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?


  1. I love the line in "The Bells of St. Mary's" after Father O'Malley has watched the rehearsal of the kindergarteners' play. He says something like "Beautiful, Sister, I wouldn't change a thing," and she says, "Oh, but they will." Both are beautiful movies from a time when religious-themed movies were totally acceptable.

  2. To me, the Bells of St. Mary's must be a Christmas movie because the song appears on the Phil Spector Christmas Album, performed by Bob B. Soxx (one of my favorite tracks on that superlative album).

    The answer to your final question is, I think, 1976. But I'm going to go watch it on YouTube right now.

  3. How is it that I, a Gene Kelly fan, have never heard of this show?! This episode is calling to be part of our household's yearly Xmas marathon. Running over to Amazon and see if I can get my hands on it.