season, I expect it to re-air this November and December.  In the mean time, you could watch it on Youtube.  It's in my playlist of TV specials I've appeared in on my channel: TistheSeasonTV.  If you just want to see my brief moment of brilliance, you can see me in the clip below at about the one minute point.

Do you recognize the sweater I'm wearing?  It's the exact same as the one I wore on Teen Focus.  Opps! I guess I need to expand my wardrobe.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Interview on Teen Focus

Behind the cameras on Teen Focus in 2010.
I hope you'll pardon a little self-promotion.  I thought I'd talk a little about some of my TV appearances.  Last November, I did an interview for a Cleveland, OH cable access show called Teen Focus.  Though it only broadcast throughout Northeast Ohio and on-line through their website for a limited time, this is one of my favorite interviews I've done.

That's me in the purple sweater on the monitors--photo courtesy of my editor, Dominic.
Teen Focus is an award-winning local TV show produced by Cable 9 with teenage interviewers aimed at adolescent viewers.  This was all I knew about my interview before I showed up.  But as soon as I arrived, I was greeted by my two young interviewers who were quite professional and eager to begin.  One thing I've learned about being interviewed: they NEVER let you know what they want to ask about, usually explaining that they want to "save it for the cameras."  I have learned to accommodate this, however, it is a challenge since I have written about over 3000 holiday-themed episodes, specials and films.  I have had to learn to become a walking encyclopedia myself.  You may pick up on some of this in the interview!  I'm just talking about whatever they ask, from off the top of my head, and attempting to tie the conversation with what else I've already mentioned.  I think I pulled it off pretty well in this interview.  It's one of my favorite interviews because my two hosts were pop culture literate, asking me about such diverse shows as The Frank Sinatra Show to South Park.  It was also a great interview because my two hosts' energy was fun to play off and it kept me talking and excited for the length of the discussion.  That made it a very easy discussion and I was able to enjoy the moment.

As you can tell, I was being asked about my first book The Christmas TV Companion.  It was a three camera set-up for the taping of a thirty minute interview.  More recently, I've uploaded this interview on my Youtube channel, TistheSeasonTV.  So check it out and let me know what you think.  I'll try to answer any questions you have.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday Lucille Ball!

This weekend has been an amazing celebration honoring the First Lady of TV Comedy's 100th birthday.  There are acknowledgements of Lucille Ball's legacy all over the internet and events scheduled in Los Angeles and her hometown in Jamestown, NY.  Did you see my previous post about my visit to Jamestown this week?  Click here to see that.

Since this is the place to discuss Christmas TV memories, perhaps there's no better time to remember Lucille Ball's contributions to Christmas entertainment.  Have you ever seen the 1974 movie Mame?

A lush film adaptation of the Broadway hit show about the free-spirited life of Mame Dennis and her influence on her young nephew Patrick.  Lucille Ball plays the lead role of Mame.  Unlike the previous film version, 1958’s ‘Auntie Mame’ starring Rosalind Russell, this musical version by Jerry Herman includes the holiday song “We Need a Little Christmas” originally made famous by Angela Lansbury on Broadway.

Though this is not usually considered a holiday film per se, it does contain a significant Christmas scene:  suffering under hard economic times during the Depression, Mame, Patrick and her household staff decide to celebrate Christmas one month early in order to cheer themselves up. Thus the lyrics of the now popular song “We Need a Little Christmas.”  This scene includes the characters singing and dancing while decorating child caretaker Agnes Gooch as a Christmas tree!

The entire movie is available on DVD.

When I visited the Desilu Playhouse museum in Jamestown, I was able to see several costumes Ball wore while making this movie.  On display were the black top hat and riding crop she wore in the fox hunting scenes as well as the gorgeous red drop-waisted gown and the wig she wore in the scene pictured below.

Red dress now located in the Desilu Playhouse museum.
Of course, Lucille Ball also appeared in the Christmas episode of I Love Lucy: 1956's "Christmas Show."  In this episode, the Ricardos and the Mertzes decorate the Christmas tree together and reminisce about the highlights of their lives, seen in flashback clips from previous episodes.  These clips include: Lucy’s pregnancy announcement, Little Ricky’s birth, and a clip of Lucy singing off-key during a barbershop quartet performance.  On Christmas morning, Lucy, Ricky, Ethel and Fred are all dressed as Santa to surprise Little Ricky--but who’s the fifth Santa in the room with them?

This episode was not broadcast after 1956 having been left out of the syndication package of episodes sold by Desi and Lucy of their show to be aired as reruns.  It was not seen again until 1989 when CBS re-aired the episode--after 33 long years.  It was left out of the original syndication package because it was a clip show, deemed too insignificant, and the Christmas elements too untimely for broadcast all year long.

I purchased a Lucy Christmas tree ornament at the museum gift shop in Jamestown NY
Previously in 1951, and again in 1952, a short segment, now informally referred to as “Jingle Bells” was tacked on to the end of the Christmas Eve broadcasts of I Love Lucy.  This "Jingle Bells" segment shows the the Mertzes and the Ricardos in Santa suits singing “Jingle Bells” in the Ricardo apartment once again surprised by a fifth Santa in the room.  This short segment was clearly the inspiration for the ending in the full length clip show episode in 1956.

The original Santa suit that Lucille Ball wore for the 1956 Christmas episode is currently on display at the Desilu Playhouse museum, on loan from a private collector.

The 1974 movie Mame is available for viewing on DVD and at Netflix as is the 1956 Christmas episode of I Love Lucy.  "Christmas Show" is located on the second disc of the sixth season DVD set.

Lucille Ball also appeared in three holiday episodes on The Lucy Show: 1962's "Together For Christmas" followed by 1962's "Chris' New Year's Eve Party" and 1965's "Lucy the Choirmaster." All three are available for viewing on DVD.

Friday, August 5, 2011

What I Did on Summer Vacation: Lucyfest in Jamestown, NY

 How is your summer going so far?  Any interesting vacations?  You may remember that in May I visited A Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.  Click here to see that post.  This Saturday, August 6th, marks Lucille Ball's 100th birthday and her hometown of Jamestown NY is hosting a week's worth of celebrations. 

Jamestown is the birth place of Lucille Ball as well as her current resting place.  There are many attractions there for Lucy fans which include The Lucy-Desi Museum, a tribute to the first couple of comedy, and the Desilu Playhouse, an I Love Lucy museum with three reproduction shooting sets (the New York apartment kitchen and living room, the Hollywood hotel room, and the set for the Vitameatavegamin commercial.) 

Sign as you enter the city of Jamestown, NY
Jamestown also has several murals painted on the downtown buildings. And, in the nearby city of Celoron, where Lucy spent part of her childhood, they have a lake-side park with a Lucy statue.

Do you pop out at parties? Are you unpoopular?  It tastes great too!

This week Jamestown has special events scheduled each day called Lucyfest in honor of her 100th birthday.  In addition to the museums and regular events, they are also hosting a special parade, a Guinness Book of World records attempt at the most people dressed as Lucy in one place, stand up comedian Joan Rivers performed last night while comedian Paula Poundstone is performing on Saturday, a live recording of an old time radio program, and even more special events.  Check out: Lucyfest.

At the Lakeside Cemetery, visiting with Lucy
I have just returned from Jamestown myself, where I spent Wednesday and Thursday enjoying all the festivities.  Of course, I'm a HUGE I Love Lucy fan--who isn't, right?  And the museums were enough to draw me there but the opportunity to join in the special events with all the other fans from all over the country--and the world, actually--made this trip in August a chance of a lifetime. 

Lucy statue in the park in nearby Celeron, NY
 I hear that there are special Lucy tributes in Los Angeles now too.  I love that so many people care to honor the First Lady of Comedy on her birthday!  I'm looking forward to the I Love Lucy marathon of episodes this weekend on the Hallmark Channel as well.  Any excuse to sit and watch more Lucy--and I'm there!

At the Desi-Lucy Museum, I met Michael Stern, the author of the Lucy book "I Had A Ball."
 I hope you enjoy these photos.  Tomorrow, I'll blog about the Christmas episode of I Love Lucy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

AMC's Mob Week and Ray Liotta

Are you watching AMC's Mob Week movies?  This whole week the cable network AMC has been airing everyone's favorite gangster films.  Since Monday they have been showing The Godfather movies, Carlito's Way, Donnie Brasco, Scarface, The Juror, Pulp Fiction and The Untouchables among others.  Click here for the complete schedule:  AMC Mob Week. My favorite of these movies airs Saturday night at 8pm (EST): Goodfellas

I've seen this 1990 movie so many times, I've lost count.  But my favorite scenes come immediately to mind:  the exteme long take following Henry (Ray Liotta) and his date into the back of a restaurant, through the kitchen, into the dining area and to the front of the house where they are seated in front of the stage to see a performance by Henny Youngman--all set to the Crystals' song "And Then He Kissed Me;" the scene late in the film where Henry is paranoid from too much cocaine, driving around town fearing helicopters are following him--set to Eric Clapton's "Layla;" and the scene where Karen (Lorraine Bracco) speaks to Henry about her ex-boyfriend, Henry crosses the street to confront the ex- and beats him with the butt of his gun as Karen watches, impressed and turned on by Henry's bravado.  What are your favorite Goodfellas scenes?

Did you watch this sitcom about the staff at a fashion magazine in NY City?
If you've been impacted by this movie like I have, then you'll understand how funny it is to be reminded of the yuletide episode of the TV sitcom Just Shoot Me which includes guest star actor Ray Liotta as himself.  In the 2001 episode entitled "Christmas? Christmas!," Maya feels out-of-place at the jaded Blush office Christmas party because she loves Christmas so much.  At the party, she meets actor Ray Liotta who also professes to love Christmas.  They bond and seem to have a lot in common until Maya is forced to realize that Ray is OBSESSED with Christmas! He takes her back to his apartment where she sees for herself exactly how much he loves Christmas, with extravagant decorations filling the rooms, hired elves and later he throws a tantrum when the holiday is over!  He's so over the top, you have to see it to believe it.

Actor Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill in Goodfellas
I love it when actors are willing to mock their own persona.  Here he's clearly willing to play off his own tough guy image and go for the laughs.  Though this episode is not released on DVD yet, I did find it on Youtube.  Judge for yourself to see how silly this episode is:

Part 1

Part 2