About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ask Me a Question!

Ever wanted to ask me a question about Christmas entertainment-- or being a Christmas entertainment writer? ever wondered how Christmas on TV has changed over the decades? curious about my research methods? want to know what the hardest part of my job is? how I got started? my future book plans? what's the number one Christmas movie/special I'm asked to comment on? why I create a Christmas in July blogathon each year? how I choose which program to review on my blog? what books I read? or even why Christmas entertainment? Maybe you have a better question than these.  Let me know in the comments below and I'll respond.

I've been meaning to do this for quite a while--now seems like the perfect time.  I realize not everyone has a chance to meet me at a book signing, speaking engagement, or convention.  Often when I am asked these sort of questions by journalists or on the radio, I'm edited down or I don't have the opportunity to go into much detail.  So now is your chance--ask me about my experiences and I'll do my best.

If your question requires a long response, I'll create a blog post for it.  I might even combine several questions and responses into one blog post.  We'll see.  It sort of depends on your questions.  So ask away.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

It's a Wonderful Life Museum

Welcome to Seneca Falls, NY
I made one last stop on my summer vacation this month--to the It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, NY. This was the next logical place to visit after my recent trip to Indiana, PA to experience The Jimmy Stewart Museum. I journeyed to Seneca Falls wondering why the museum was located in upstate New York, of all places. The answer was easy to find once I arrived.

The entrance to the It's a Wonderful Life Museum.  The building was home to the 1st movie theater in Seneca Falls, built in 1913.

I'm standing in front of the museum, just left of the entrance.

The quaint and charming downtown of Seneca Falls seems to have quite a bit of personality.  After the movie It's a Wonderful Life came out in 1946, the local residents remembered a short visit to their city by director Frank Capra the previous year. Residents also noted more than a few similarities between their city and Bedford Falls as portrayed in the movie. Although Capra was quoted as saying Bedford Falls is based on every small town in America, over the years the residents of Seneca Falls think the similarities to their town and Capra's visit are no coincidence.  Check out the website The Real Bedford Falls for yourself.  Whether or not Bedford Falls is based on Seneca Falls, I think it's a fine place for the museum.

This display case is dedicated to Karolyn Grimes and the character of Zuzu.  Know where Zuzu gets her name?

The museum is small but it's packed with displays and items pertaining to the 1946 film.  It's also growing each year as more and more are added to the exhibits.  The museum is celebrating its fifth year--and has many special plans for its future.  Inside the museum, there are many display cases each filled with photos, items, and quotes/commentary from the film's cast and crew. It could take hours and hours to soak up and read each exhibit.  Many of the cast members have a display space dedicated to their career including Jimmy Stewart (who played George Bailey), Donna Reed (as Mary), Karolyn Grimes (as Zuzu), Carol Coombs (as Janie), Jimmy Hawkins (as Tommy), Larry Simms (as Pete), and more.  As you may know, nearly everyone in the enormous cast is a recognizable actor--and this is reflected in the museum.

There's a whole section devoted to author Philip Van Doren Stern who wrote the story upon which the movie is drawn. Remember I wrote a review of The Greatest Gift.

It's all in the details.  They also have an actor- signed copy of the same issue of National Geographic Magazine that the young George Bailey holds in one scene of the movie.  Remember that?

My time spent inside the museum made me feel immersed in the film--and I loved it!  The museum's collection continues to expand because they are working with Karolyn Grimes, Carol Coombs, and Mary Owen (Donna Reed's daughter).  If you have any authentic It's a Wonderful Life movie props and are interested in donating them, they are eager to hear from you.

On the wall, I found a giant-sized print-out of a still from the movie with George in downtown Bedford Falls. #Stewartselfie

Does this bridge look familiar? It's an essential stop on the walking tour.

After I spent my time in the museum, I took advantage of the walking tour that highlights the city's similarities with the movie's setting, Bedford Falls.  I can use all the exercise I can get.  I thought this was a fun and exciting way to interact with the city.  The informative walking tour loop is just one mile long, and I printed out the map before I left home.  It was easy and a very leisurely walk.

Will movie fans be able to find the bridge?  Yup.

Also in downtown Seneca Falls is the Women's Rights National Historic Park--with several notable destination spots.  There's plenty to do in this small city.

If you're considering visiting the museum, you should know that 2016 will be the 70th anniversary of the release of the movie It's a Wonderful Life.  There are many activities planned during 2016, so you may want to follow the museum on Facebook to keep up with all their upcoming events. Did you know admission to the museum is always FREE?

I got my calendar!

Speaking of the 70th anniversary, the museum is now fundraising with a 16-month It's a Wonderful Life calendar.  This special calendar contains production information and more than 50 photographs providing insight into the creation of the film and its enduring appeal.  There is info from the movie's original Call Sheets, personal recollections from the actors who played Zuzu, Janie, and Tommy Bailey, and more in this collectible calendar.  What's the price, you ask?  Well, it's $19.46 of course.  You can get it straight from the It's a Wonderful Life Museum. Click here to see more about the calendar.

back cover of the calendar.

Interested in seeing more of my Christmas entertainment vacation stops?  Click on the following links to return to my visit at The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA,
 A Christmas Story House and Museum in Cleveland, OH,
 Lucyfest and the hometown museums of Lucille Ball in Jamestown, NY
and, The Waltons-Hamner Homestead in Schuyler, VA

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Waltons in Virginia

I'm still on vacation.  Last week I shared about my visit to The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, Pennsylvania.  I've also made trips to A Christmas Story House and Museum in Cleveland, OH and Lucyfest and the hometown museums of Lucille Ball in Jamestown, NY in years past.  Please indulge me while I share a little about my latest stops.

I visited friends in Virginia over the weekend.  I first met JA Morris and RigbyMel back in 2010 when I was on a promotional book tour for the encyclopedia, Tis the Season TV.  They are both writers for the website Holiday Film Reviews.  It was nice to talk about our passion for Christmas entertainment.  After we parted, I made an impulsive decision to find the Waltons-Hamner Homestead--also in Virginia. Anyone else ever been to Schuyler, VA?

Earl Hamner's childhood home in Schuyler, VA

Drive up into the mountains just outside of Charlottesville, VA, and you can visit the restored childhood home of Earl Hamner--the writer whose books inspired the Christmas TV movie The Homecoming and the TV series The Waltons.  Check out the links below to see what I've written about each of these Christmas TV programs.
The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971) 
The Waltons 1976 episode "The Best Christmas" 
The Waltons 1977 episode "The Children's Carol" Parts 1 and 2 
The Waltons 1978 episode "Day of Infamy" 
and, The Waltons 1979 episode "The Spirit"

I was also lucky enough to be included in the 40th anniversary screening of The Homecoming and The Waltons cast reunion program in 2011. Click here to see that recap again. I'm the biggest fan of the The Waltons so you can understand how excited I was to visit the childhood home of Earl Hamner.

I'm seated at the kitchen's dining table.

The stairwell contains a giant framed photo of the TV show's cast.

The original Hamner family home has been remodeled and re-furnished to serve as a museum for visitors and fans of the TV series.  I took a self-guided tour and tried to soak up as much ambience as possible. Next door there is a gift shop for souvenirs and author-signed books. 

Up the hill is the Walton's Mountain Museum however, Hamner has had a falling out with the organizers of the establishment and no longer has any affiliation with it.  Make of that what you will.  I had a good time at the Waltons-Hamner Homestead--and purchased a Hamner-signed copy of the book The Homecoming which I treasure.

Sitting on the front porch, I tried to imagine the people and experiences there during the Depression.

Hamner House selfie

Have you ever made a pop culture vacation stop?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Jimmy Stewart Museum

File this under 'What I Did on My Summer Vacation.'  In these last few weeks before the weather turns chilly, I want to make the most of some down time.  Last week I decided to hit the road and visit The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA.  I love a good road trip--you may remember that I've visited a few interesting places in the past including A Christmas Story House and Museum in Cleveland, OH and Lucyfest and the hometown museums of Lucille Ball in Jamestown, NY.  What have you been up to this summer--make any interesting vacation trips?

This historical marker is in front of the Indiana Free Library in downtown Indiana.

Several friends have asked me why The Jimmy Stewart Museum is located in Indiana, PA and the answer is a simple one--the small town in west central Pennsylvania is his hometown. Why visit The Jimmy Stewart Museum? It seems like a destination of choice for fans of the popular, Oscar-winning actor's career.  You should know that I love watching Stewart's holiday movies such as It's a Wonderful Life, The Shop Around the Corner, and the TV special Mr. Krueger's Christmas. I'm happy to report that I had a good time at the museum.  The space was much larger than I expected from looking at the outside of the building and the exhibits were more numerous than I dreamed.

Downtown Indiana (next to the museum) is the home to a life-sized statue of Jimmy Stewart.

The museum is located on the third floor of the Indiana Free Library building in downtown Indiana.  Once you reach the third floor, the space continues to reveal room after room of exhibition space.  In the center is a good sized auditorium and screening space. I grabbed a seat during my visit and watched the episode of Biography (TV series) about James Stewart and another mini-documentary about Stewart and his female co-stars. It seems there are special events and public screenings of his films in that space as well.  There are original movie posters and framed publicity stills from almost all of Stewart's more than 80 filmed projects on the walls of the museum as well. But the more impressive exhibits in the museum were the more personal items on display.

The museum prohibits photographs and I respected their request.  However this six foot-tall film camera was located in the entrance to the museum and they allow photographs to be taken there!

Inside the museum you can see what was once the front door from Jimmy Stewart's home on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills. There is also the childhood bed and bedroom set of Stewart's from his family's home.  Another room contains a recreation of the Stewart family hardware store that Jimmy's father (and grandfather) owned and operated in downtown Indiana.  There is also a space that contains Jimmy's own office desk and furnishings from his home in Beverly Hills complete with personal items, mementos, honors, and photos on the desk top. And, there is a table and booth seating from the legendary Chasen's restaurant in Hollywood where Jimmy and his wife Gloria were regulars.  Other personal items include military formal wear, flight suits, and many military honors bestowed upon the WWII hero. There are also costumes from several western films he starred in--and even a hat and coat from a Yale alumni reunion he attended.

Of course, the walls of the museum are lined with honors, awards, tributes and commendations recognizing Stewart's prestigious career, generosity and good works. Stewart's family were some of the original settlers and community builders in Indiana, PA so his ancestry is documented there. After Jimmy left Indiana for college and a career in acting, he returned countless times over his long life to visit his parents, family, and friends back home. Many of these visits were documented by the local newspaper and photographs of his trips home are recalled in the museum as well.  I spent a couple hours at the museum and I feel like I could have stayed longer to explore more of the details in the displays.

Also in the museum's entrance--a five foot-tall (at least!) replica of the Jimmy Stewart US postage stamp.
I think my favorite items in the museum were a collection of Christmas cards he had sent to friends in Indiana over several decades which featured family portraits of the Stewart and his wife and children in California.  Those Christmas cards seemed very personal and were an interesting glimpse into his private life.  Other favorite items in the museum included a collection of licensed merchandise that bear Stewart's likeness.  For example, there were a set of cigarette trading cards of Hollywood celebrities (that included Stewart) and a Jimmy Stewart shaving kit. I found those very interesting.

They also have a substantial gift shop where I purchased several souvenirs.  Additionally, I purchased Mr. Krueger's Christmas on DVD--my only copy before was on VHS tape.  Now I'm planning my next road trip: the It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, NY.  What did you do on your summer vacation?