About Christmas TV History

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Perry Como Statue: Canonsburg, PA

What does Canonsburg have to do with Christmas TV history? Do you like Christmas music/variety specials?

With summer winding down, I decided to hit the road again and enjoy a day trip. I wanted to stop at another site that connects to my love of popular culture and headed myself toward Canonsburg, Pennsylvania--just south of Pittsburgh. Canonsburg is the hometown of crooner Perry Como, and the city has erected a wonderful tribute to him in their downtown. I felt I needed to see it for myself.

Perry Como's career is intertwined with Christmas TV history. His first TV appearance was on Christmas Eve 1948.

I read online that the statue was located in downtown Canonsburg but I was worried about finding it. Turns out, it was quite easy to find! The statue is quite large and stands in a lovely landscaped courtyard in the city's center.

What's your favorite Christmas song by Como? I think my favorite is "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays."

The cement statue depicts Como holding a microphone. I thought this was a wonderful way to remember him. In addition to the statue, I found that the tree-lined main street of downtown Canonsburg featured grate covers around each tree with a Perry Como chart-topping hit song molded into each one. I ended up walking the full length of the street--on both sides--looking at each grate to note the song titles and the years each reached number one on the charts.

Once in Canonsburg, I also learned that the city is quite proud of another hometown son that made the hit parade--Bobby Vinton! I couldn't resist getting my photo with the street sign marking Bobby Vinton Boulevard.

Bobby Vinton Boulevard is also the location of a McDonald's restaurant that honors both Perry Como and Bobby Vinton with displays of memorabilia, photos, records, and more. That location was my stop after seeing the downtown statue.

Inside the restaurant, there is a lifesize, bronze statue of Como (and one of Vinton too). The walls are lined with displays of Como's recording career, photos, framed record cover albums, high school yearbooks, and more. Bet you never had a Quarter Pounder among Como memorabilia like this before!

Bus your own tables and reflect on a local boy who made good!

Across from the cash registers at McDonald's, I found a framed 7" Christmas record.

Among the framed Perry Como photos on the walls of McDonald's, I also found one from his later Christmas specials (bottom right). Remember the 1970s and '80s Christmas TV specials Como used to make each year from a different exotic, international location?

The McDonalds felt like a mini-museum. A back room even included a barber chair from one of the shops where Como used to cut hair before he left Canonsburg to become a professional entertainer.

plaque next to barber chair display.

As mentioned previously, the McDonalds also includes photos, records, displays and memorabilia honoring the singing career of Bobby Vinton as well. For our interests here, Vinton released several Christmas albums--got a favorite Bobby Vinton Christmas song?

Lifesize bronze bust of Vinton in the McDonalds in Canonsburg.

Click to enlarge--this chart covered an entire wall at McDonald's.

My day trip was a nice break from my routine. Christmas TV history is all around us, if we look for it. Have you ever traveled to a pop culture site too? Tell us about it in the comments below.

To revisit some of my past essays about Christmas pop culture destinations, check out the following links:

Dean Martin's hometown of Steubenville, OH
Rosemary Clooney's home in Augusta, KY
The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA
It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, NY
Lucille Ball's birthday celebration in Jamestown, NY
A Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, OH

Added October 2017: discussion of 1978 TV variety special Perry Como's Early American Christmas. Click here for link.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Christmas Books--Part 2

This past week, I shared Part 1 talking about my book collection. Click here to see Part 1 again. To catch you up:

In the past two decades researching Christmas films and TV programs, I've spent countless hours in thrift stores and library basements seeking copies of overlooked and forgotten Christmas programs. Along the way, I've stumbled across (1) books that inspired Christmas movies, and (2) books created from Christmas programs. I've grabbed many of them when I found them. Unintentionally, I've accumulated quite a collection. Want to see what I've got?

Over the years, I have picked up several Little Golden Books adapted from Christmas entertainment. Have you ever seen the 1992 animated TV special The Poky Little Puppy's First Christmas? It aired on Showtime throughout the '90s.

Another Little Golden Book, this one was adapted from the animated TV special Noël which first aired Dec. 12, 1992 in prime time on NBC. This particular special stands out because it was written by Romeo Muller--the same man who also wrote everyone's favorite Rankin/Bass animated TV specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, among others. I don't think Noël lives up to the previously mentioned titles but when I saw the book, I had to pick it up.

I was excited to see this Little Golden Book. I'm also keeping an eye out for the soundtrack (on Rising Tide/Blue Eye Records) of the 1997 animated TV special Annabelle's Wish. The outstanding soundtrack features country music stars Randy Travis, Nanci Griffith, and Alison Krauss, among others. If you're not familiar, the story is a pleasant rural tale about a calf that wishes she could fly.

Some years ago, I also picked up this tattered Little Golden Book version of the 1983 animated short film Mickey's Christmas Carol. The Dickens' story is really boiled down to its essentials for this children's book version. It's fascinating to see which elements remain and which details from Dickens' original have been dropped.

I also have the Walt Disney Records edition of the book adaption of Mickey's Christmas Carol. I picked up this book in a thrift store and it is missing the cassette tape that originally accompanied it. There is no date inside the book for the copyright or even to suggest the printing date. However, the inside back cover recommends other Disney book and record sets which lists The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Mulan, so I'm certain this book came out after 1998.

If you're curious, this book is very different from the Little Golden Book edition. The written story is not the same, and the images on every page are different as well.

Another Walt Disney Records book I've found is The Small One. It too is missing the cassette tape. (I know it's a cassette because the book jacket includes the date 1987 and doesn't feature a sleeve to hold a 45 record). The book is adapted from the 1978 Disney animated short film--which was originally adapted from another book, written by Charles Tazewell. (Tazewell also penned The Littlest Angel, a Christmas story that inspired the 1969 Hallmark Hall of Fame musical, starring Johnnie Whitaker and Fred Gwynne).

While this cover isn't very inspiring, the illustrations inside the book are much better. A Wish for Wings That Work is the Scholastic book edition adapted from the animated TV special that first aired Dec. 18th, 1991 on CBS. The characters are from the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed. Here, Opus the penguin wishes he could fly.

This book is another Golden Book but a softcover edition from 1990 featuring the popular animated characters Alvin and the Chipmunks. The story is adapted from a 1983 episode of the Saturday morning cartoon series. The lesser-known episode "Merry Christmas, Mr. Carroll" has also been released under the title "Alvin's Christmas Carol," and yes, it's the Chipmunk version of Charles Dickens' ghost story. Have you seen this episode before? It shouldn't be confused with the more familiar 1981 animated special A Chipmunk Christmas.

Years ago, I picked up the used book version of the 1996 animated TV special Red Boots for Christmas. The special was produced by the Lutheran Hour Ministries and aired in syndication on TV for years. If I remember correctly, it was advertised that viewers could send for the book version of the animated special for free. Perhaps there are many copies of this book still in circulation.

I remember exactly where I found this book many years ago. I discovered it in a thrift store in a small Amish community in central Ohio. The 1979 Kids Stuff Records and book set is incomplete--I don't have the original record. If you can see it on the cover, there is mention that the book's illustrations are left simplified for children to use as a coloring book. Lucky for me, no child has added crayon or maker to the book's pages. Another oddity, the text inside the book is entirely in capital letters--which leads a 21st century-reader to feel like the story is being shouted!?

But you know why I grabbed this book immediately, right? It's the children's book version of 1951's Amahl and the Night Visitors--a Christmas TV special of much acclaim and history. Amahl was the first Hallmark Hall of Fame special, and the very first opera written specifically for television.

I also have these two storybooks from the 1985 theatrical release film Santa Claus: The Movie. Both were Happy Meal premiums distributed nationally by McDonald's during the holidays in 1985. (If you'll remember, the film includes Santa and the young boy Joe eating McDonald's hamburgers). The complete set includes two activities/coloring books that I haven't found yet. The covers are designed similarly but the titles are "Sleighful of Surprises" and "Workshop of Activities." Have you seen the four book set before?

Another book spun from 1985's Santa Claus: The Movie is this hardbound Weekly Reader edition. It is a longer read than the two soft cover picture books (above), however, the photos inside are mostly in black-and-white.

I also found this pop-up book from Santa Claus: The Movie. There are four pop-up scenes, including Santa arriving at the North Pole, the elves preparing for Christmas Eve, the elf Patch appearing on TV, and Santa racing across the New York City skies. It's pretty cool, even if it's not the most elaborate or complicated pop-up book I've ever seen.

This is the second pop-up scene with Santa and the elves in the workshop. Can you see David Huddleston as Santa Claus, and Dudley Moore as Patch the elf on this page? (center)

My collection also includes this novelization of the 1991 Beverly Hills 90210 episode "A Walsh Family Christmas" from the second season. You remember the episode--Steve leaves town to search for his biological mother in New Mexico, and twins Brandon and Brenda experience their first Christmas away from Minnesota. In the end, Brenda invites a homeless man in a Santa suit to join the Walsh family for dinner. Maybe I'll read this one again!

Unlike the book above, this story is NOT a novelization of an episode from a TV series. The 1997 book is an original Christmas story written about the characters made popular in the TV series Full House.  Here, Michelle is nine years old, and she's burdened by her visiting cousin Marshall when he causes her to be uninvited from a big Christmas party thrown by her best friend. I don't recall having ever read it but I'm sure fans of Full House would love it.

Do you collect Christmas books too? Have any adapted from film or TV stories? Share your comments below.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com