About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jersey Girl at Christmas

The marquee at the Legendary Loews Theatre in Jersey City, NJ across the river from NYC
Just to catch you up:  I’m currently in New Jersey working towards Friday’s big event:  The 40th anniversary screening of the Christmas TV movie The Homecoming and the cast reunion of the TV series The Waltons.  I’m the red carpet host and the reunion cast’s panel discussion moderator.  This once-in-a-lifetime event takes place on Friday, December 2, 2011.  For more details: http://WaltonsHomecoming40th.com.  Have you seen the TV commercials for the event airing on GMC (Gospel Music Channel)? 

production staff, event organizers and myself with Huddleston
Last Monday, I met up with actor David Huddleston and asked him a few questions about his role as Sheriff Ep Bridges in the TV movie The Homecoming.  Huddleston also appeared in The Waltons first season episode “The Literary Man” in which he plays the character A.J. Covington--a writer that passes through Walton’s Mountain offering John-Boy life lessons about how to become a writer. 

Huddleston and Wilson
Huddleston also spoke to me about his role as Santa in the 1985 theatrical release Santa Claus: The Movie and his cult status portraying Jeffrey Lebowski in the Coen Brothers’ classic film The Big Lebowski.  David is a generous and very humorous man.  I told him I was nervous speaking with him and he immediately put me at ease.  I look forward to seeing him again on Friday at the film screening and cast reunion.  Click here to re-visit my previous blog post about 1985’s Santa Claus: The Movie.

Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center
Tonight I’m going into The City to join the crowds at Rockefeller Center to watch the tree lighting ceremony.  Will you be watching it on TV?  NBC is hosting their annual live TV special, Christmas At Rockefeller Center, airing at 8pm (ET).  Musical guests include Justin Bieber, Tony Bennett, Michael Buble, Cee Lo Green, Faith Hill, Carole King, Katharine McPhee, Javier Colon and The Radio City Rockettes.  I know, right?

Click here for the link to NBC’s website about the TV special.

Manhattan is preparing for record-breaking crowds this evening because President Obama and the First Lady, his wife Michelle, are in town as well as Justin Bieber’s public appearance.  I’m excited to be a part of the Christmas chaos.

Today my recent radio interview with TV Confidential can be heard on the internet.  The interview is archived at http://TVConfidential.net  Check it out!

But my week here in New Jersey didn’t start off with such promise.  I flew into Newark airport very early Monday morning after having been up all night in order to catch my red-eye flight.  Before noon, I had locked myself out of my friend’s home where I had planned to stay!  I was without: any ID, my wallet, money, credit cards and my cell phone.  I was panicking.  I was unable to contact my friend and become reunited with my stuff for almost 24 hours--leaving me at the mercy of strangers for food, water and shelter--after having not slept the night before!  My problem solving skills were seriously compromised due to my lack of sleep.  I had appointments to keep and work commitments yet I was without any means to buy anything or call anyone!  I was also horribly embarrassed that I had made such a numb-skull mistake.

But I’m in a hotel now--where I can’t possibly get into that kind of trouble again and laughing about my misadventure.  I still can’t believe I made such a simple mistake that left me devastated for a whole day.  Luckily, there were very decent people that helped me when I needed it and what could have been even worse turned out fine in the end.  I’m eternally grateful to them.  I’m looking forward to Friday’s big event.

1970's The Out of Towners
Have you ever been out of town and found yourself in trouble?  Have you ever seen the 1970 Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis movie The Out of Towners?  At least I didn't chip a tooth or lose my shoes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Waltons: The Children's Carol (1977)

The Waltons cast reunion coming up on Friday December 2, 2011 will include fourteen actors from The TV series The Waltons and the TV movie The Homecoming.  For more details: http://WaltonsHomecoming40th.com.

Waltons fans most often refer to 1977's "The Children's Carol" as their favorite Christmas episode of the series. Since the original broadcast, the two-hour story is often split into two parts to air in syndication.

The war in Europe has affected everyone, dampening Christmas spirits.  The Walton family takes into their home two young English children, a brother and a sister named Tess and Pip, who are war refugees from the bombings in London.  They have been severely traumatized by their ordeals and need the love and safety of Waltons’ Mountain.
Tess and Pip, English children orphaned by the blitz
Verdie has been selling cakes to raise money for Christmas toys for charity but is attacked and robbed of her funds.  In the true spirit of Christmas, Ben sacrifices the money he’s saved for himself to give to Verdie.
Ben helps Verdie find her stolen purse
Mary Ellen takes an apartment just outside the military base to be nearer to her husband Curt.  But she finds she needs to be emotionally closer to her husband despite her physical proximity.

Curt and Mary Ellen
Olivia is moved by the trauma of the war and the psychological damage to Tess and Pip.  She begins to question her faith during this time of tremendous global conflict.

Olivia questions her faith in this time of trouble
Fearing an uncertain future, Tess and Pip stow away on a truck to find themselves even more frightened at the air corps base on the runway with a plane rushing towards them!  Putting his own life in jeopardy, John attempts to rescue the children from harm.

John grabs the children just in time!
Jason sets aside his music writing while he questions himself about his ability to be a soldier.  After words of advice from his father, Jason writes his own Christmas song “The Children’s Carol” on the piano that the family sings together on Christmas.

Jason composes "The Children's Carol"
Christmas spirits are made bright when snow finally arrives in time for Christmas on Walton's Mountain.

Elizabeth's wish for snow comes true
But the emotional highpoint of the story occurs when Jim Bob’s English friend that he communicates with over a short wave radio finds Tess and Pip's mother alive--a Christmas miracle restoring hope to everyone on Walton’s Mountain.

Tess and Pip on the short wave radio to London
The song ‘The Children’s Carol” was co-written by John McGreevey and Alexander Courage, the show’s writer and the series’ music director.

The young boy Pip is played by actor Jeff Cotler, the real-life brother of Kami Cotler who plays Elizabeth.

Is this your personal favorite Christmas episode of The Waltons?  Do you currently watch The Waltons on the Hallmark Channel? GMC? or the Inspiration Network?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Waltons: The Best Christmas (1976)

The Waltons cast reunion coming up on Friday December 2, 2011 will include fourteen actors from The TV series The Waltons and the TV movie The Homecoming.  For more details: http://WaltonsHomecoming40th.com.

The TV movie The Homecoming was re-broadcast for several years after its debut in 1971.  The first Christmas episode of the TV series The Waltons arrived in its fifth season and was entitled "The Best Christmas."

Harley, John-Boy and Curt attempt a difficult rescue when Miss Fanny's car slides off the road and into the frozen pond.
As the kids grow and begin to lead their separate lives, Mama worries that this may be the last Christmas with everyone together.  The family agrees to come together and make this holiday the best Christmas for Mama’s sake.  But when a severe snow and ice storm freezes the roads on Christmas Eve, not only is the house without power but the family is stranded at different locations all over the mountain, unable to communicate their whereabouts. 

Jason (Jon Walmsley) in the church examining the damage of the downed tree.
John and Jason are helping to remove a fallen tree and repair the church’s roof so there can be morning services, while Harley, John-Boy, Curt and Mary Ellen are helping to rescue Miss Fanny and young Jo Ellen whose car went off the road and into the frozen pond. 

With all the rooms sold out on Christmas Eve, Grandma and Grandpa Walton are forced to sleep in the hotel lobby
Grandma and Grandpa Walton are stranded in Charlottesville because of the weather and icy roads while Ben is isolated at Yancy’s cabin.  The Waltons may have spent Christmas apart, but they were all in each others’ thoughts.

At long last, the family together on Christmas day.  Left: Ben (Eric Scott), Curt (Tom Bower), John-Boy (Richard Thomas), Mary Ellen (Judy Norton), and Grandpa Walton (Will Geer).
This episode includes the tender moment with the family together singing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

Singing a Christmas carol together.  Left: Elizabeth (Kami Cotler), Olivia (Michael Learned), John (Ralph Waite), and Grandma Walton (Ellen Corby).
It seems everything that could go wrong with the family's plans has gone wrong--a popular theme in Christmas stories.  But this classic Christmas episode is one that stands out from the rest and remains a favorite among the series' fans.

Yancy Tucker (Robert Donner)
Another reason this episode stands out is because it includes many of the Waltons series favorite regular cast of characters including Yancy Tucker (Robert Donner), Harley Foster (Hal Williams), Verdie Foster (Lynn Hamilton), Maude Gormley (Merie Earle), the local telephone switchboard operator Miss Fanny Tatum (Sheila Allen), and the Reverend Fordwick (John Ritter).

Reverend Fordwick (John Ritter)
At the Waltons reunion on Friday, Dec. 2nd, actors Hal Williams and Lynn Hamilton will be joining the others to discuss their experiences with the much beloved Waltons TV series.  I can hardly wait.

Left: Harley Foster (Hal Williams) with John-Boy in the episode "The Best Christmas."
Verdie Foster (Lynn Hamilton) in this treasured 1976 Christmas episode

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway

Welcome to Christmas TV History blog.  I'm the author of two books about Christmas television entertainments:

Tis the Season TV: The Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials and TV Movies (2010)

and The Christmas TV Companion: A Guide to Cult Classics, Strange Specials and Outrageous Oddities (2009).

In anticipation of Christmas, I'm giving away a hardbound copy of the book Jimmy Stewart and His Poems, published in 1989
Yes, that's right--a book of poetry written by Jimmy Stewart, the film star of the classic Christmas film It's A Wonderful Life

To qualify for the book giveaway:
--follow this blog through Google Friend Connect (along the right hand side of the blog)
--and comment below: tell me your favorite Christmas movie

This giveaway for North American residents only.  This runs from Friday Nov. 25-Sunday Nov. 27.  On Nov. 28th, I'll use random.org to generate a number from the total number of qualifying comments below to select a winner.  Make sure your Google Friend Connect identity includes an email address--or leave an email address with your comment below.  Good luck!

To discover new blogs and to enter other giveaways in the Black Friday Giveaway, follow the links below in this blog hop.  Thanks again to Heather from Book Savvy Babe, Jenn from The Bawdy Book Blog, and Lisa from Alive on the Shelves for hosting this giveaway :)
1. Book Savvy Babe  38. Pages of Gold  
2. Lisa @ Alive on the Shelves  39. Seduced By The Book  
3. K.C. Neal  40. Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf  
4. Laurie Here Reading and Writing Reviews  41. Loretta @ Between The Pages  
6. Silver Thistle's Bookshelf  43. TinaBuriedUnderBooks  
7. Lisa Beth Darling  44. Gabrielle Bisset  
8. Mary @Sweeping Me  45. Natasha Blackthorne  
9. Rage, Sex and Teddy Bears  46. Heather @ BookStacksOnDeck  
10. Live To Read ~Krystal  47. Kiki Howell @ Authors By Authors  
11. Queentutt's World of Escapism  48. Big Books Tiny Voices  
12. My Opinion Might Not Be Yours  49. Teri @Dreaming Dreams  
13. The Bawdy Book Blog  50. Michelle Madow: Author of Remembrance  
14. Reading Angel  51. Jenny Q @ Let Them Read Books  
15. The Book Nympho  52. Scrawled in Blue  
16. Grace  53. Reena Jacobs  
17. Charla  54. Candace's Book Blog  
18. Waiting on Sunday to Drown  55. Tarah Scottt  
19. Inspiring Pretty  56. T. C. Archer  
20. Helen Smith  57. Christmas TV History  
21. Evie the Book Fiend  58. Jen Ryland/YA Romantics  
22. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer  59. Red Hot Books  
23. Lindsey @ BBS  60. Annie Walls  
24. Pandora Poikilos  61. Felicity Heaton  
25. Paranormal Wastelands  62. A Writer's World  
26. Seeing Night Reviews  63. Read for your future!  
27. Reading A Lil Bit Of Everythin  64. My Bookish Ways  
28. I Smell Sheep  65. Close Encounters  
29. Five Alarm Book Reviews  66. Everyday Is An Adventure  
30. Romance, Rumours & Rogues  67. Lucy Felthouse  
31. Laurielu  68. Bonnie @ A Backwards Story  
32. MommyWantsToRead  69. The Christmas Origami Kit USA  
33. The Virtual Book Case  70. Crystal @ My Reading Room  
34. Got Fiction?  71. Seduced By A Book (US)  
35. Beck Valley Books  72. Paranormal Romance Fanatic  
36. Book of Secrets  73. LIFE IS . . . FICTION (US)  
37. Other Worlds & Realities  74. The Book Fiend  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

The Waltons cast reunion coming up on Friday December 2, 2011 will include fourteen actors from The TV series The Waltons and the TV movie The Homecoming.  For more details: http://WaltonsHomecoming40th.com

Huddleston as Sheriff Bridges looking for the the Robin Hood Bandit in the 1971 TV movie The Homecoming.
One of the exciting guests to attend next week's reunion is actor David Huddleston who played Sheriff Ep Bridges in The Homecoming.

Huddleston as A.J. Covington, a writer seeking life experiences as inspiration for a novel
Huddleston also appeared on The Waltons in the first season episode "The Literary Man" as the writer A.J. Covington.  He will be a wonderful addition to the reunion guests.

But Christmas movie fans may also recognize Huddleston from another role--as Santa himself in the 1985 theatrical release Santa Claus: The Movie, directed by Jeannot Szwarc.  This children's movie  begins with the ancient story of how a local toymaker becomes the mythological, magical Santa Claus.  The second half of the movie reveals a storyline about an ambitious elf named Patch, who modernizes toy manufacturing with a magical machine that reduces elf labor.  A set back causes him to leave the North Pole and journey to New York City to start again in a new place.  There, he’s exploited by an unscrupulous toy manufacturer named BZ, who wants to create profits for himself by replacing Santa’s freely given toys with purchasable ones from his factories.  An orphan boy  named Joe helps Santa become aware of poor Patch’s situation and BZ's commercialization of Christmas.

left: Anya Claus (or Mrs. Claus) played by Judy Cornwell with Huddleston (right) as Santa Claus.
Though the film may move a bit slow for adult viewers, there is still much to be appreciated here.  The cast is chock full of recognizable actors:  of course, Huddleston makes a wonderful Santa Claus, and actress Judy Cornwell appears as his wife, Anya Claus.  Cornwell played Daisy on the British TV series Keeping Up Appearances, a staple britcom on most PBS stations.  She also appeared in the horror/thriller Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?  The elf Patch is played by Dudley Moore and the over-the-top, greedy businessman BZ is played by John Lithgow.  In much smaller roles, you may recognize Burgess Meredith as the powerful, ancient elf and Christopher Ryan--Eddy's ex-husband Marshall on the TV series Absolutely Fabulous--also plays an elf.  The animatronic reindeer used in the filming of the movie are also something to see.

David Huddleston more recently appeared in the 2009 Christmas special of the outrageous comedy series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia as Frank's former business partner Eugene Hamilton (think Jacob Marley).  If you still aren't convinced of Huddleston's awesomeness, then just remember:

Huddleston also played Jeffrey Lebowski in the 1998 cult movie classic The Big Lebowski directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.  Don't forget:  I included a Christmas-themed Make Your Own Marathon for The Big Lebowski in my book The Christmas TV Companion.  I'm really looking forward to next week's Waltons reunion--will you be joining us?

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Christmas Without Snow (1980)

The Waltons cast reunion coming up on Friday December 2, 2011 will include fourteen actors from The TV series The Waltons and the TV movie The Homecoming.  For more details: http://WaltonsHomecoming40th.com.

From the first season's opening credits on The Waltons
Among all the guests, actress Michael Learned will be there.  She played the role of the strong and loving mother, Olivia Walton, in the TV series.

Among many roles on stage and screen, Michael Learned appeared in the 1980 TV movie A Christmas Without Snow, directed by John Korty.

In this TV movie, a recently divorced woman from the Midwest (played by Learned) moves to San Francisco in order to start a new life.  While looking for stable employment, Zoe Jensen joins the local church choir and is inspired to become a part of the upcoming Christmas program.  The members of the choir quickly become her new friends.  Many of them face unexpected struggles in the months leading up to the holiday performance including the death of a woman’s husband after a long illness, the vandalism of the church’s pipe organ and the choir master suffers a minor stroke the week before Christmas.  Can the choir come together to perform the challenging Handel’s Messiah after so much drama in their lives?

church choir rehearsals in 1980's A Christmas Without Snow
Though the movie doesn't have action-filled sequences or any need for a laugh-track, the strength of this story is its sensitivity and subtlety of emotion.  This is a small story, like TV movies used to tell well--a story that attempts more complex emotions for adults and gentle inspiring moments that one appreciates when one is older, such as the satisfaction in helping others carry their heavy burdens, the feeling of being needed and the sense of accomplishment at a challenging job done well.  Since this movie is ultimately about a church choir, there is a fair amount of music heard during choir rehearsals--an enjoyable treat for viewers who treasure music at Christmas time.

actor John Houseman as the demanding choir director
The cast includes: Michael Learned as Zoe Jensen; John Houseman as the choir director Ephraim Adams; James Cromwell as the Reverend Lohman; Valerie Curtin as Muriel; Ramon Bieri as Henry; and Beah Richards as Mrs. Curtis.

James Cromwell as the church's minister
 If you'd like to watch this Christmas TV movie, it is fairly easy to find on discount Christmas DVD box sets.  It is also available for viewing at Internet Archive and Youtube.  (I'm sorry I couldn't embed it).

How many readers have already seen this TV movie?  Did you enjoy it?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971)

It's the 40th anniversary of The Homecoming, the successful TV movie that led to the long-running TV series, the endearing family drama-- The Waltons.  Who could forget the Walton childen: John-Boy (Richard Thomas), Mary Ellen (Judy Norton), Jason (John Walmsley), Ben (Eric Scott), Erin (Mary McDonough), Jim Bob (David Harper) and Elizabeth (Kami Cotler)?  Though many of the adult roles would eventually be recast for the TV series, in The Homecoming the character of the father John Walton is played by Andrew Duggan, Grandpa is played Edgar Bergen, and the mother Olivia is played by Patricia Neal. Ellen Corby plays Grandma in both the pilot movie and the TV series.

Those gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia surrounding Walton's Mountain
The story takes place at Christmas 1933 during the Depression, and father, John Walton, has traveled over fifty miles away to find work.  The family is eagerly awaiting his return home on Christmas Eve as they prepare for the holiday.  When their father hasn't come home by evening time, the children are sent to bed and the eldest, 15 year-old John-Boy is sent to go look for him.  Olivia worries that a bus accident she heard about on the radio may have slowed John’s journey--or worse he may have been a passenger.

John-Boy and Hawthorne (Cleavon Little) stop by the Baldwin Sisters' home on Christmas Eve

John-Boy searches across Walton’s Mountain on Christmas Eve stopping to see a church’s Nativity play, borrowing a car at Ike Godsey’s store, dropping by the Baldwin Sisters’ home asking for gasoline--and even driving a horse-drawn sleigh looking for his father who may be hitchhiking on the side of the road.

Mama tells Mary Ellen that she likes her bird's nest Christmas tree decoration
**What is your favorite moment in this heartwarming movie?**

In the barn, Mary Ellen explains the legend about how animals talk at midnight on Christmas Eve
One precious storyline is the children’s desire to find out for themselves if the animals in the barn will actually talk at midnight as rumors claim.

The condescending missionary gives Elizabeth a Christmas present...

...a doll no one wants
Another touching moment is the scene where young Elizabeth acquires the baby doll from the missionary distributing broken toys to the poor mountain children.  The little girl learns a tough lesson about charity that night.

Who did you see on the roof, Daddy?
Daddy explains how he wrassled the stranger he found carrying the bag
And, another high point is the final scene where John finally arrives home and shares his wild story about the stranger he encountered on the roof of their home as his explanation for carrying a bag of Christmas gifts into the house for each of his children.

John-Boy receives writing tablets for Christmas...where are my kleenex?

Much of the best of the TV series is already present in this TV movie:  the poignant narration by Earl Hamner, the creator of the TV series, giving meaning and perspective on the Waltons family experiences.  And, the familiar closing scene of the exterior of the Waltons' home as the bedroom lights are being turned out and the family members say good night to each other.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of this movie, an event has been created in Jersey City, NJ on Friday Dec. 2, 2011.  In the legendary Loews Theatre, they will be screening The Homecoming to be followed by a cast reunion of the movie along with several cast members of The Waltons.  There will be a panel dicussion with the cast members as well as a question and answer segment with the public.  For more details: http://waltonshomecoming40th.com.  Of course, I wouldn't miss this once-in-a-lifetime event--I'll be there as the moderator for the panel discussion and Q&A.

If you can't make the New Jersey event, you can still enjoy watching The Homecoming with your family as it is available on for viewing DVD.   The TV series The Waltons is currently airing on the Hallmark Channel, GMC (Gospel Music Channel) and the Inspiration Network.

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

The Homecoming ends just like many episodes of the series: "Goodnight John-Boy...Goodnight Elizabeth....Goodnight Mama..."