About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sanford & Son Christmas (1975)

It's Black History Month again.  I enjoy celebrating BHM on my blog because there are so many excellent Christmas episodes, specials, and TV movies with exceptional African-American cast members.  There are also many outstanding or touching Christmas TV story lines aimed at black audiences.  In the upcoming month, I'll highlight a few of my favorites.  If you follow my blog on Facebook (here's the link if you're looking for it), you'll also see me posting a few BHM favorites from the archives.  You can always go into the archives here as well--click on the month of February during any of the past years I've been keeping this blog.

Sanford and Son ran from 1972-77.

Who doesn't love the fifth season Christmas episode of Sanford and Son?  This exceptional episode of the series packs a lot of wallop.  Not only is it an adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic literary tale A Christmas Carol--but it also features Redd Foxx singing a holiday tune.  Who better to transform his bad attitude at Christmas than Fred Sanford?  How much of this classic Christmas episode do you remember?

Aunt Esther comes to the house bearing gifts but Fred's lack of Christmas spirit proves he better...watch it sucker!

In 1975's "Ebenezer Sanford," Fred is in his typical bad mood.  Fred is short-tempered with his son Lamont and says that he doesn’t have enough time or money for Christmas this year.  Fred is also critical of gifts given to him by Aunt Esther and Rolo--before he even opens them!  It's not a far stretch when Lamont accuses Fred of being like Scrooge.

Ronnie Small is played by actor Eric Laneuville.

But Fred's worst transgression this Christmas is taking advantage of a teenager that comes to the door asking for work.  Ronny asks Fred for an opportunity to earn $10 to buy gifts for his parents.  Fred puts the boy to work for two days helping him complete the inventory, cleaning up the yard, painting the house and fixing the fence--all for only $10.  Lamont is disgusted with his father but Fred insists on taking a nap in his armchair.

My favorite punchline of this episode:  After Lamont accuses his father of being very much like Scrooge, Fred replies, "What the dickens you talkin' about?"  It's funny every time.

Draped in chains, Fred receives a ghostly visitor.  Although it's traditional for the ghost of Jacob Marley to appear to be carrying chains about his person, this Spirit of Christmas Past carries the burden.  I suppose this is an attempt at efficient storytelling for a half-hour sitcom adaptation.

Sure enough, Fred awakens from his nap with a visit from The Spirit of Christmas Past.  The ghost takes Fred back to his childhood in St. Louis where we see a scene of young Fredsy lying to his mother about money she gave him.  He expresses regrets about lying to her and not using the money he stole to buy her a Christmas present.

Young Fredsy, as his mother called him, took money from his mother and spent it on himself rather than buying her a gift.

The Spirit of Christmas Present

Next, Fred is visited by the Spirit of Christmas Present who escorts him to Aunt Esther's home.  There Fred sees his friends celebrating Christmas without him.  They didn't want to invite him to the party because he doesn't have any yuletide spirit, yet his friends wish the best for him.

Why not?  The Spirit of Christmas Future wears a spacesuit.

Fred's last visitor is the Spirit of Christmas Future who shows him a future that is filled with isolation and loneliness.  Fred awakens from his Christmas nightmare a changed man.  We see that the junkman is not only generous with the teenager Ronny, giving him $20 and telling him not to return for a second day of work-- but Fred is generous with Lamont on Christmas morning as well.  Later, we also see Ronny with his parents drop by to visit Fred on Christmas day.  The Small family have received generous gifts from Fred--each containing the monogram 'LS'.  Fred explains the monogram refers to his life philosophy: 'love somebody.'  However, Lamont recognizes his own initials and is touched by his father's generous spirit.

Lamont is pleased that his father did right by Ronny--even if it meant giving away his gifts.

Will Fred be forever transformed into a good guy?  TV viewers really don't want that--but it is satisfying to see Fred receive his Christmas come-uppance.  Just when you think this episode is over, the last scene sees Fred and Lamont dropping in on Aunt Esther's Christmas party.  Not only is Fred on his best behavior but he offers to join them in singing Christmas carols.  What follows next is a holiday treat for TV viewers.

Fred sings "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" for his friends.

Fred Sanford sings the feel-good holiday classic "The Christmas Song" in its entirety.  Actor Redd Foxx has a way of focusing attention on himself, and it is true of this scene as well. Fred performs the song with the utmost sincerity and it exudes a tender spirit of Christmas for all who hear it.  Despite his scratchy, thin voice, Foxx’s performance is filled with confidence--he clearly knows how to sing--as well as a bit of a swingin’ jazz style.  Curious to know who is Fred’s accompaniment on the guitar?  Though he’s credited as the landlord in the episode’s credits, that’s Herb Ellis, the renowned jazz guitarist and studio musician.

This is such a wonderful musical moment that I included it in my latest book Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1: The Best Christmas Music in TV Sitcoms and Dramas which came out last year.  Click on the book's title to read more about the book. 

Recognize the actor who plays Ron Small in this episode?  That's Eric Laneuville.  I remember him for his role as the ambitious orderly Luther, on the 1980s medical drama St. Elsewhere.  However, you may recognize his name from his more contemporary work--Laneuville is very successful TV director these days.  Isn't that awesome?


  1. Haven't seen this since way back when, so I think I need to get a rewatch in. I wish one of the retro channels would pick up this sitcom. Would be like it was new again to so many!

  2. Dont forget the use of "total bells and Tony" by Dick Hyman being used for the dream sequence

  3. its on every day on the network called one and retro tv after a very bad day theres nothing better than red foxx to get you in to a better mood bob cord conn....

  4. TVONE has Sanford and Son one for about 9hrs every Saturday!! The Christmas Episode was just on!! GREAT AS ALAWAYS!!!