About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Going My Way Christmas (1962)

The short lived TV series ran from 1962-63.
Most of us are familiar with the 1944 movie Going My Way starring Bing Crosby. Did you know there was also a TV series with the same characters? Crosby's character Father Chuck O'Malley on the TV series is played by actor Gene Kelly, and Barry Fitzgerald's character Father Fitzgibbon is played by Leo G. Carroll. There's also a new character, Tom Colwell who helps the priests with St. Dominic's parochial school, played by actor Dick York.

In the TV series, Father O'Malley is played by actor/dancer/director Gene Kelly.

Although not set at Christmas time, the 1944 movie Going My Way has always had close associations with the holiday season. Not only is it a family-friendly movie, but the easy-going Father O'Malley is played by Bing Crosby, the iconic singer/actor most closely associated with the seasonal anthem "White Christmas." Many viewers may also enjoy watching Going My Way at the holidays because Father O'Malley starts a boys choir and has them rehearse the carol "Silent Night."  

Going My Way's 1945 sequel The Bells of St. Mary's also stars Bing Crosby as Father O'Malley, however this time the film's story centers on the priest's work with Sister Mary Benedict, played by Ingrid Bergman, a nun working to keep an aging parochial school open. The Bells of St. Mary's isn't usually considered a Christmas film either, however it does contain a scene with Crosby singing the Latin carol "Adeste Fideles" with a group of children, and a brief scene with youngsters rehearsing a Nativity pageant. Even if neither movie is set at Christmas time, both Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's can be found airing on TV each year in December.

Another reason this pair of movies is so closely associated with Christmas--"The Bells of St. Mary's" appears on the marquee of The Bijou Theater in Bedford Falls when George Bailey runs through town in "It's a Wonderful Life."

If you're a fan of watching Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's at the holidays, you may be interested to know that the TV series Going My Way also created a Christmas episode. Finally, we get to see the character of Father O'Malley in a Christmas story! The 1962 episode is entitled "Keep an Eye on Santa Claus."

(left to right) Depew and Shamroy (played by James Dunn) are ex-cons looking for their next big score.

At the start of the episode, we see the aging priest Father Fitzgibbon offering a personal reference to Thompson Department Store on behalf of Honus Shamroy--a man just released from prison who says he's looking for a new start in life. Father O'Malley worries that Fitzgibbon may be risking his good name by helping the ex-con, but Fitzgibbon insists that it's a priest's primary job to help others. Viewers see that Shamroy is already planning a new scheme with another ex-con to rob the department store.

This little girl asks for a rifle for Christmas--sounds familiar, doesn't it?

With the help of Fitzgibbon's recommendation, Shamroy is offered a job working as the store's Santa Claus. A man on the margins of society working as a department store Santa Claus? We've seen this before--remember the 1960 Christmas episode of The Twilight Zone, and the 1955 Christmas episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents?

Shamroy's loving daughter Karen is played by Cloris Leachman.

One of the reasons Father Fitzgibbon was willing to help Shamroy is because his family has taken him in to live with them. Shamroy's daughter Karen Murdock loves her father and knows he's a good man despite his past mistakes. Karen's young son Mark loves his grandfather too and their relationship is a strong one.

Mark Murdock is played by actor Billy Mumy. I've previously written about Mumy in two other holiday stories including the 1964 Christmas episode of Bewitched and the 1965 Christmas episode of Lost in Space.

Although Shamroy has spent most of Mark's life in jail--telling the young boy that he's in the hospital--the two are good for one another. While Shamroy claims he's working at the department store to earn money for Christmas gifts for Karen and Mark, Mark has decided to join the boys choir at school to make his family happy and proud of him.

Shamroy doesn't want to disappoint his daughter or grandson.

When Shamroy hears his grandson's off-key performance of "Silent Night" in their home, it's the sound of love and joy.

Adorably, Mark has a tin ear and can't sing very well. Karen approaches Father O'Malley to ask him to please include Mark in the boys choir even if he can't hold a tune. This Christmas is very important to her family--for once they are all together. And, soon Mark will be old enough to understand how his much-beloved grandfather is really just a crook. Karen is hoping to enjoy one more holiday with Mark a happy, innocent little boy--before he inevitably becomes betrayed and disappointed by Shamroy. Father O'Malley agrees to make the boy happy and includes him in the boys choir despite his lack of ability.

Father O'Malley is in charge of a boys choir--just as he is in the 1944 movie Going My Way.

Father O'Malley speaks to Shamroy about not disappointing Karen and Mark.

It turns out Honus Shamroy likes his job working as the department store Santa Claus and he's good at it. More importantly, he's come to appreciate how important Karen and Mark's love and respect is to him. He doesn't want to disappoint them any more. At the same time, his buddy Depew has him convinced that their solid plans to rob the store on Christmas Eve are going to make them rich. Shamroy wants to back out of the robbery but he's not sure how.

Can Shamroy stop Depew in time?

As the holiday approaches, Tom Colwell becomes suspicious of Shamroy and Depew. After talking with the police, it becomes clear to everyone that the two lifelong criminals are planning on robbing Thompson Department Store. When the priests confront Shamroy, he wants to back out of the robbery but he feels a duty to his friend Depew to stop him himself--rather than let the police catch him. So O'Mally, Fitzgibbon, and Shamroy head over to the department store hoping to stop Depew before the police arrive.

Even though he has keys to the back door, poor Depew hasn't figured out a way in to the store yet.

Sure enough, they are able to stop Depew before he could break in to the store. (It's explained that his ineptness is precisely why he's spent much of his life behind bars). Although Shamroy can't convince his friend to have a change of heart about the robbery, he does convince him that they police are on their way. The priests are generous with offering their forgiveness to these two souls--neither has technically committed a crime yet. However, the police greet the men in the alley behind the store and are ready to arrest both Shamroy and Depew for conspiracy to commit larceny.

The non-traditional priest inspires the police to offer the ex-cons forgiveness and a second chance at life.

Father O'Malley talks the police officer into letting the men go. He says, "Christmas isn't just for the good and the meek, it's for the saints and it's for the sinners, for great kings and penny ante crooks. It's for all of us, [Officer] Joe, it's for you, and it's for me."

The boys choir once again sings "Silent Night."

The story ends with everyone at the boys choir concert enjoying the holiday music. Shamroy is there listening to his grandson Mark's performance. Depew is seated in the audience too, with the police nearby, keeping a watchful eye on their suspect.

The hour-long episode may move slowly at times--this story was created for television more than 50 years ago, when most TV stories moved at a different pace--but it is as heart-warming as the best of them. I'm also stunned by the episode's outstanding cast.

Leachman and Dunn

If Shamroy looks familiar, that's because actor James Dunn has had a long, successful career. He appeared in several Shirley Temple films in the early 1930s, most notably Bright Eyes--a movie that mostly takes place at Christmas time. Another stunning cast member in this Christmas episode is Cloris Leachman. How long has it been since you've seen the 1976 Christmas episode of her series Phyllis?--the spin-off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Remember this memorable song from the movie Bright Eyes?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Rosemary Clooney House

Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, KY

It's that time of year again. I've been traveling to pop culture destinations on summer vacation. You may remember some of my earlier destinations: The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA; It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, NY; The Waltons-Hamner Homestead in Schuyler, VA; The Lucille Ball museums in Jamestown, NY; and A Christmas Story House Museum in Cleveland, OH. Earlier this year, I even visited NameThatChristmasSpecial.com webmaster and Christmas music collector Jeff Fox in Ottawa. I love traveling and sharing my adventures. What pop culture destinations have you visited?

Augusta is a sleepy little town located on the banks of the scenic Ohio River.

Last week I went Augusta, KY to visit the Rosemary Clooney House. The singer/actor's personal home has been turned into a museum filled with treasures from Clooney's long career. Getting there was half the fun. Rosemary was raised in nearby Maysville--this is also where she currently rests. But she purchased the beautiful home in Augusta to be near her family and as an isolated getaway between New York and Los Angeles. Since I live in Ohio and was traveling from the north, I took a ferry across the Ohio River to reach Augusta. I recommend it--riding the small ferry was an adventure in itself.

Crossing the Ohio River. On the Ohio side, there are many historic sites and museums dedicated the Underground Railroad and nineteenth century paths taken by escaped Southern slaves seeking freedom in the North.

Sheet music and original 7" recording of Clooney's Christmas hit song "Suzy Snowflake."

Inside the museum, you'll find photos, artifacts, memorabilia, and costumes from Rosemary's singing career and appearances in Hollywood films. Bet I know what you're interested in! The stuff from the 1954 movie White Christmas, right? The museum boasts "the largest collection of White Christmas memorabilia anywhere in the world." Make sure you contact them before you visit--during the holidays, pieces from the collection travel to other museums. (I almost visited late last year but waited until now when I knew the collection was all at the Rosemary Clooney House.)

Remember the sparkly gloves she wears during the song "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" in White Christmas?

Pardon the glare from the glass case: here's a blue fan from the performance of "Sisters."

That's Rosemary's brown coat in the back from the scene in which she boards the train. There are lots of Vera-Ellen costumes too.

The "White Christmas" dress in the back is a re-creation, and the "Sisters" dresses have experienced their own long history--ask the museum staff, she'll explain.

Rosemary's bedroom in the house.

The museum also features Rosemary's original bedroom set and her personal items. What a treat it was to see the things she owned and loved. There are more costumes and memorabilia from Clooney's other Hollywood films as well.

The museum also has several Bob Mackie hand-drawn designs of fashions Rosemary Clooney wore.

Geroge Clooney's bib overalls from the Coen Brothers' movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Holy smokes! They also have costumes and personal items from her famous nephew--maybe you've heard of him? GEORGE CLOONEY. He was raised in Augusta and the Clooney family still owns several properties there in town, so he occasionally drops by. I looked for him, but he wasn't around when I was there. Go figure. The museum is now run by Heather French Henry (beauty pageant winner Miss America 2000) and her husband Dr. Steve Henry (former Lt. Governor of Kentucky). The museum also features several of their accomplishments too. There's lots to see and experience at the small museum.

Sorry--pardon the glass case glare. Here's a dress worn by Sondra Locke in the movie Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story from 1982.

Amanda and I pose in front of a larger-than-life-sized OSU football player in Columbus, OH. Neither of us knows anything about football.

While I was traveling, I also got a chance to visit with Amanda By Night from Made for TV Mayhem website and the Made for TV Mayhem podcast. We spent an evening together in Columbus, OH discussing our favorite TV movies. What more could I ever want?

Where did you go on summer vacation?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Perfect Strangers Christmas (1988)

Sometimes our favorite TV shows are just silly, wacky stories that allow us to escape from our daily routines. There's something on TV for everyone--and a Christmas episode to suit every taste. I was recently reminded of the third season holiday episode "The Gift of the Mypiot" from the 80s hit sitcom Perfect Strangers. Do you remember this one?

Balki's co-workers watch him open his Christmas gift from his mother.

It's Christmas Eve and Larry and his cousin Balki are looking forward to their Christmas party later in the evening. At work at the Chicago Chronicle, the cousins talk about their preparations for the party and how their workplace friends are all invited. Balki discovers that Larry didn't invite their boss Mr. Gorpley because...well, no one likes him. Larry is convinced Mr. Gorpley will ruin the party for the other guests but Balki thinks everyone should be invited to the party.

Balki has a very kind heart--even to those with a toxic personality, like Gorpley.

When Balki overhears Mr. Gorpley talking on the phone, he learns that his boss will be alone on Christmas. Although he knows Larry won't like it, Balki invites Gorpley to come to the Christmas party.

Larry isn't happy with Balki's guest list.

Balki hesitates to share with Larry what he's done. When Larry finds out that Mr. Gorpley is invited, his plan is to avoid answering the door to him. Balki explains to Larry that he invited the miserable man because Christmas is a time to help the less fortunate. He believes that if they show Mr. Gorpley a bit of kindness, it will spark the Christmas spirit inside him. Larry isn't convinced.

Larry identifies each guest's voice before opening the door, hoping to screen out Mr. Gorpley.

One by one, the party guests arrive. When Mr. Gorpley finally knocks on the door, Larry panics and the other party guests learn that Mr. Gorpley was invited too.

No one wants Balki to answer the door and let Mr. Gorpley into the party!

Showing just how unpopular Gorpley has made himself, the party guests attempt to keep Balki from opening the door and letting the boss in. Plan B: all the guests decide to leave!

Balki is persuasive!

Of course, Balki convinces everyone that it's the right thing to let Mr. Gorpley attend the party. They open the door, invite him in, wish him a merry Christmas, and Mr. Gorpley begins to make those around him feel miserable. As a distraction, Balki puts on a Santa suit and begins to hand out gifts to the guests. However, Gorpley's comments and attitude is spoiling everyone's fun.

Enough is enough! The guests throw the mean and cruel Gorpley from the party.

Balki Claus defends Gorpley and insists he stay.

The angry mob rises up against Gorpley's bad attitude.

Gorpley confronts the angry party guests and explains to them that they can't hurt him--he's had plenty of miserable Christmases. As he begins to list off the bad Christmases he's experienced throughout his life, the crowd begins to soften, feel sorry for him, and understand the miserable man. Balki calms them all and returns to handing out gifts.

Gorpley thanks Balki for the gift of love.

The last gift is for Gorpley--a surprise to him and the other guests. Gorpley opens it and finds that Balki has given him the precious gift from his mother--a treasured, handmade item sent from his village back home. All the party guests know how much the gift means to Balki and they are touched by his sacrifice in giving it to Gorpley. Even Gorpley recognizes the gift's value. It turns out Balki was right after all. Kindness shown to Gorpley has inspired his Christmas spirit.

Touched by the moment, the party guests begin singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

The episode's title "The Gift of the Mypiot" pays homage to the popular short story "The Gift of the Magi" written by O.Henry. Of course, Mypos is the vaguely European home to Balki before coming to stay with his cousin Larry in America. While this episode isn't much of an adaptation of "The Gift of the Magi," it is a thoughtful tribute to the spirit of making sacrifices and offering gifts to others as an expression of love.

The 1988 Christmas episode is also one that includes the character Harriette Winslow, the elevator operator at the Chicago Chronicle. TV fans may remember that Harriette eventually got her own spin-off TV series called Family Matters--and the rest is Urkel history!

Actor Jo Marie Payton as Harriette Winslow.

Interested in reading about a few other Christmas movies, specials and episodes adapted from short stories by O.Henry? Here's a list of links from other reviews I've written. Have a favorite?

Remember the 1955 Christmas episode of The Honeymooners? It's an adaptation of O.Henry's "Gift of the Magi."

Monday, August 1, 2016

Christmas in July 2016: Jim Fanning

Christmas in July 2016: Jim Fanning at Tulgey Wood

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

When the Whos start singing at the beginning of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (the original animated TV special from 1966). Their rendition of “Welcome, Christmas” followed immediately by “Trim Up the Tree” just make me instantly feel like it’s Christmastime.

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

There are so many but I never fail to be moved by the entire not-quite-Christmas-but-we’ll-make-it-Christmas scene in Auntie Mame (not strictly speaking a Christmas movie but as so many of us feel, if it has a Christmas scene, it’s a Christmas movie!)…especially when Beau invites Mame out and she declines, saying she is going to have a celebration with "my little family.” Christmas is about the family, whatever form it may take--and unconventional Mame of course has formed a unique family around her, even though it was unplanned.

The Cratchit family in Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

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

Here I have to choose the song “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. No, not the part about razzeleberry dressing (although that’s fun and quanit), but the line “we’ll have a Christmas far more glorious than grand."  The entire song captures the essence of A Christmas Carol, about having a merry Christmas even if you have very little…or nothing… "as long as we're together, heart to hand."

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

This one's easy. I know a lot of people have an affection for it, but I find The Polar Express so creepy. I’m not sure why a good director like Robert Zemeckis is so attracted to that motion capture process. And in case you're wondering if I saw his version of A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey, the answer is no.

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

I am tempted to say, like David Hofstede, John-Boy Walton, for the same reason as David's: John-Boy is the embodiment of the writer, or at least the in progress writer. (Plus I bear a certain resemblance to John-Boy.) But instead I'll cheat and choose two characters:  Lucy Carmichael and Vivian Bagley from The Lucy Show episode, "A Christmas Together.”  I can truly relate to how both Lucy and Viv are so dedicated to their holiday traditions because I too have strong opinions on the “best” way to celebrate Christmas—although I also am fascinated by and interested in how others celebrate too, and Mrs. Carmichael and Mrs. Bagley are not. But at the end of the episode Lucy and Viv are inspired by their own children to put their differences aside and combine their efforts, as symbolized by the two Christmas trees they join together to form one.