About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Alice Christmas (1979)

Remember this series' theme song?  It was sung by Linda Lavin--the actress who played Alice.  But you knew that, right?

I'm still continuing my discussion of memorable adaptations of the Christmas short story The Gift of the Magi, written by American author O.Henry.  So far I've discussed the 1952 film O.Henry's Full House, the 1978 TV movie The Gift of Love, a segment within 1999's Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas, Jim Henson Production's 1977 hit Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, and the 1996 operatic TV version from Finland entitled The Gift of the Magi.  While there are dozens--yes, dozens--of TV sitcom versions of The Gift of the Magi, I thought I'd remind you of one of my favorites.  As a former child of 1970s and '80s TV, this fourth season episode of Alice entitled "Mel, the Magi" is one I've seen over and over.

This fourth season story revolves around the waitresses Flo, Alice and Vera, cook and owner Mel Sharples, and Alice's son Tommy.

In this 1979 Christmas episode, there is more story than just The Gift of the Magi plot line.  The waitresses decide to hold their Christmas Eve party at Mel’s diner and invite all their regular customers.  On Christmas Eve, the lights on the Christmas tree short out the diner's electricity and Mel desperately calls every electrician in Phoenix.  Eventually a man in a Santa suit arrives and he fixes the wiring.  But when the waitresses' Christmas gifts from the back room turn up missing, Flo calls the police. The police begin combing the neighborhood for suspicious men in Santa suits who may be in possession of their gifts.  There's also a subplot about the child-like Vera believing that the electrician in the Santa suit is the real Santa.


What we've seen earlier in the episode is that the waitresses have all agreed to buy one and only one gift for each other this year--Alice is going to buy for Tommy, Tommy for his mother Alice, Flo will buy for Vera, and Vera will get a gift for Flo.  Mel says he's been saving all year for one gift for himself: a new color TV.  However, with prices on the rise, Alice ends up pawning her silver coffee pot to buy Tommy a case for his guitar, Flo hocks her velvet painting of Johnny Cash to buy Vera a collection of Burt Bacharach LPs, Vera pawns her record player to buy a leather picture frame for Flo’s favorite painting of Johnny Cash, and Tommy sells his guitar to buy his mother a silver creamer to match her coffee pot.  Only Mel and the regular customer Henry are aware of the sacrifices made by the thoughtful gift-givers for one another.

Mel, played by Vic Tayback, is usually characterized as being frugal.  However in this Christmas episode, Mel is charmingly generous. 

On Christmas Eve, one of the suspicious men in a Santa suit brought into the diner by the police is Mel Sharples--and he has all the waitresses' gifts!  Turns out Mel has gone around and bought back all the pawned items.  Now Flo has the velvet painting and its frame, Alice receives a creamer and her coffee pot, Tommy has his guitar back and a case for it, and Vera gets her record player back and a set of Burt Bacharach albums.

Sorry, I couldn't get a photo of Flo's oil painting of Johnny Cash on velvet.  Every Johnny Cash painting needs a frame.

This episode may be predictable but it’s a satisfying adaptation of O.Henry’s classic tale.  To me, this is a great version of The Gift of the Magi because Mel knows his friends are spending beyond their budgets for Christmas but he ends up embodying the spirit of Christmas, sacrificing his own color TV set to buy their gifts back.  Since Mel treats his waitresses so poorly most of the year, it's nice to see him go out of his way for them at the holidays.

Can you name one of the dozens of other sitcom adaptations of The Gift of the Magi?  Which is your favorite?


  1. Haven't seen this in years!!! I so hope ME-TV picks up Alice to add to their rotation. I would love watching the episodes again!

    1. I'd LOVE to see this series airing again. You're right--Me-TV would be perfect. Fingers crossed!

    2. If you get Antenna TV, another retro-formatted network carried by many over-the-air TV stations as a digital subchannel, they have been airing "Alice" for a few years now.

  2. Since this post and my comment, Alice has re-aired and gone away again. I enjoyed rewatching the show. Still fun and funny.