About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Red Skelton Show Christmas (1954)

Another O.Henry classic that takes place at Christmas time.

For the past several weeks I've been discussing noteworthy adaptations of O.Henry's Christmas short story The Gift of the Magi.  O.Henry also wrote another Christmas story, The Cop and the Anthem that has been adapted several times in the movies and for television as well.  Remember the 1952 theatrical release film O.Henry's Full House?  The film consists of four vignettes adapted from O.Henry short stories and includes versions of both The Gift of the Magi and The Cop and the Anthem

The Cop and the Anthem segment from the 1952 movie O.Henry's Full House stars Charles Laughton (left) and David Wayne.

Comedian Red Skelton was a hit in vaudeville and radio before bringing his funny characters to TV audiences.

One of the most heart-warming versions of The Cop and the Anthem was adapted for the 1954 Christmas episode of The Red Skelton Show.  In this half-hour sketch, the role of O.Henry's homeless character Soapy is played by Skelton’s lovable hobo, Freddie the Freeloader.

As it gets closer to Christmas, Freddie wants to find a warmer place to bed down--away from his snow-covered park bench.

Freddie awakens on a park bench on Christmas Eve with the plan to get arrested so he can spend the holiday and the rest of the winter in jail with a roof over his head and three square meals.  At first he tries to get arrested by eating a luxurious meal in an elegant restaurant without paying.  While the other patrons assume he’s an eccentric millionaire, the staff decide to give him the meal for free in the generous spirit of the holiday.

At the restaurant, the glutton Freddie takes the entire dessert tray rather than one piece from it.

Freddie is disappointed that the man with the umbrella is a thief as well!

Freddie tries to steal a gentleman’s umbrella on the street but it turns out he had stolen the umbrella as well and refuses to call a policeman.  Next Freddie throws a brick through a store window but no one believes he broke it because he didn’t flee the scene.  Then Freddie tries to shoplift an expensive bracelet from a jewelry store but he becomes the victim of a pickpocket.  The kind-hearted hobo even tries to be a masher in the park to scare a woman into calling for a policeman but it turns out the lonely spinster likes the attention.

A policeman arrives to rescue poor Freddie from the clutches of this desperate, lonely woman.

Contemplating his next attempt to be arrested, Freddie hears a boys choir sing as they emerge from a nearby church.

Standing in front of a church, contemplating his next crime, the desperate hobo is inspired to change his life when he hears a boys choir singing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  One of the boys in the choir talks to Freddie about a job opportunity at his father’s factory and Freddie decides to stop being a freeloader.  It’s just then that a policeman arrives to arrest the hope-filled Freddie for vagrancy, taking him off to prison until Spring.

Freddie finally gets charged with vagrancy--a 90 day sentence that will keep him in jail until Spring.

Much like The Gift of the Magi and many of O.Henry's tales, this story utilizes a twist ending.  It is just as the homeless man is inspired to take a job and be responsible for himself that he is finally arrested and sent to jail--Freddie's goal for the entire day.

Though most of us are familiar with the story The Gift of the Magi, have you ever read or seen an adaptation of The Cop and the Anthem?  Share your comments below.  Check out Part 1:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gift of the Magi (2010)

DVD cover

I continue my discussion of noteworthy adaptations of the short story The Gift of the Magi, a Christmas tale written by the great American author O.Henry.  Out of the dozens of TV and movie versions of O.Henry's account, so far I've shared 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, the 1996 operatic TV version from Finland entitled The Gift of the Magi, the sitcom Alice from a 1979 episode, the 1974 Christmas episode of the family drama Little House on the Prairie, the 1955 Christmas episode of The Honeymooners, and an anti-Gift of the Magi story from the TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.

Debuting in 2010, this TV movie stars Marla Sokoloff as Della Alexander and Mark Webber as Jim Alexander.

Though O.Henry's short story was originally written and published more than one hundred years ago, adaptations continue to be made.  In 2010, a feature length version debuted on the Hallmark Channel directed by Lisa Mulcahy.  The Christmas story continues to remain a popular one as the movie was re-broadcast on the Hallmark Channel during the holiday season in both 2011 and 2012.  Have you seen this one before?

The story begins with the newlyweds moving in together after their wedding.

Newlyweds Jim and Della Alexander are excited to spend their first Christmas together.  Though money is tight, each has plans to buy a special Christmas present for the other.  After their car is stolen and they have to buy a new one, they promise each other no gifts this year for the holiday.

Jim spends all his free time working to restore a 1955 Chevy Bel Air, a car that reminds him of his father.

Della has already made plans to buy Jim a hard-to-find steering wheel for his vintage automobile he's restoring.  She takes a second job doing laundry for a luxury hotel to earn the extra money for his gift.  Meanwhile, Jim decides to break his promise and arranges to buy a special gift for his wife:  a wide angle lens and a zoom lens for the camera that she loves to take pictures with.

Della's passion is photography.

In the days leading up to Christmas, Jim begins to sense that Della is keeping secrets from him.  Jim also discovers that his wife is lying to him about where she's been.  The Alexanders' love and trust for one other begins to break when Jim accidentally sees his wife entering a local hotel with another man.  When Jim confronts her about it, Della feels betrayed by his accusation of cheating and refuses to explain her actions.  Della also feels hurt that Jim has been spending all his time working on his restoration job and ignoring her requests to decorate the Christmas tree and sit for a Christmas photo.

Della's secret job is working in hospitality services for a luxury hotel.  She hopes Jim never misses her as she will be working this 2nd job while Jim works evenings as a bartender.

Apart and miserable for the holiday, Jim is staying with his best friend Ian while Della is staying with her best friend Reneé.  Both Ian and Reneé know the truth of this misunderstanding and they set out to reunite the foolish young lovers.

Jim and Della see how wrong and foolish they are when they recognize the sacrifices they made for each other.

It's not until Reneé tricks her friend into returning to her own home does Della realize the 1955 Chevy is missing.  Ian also persuades Jim to return home where he finds his wife calling the police about the missing vintage auto.  Finally Jim confesses that he sold the car to buy Della the camera lenses--and Della confesses she took a second job to earn more money and pawned her camera to buy him an expensive and rare steering wheel for his car.  There's a happy ending for this Christmas TV movie as the Alexanders realize they still love each other after all.

Will Reneé and Ian ever find romance?  Everyone likes a happy ending in Christmas TV movies.

This movie may not satisfy viewers looking for a faithful adaptation of O.Henry's original short story.  Clearly much has been added--its modern day setting, Della's second job, Jim's accusations of adultery, and there's even a substantial romantic side story involving the best friends Ian and Reneé.  However, these extra threads serve to pad or fill out the story, perhaps improving it for some contemporary audiences already familiar with original short story.  The addition of the will-they-or-won't-they romance between Ian and Reneé is typical of most of the Christmas TV movies airing on the Hallmark Channel.  But the essential elements of O.Henry's tale of love and sacrifice remain in this adaptation too.

Who pays to go to the theater to see a recent TV movie?

Have you ever noticed this before?  In the scene where Jim and Della go to the movie theater to see A Christmas Carol, the movie poster is visible in the background.  If I'm not mistaken--that's 2004's TV movie A Christmas Carol: The Musical starring Kelsey Grammer.  When Jim is seated in the theater, you can hear Grammer's recognizable voice speaking Scrooge's dialogue.  Since both movies Gift of the Magi and A Christmas Carol: The Musical are Hallmark Entertainment movies, I can assume this was a matter of licensing.  But really, who pays to go to the movies to watch a 2004 TV movie?

Is this the same poster design or what?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Everybody Loves Raymond Christmas (2000)

Everybody Loves Raymond originally ran from 1996-2005.  Reruns still air nationally on TVLand and elsewhere.

The family sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond produced eight Christmas episodes during its nine season run, but one stands out to me today.  As you may know, I've been discussing noteworthy adaptations of the short story The Gift of the Magi, a Christmas tale written by the great American author O.Henry.  Out of the dozens of versions of O.Henry's account, I've shared 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, the 1996 operatic TV version from Finland entitled The Gift of the Magi, the sitcom Alice from a 1979 episode, the 1974 Christmas episode of the family drama Little House on the Prairie, and the 1955 Christmas episode of The Honeymooners.  Do you have a favorite so far?  Maybe the 2000 episode "Christmas Present" from Everybody Loves Raymond will change your mind.

Robert says he knows what Debra is planning on giving Ray for Christmas--an ugly neck tie!

In this fifth season episode, Ray and his brother Robert are planning an upcoming weekend golf outing in Myrtle Beach for the guys.  Worried about having his wife's permission to go away for an entire weekend, Ray strategizes to buy Debra an extravagant Christmas gift to bribe her.  When Debra says all she wants for Christmas is a crock pot, Ray decides to buy her something even better, hoping it's even better than what Debra is getting him--so he can better manipulate her.  Robert confesses that he saw Debra wrapping gifts earlier and she said she's giving Ray a striped necktie.  Ray is convinced his scheme will work.

While Debra opens her big gift, Ray makes eye contact with his brother--hoping Debra is impressed enough to let him go golfing.

On Christmas morning, Debra opens a gift of a crock pot as well as an expensive set of cookware.  She's very happy with her extravagant gift.  Next, Robert opens a gift from under the tree--but it's the ugly necktie!

Uh-oh!  the necktie was for Robert--not Raymond.

Debra admits that when Robert saw her wrapping the gift, she lied and said it was for Raymond so that Robert would be surprised when he opened the gift on Christmas morning.  The next gift from under the Christmas tree is for Ray--it's his first DVD player and a set of his favorite movies on DVD!

It turns out Debra has given her husband a very extravagant and expensive gift too.

Debra excuses herself from the room to go into the kitchen to begin cooking Christmas dinner, and Ray and Robert realize their plan failed.  Ray's strategy to manipulate Debra--essentially buying her cooperation with an expensive gift--didn't work since he underestimated her gift to him.

Ray & Robert's father Frank offers his own crazy views on where the brothers went wrong.

Robert & Ray begin to speculate on the misstep of their plan.
Pondering where he went wrong, Ray begins to conclude that his wife Debra must also want something from him--why else would she give such an extravagant gift?  Suspicious, Ray goes into the kitchen to confront his wife about what scheme she may be up to.

Ray confronts Debra about what she wants in exchange for the expensive gift?  "What is the cost---to me?"
Ray asks if he can go with his brother and their friends on a three-day weekend golf outing out of town and she agrees--though it will mean she will be alone with their three young children.  Sensing Raymond's surprise, she asks if Ray bought her the expensive cookware set as a bribe for the golf weekend.  In turn, Ray asks Debra what she wants, refusing to believe that she bought him the expensive DVD player without motive.

Debra claims she bought the big gift because she loves him, acting hurt at the insinuation that she's manipulative.
But the more Debra denies being manipulative, heaping more and more guilt on Ray, the more Ray becomes convinced that Debra loves playing the martyr--a role that allows her to feel superior to him.

Debra sets everything right.

Hilariously, with this emotional revelation, Debra agrees that Ray may have some truth in his accusation.  To make things right, Debra insists that Ray cancel his golf trip--and he should be more responsible around the house and perform even more household chores and childcare duties to keep Debra from ever being able to play the martyr again!

Poor O.Henry!  Maybe someone should have bought Debra and Ray a copy of The Gift of the Magi.

This is a very clever anti-Gift of the Magi episode, as I see it.  This gift-giving scenario is the opposite of one about making a sacrifice for the benefit of another.  Debra and Ray give lavish gifts--not out of love--but to manipulate the other to do what benefits them!  Yet, this funny story isn't so detached from reality that we all can't appreciate how gift-giving can sometimes result in this situation.  Have you ever manipulated someone with a Christmas gift? Or, been manipulated by an expensive gift?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Honeymooners Christmas (1955)

The Honeymooners started off as a sketch on a variety series and eventually the characters grew so popular that it became its own series.  This 1955 Christmas episode is from the Classic 39--or the original 39 episodes that were sold into syndication and seen again and again by fans over the decades. 

I've been sharing some of the more remarkable adaptations of the Christmas short story The Gift of the Magi, originally 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, the 1996 operatic TV version from Finland entitled The Gift of the Magi, the sitcom Alice from a 1979 episode, and the 1974 Christmas episode of the family drama Little House on the Prairie.

Not to be overlooked is another classic Christmas story--one from the beloved sitcom The HoneymoonersThis 1955 episode is not only a quintessential Honeymooners story line but it is one of many TV fans' favorite episodes of the entire series.

Ralph Kramdon accuses his wife Alice of hiding his gift because she doesn't trust him.  This itself is a joke because we all know Ralph's not trustworthy!

Though not the first of the Honeymooners' Christmas sketches, fans of this series will recognize that this episode entitled "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is one of the original Classic 39 and the Christmas episode that is most easily available for viewing. 

Alice is smart enough to put out a rat trap to catch Ralph sneaking around for his hidden Christmas present.

Though there are a few Christmas gags that run throughout the episode--such as Ralph acting hurt when Alice hides his Christmas gift because she doesn't trust him, and Ed Norton decorating the Kramdon Christmas tree by throwing strands of tinsel over his shoulder, under his leg, or like he's pitching a baseball--the heart of this episode is inspired by The Gift of the Magi by O.Henry.  Ralph discovers that what he's bought as a Christmas gift for Alice--2000 matches glued together to make a hairpin box--isn't as special as he was told by the man at the store.  When a neighbor gives Alice the same gift and calls it a trifle bought from a novelty store, Ralph knows he can't give Alice the same gift.  Feeling guilty that he spent all his savings on a gift for himself--a brand new bowling ball--Ralph schemes to get more money.

Ralph shares with his best friend Ed Norton about how bad he feels for spending his money on a gift for himself.  Like so many other Honeymooners episodes, Ralph needs to make some more money.

 Eventually Ralph decides to pawn his new bowling ball in exchange for money to buy Alice another present.  On Christmas morning, Alice hands him her gift first--a bowling bag for his new bowling ball.  When she insists he put his new ball in the bag, Ralph confesses that he's sold his bowling ball.

After receiving a bowling bag as his gift, Ralph is forced to confess that he sold his new bowling ball.

We never actually SEE Alice's gift although it is described in detail.

When Alice opens her gift, we see her surprised but very happy with what she finds:  an orange juice squeezer in the shape of Napoleon!  (Ralph explains you push the oranges on the top of Napoleon's head the juice drips off the sides of his hat).

What makes this story so emotional is that TV viewers saw in the beginning of the episode is that Norton's wife also received one of these squeezers as a Christmas present, and Trixie and Alice were making fun of the ridiculous gift.  Now Alice finds herself with one as the best gift Ralph could come up with.  Fans of the series know that Alice puts up with a lot from Ralph and though he tries his best, he often comes up short.  And in the end, Alice always loves him anyway.  Here, in this Christmas episode we see once again, Alice loves him anyway--and she pretends that this is the best gift she's ever received.  If this heart-warming episode doesn’t get to you, you’re made of stone!

The cast returns to center stage to express their holiday greetings.

After the gift exchange scene, the cast of The Honeymooners comes forward on stage and breaks the fourth wall to address the live audience (and the TV audience) to express their holiday greetings.  I absolutely LOVE IT when TV series' casts address their audience--there's a long tradition in Christmas episodes for TV shows to do this.  Do you have a favorite example?  Share it in the comments below.

Another favorite moment in this episode:  Ralph explains why he loves Christmas time.

My favorite example of a TV cast that breaks character to express their holiday greetings is one I discuss at length in my latest book Merry Musical Christmas: Vol. 1 because it's also a musical moment.  In the 1985 holiday episode "Twas the Episode Before Christmas" of the TV detective series Moonlighting, the cast and crew and their families together sing the popular carol "The First Noel." 

I've always thought someone needs to sell a Napoleon orange juice squeezer for the many fans of this episode.  If I can buy a leg lamp, I don't know why I can't find one of these!? I bet it would be a best seller.  Have you ever seen one?