About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rawhide Christmas (1961)

"...keep those doggies movin'...Rawhide!"  Thanks for the earworm, Frankie Laine.

I certainly can't go very far re-visiting classic Christmas TV episodes before I bump into a few westerns.  What are your favorite TV westerns?  The light-hearted fourth season episode, "Twenty-Five Santa Clauses,"  is a typical episode of Rawhide--one that includes the drovers stumbling across another individual who needs their help.   This time, Wishbone and Mushy meet up with a stranger in a Santa Claus suit, walking across the Texas prairie during the month of August.

Bateman is played by actor Ed Wynn.

After collapsing from heat exhaustion, Santa introduces himself as Bateman.  He was putting on the costume and wrapping gifts away from his family, when he got too far from the wagon and became lost.  He continues to explain that his adopted son Danny has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Bateman and his wife Mag have been traveling across the country to New York, hoping to get Danny medical treatments that may save his life.  Bateman and Mag have decided to celebrate Christmas early with Danny, knowing that they won't be able to afford medical treatments even if they do arrive in New York in time.

Bateman, Danny, and Mag (Anne Seymour) accept Wishbone's invitation to the cattlemen's camp.

Of course this sad story touches Wishbone and Mushy and they insist on helping Bateman and his wife.  The cattle men escort Bateman back to his wagon and look in on poor Danny.  Then Wishbone invites Bateman and his family to join him back at the camp where he and the other twenty five drivers would like to help by throwing Danny a Christmas party and giving him gifts.  Bateman, Mag, and Danny accept the generous invitation.

Though they've used Christmas to rip people off before, Mag begins to wonder if they should expose Danny to a happier, more inspiring holiday celebration.

Soon we learn this is all a ruse by Bateman, Mag--and even Danny.  This is a family that cons everyone they meet.  Although it is true that Bateman and Mag recently adopted Danny, the three of them survive by scheming and conning people to give them valuables.  In this con, Bateman is not only hoping for a few Christmas gifts from the twenty five cowboys--but he's also hoping to convince them to each donate at least one head of cattle to pay for the journey back to New York and for Danny's medical treatments.  However, Bateman plans to use the money from twenty five head of cattle to make the family flush for awhile.

Even Rowdy Yates (yes, that's Clint Eastwood!) is eager to help the dying boy celebrate one last Christmas.

Bateman's plan works.  When the cowboys meet Danny and his parents, they are filled with emotion and begin planning an elaborate Christmas party in August for the boy they believe is dying.  Although trail boss Gil Favor told the cowboys to move the herd across the river, those instructions are ignored so the men can prepare for Danny's Christmas.  Sure enough, a sudden rain storm swells the river and the cowboys are now stranded in the camp, unable to move the herd across the deep waters for several more days.  Though Favor is angry, the party plans move forward.

The cowboys enjoy Danny's company and his spirit--but Mag privately worries that if Danny pretends he's sick for too long that he may end up actually becoming sick.

Bateman is so pleased with himself that he gets a little greedy.  He mentions to Rowdy how beneficial it would be if someone was able to catch the wild stallion the cowboys can see off in the distance.  A wild stallion like that could be sold for a great deal of money--ensuring Danny would be able to afford the best medical treatments, guaranteeing his future health. 

In the foreground, Rowdy has fallen from the horse and is unable to move.

The doctor gives his unexpected diagnosis.

Rowdy really wants to help the young sick boy so he heads off alone with the dangerous task to catch the wild horse.  The next morning when Yates is still missing, the cowboys go looking for him--and he's injured!  He's fallen from the mustang and he needs the care of a doctor.  While the doctor is in the camp, he generously decides to look at poor, sick Danny--and Mag as well.  Now the cowboys learn the truth.  Rowdy will be fine if he takes it easy for awhile (phew!), Danny is as healthy as any other nine year-old boy, however Mag has a weak heart and isn't expected to live much longer.

The cowboys sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night" around the decorated Christmas tree.

It's not Christmas unless Santa makes a visit, arriving on a wooden "sleigh" pulled by two "reindeer."

Bateman and the twenty five cowboys continue with the Christmas party in August as planned--this time, they are giving Mag one last celebration to make her happy.  This light-hearted story doesn't offer any punishment for Bateman and his con game--certainly losing his wife is painful enough.  The cattle drivers show their goodwill by offering Danny his first Christmas celebration, one with a family, and a glimpse of happiness he's never experienced before. 

Though the episode's story takes place in August, I've seen it broadcast on TV at Christmas time along with other yuletide episodes.  It certainly captures the holiday spirit.

Bateman and Mag decide to make the most of their remaining time together--and go straight with their young son Danny.

I'll be rolling out a few more blog posts on favorite Christmas episodes from TV westerns in the next couple of weeks.  Got a favorite of your own?

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