About Christmas TV History

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book & DVD Giveaway!

Welcome to Christmas TV History blog.  I'm the author of two non-fiction 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).  

Don't hesitate to stop back any time of year to recall some of your favorite memories from old Christmas TV episodes, specials and movies, or perhaps discover a new one.

I'd like to giveaway one prize:
--a signed copy of Tis the Season TV (an 800 page encyclopedia with over 3000 entries about Christmas TV programming).  Check out the Amazon listing.
--a set of 3 DVDs: the trilogy of TV movies based on the best-selling books by author Donna Van Liere.  These movies include 2002's The Christmas Shoes, 2005's The Christmas Blessing and 2009's The Christmas Hope.  All 3 DVDs are brand new, factory sealed.  I know, how awesome is THAT?

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

This giveaway is for North American residents only.  This runs from Friday, Sept. 28--Sunday, Sept 30.  On Oct. 1st, 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 book blogs and to enter other giveaways in the Blogfest Giveaway, follow the links below in this blog hop.  Thanks again to www.ajourneyofbooks.com

The main list of participating blogs is at: www.ajourneyofbooks.com

Please hop to the five following book blogs to continue the sequence.  Good luck and have fun discovering new and exciting blogs!  Who doesn't love giveaways?

The Book Pushers
Into the Mystic
Ravishing Romances
Alexia Banks

The Waltons Christmas (1979)

The Waltons TV series began in 1972, celebrating its 40 year anniversary this year.  The family drama still airs on TV currently running on the Hallmark Channel, INSP and GMC.

Last week I shared my review of the book Lessons from the Mountain, actress Mary McDonough's autobiography from 2011. Click HERE for the link to the book review.  The much loved family drama The Waltons celebrates its 40 year anniversary with an elaborate cast reunion this Saturday, September 29th in Los Angeles.  Though I won't be attending, I thought I'd remind fans of the Christmas episodes of that series.  I have previously blogged about the 1971 Christmas TV movie The Homecoming and The Waltons episodes 1976's The Best Christmas, 1977's The Children's Carol and 1978's Day of Infamy. Click on the titles to see those blog posts again.  Isn't it great when a TV series creates many holiday installments over the years?  Today I'm happy to share about the 1979 Christmas episode of The Waltons entitled "The Spirit."

This last Christmas episode of the series takes place later in the run of the series.  Above, Erin sits with Cindy, Ben's wife who is expecting their first child.

By the eighth season of The Waltons, there were several changes made to the cast.  Cousin Rose Burton and her two grandchildren, Serena and Jeffrey, were added, as was Ben's new wife Cindy.  This eighth season episode takes place during Christmas 1943.  Olivia is not on Walton’s Mountain but off-screen caring for John-Boy who was injured while shot-down from his airplane, serving in World War II.

A hungry stranger claiming to be looking for his lost dog shows up at the Baldwin Sisters' front door.

The family and others on Walton's Mountain notice that food and other items have gone missing.  Ike Godsey's store window is broken but the thief only takes a few items of food and leaves valuables and money untouched.  Locals also take notice that there is a shy stranger seen in the area.  Several of the Waltons family members begin to speculate about whether this stranger is also the thief.  John Sr. wonders why an able-bodied man wouldn't work to pay for his food during a time when most companies are hiring since there is a labor shortage.  Clearly the residents on the mountain are accustomed to an extremely low crime rate, and the mystery continues.

What no one knows is that young Jeffrey has a new secret friend named Paul.

When John hears Jeffrey refer to St. Nicholas, instead of Santa Claus, he suspects that Jeffrey has been talking to someone outside the family.
Jim Bob finally discovers Jeffrey in the company of the mysterious stranger but the stranger runs away before Jim Bob can talk to him.  The stranger isn't harmful, in fact we see him sharing stories about Christmas with Jeffrey, encouraging the young boy to keep his faith in the traditions of the holiday as he grows older, and he even teaches Jeffrey how to carve a whistle.

Jim Bob finally discovers Paul but he runs away before Jim Bob can talk to him.

Without ever turning creepy or threatening, this story continues as the Waltons try to find out who Jeffrey's new friend could be.  Common sense tells them he may be an AWOL soldier hiding from the military police.  John encourages Jeffrey to invite the lonely, hungry stranger to the Walton's home on Christmas Eve but when Paul shows up, they discover Paul has a unique story--he's not who they expected!

John finds Paul standing on the porch on Christmas Eve and invites him into their home.

Paul has brought a little tree for Jeffrey and shares a story about Martin Luther and the legend of the first Christmas tree.
It turns out Paul has a complex situation.  He is actually an escaped German POW from a camp in South Carolina.  However, Paul is also an American, born in Milwaukee--his immigrant family moved back to Germany when he was a boy and Paul was drafted into the German army during the war.  Since his escape from the POW camp, Paul wanders around aimlessly, missing his family.  Recognizing he has no way to return to his family, Paul now wishes to return to the POW camp.  Seeing Paul as a gentle soul and acknowledging that it was a German fishing boat that rescued John-Boy from his plane after it was shot down, the family agrees to offer Paul their compassion. 

I really like this episode quite a bit.  It isn't predictable and the mystery of the stranger's identity takes the full length of the episode.  Yet TV viewers see that Paul is not a dangerous person.  Though 21st century viewers may be trained to assume any stranger is a threat, here the story allows a far more innocent storyline to unfold.  Paul's influence on Jeffrey is a good one as the young boy struggles with how to re-connect with the meaning of Christmas after over-hearing there is no Santa Claus.

In every Waltons Christmas episode, you can expect to see the family gathered together singing carols.  Here, Jason leads the family singing "O Christmas Tree" as they begin their Christmas Eve celebration.
The details within the episode make for a fuller, richer experience of the story.  When Paul steps up onto the Waltons' porch on Christmas Eve uncertain if he should reveal his identity, Paul can hear the family inside singing "O Christmas Tree" as they decorate their tree.  Of course, this song has a long German tradition which may well have sparked even more of an emotional response from Paul who misses his family deeply.

The mostly forgotten 1950s dramatic anthology Crossroads includes an episode that also incorporates the legend of the first Christmas tree and its connection to Martin Luther.

Paul brings young Jeffery a small fir tree and shares with him the legend of the first Christmas tree--a story about Martin Luther, the German theologian credited with the Protestant Reformation. If you've never heard this story before, it's worth investigating.  I've also seen it depicted in the 1956 episode "Our First Christmas Tree" of Crossroads, a dramatic anthology TV series based on inspirational stories from the clergy.  Did you know this series even existed?

Credited in The Waltons series as Keith Mitchell, he is now known as Keith Coogan.

This is also a special Christmas episode because it features Jeffrey, played by the young Keith Coogan.  TV and movie fans growing up in the 1970s and 1980s may recognize this actor from his many roles, perhaps most notably the movie Adventures in Babysitting from 1987.  Though credited in this Waltons episode as Keith Mitchell, the actor currently goes by the name Keith Coogan and is the real-life grandson to actor Jackie Coogan. 

Child actor Jackie Coogan got his start working alongside Charlie Chaplin in the 1921 blockbuster movie The Kid.

You may also recognize Jackie Coogan for his 1960s TV role as Uncle Fester from The Addams Family.

Keith (Mitchell) Coogan is among the many guests scheduled to appear at The Waltons 40 Anniversary Reunion, Saturday September 29th in Los Angeles.  Will you be there too?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Waltons Christmas (1978)

This much beloved family drama first aired on TV in 1972.

Last week I shared my review of the book Lessons from the Mountain, actress Mary McDonough's autobiography from 2011. Click HERE for the link to the book review.  Since I have the hit '70s TV series The Waltons on the brain again, I thought I'd remind everyone of the Christmas episodes of that series.  In November last year, I blogged about the 1971 Christmas TV movie The Homecoming and The Waltons episodes 1976's The Best Christmas and 1977's The Children's Carol.  Click on the titles to see those blog posts again.  Today I'm eager to share about the 1978 holiday episode of The Waltons entitled "Day of Infamy."

Mother and father Walton played by actors Michael Learned and Ralph Waite.

This episode tells the painful story of the difficult 1941 holiday season starting on December 7th, the same day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  After church on that fateful Sunday in December, Olivia and John go in search of a small Christmas tree for the family, Ben has a date, and Mary Ellen is excited to be packing for her trip to join her husband Curt in Hawaii.

Waiting for their parents to return home, the clan gathers around a car radio listening to the horrific news of the bombings across the ocean.

When the tragic news reaches the mainland, everyone gathers around the radio listening to the events as they unfold, dreading an unpredictable future and knowing that this world-changing event will mean the United States will now join the war.  This tension filled episode is also a nostalgic reminder of how much our common experiences have changed since the 1940s--we now are far more likely to turn to television and the internet for our world news rather than radios.

Mary Ellen and Verdie both await news from Pearl Harbor.  Mary Ellen is concerned about her husband Curt while Verdie worries about her son Jody who is serving on the USS Arizona.

But the news comes in slowly and the family members are held on edge waiting for word about Curt and the unfolding reaction by the American government and the upcoming military involvement.  Mary Ellen seems pragmatic as she keeps herself from panicking, not over-reacting before she hears the official word of Curt's possible safety or harm.  Though none of the other members of the Walton family feels much like preparing for Christmas, Mary Ellen insists that everyone carry on until they hear differently.

Insisting they begin decorating for Christmas, Mary Ellen shows her baby John Curtis the bird's nest she likes to put in the Christmas tree.  This is a reference to a scene from 1971's The Homecoming--remember it?

With still no news from Curt, Mary Ellen recalls her wedding day--a flashback to the fifth season episode "The Wedding."

Mother Olivia Walton worries that her sons will rush off secretly to enlist in the military--something Jim Bob, Ben and Jason discuss among themselves.

The following day, President Roosevelt delivers his now-famous speech, a declaration of war.  A telegram finally arrives: Mary Ellen’s husband Curt working as a doctor on the wounded soldiers was a victim of the attacks.

Jim Bob (David Harper) shares the telegram with his sister Mary Ellen (Judy Norton) knowing she would rather hear the tragic news from a family member.

John (Ralph Waite) hugs his mother (Ellen Corby) now understanding more fully how hard it is to see your own child march off to war, as she did when he served during WW I.

Though this episode is clearly not an easy story filled with the typical happiness of the season that we expect, it is still a human story--one about world events we either remember or can understand since many of us have experienced tension-filled, difficult holidays in our lives.  Stories like this remind us to have compassion for others during the holidays as many struggle with loss, grief or even depression while many are celebrating.  The Waltons provides an example of a family that comes together during their difficult times to help and support one another--an inspiring story at Christmas and all through the year.

The family that cries together, stays together.  Tears flow as John reads out loud from the letter Curt wrote to his baby son John Curtis just in case he never returned.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Waltons' Mary McDonough book review

Though I watch a great deal of television, I also read quite a bit.  I'm mostly interested in pop culture non-fiction and I like to share some of the books I read with my readers here on the blog.  You may remember my reviews of the Hollywood biographies of Raymond Burr, James Garner, Garry Marshall, Alison Arngrim and Melissa Gilbert. Click on each of those names for the link to see those reviews again.  I've also reviewed two works of fiction with a Christmas movie connection: Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith and The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern.  Click on those titles for the link to see the reviews again.

Mary McDonough played middle child Erin on the 1970s family drama The Waltons.

Another book I've recently finished is actress Mary McDonough's autobiography Lessons from the Mountain: What I Learned from Erin Walton published last year.  I was fortunate to have an opportunity to get my own personal copy of the book signed by the author last December.  If you'll remember, I attended the 40th anniversary screening of the Christmas TV movie The Homecoming last year (click HERE for the link to The Homecoming) and I served as the moderator at that event for The Waltons cast reunion (click HERE for the link I wrote about that event).

Aaahhh...The Waltons.  Mary McDonough as Erin is in the bottom right corner, wearing the yellow dress.
Waltons fans will be delighted to discover that McDonough's book is chock full of details about her experiences during the ten year run of the hit TV series.  Approximately 150 of the 250 pages in the book are devoted to her experiences on the The Waltons.  Mary, of course, played the character of the middle sister Erin which was based on Earl Hamner's real-life sister Audrey.  I was especially interested in the details she reveals about the joy, boredom and hijinks of shooting those iconic scenes of the family gathered around the dinner table--scenes found in nearly every episode of The Waltons.  I was also intrigued about what other television shows were being shot on the studio backlot near The Waltons set, such as the Shaolin Temple set from Kung Fu as well as the set for Eight is Enough.  I can't help it--I'm a TV junkie!  I was also touched by a story she retells explaining that it was actor John Ritter (who played the Reverend Fordwick for a couple seasons on The Waltons) who first suggested to Mary that she keep a journal to express herself--an act of encouragement and insight that she credits helped change her life for the better.

More recently, McDonough can be seen on TV playing one of the meany moms on the sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine with Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

McDonough does discuss her work after The Waltons including the horror movies Midnight Offerings and Mortuary.  She also shares about her work she's found very challenging but most rewarding: speaking out against the manufacturers and big business industry of dangerous silicone breast implants.  Drawing from her own difficult experiences, she's working to change laws and help educate women about getting the accurate information they need to make decisions about their bodies and their health.

McDonough on the set of Will & Grace.

If you're looking to see Mary in a holiday program after The Waltons, you can find her in the 2002 episode of Will & Grace entitled "All About Christmas Eve"(Mary can be seen in the lobby at the performance of The Nutcracker that Will, Grace and Leo attend).  Mary is also in the 2007 TV special Christmas At Cadillac Jack's, the third installment in a continuing story of two characters Rose and Joe, played by veteran actors Ruta Lee and Joseph Campanella.  Christmas at Cadillac Jack's as well as the first two Christmas TV specials, 2005’s All is Bright! and 2006’s Love’s Pure Light, are re-broadcast every year on TBN.

Waltons 40th Reunion in Los Angeles next week.

In case you didn't already know, on Saturday, September 29th there is another Waltons reunion being held in Los Angeles in honor of the 40th anniversary of the TV series.  It is being held as a fundraiser for Environmental Charter Middle School, the school where Kami Cotler now works as Principal (Cotler played the youngest sister Elizabeth on The Waltons). Click HERE for the link to the Facebook event.  There is an extremely long list of honored guests and special guests attending the event--click here for the link to the website.  It looks to be the Hollywood reunion of the year.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Christmas Flintstone (1964)

Let's ride with the family down the street, through the courtesy of Fred's two feet.

Re-released under the title, “How the Flintstones Saved Christmas,” this story is an episode from the original 1960s classic animated series The Flintstones.  Though many of these titles are similar, it shouldn't be mistaken for 1977's A Flintstone Christmas, 1993's A Flintstone Family Christmas, or 1994's A Flintstones Christmas CarolA Christmas Flintstone is a Christmas-themed episode from the fifth season of the original run of the primetime series.  There's also a strong argument to be made that this is THE BEST of all of the Flintstones holiday stories.  Do you remember this particular Christmas tale?

Fred and Barney are window shopping at Christmas time--Fred knows he needs more money in order to afford gifts this year.  I love that both men are bare foot while walking in the snow!?  Only in Bedrock, my friends.

Fred Flintstone decides he needs to make extra money to pay for gifts at Christmas so he takes on a second job at the Bedrock department store, Macyrock’s.  After failing at both gift wrapping and minding the stock room, Fred eventually finds himself working as the store’s Santa Claus which turns out to be a wonderfully fulfilling job for him as well as the children.

Fred loves his work as Macyrock's Santa Claus

Fred finds he enjoys sharing his passion for Christmas with the children.

In fact, Fred is such a good Santa Claus, he’s approached by two elves, Blinky and Twinky, and asked to come with them to the North Pole.

In the lockerroom at Macyrock's after his shift on Christmas Eve, Fred is approached by two elves for an important job.

At the North Pole, Fred finds the real Santa sick in bed with a nasty cold.

Fred finds the real Santa Claus sick in bed and unable to deliver his toys this year.  Santa asks Fred to be his replacement tonight on Christmas Eve.  This theme of Santa-is-not-able to-deliver-the-gifts-and-so-Christmas-must-be-saved is quite common.  Whether it's because Santa is ill, Santa's sleigh breaks down, Santa's magical sack goes missing/is stolen, Santa is kidnapped/held hostage, or however the crisis arises, the saving of Christmas is an extremely popular thread in Christmas TV stories.  However, this 1964 Flintstones version is an early adaptation of this now over-used theme.

Fred makes Santa's usual delivery to all the children of the world.
Of course, Fred is more than willing to help Santa out and he boards the sleigh and makes the annual night's ride, delivering gifts all over the world.  When Fred arrives back at home, he realizes too late that he's left his own family's gifts behind in the sleigh! Now there won't be any Christmas for the Flintstones.  But when Fred enters his home, he sees the house filled with gifts--the real Santa had left his sick bed to deliver Fred's gifts--making sure the Flintstones Christmas was merry after all.

The real Santa remembers the Flintstone family afterall.

There are several reasons why this Flintstones Christmas story may be considered superior to the others.  First of all, it includes original Christmas music--the highlight of any holiday story.

Fred dances in a circle around the Christmas tree with the children at the department store as he sings "Merry Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year."

This special Christmas installment features Fred Flintstone singing two songs, “Merry Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year” and a storybook tale sung to the children at Macyrock’s, “Dino the Dinosaur’s Christmas Tree.”

Fred sings the song as he truns the pages of the storybook for the children.

And, second of all, the animation is filled with so many details and lush colors.  Hanna-Barbera Productions would eventually lose this kind of detail work and the lavish production later in their television shows and specials.  But this episode, it's all there--I've included many photos in this post to give you a sense of the grandeur of this production.  (The still images used to create the "Dino the Dinosaur's Christmas Tree" segment suggests that this could have been animated but a choice was made to not animate it.  Could it have been that the animation team ran out of time or budget?  or, did the story already run too long?  The overall story seems so rich and full of detail, you don't miss the animation in this brief scene much.  However, it is a curious point).

LOVE the mid-'60s color palatte here: pastel pink Christmas trees!

I also love, Love, LOVE the 1960s color palatte of this animated Christmas story.  It's very stylized with pink Christmas trees--the kind of pastel pink, yellows and oranges you'll see in other 1960s TV Christmas, such as 1965's The Lucy Show and 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Don't you just love it?  I adore the feel of a vintage mid-century, 1960s Christmas.  How about you?

Lucy Carmichael shops at a local tree lot and is offered her choice of a pink, purple or yellow Christmas tree (foreground) in 1965's "Lucy the Choirmaster" on The Lucy Show.

Remember the crazy colors of trees available at the tree lot in 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas?

Check out Fred singing "Merry Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year."

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