About Christmas TV History

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ron Moody, Bing Crosby, and Benji

If you've been following along lately, you already know that I'm looking forward to being at the Hollywood Show in Chicago, Friday Sept. 6th-Sunday, Sept. 8th, 2013.  There are many amazing celebrities in attendance at this show--several of whom have significantly contributed to Christmas entertainment.  One such special guest at the show will be British actor Ron Moody.  Moody will be joined in Chicago by Mark Lester, his co-star in the musical film Oliver!  In addition to this, I recognize Moody for his contributions to Christmas culture on TV.  Did you know that Ron Moody has the rare distinction of being a part of the very first as well as the last of the Bing Crosby Christmas TV specials?

Crosby sings "The Sheik of Araby" along with other buskers when a constable (Moody) approaches.

Bing Crosby's very first Christmas TV special, entitled The Bing Crosby Show, aired in 1961.  The premise of this variety special is that Bing Crosby is spending time in London at Christmas time researching his British ancestry.  Ron Moody plays a policeman who arrests Bing for performing in the street without a license.  The scene continues in court where Crosby must appear before a local judge.  Crosby appeals to the mercy of the court singing Fats Waller's "My Fate is in Your Hands."  Moody is just one of several entertainers that appear in this TV special which also includes English actors/singers Dave King, Marion Ryan, and Miriam Karlin, English comedian Terry-Thomas, and the Welsh-born Shirley Bassey. 

The policeman (Moody) easily identifies the guilty party in court!  Is Bing going to the Big House?

Ron Moody also appears in Bing Crosby's final Christmas TV special, 1977's Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas.  Though Crosby had taped the show in September, he would die before the show was broadcast in late November of 1977.  However most people remember this final Christmas TV special because of Bing's special guest, rocker David Bowie.

Naturally, Sir Percival's neighbor David Bowie drops by the home and the two guests find themselves singing "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" together. 

Just like the 1961 Christmas TV special, Bing Crosby once again finds himself in England at Christmas time researching his ancestry.  This time Bing has brought along his wife Kathryn and his three children Harry, Mary Frances, and Nathaniel and the family is staying with a distant relative, Sir Percival at his country estate.  In addition to David Bowie, this TV special also features English model-turned-actress/singer Twiggy, Scottish comedian Stanley Baxter, and British actor Ron Moody.  Moody plays several roles in this TV special--including the ghost of Charles Dickens.

Twiggy, Charles Dickens (Moody) and Bing Crosby.

Near the middle of the TV variety special, Bing Crosby enters the library of the country estate to discover a "spirited friend" Charles Dickens sitting at the desk.  When Twiggy enters the room, the three of them are drawn into a musical montage that includes several of Dickens' most popular literary characters.

Twiggy and Ron Moody sing "Where Would You Be Without Me?" in three distinct sequences as Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, as the Artful Dodger and Fagin from Dickens' Oliver Twist, and as Little Nell and Quilp from Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop.  Don't you just love the elaborate production numbers in Christmas TV specials?  You might recognize the song "Where Would You Be Without Me?" from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint-The Smell of the Crowd.

Ron Moody as Sir Percival.

Ron Moody also plays the role of Crosby's distant relative Sir Percival who only arrives at his country estate after the Crosby family and nearly two thirds of the way into the TV special.  Percival sings the song "Side By Side By Side" with Crosby and his wife Kathryn.

"Side By Side By Side" was originally written for a musical by Stephen Sondheim.

How many people remember that the song "Silver Bells" was originally introduced in the 1951 movie "The Lemon Drop Kid" starring....BOB HOPE!

Later in the TV special, Percival joins the estate's butler Mr. Hudson (Stanley Baxter) and Bing in singing the Christmas classic "Silver Bells."  Lucky for us, both the 1961 and the 1977 Bing Crosby Christmas specials were released on DVD in 2010, under the title Bing Crosby: The Television Specials: Volume 2--The Christmas Specials.

Kris Kringle (Moody) with Benji.

Dog lovers may also remember Ron Moody from another Christmas TV special, 1978's Benji's Very Own Christmas Story.  You may recall that Benji is asked to be Grand marshal in a Christmas parade in a small mountain village in Germany.  Benji's friends Cindy and Pat, who appeared in the 1974 movie Benji and the 1977 sequel For the Love of Benji with the clever canine, spend their time before the parade with a new friend, a man dressed like Kris Kringle.  You'll have to watch the charming TV special to find out of he's the real Kris Kringle or not!  This 1978 TV special is also available for viewing on DVD.

Moody's roles in Christmas entertainment may not be the award-winning roles that he achieved in his long and successful career.  But to many viewers, like myself, these Christmas TV specials continue to hold a special place in our lives.  And, I look forward to his appearance in Chicago at the Hollywood Show this weekend.

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