About Christmas TV History

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Greatest Gift book

In the 2011 Christmas episode "Holidays of Future Passed" on The Simpsons you'll find one of my favorite holiday jokes.  Homer finds himself contemplating what his life would be like if he'd never seen the movie It's A Wonderful Life.  Not only have we all seen the classic Jimmy Stewart movie umpteen times, but many of us have seen the endless re-makes, adaptations, and re-tellings of the familiar story told each year on television episodes, specials and movies.  Some of them are done creatively and inspire viewers to re-visit the original meaning of the movie.  And, some of the re-makes are done so poorly, it inspires viewers to change the channel.  Were you aware that it all began with a short story entitled The Greatest Gift?

cover of deluxe edition from Penguin Books

The Greatest Gift is a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern.  It was originally given out as a Christmas card by the author in 1943 and then he sold the movie rights.  Several years later, director Frank Capra read it and saw the potential for a movie he'd like to make.  The rest is Hollywood history.  The original short story has since become a book.  If you get a copy of the deluxe edition from Penguin Books published in 1996 on the 50th anniversary of the release of the movie It's A Wonderful Life, you'll be able to read an afterword by Marguerite Stern Robinson, the daughter of the author, who provides some history behind her father's great short story and its legacy.

George Bailey on the edge of the bridge contemplating life.

Fans of It's A Wonderful Life will surely love to read the original inspiration for the movie.  It's also quite interesting to see how efficient the short story is compared to the full-length movie that is filled with many small details and more characters.  The short story begins on the bridge on Christmas Eve with our character George contemplating killing himself when he meets his guardian angel.  When George confesses he wished he'd never been born, the stranger helps him by making his wish come true.  Then George is sent on his way, no longer having to worry about his troubles, his responsibilities, his wife or his children any longer.  The stranger also hands him a bag filled with cleaning brushes from The World Cleaning Company (think door-to-door brush salesman)--to help make it easier for George to start conversations with a town full of people who no longer know him.  Obviously, what George discovers is that his life meant something to those whom he met and worked with.  George learns he made a difference in the world and everyone's life touches everyone else's whether we recognize it or not.  It is essentially the same story as the much-beloved Christmas movie.

Clarence gives George a book

But there are a few differences.  Besides being boiled down (you can easily read it less than an hour), the short story also has a few structural differences.  The long back history in the movie of George Bailey's life growing up in Bedford Falls is gone.  The story starts with George standing on the edge of the bridge wanting to jump.  But another difference is worth noting--the brushes he's given by his magical stranger seem to replace Clarence's gift of the book from the movie. Even if you're not a big fan of It's a Wonderful Life, it's still fascinating to read the story that started it all.

Have you read this short story before?  What other Christmas books do you like to read?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Christmas in July is Coming!

Just a few more days until our Christmas in July celebration begins.  Keeping everyone up to speed:  Christmas TV History is welcoming guest bloggers throughout the month of July.  We are all sharing our favorite science fiction-themed Christmas TV episodes, specials, and movies.

Last year, Christmas TV History hosted guest bloggers sharing their favorite Christmas TV episodes, specials and movies made in the 1990s.  Remember that?  The posts written about Friends and Melrose Place were some of this blog's most visited posts from last year.  If you'd like to revisit any of those 1990s posts, feel free to access the archive along the right side of the blog ----------------->  and return to July of 2011.  I also remember awesome posts about The X-Files, The Tick, Living Single, the TV movie A Season for Miracles, Northern Exposure, Father Ted, Tales from the Crypt, South Park, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a Christmas scene from the theatrical release movie Boogie Nights.  And, there was tons more.  Go check it out.

This year's science fiction Christmas theme is already producing some great posts too--I can't wait to share them with you.  If you're still looking to get in on the fun and want to share your favorite sci-fi Christmas episode, special or movie--contact me right away.  I still have some open spots.  I'd like to include everyone who wants to participate, so don't hesitate.  If you're not sure about what to write on, I'll be glad to suggest something.  No one has picked the Christmas episodes from Alf, Mork & Mindy, Futurama or 3rd Rock from the Sun yet--so there are clearly lots of good Christmas entertainments still available.  Let me know.

If you've already reserved your title, please email your essay along with photos as soon as possible.  Or at least, email me an ETA. Thank you for participating :)

Stay close to the SCI-FI CHRISTMAS in JULY celebration.  I'm going to have several free giveaways.  And, if you're a science fiction/Christmas fan, you should know that my book The Christmas TV Companion includes an entire chapter about science fiction Christmas entertainments.  The Companion will be available for the first time in digital format, as an e-book, starting Monday July 2nd.  So there's lots to celebrate this July.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Unholy Night

Our 16th President wields an ax against vampires!

I'm one of millions looking forward to tomorrow's (June 22nd) release of the film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  Blending facts with fantasy, history and action/horror, this movie promises to be the perfect drive-in theater experience of the summer.  The movie is based on the book by the same name by author Seth Grahame-Smith.  He also wrote the popular book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  When I heard he wrote another book, Unholy Night, which incorporates the characters from the Nativity story, I knew I had to read it.

Grahame-Smith's latest book has already been optioned for film.

Seth Grahame-Smith's latest book Unholy Night was released earlier this spring.  The lead character is Balthazar, a thief of reputation throughout Judea during the reign of King Herod.  Also known as the Ghost of Antioch, Balthazar eventually unites with two other deadly criminals, Melchyor and Gaspar, to protect a young fugitive family who are also victims of Herod's tyranny and his deadly army.  Yes, this is the first Christmas story of the young mother Mary, her husband Joseph, their newborn Jesus on their flight from Bethlehem.  As the familiar Bible story goes, the family flees to Egypt away from King Herod's army acting on orders to kill all newborns.  The jealous, power-hungry Herod is desperate to avoid the realization of a prophesy of a new king of the Jews.  In Grahame-Smith's imaginative book however, you'll find an interesting weaving of accepted truths with poetic license as the three "kings" of orient are recast as a Syrian thief, a Greek swordsman and an Ethiopian fugitive escorting the young family as they all run for their lives.  Under disguise, they cross the desert sands to escape from a Roman army sent by Augustus Caesar headed by a young ambitious Pontius Pilate and a sorcerer (or magus--the singular of magi) hunting them down.  You'll also find other familiar characters within this story, such as Mary's aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Zachariah, and their son John (who many will later call John the Baptist).  It's fun to see how much of the biblical narrative makes it into this fictional action story.

Author Seth Grahame-Smith's first two best sellers were Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

There's a lot of action/adventure in the story with plagues of locusts, hungry Egyptian zombies and violence with steel blades.  King Herod definitely makes for an evil villain--there is great description of his hideous, cursed appearance and ruthless dictatorship.  My only complaint is with the supernatural forces at work here.  With previous supernatural foes such as zombies and vampires in Grahame-Smith's works, I was disappointed with the limited use of black magic from the magus whose motivations were mere threats from Herod and not something far more sinister or darker.  There is also the implied supernatural Power From Above, as God looks over those involved to protect the newborn Jesus.  I get it--it's God's son and the Nativity story.  I think it would have been more interesting if there was a more convincing supernatural villain to challenge the power of God by threatening the survival of the Messiah and the future of man's soul.  The first thing that comes to mind is a Faustian agreement between Herod and The Devil for the king's continued reign and power.  Imagine the potential for conflict and resolution when more is at stake in an epic battle between Good and Evil!

The book's hero and center is Balthazar, the character whose sense of justice and whose emotional ups and downs control the action within the book.  I loved his complex motivations and drive for survival in his unjust world.

Thanks to The Last Temptation of Christ, I always picture David Bowie as the character Pontius Pilate.
Unholy Night has already been optioned to become a film, and I'm very curious to see how it translates.  The book is written quite visually with many scenes described in such a way to lend themselves easily to filmed scenes.  You know I love my Christmas movies so I can't wait to see it on the big screen and eventually on my TV on DVD.  But if you're like me and impatient for the movie to come out, read the book Unholy Night.  You may find Balthazar's journey across the desert sands the best beach read of the summer.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Christmas Is (1970) comic book

My new comic book!

Look what I found!  This past spring, I was trolling through listings for vintage Christmas TV on Etsy.com and discovered this comic book.  It was dirt cheap too.  But no one could love it quite like me so I had to buy it :)  Do you recognize what this is?

back cover--obviously went through the mail at some point in time.

This comic book is based on the animated TV special Christmas Is from 1970.  This half-hour special features the characters Benji and his sheepdog Waldo.  If you are old enough to remember, this syndicated special was the first of several to feature Benji and Waldo including The City That Forgot About Christmas, an Easter special, Easter Is and the Fourth of July special, Freedom Is.  All of these animated specials were created on behalf of a Lutheran ministries group and have a mild religious message.

First page is the sheet music for the theme song!

I included Christmas Is in a listing of old Christmas TV specials that are worth re-discovering in my first book The Christmas TV Companion on pg. 51.  Of course, it's also listed in my encyclopedia, Tis the Season TV.  This 40 year-old special actually still airs on TV during December each year--I've seen it broadcast on a local TV station on Saturday afternoons.  I guess I'm not the only one who still loves it if someone is still paying to broadcast it!

Benji doesn't understand the importance of the shepherds in the Christmas story.

Do you remember the story?  Benji has been cast in his local Christmas pageant as the second shepherd once again, but he’s not sure what his role means.  As he re-reads the biblical story, Benji and his shaggy dog Waldo find themselves transported back in time to Bethlehem.  While he finds room at the inn serving food to the guests, Benji sees that other travelers are turned away. He hears the others talking about the coming Messiah and he awakens in the middle of the night to a bright star.  Benji learns that the news of the Christ child’s birth would not have been known without the shepherds.  Aroused from sleep, Benji rushes to the pageant, eager to play his role in the Nativity story.

The very recognizable voice cast includes: Hans Conried; Don Messick; and, June Foray.

Have you seen the Christmas Is TV special?  Do you remember The City That Forgot About Christmas animated special from 1974?  What Christmas TV special from your youth shouldn't be forgotten?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

SCI-FI Christmas in July--streaming suggestions

 Doctor Who

Looking forward to next month, we're going to celebrate Christmas in July by sharing our favorite science fiction Christmas programs.  Click HERE to see those details again.  Thanks to everyone who has already claimed their movie, episode or TV special.  But there is still plenty of room for others to join in--and many, many programs left to write about.  Some people have asked me about where they can easily re-watch these programs--and of course,  I can help by making suggestions.  Your own local library is probably the best (and free!) resource for DVDs of TV shows.  But if you already subscribe to Netflix, this is an amazing resource as well.  Nearly EVERYTHING I've suggested for sci-fi entertainments is available on Netflix.  Ask me if you can't find access to something you're looking to write about.

Doing a quick search, I found the following sci-fi programs--with Christmas episodes--currently streaming on Netflix:

original Twilight Zone
Amazing Stories
Eureka (1st xmas episode)
Warehouse 13 (1st xmas episode)
Doctor Who
movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
the Dead Zone
Power Rangers Samurai Christmas Special
The Troop (kid's series on Nickelodeon)
Tripping the Rift

And there are tons more available on disc at Netflix.  Don't overlook Hulu and Youtube as a resource as well.  Again, feel free to ask me if you can't find something.  If you'd like to join in on the fun but aren't quite sure what to write about--I'll be glad to suggest an especially interesting program.  I want to include everyone who wants to join in.   Good luck!

Looking for an excuse to re-watch the Star Wars Holiday Special?  here ya go.

Monday, June 4, 2012

More Suggestions: Sci-fi Christmas in July

Next month I'll be hosting another Christmas in July celebration here on the blog, encouraging readers to share their favorite science fiction Christmas entertainments.  I'd love for you to be a part of it.  I'm asking readers to share their thoughts and memories of their favorite science fiction themed Christmas stories--Click HERE to see the details again.  Email me at Joanna@1701Press.com when you know what you'd like to write about.  Deadline: the end of June--so I can organize the posts during July.  Be sure to follow the Christmas in July party to see what everyone has to say about our favorite Christmas entertainments!  Yesterday I posted suggestions on fun programming.  Click HERE to see that again.

Want even more suggestions for SCIENCE FICTION Christmas entertainments?

classic and New Twilight Zone Christmas episodes are amazing.

2011 Christmas ep was.... AWESOME!!

2011 Haven Christmas episode was Christmas in July-ish.  Very interesting!

Men in Black: the Series


Space Giants

Joe 90

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sc-fi Christmas in July--oh, it rhymes!

Next month I'll be hosting another Christmas in July celebration here on the blog, encouraging readers to share their favorite science fiction Christmas entertainments.  I'd love for you to be a part of it.  I'm asking readers to share their thoughts and memories of their favorite science fiction themed Christmas stories--Click HERE to see the details again.  Email me at Joanna@1701Press.com when you know what you'd like to write about.  Deadline: the end of June--so I can organize the posts during July.  Be sure to follow the Christmas in July party to see what everyone has to say about our favorite Christmas entertainments!  Want a suggestion for SCIENCE FICTION Christmas entertainments? 

1977 TV special A Cosmic Christmas

1991 animated TV special

Lost in Space

Invader Zim

Friday, June 1, 2012

***Call for Guest Bloggers for Christmas in July***

Our annual blog party is coming up soon--can you believe July is next month!?  This year's Christmas in July celebration is going to be sci-fi themed.  So I'm looking for readers who would like to share their thoughts on a favorite science fiction Christmas entertainment. 

Remember last year's Christmas in July party?  Readers shared their favorite 1990s Christmas episodes, specials and movies.  It was such a huge success, I'd like to try it again this year.  But let's try a new theme: science fiction Christmas episodes, specials and movies.  We'll be generous here with the definition of 'science fiction' and include the widest possible stories.  What's your favorite Christmas story with a science fiction element?

What makes a good blog post?  A brief summary to remind everyone of what happens in the story.  Also include your own personal memories or connection to the story.  Very easy.  This is about remembering our favorite Christmas entertainments so remember to keep that in perspective.  Feel free to go into this blog's archives from last July to see what other people wrote.  Length?  Shorter is better--but I want you to express yourself.  A couple hundred words is plenty. 

Need a reminder of some popular science fiction Christmas entertainments?  Feel free to check out the science fiction chapter in my book The Christmas TV Companion.  But there are soooooo many more than what I included there. Over the next few days, I'll post photos to help inspire you.  If you have any questions, please ask.  If you have a favorite show and are uncertain about whether a Christmas episode exists, please ask.

When you know what you want to write about: please email me (Joanna@1701press.com) and run it by me--I don't want everyone writing about the same thing.  Please send your post and photos and/or video to the email when it's complete.  Deadline: PLEASE send it to me by the end of JUNE---so I can organize them to post during July.  This worked fabulously last year--I hope it goes as smoothly this year.  Merry Christmas in July!

Looking for suggestions?  Consider the following:

2008 movie Christmas on Mars by the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne.

1964 cult movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians



TV special George and the Christmas Star