About Christmas TV History

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Christmas in July 2017: Tom Howley

Christmas in July 2017: Tom Howley (aka Humanbelly in other parts o' the Blogosphere--)

1) Who's your favorite Santa Claus?

Y'know, I'm sure it's going to be an eye-roller, but I still find Edmund Gwenn's Kris Kringle in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET as charming now as I did several decades ago. I'm gonna stick with him for this year. Mickey Rooney as the voice of Kris in the Rankin/Bass SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN does get a special shout-out, though. He has a wonderfully strong, dynamic, expressive voice that you tend to miss when watching him in a film (probably because his size and pugnaciousness and energy tend to seize one's attention). I wonder if he ever realized how good he was in that special? And--one other nod to Alec Baldwin's voicing of the more eastern-European, burly wizard take on Santa in Rise of the Guardians (not a television release, I know) a few years ago. His speech about the nesting-doll aspect of his nature was simply lovely.

2) What's your favorite Christmas episode from a TV series?

Possibly the PINKY & THE BRAIN CHRISTMAS EPISODE---?  I mean, I like so many of them, but that one totally blindsides you with an inescapable pull at the heartstrings. . . and in a way that completely works within the framework of both the story and the characters. I do also like the Twilight Zone Christmas episode with Art Carney, although it comes off as rather clunky since it's shot on videotape, giving it a "stagey" feel.

3) Do you enjoy watching Christmas entertainment year round or do you only like watching it during the holidays? And, why?

Not year-round, no-- but I do like accidentally coming across one every once in awhile over the course of the year-- sort of checking to make sure the pilot light is still lit.  Now, I'm certainly capable of starting to watch them before Halloween sometimes (and my daughter's even worse than me on this score), but at that point I'm sort of in the early stages of season anyhoo.

4) This is the 21st century--how do you watch TV and/or Christmas entertainment?

We've yet to subscribe to cable or any streaming service-- don't watch enough current television to quite justify the monthly cost. Nope, we have many DVD's and VHS tapes; I'll sometimes watch something obscure on Youtube; the kitchen television gets a LOT of holiday-centric use as the season provides programming; and our local library is also a source of many, many old series on DVD-- just there for the borrowing. Man, do I love that amenity in our society!

5) If you were to be stranded on an island (maybe Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean!), what three Christmas movies, specials, or episodes would you like to have with you? 

A) IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  One of my favorite movies of all time across the board.  Easy answer on that one.
B) 1950 version of SCROOGE/CHRISTMAS CAROL with Allistar Simm.  It's my favorite version out of the many.
C)  Ohhhh, probably MIRACLE ON 34TH ST again, just 'cause it's so chock-full of notable character actors jumping in for brief moments throughout. It's kind of disastrously edited (some really sloppy jumps), but the director does such a great job of trusting his cast as they pop in and out of the film that you happily let the blemishes go right by. We have a colorized version, and it's one of the few classic B&W films that I think is improved with the addition of a bit of color-- especially that sort of water-color filter look that early colorization seemed to yield.

There ya go, folks.  And who knows-- maybe next year the answers'll be entirely different!


  1. Ooh I really love the Pinky & The Brain Christmas special as well. NARF!

  2. Can anybody play here?

    Mitchell Hadley sent me (whether he realizes it or not); I comment at his site quite a bit.

    My "contribution" is a combined answer to your first two questions:
    (1) Who's your favorite Santa Claus?
    (2) What's your favorite Christmas episode from a TV series?

    In the Fall of 1996, All My Children, the ABC soap, began a storyline wherein a crotchety old guy called 'Red Kilgren' turned up at Myrtle Fargate's boarding house, having sprained his ankle on her doorstep.
    Over the next couple of months, Myrtle and Red became friendlier, and Red began a sidelong involvement with other AMC characters.
    There were a handful of broad hints dropped over this period:
    - Red's wardrobe ran heavily to red and green.
    - When some other characters were planning a Thanksgiving party, Red said that they should " ... make a list and check it twice!"
    - Midway through the story, Red was frequently accosted by a testy little guy named 'Noel', who always wore a flap cap pulled down over his ears.
    Things like that.

    Along about Thanksgiving, Red told Myrtle who he really was, and why he came to Pine Valley: the current state of the holiday was getting him down, and he was hoping to get his Christmas Spirit back in some way.
    Red had a window - he had the ability to grow his beard overnight for the Big Night (he just had a mustache for his Pine Valley stay).
    The whole story was kind of complicated (hey, this is a soap opera, right?), but ultimately, Red got his Yuletide spirit back, thanks to Myrtle and the other Pine Valleyites, and went back up North, with Noel in tow, a week or so before Zero Hour.

    Come Christmas Eve, Red came back to Pine Valley, this time in the red suit and beard - the Full Santy, so to speak - and spent the hour dispensing Christmas justice to various characters.

    Red Kilgren was played by Clifton James, who passed away earlier this year; he was a well-enough-known actor that his appearance was noted outside the usual soap world.
    The same was true for Noel, played by John Fiedler - no mistaking that face and voice (see "The Night Of The Meek", op cit.)
    Myrtle the landlady was Eileen Herlie, who'd been at AMC for more than twenty years by this point' she didn't get center stage much then, but when she got it she (and Clifton James) ran with it.

    So there you go:
    - Favorite Santa: Clifton James.
    - Favorite Christmas TV "episode": the Red Kilgren storyline from All My Children, October through December 1996.
    Of course, ABC couldn't repeat it; I was always sort of hoping that Old Red would make a return appearance in subsequent years, but that was not to be.
    I think I may still have some of these episodes on VHS tapes somewhere around my place, but since I haven't got a working VHS player, they're all but lost to me. *sob*

  3. So happy to see someone give out some love to the local library. In this age of having an electronic encyclopedia in your home in the form of the internet, people forget the wonders of their local library. Yes, the library is very different than the ones we encountered in the 60s and 70s but it's still a convenient wealth of information and entertainment.

  4. Great answers. Pinky and The Brain are great. And your comment is spot-on, I am sure many answers would change year to year.

  5. Hahahaha! Pinky & the Brain--YES! Thanks for the reminder about that solid, funny holiday episode. And thanks for joining in :)