About Christmas TV History

Friday, June 10, 2016

Dean Martin Show Christmas (1968)

It's hard to think about Christmas without including holiday music. Recently, I wrote a review of the 1969 Christmas episode of the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and it was well received so I thought I'd write another. Anyone else a Dean Martin Show fan? Let's take a look at the 4th season Christmas installment of The Dean Martin Show from 1968.

The Dean Martin Show ran on NBC from 1965-74.
There seems to have been a resurgence of TV variety shows in the past couple of years. Not only have numerous retro Christmas TV variety show episodes and specials been newly released on DVD, including this 1968 Christmas episode of The Dean Martin Show, but the TV network GetTV aired quite a few holiday variety specials during December last year. I sure hope they repeat that trend in programming this year. There's still a wealth of Christmas variety entertainment from the past that hasn't aired on television in decades! Let me remind you about the 1968 Christmas episode of The Dean Martin Show.

Dino transforms into Kris Kringle.

The show opens with the show’s background singers dressing Dean Martin in a Santa Claus costume while they sing “Look At That Face" followed by “Be A Santa.” As the song continues, the number turns into a dance production of happy Santas.

Fear not--you're seeing that correctly. These dancing St. Nicks are each wearing a face mask.
I'm guessing that the creative decision to wear masks was made in order to attempt to give each Santa an identical appearance--without intending to scare viewers.

The dancing masked Santas are interrupted by short comedy sketches with this episode's guests: Dom DeLuise, Bob Newhart, and Dennis Weaver. The opening sequence comes to a close when Martin arrives center stage riding Santa's sleigh pulled by a gorgeous team of reindeer.

Dean's not afraid of a stage full of scary masked Santas.

Dean is filled with the holiday spirit.

Next, Dean Martin sings his signature holiday song "It's a Marshmallow World." He's relaxed and freely joking around during the song's performance. His female co-stars in this scene are dancing along side him--even pinching and tickling him--as he mugs into the camera and acts silly. The in-the-moment behavior creates a fun, easy-going, and fresh performance. Viewers can easily tell that the performance and song is taped live and not synced to a recording. An entertainer has to be a strong, confident performer to pull that off. And, Dean is smoking a cigarette while singing and clowning around. They don't make TV like this anymore!

Comedian Bob Newhart doing what he does best--creating an awkward conversation.

This is followed by Dean joining Bob Newhart in a comedy sketch about an embarrassed man awkwardly asking to return a gift toupee at the department store during Christmas time. Dean repeatedly breaks character laughing during the sketch. It's comedy gold.

The wardrobe budget for this episode must have fallen short--The Golddiggers perform without pants.

Next, the lovely Golddiggers take center stage and sing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Then Martin joins them and together they perform a medley of the standards "Daddy," "True Love," and "We Wish You the Merriest." 

Dino surrounded by The Golddiggers.

In another comedy sketch, Dom DeLuise plays a policeman giving Santa Claus a parking ticket.  This is immediately followed by another sketch with Dean and Dom playing two hobos on a park bench at Christmas.

This episode was filmed thirteen years before DeLuise and Martin would share the screen again in the movie Cannonball Run.
Martin and Lane frequently perform a song together on The Dean Martin Show.

Dean returns to the set to join pianist Ken Lane to sing "Jingle Bells." This is followed by surprise guest Bob Hope who emerges from the closet to exchange comedic barbs with Dean. The closet gag with a surprise guest is another recurring element on The Dean Martin Show. DeLuise returns once more for another sketch--a pantomime bit about an unruly office holiday party.

Bob Hope is well-known for his own NBC Christmas TV variety specials.
DeLuise plays an office worker whose coffee is spiked with alcohol during the office Christmas party.
Dino shares a few on-screen moments with the cast & crew's children. The kids are hilariously unpredictable!

The musical finalé brings Martin, the guest stars, The Golddiggers, the background singers and dancers, and the children of the cast and crew together. Dennis Weaver sings “The Marvelous Toy” accompanied by the children who play along with simple instruments such as whistles and tambourines.

Tom Paxton wrote "The Marvelous Toy" song, however Peter, Paul, and Mary's version may be the most familiar.
The Golddiggers are dressed in orange. DeLuise, Weaver, Martin, Newhart, and pianist Lane are in the center.
Together the cast sings a medley of “Deck the Halls,” “Joy to the World,” and “Silent Night.” On a children's playroom set filled with toys, we hear Martin sing the heartwarming song “Christmas Is for Kids.”

Martin solos on the beginning of "Silent Night."
During the song "Christmas is for Kids," the camera pans across a roomful of toys on display. This segment is an eyeful for viewers like myself who crave to remember the hot toy trends of 1968.

"Christmas is for Kids" serves as a segue for Dean Martin to introduce a charity toy drive he's involved with. After he announces that more than $100,000 worth of toys have been donated to hospitals and orphanages across the country, Dean identifies a hospital in his hometown of Steubenville, OH as one of the locations. This is followed by more video clips of his celebrity friends announcing 39 more locations across the country where the toys will be donated.

Celebrities including George Burns name hospitals and orphanages in cities from coast to coast to receive toy donations.

The long segment of celebrity video clips is impressive. In addition to Martin, hospital and orphanage recipient announcements are made by George Burns, William Holden, Tony Bennet, Vince Edwards, Gale Gordon, Phil Harris, Dom DeLuise, Charles Nelson Reilly, Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Bob Newhart, Glenn Ford, Glen Campbell, Greg Morris, Raymond Burr, Kay Medford, Peter Graves, Don Rickles, Lorne Greene, Petula Clark, Barbara Feldon, Dennis Weaver, Rowan & Martin, Dan Blocker, Roy Rogers, Joey Bishop, Michael Landon, Jim Nabors, Diahann Carroll, Andy Griffith, Frank Sinatra Jr., Red Skelton, Paul Lynde, Kate Smith, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball. One can only hope the overwhelming endorsement of the toy donations inspired viewers at home to give generously at holiday time that year as well.

Jimmy Stewart is one of the celebrity announcers as well. I think a great many needy children were made merry at Christmas in 1968.

It's chaos under the closing credits as gifts are handed out to everyone on stage!

The show closes with the group singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Toys from under the Christmas tree on set are handed out to the cast and children while the closing credits roll on-screen.

Recognize the little girl sitting on Santa/Bob Newhart's lap?

Sharp-eyed viewers may recognize a few familiar faces in the crowd of children in this episode. A beautiful and confident little girl in a blue dress captures the camera's attention several times. She's sitting on Bob Newhart's lap in a comedy sketch at the beginning of the episode. She's also quite visible during the finalé as she hugs Dean Martin, and corrects Dennis Weaver about the order of the instruments within his song.

She tells Dennis Weaver that the whistles in his song come before the tambourines!

Hold on to your hats--that's a four year old Melissa Gilbert (from Little House on the Prairie and many TV movies). What is she doing on Dean Martin's Christmas episode? Her grandfather is Harry Crane--a head writer on The Dean Martin Show.

Recognize him?

Another adorable child in the crowd draws attention to himself when he won't stop laughing! Dean Martin asks him "Have you got a favorite singer?" The little boy replies in the negative--and just keeps laughing!  I think that cute blonde boy is two year-old Peter DeLuise, the son of comedian Dom DeLuise. (Peter eventually starred on 21 Jump Street and now directs TV).

Weaver sings to the young DeLuise too.

Many TV variety shows have incorporated the cast and crew's family and children into the Christmas episodes. I've seen it on done by Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Andy Williams, Sonny & Cher, the King Family, and others. Isn't it revealing and personal for entertainers to share their loved ones with TV viewers at Christmas time?

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. She is currently updating and expanding the encyclopedia for a 2021 release. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Christmas in July 2016

The annual Christmas in July party I host each year on this blog is happening soon.  If you've been around awhile, you may remember that each year the summer party is a little different.  I try to do something special in July each year because each of us gets very busy in December and it's a fun to have a get-together when we aren't in the midst of the holiday season.

This year I'd like to repeat the mini-questionnaire as a way to spark a dialogue and to have everyone get to know each other  better.  I was inspired to try this approach from what I saw (and participated in) three years ago on the website Kindertrauma.  With their blessing, I've adapted the questionnaire to fit our needs.  We did this last year too--remember all the fun answers?  Click on these links to see the 2014 introduction and the 2015 intro again.

Answer the following five questions as completely or as briefly as you like.  Everyone is invited to take part--long-time readers, other bloggers, casual TV fans, or just the curious passer-by.  Everyone should feel free to join the Christmas in July party. 

Copy + Paste the questions below in an email, answer them, and email it back to me.  Send your responses in immediately and I'll email you back with a number.  That number is your confirmation that I received your answers and it is your place in the queue.  I will begin posting the responses starting on July 1st--and roll them out in the order received.  (DON'T put your responses to the questions in the comments below--email them in).  Don't worry about photos either--I'll take care of that.  And duplicate answers are part of the party experience--don't exert too much effort trying to find rare examples for your answers.  If you want to change your answers after you email them to me--please resist the urge.  Instead, add comments to your own post when it goes up in July.  Email your responses to: [sorry, Christmas in July is now over.]

This Christmas in July party is supposed to be fun and entertaining so don't sweat your responses.  Don't spend four hours on it--just go with what comes easy.  If you feel you need a little help, feel free to flip through your dog-eared copy of the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV--or put a copy on hold at your local library.  Or, use the search box or click through the archives on this website.  Christmas TV memories will come flooding back, I'm sure.

Whether you send in a response or not, please feel free to follow along throughout the month of July.  Reading other people's responses is half the fun.  I want to encourage everyone to leave comments too--it makes people feel good to know their entry is being read by others.  If you like, please feel free to use the popsicle Christmas in July 2016 badge on your website or social media posts to let others know what you are up to!

Let's get this party started:

Christmas TV Party 2016: (insert your name--your website/optional)

1) What Christmas episode/special/or movie always puts you in the holiday spirit?

2) What Christmas program or scene brings you to tears?

3) What's your favorite quote of dialogue, song lyric, or sentiment from a Christmas program?

4) Is there a Christmas program that unintentionally frightens you--or turns you off?

5) Name one character from Christmas entertainment with whom you closely identify? and explain why.

Since I'm hosting this party, I'll be glad to be the first one to join the party and lead by example.  Isn't this fun already?

Christmas in July 2016:  Joanna Wilson from ChristmasTVHistory.com

1) What Christmas episode/special/or movie always puts you in the holiday spirit?

Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas always puts me in the holiday spirit.  As soon as I see the opening scenes of the animated Peanuts ice skating and I hear the familiar piano chords and the vocals "Christmas Time is Here," it feels like Christmas--even if I'm watching in April or August!

2) What Christmas program or scene brings you to tears?

It is hard for me to pin down just one title or scene because it seems like I'm always crying while watching Christmas entertainment! But the first scene that came to mind is the one in which John Boy opens his Christmas gift in the 1971 TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. The moment in the film is already an emotional one--the father of the Walton family has finally arrived home, his absence worried the family through most of the movie. The relief of John Walton coming home safely and sharing the story of confronting a stranger (Santa Claus?) on the roof--who dropped the sack of gifts for the whole family is a climax to the drama. But when the sensitive teenage John Boy finds that his gift is several blank writing tablets, he knows that his parents support his desire to write--a yearning he's struggled to share with them because he fears they won't understand. While his younger siblings open their gifts of toys and treats, John Boy has received acceptance and encouragement for Christmas. It makes me cry every time!

3) What's your favorite quote of dialogue, song lyric, or sentiment from a Christmas program?

"Remember no man is a failure who has friends." I love the quote that the angel Clarence writes in George Bailey's book in the movie It's a Wonderful Life.

4) Is there a Christmas program that unintentionally frightens you--or turns you off?

I don't want to be a killjoy but the Christmas TV specials in which toys come to life often make me squirm. The worst one for me is The Christmas Toy. The toys come to life and roam about the house while the humans are sleeping. If they bump into a human in the middle of the night, the toys stop moving in order to hide their true nature. For some reason, Toy Story doesn't bother me--it's fun and delightful--but Jim Henson's A Christmas Toy somehow turns creepy for me.

5) Name one character from Christmas entertainment with whom you closely identify? and explain why.

Sometimes I feel like Buddy the elf from the movie Elf.  With my line of work, it's Christmas 24/7 for me. I'm frequently humming "Jingle Bells," checking Christmas movies out of the library, and wearing a Christmas pop culture t-shirt--all year long. When Buddy left the North Pole and went to New York City, he felt out of place and sometimes I feel out of place too. But, like Buddy, I too like my life and lifestyle so I just keep doing what makes me happy!

If you have any questions, ask below in the comments.

Send in your responses today!  Thanks for playing along and Merry Christmas in July.