Wednesday, May 23, 2018 Paper Dress

I have a new adventure underway! As my readers know, I've been researching and writing about everyone's favorite Christmas TV episodes, specials and movies for almost twenty years. One resource for my research is Netflix and their DVD subscription service I've been a subscriber since 2005 and continue to receive DVDs in the mail (I also subscribe to Netflix's streaming service). Thirteen years ago, when I received my first DVD in the mail, I noticed that the paper of the envelopes was an interesting texture. (It seems to resist moisture--which is a good idea since the envelopes go through rain and snow before reaching mailboxes). Rather than discard the envelope front that one tears off before returning the DVD in the mail, I saved the red sheets of paper and began collecting them. Here it is, 13 years later and I have more than 1500 envelope fronts saved in a box. THAT'S an awful lot of Christmas DVDs!

In 2018, is celebrating their 20th anniversary. A few months ago, I saw that Netflix/ was looking for interesting subscriber stories to promote their anniversary. I shared my quirky tale of saving more than 1,500 envelope fronts, and they responded! Asking a very reasonable question, they inquired why I would save them. I explained that the texture of the paper impressed me, and I dreamed that maybe one day I would make a dress for Halloween from them. was so impressed by my collection and the outrageous idea to make an outfit from them that they have now generously offered to sponsor the dress. After I have a designer and dressmaker, they'll share the finished outfit on their social media. Doesn't this sound like fun?

A local news station--WKYC-TV in Cleveland, OH--shared my story this week. Watch the video below:

I'm interviewing Kent State University fashion students (and recent grads) who are interested in this project. If you are a fashion designer and are interested in this unique project, please email me your resumé, a link to on-line portfolio, and send sketches. This project is moving along--Halloween 2018 will be here before you know it.

Please feel free to follow along with this project on social media. I'm on Instagram:

I'll keep you up-to-date with this fun adventure!

Myself (right) with WKYC-TV newscaster Amani Abraham (left)

Some of my collection of envelope fronts.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Christmas Records, Part 3

In the process of creating the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV, I learned that writing about Christmas on TV also means I research and write about holiday music quite a bit. Christmas TV episodes, specials and movies are loaded with music and carols. As a pop culture junkie, I love searching out soundtracks to holiday programs and collecting vintage record albums. As a researcher, I often turn to these official releases for help in the identification of songs and to get more information about the music. They're also cool to have and display in my office.

My collection is focused on Christmas records with a film or television tie-in. I've shared some of collection before. Here's a link to Part 1 and Part 2. Here's the original post that started it all--the Christmas records from my trip to Detroit last year. And, here's a post about my Christmas CD collection. Below is more from my collection of vintage records.

I finally found it!!

The Alcoa Hour in 1956 offered TV viewers an outstanding holiday experience. The original musical The Stingiest Man in Town was a lavish production featuring an all-star cast, including Basil Rathbone, and Vic Damone, with music by Fred Spielman and book and lyrics by Janice Torre. It's a musical adaptation of Dickens' classic tale A Christmas Carol. The live TV production was filmed--but lost for decades. A kinescope was found and released on DVD just a few years ago. I wrote about this 1956 Christmas TV special before. You can read about it again HERE.

For many years, all fans had to remember the original 1956 production was this LP soundtrack by Columbia Records. I finally acquired my own copy of the vintage record purchased for me by my friend shopping in a record store in Chattanooga, TN this past spring.

The musical was later adapted by Rankin/Bass for the 1978 animated Christmas TV special, also titled The Stingiest Man in Town. In my previous post about Christmas records, I showed off my Alcoa Singers recording that features art work from the animated special. Click HERE to see that vintage record again.

Didn't I share this LP before? NOPE--this RCA/Victor soundtrack is different!

I previously shared the soundtrack recording of 1951's Amahl and the Night Visitors from my record collection. You can see it again HERE. Amahl was the very first opera written specifically for television AND it was the very first Hallmark Hall of Fame production. That's significant Christmas TV history!

While looking through Christmas records in a store in Minneapolis last week, I found this record (black cover above). It is the soundtrack recording from the December 1963 staging of Amahl which aired on NBC, another Hallmark Hall of Fame. This is a new cast and a new production--different from the 1951 recording. I'm so lucky--this LP still includes the libretto booklet that originally came with the 1964 record.

1966's A Merry Mancini Christmas (RCA Records)

Also in Minneapolis, I picked up my very own copy of A Merry Mancini Christmas. This 1966 record isn't very rare, and my local library has it on CD in their collection. But I still wanted this because the vintage record includes a very special track. The first song on Side B is Carol for Another Christmas--a Mancini composition created for the soundtrack of the movie by the same title. Talk about Christmas TV history, the movie Carol for Another Christmas is another example of an outstanding TV production.

The 1964 movie was funded by the Xerox Corporation to commemorate the anniversary of the United Nations. Carol for Another Christmas was written by Rod Serling (yes--THAT Rod Serling!). It is another adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol but this version includes a post-apocalyptic vision of Christmases Future. I know, right! And, it features an amazing cast: Sterling Hayden, Ben Gazzara, Peter Sellers, Steve Lawrence, and tons more. The outrageous movie used to be viewable only in museums but now can be found airing each December on Turner Classic Movies. You have to go looking for it, and it often only airs in the early morning hours--but it's there on the schedule. Seek it out--it's worth it. And, listen for the melancholy Mancini soundtrack.

1964 Christmas music from the Singer Company. Recognize that family?

 At first glance, this record may look like so many others. The 1960s and 70s saw many companies in America producing their own collections of Christmas music--a way from them to promote themselves and provide their customers with quality entertainment. Doesn't everyone have at least one Firestone Christmas record in their collection? I'm still dying to find the Christmas record put out by Kentucky Fried Chicken with Col. Sanders on the cover! And, the above record is another in the same genre. It was produced in 1964 by the Singer Company (they make sewing machines). The vintage record features traditional holiday favorites, arranged by George Siravo. But it now resides in my collection because of the TV family on the album cover. That's the cast of The Donna Reed Show after Mary (Shelley Fabares) left for college and the Stone's adopted young Trisha (Patty Petersen). Yes--Singer sponsored The Donna Reed Show in 1964. The Donna Reed Show includes one Christmas episode, 1958's "A Very Merry Christmas" starring silent film superstar Buster Keaton. Read my discussion of it again HERE.

Both Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen from The Donna Reed Show had solo recording careers. Wouldn't it have been fantastic if they had recorded Christmas music for a release such as this? Oh, what could have been!

Movie fans may remember that actor Donna Reed also starred It's a Wonderful Life. I wonder if that movie ever had a soundtrack release?

1955 RCA/Victor The Voices of Walter Schumann

Another record I found in Minneapolis recently is The Voices of Christmas featuring the chorus group The Voices of Walter Schumann. The album features traditional Christmas tunes, both sacred and secular. The music of the chorus group reflects a typical 1950s style, while familiar it isn't particularly noteworthy either. Except for one tune. "Christmas Gift" on Side B is a lost treasure that I only stumbled across last year. "Christmas Gift" is the only song on the album with a soloist taking the lead vocals among the chorus group. While the back of the album credits choral director and arranger Jester Hairston with writing the song, it certainly sounds like Hairston as the solo vocalist as well. And, the song sure does swing! It stands out from all the other tracks on the album not just as the only one with a solo vocalist, but also its tempo and embrace of jazz.

You know why this song first attracted my attention, right! I've written about Jester Hairston before. Not only is he the composer of the original Christmas standard "Mary's Boy Child," but he also did arrangements for the soundtrack of the movie Lilies of the Field--music which continued in the 1979 TV movie Christmas Lilies of the Field. You may also recognize Hairston as an actor--he appeared on the 1980s sitcom Amen as the elderly Rolly Forbes. Check out my essay on the 1987 Christmas episode of Amen which features Hairston singing. 

Give the song "Christmas Gift" a listen. See if it doesn't impress you as well.

7" record RCA/BMG (1994)

In a previous post about Christmas records, I shared my 1982 record Soap Opera Christmas. See that again HERE. I accidentally overlooked this 7" record also in my collection in that previous post. This 7 inch record entitled A Soap Opera Christmas features two songs. Side A is "Merry Christmas Wherever You Are (Radio Version)" performed by the Soaps and Hearts Ensemble, and Side B is "O Come All ye Faithful to the World-Medley" performed by Martha Byrne, who played Lily Grimaldi on As the World Turns. From the text on the reverse side of the sleeve pictured above, this 7" appears to have two singles from the larger 1994 project also entitled A Soap Opera Christmas, released on CD and cassette by BMG. Much like the 1982 record I previously wrote about, the 1994 record features holiday music performed by soap opera stars of the era. The Soaps and Hearts Ensemble appears to be a chorus consisting of 30 soap actors. The list of participants is too long to include here but I recognize a few outstanding names, such as Eva La Rue (from All My Children), Kristoff St. John (from The Young and the Restless), and Louise Sorel (from Days of Our Lives). I don't have the CD or cassette of the 1994 album A Soap Opera Christmas, only the two singles. But I bet somebody else has it! Let us know in the comments below how you like it :)

Salsoul Record Corp (1978) Cuchi Cuchi!

A Charo record!? Yup. I recently picked up this Christmas 12 inch here in Ohio. On Side A is the disco song "(Mamacita) ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?" sung by Charo, and on Side B is the instrumental version of the same tune. Of course, "¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?" is the familiar 1958 holiday song--here it is covered by the musician and TV personality Charo with a Latin/disco beat. 1978 was a magical time, wasn't it?

John Schneider's White Christmas Scotti Brothers Records (1981)

Bo Duke made a Christmas album!? YES! Actually, this is John Schneider's first Christmas album. It includes traditional carol such as "White Christmas," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Winter Wonderland," "Silver Bells," "Silent Night, Holy Night," "The Christmas Song," "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and more. I think my favorite is "Katey's Christmas Card" a song with a touching narrative. The back cover of the album also includes an address to join the John Schneider fan club. Hhhmmm...I wonder if that group is still active?

John Schneider of course portrayed Bo Duke on the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard. You can read my discussion of the 1980 Dukes of Hazzard Christmas episode again HERE. Schneider also lent his voice to the Saturday morning cartoon series The Dukes. Read my discussion of the 1983 Christmas episode of The Dukes HERE. And, Schneider has appeared in several Christmas TV movies over the years. My favorite of those is 1987's Christmas Comes to Willow Creek. Read about that movie again HERE.

Do you own any of these musical titles? Do you have other records in your collection that were adapted from Christmas programs? Share the titles below.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned here 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. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Reel Travels #8: Podcast with travel writer Lisa Iannucci, Virgin Traveler

I'm so excited to share that I joined travel writer Lisa Iannucci on her most recent podcast talking about our favorite film and TV pop culture travel destinations. Lisa is the author of the *new* book On Location: A Film and TV Lover's Travel Guide. Her book is so much fun--I've been pouring through it! It's one of those books that I'm going to keep in my collection for later reference too when I'm planning future excursions.

If you follow along on my website, you know I love to travel to pop culture destinations. I'm most attracted to ones with a Christmas entertainment tie-in. Click on each to return to the essay:

John Denver statue outside Denver, CO
Mork & Mindy house in Boulder, CO
Perry Como's statue in Canonsburg, PA
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

2017 at the Christmas Story House & Museum 5k run.

Lisa found me on Twitter--and I immediately began following her too! We have a lot in common. So when she invited me on her podcast, I knew we would have quite a bit to talk about.

***Listen to Reel Travels episode #8:

It's a pretty significant discussion. We talk for more than 30 minutes. Feel free to join the conversation and leave comments here, or with Lisa. You can find her on Twitter: @VirginTraveler

At the Rosemary Clooney House museum in Augusta, KY in 2016. They claim to have the largest collection of White Christmas memorabilia there is.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Christmas Records, Part 2

One thing I learned early in my research for the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV, when you specialize in writing about Christmas on TV, you also research and write quite a bit about music. Christmas TV episodes, specials and movies are loaded with music and carols. As a pop culture junkie, I love picking up soundtracks to holiday programs and collecting vintage record albums. As a researcher, I often turn to these official releases for help in the identification of songs and for more information about the music. They're also just cool to have and display in my office.

My collection is focused on Christmas records with a film or television tie-in. I've shared some of collection before. Here's a link to Part 1. Here's the original post that started it all--the Christmas records from my trip to Detroit last year. And, here's a post about my Christmas CD collection. Below is more from my collection of records.

Free record for viewers of the 1970 animated TV special Christmas Is.

I've managed to collect three different printings of the free 7" plastic record that viewers could get for the asking from Lutheran Television Ministries with music and stories from the 1970 animated TV special Christmas Is. The record was advertised after the half-hour cartoon when it aired in syndication for several years. (I saw it airing in syndication where I live in as late as the early 2000s).   
Christmas Is features the characters of Benji and his sheepdog Waldo in their pursuit of the meaning of the yuletide season. Benji and Waldo are also at the center of the 1974 animated special The City That Forgot About Christmas, 1974's Easter Is, and 1976's Freedom Is (about the 4th of July).

Each of the records is slightly different. The first record (no date) Side 1: the songs "What Is Christmas?," "Christmas All Over the World," and "Christmas Is." Side 2: Hans Conried narrates two stories--Christmas as described by St. Luke (Luke 2:1-20) from the Bible, and Christmas as described by St. Matthew (Matthew 2:1-12) from the Bible.

The "preview" mentioned on Record 2 (above) is for a comic strip promoting the animated special Easter Is.

Record 2 (dated 1970, 1973) Side 1: the songs "What Is Christmas?," "Christmas All Over the World," and "Christmas Is." Side 2: an interview with the stars Benji and Waldo. Benji speaks--and Waldo barks--about their characters, the making of Christmas Is, and its appeal to international viewers.

The cover of Record 3 includes a cut-out with the characters from The City That Forgot About Christmas.

Record 3 (dated 1970, 1974) Side 1: the songs "Overture," "You Can't Stop Christmas," and "Chip, Chip, Chip Away." Side 2: the songs "Christmas All Over the World," and "Christmas Is." The inside of the cover includes the song lyrics for the songs. What a keepsake!

12" record of The Alcoa Singers performing selections from the musical The Stingiest Man in Town.

The cover artwork with the cartoon characters first attracted my eye. Those characters are from the 1978 Rankin/Bass animated TV special The Stingiest Man in Town--but this is not the soundtrack. Instead this is the Alcoa Singers--a group of volunteers from Alcoa employees that perform for company events as well as community functions--performing songs from the original 1956 TV musical The Stingiest Man in Town, sponsored by Alcoa. I wrote an essay about that production--see it again HERE.

The Stingiest Man in Town features music by Fred Spielman and lyrics by Janice Torre in a spectacular adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It is this production that was then adapted for the 1978 Rankin/Bass animated special. This 1979 record features the Alcoa Singers performing songs from that musical, as well as other traditional yuletide carols. What a quirky treat!

Fans of the movie The Apartment (starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine)--do you know about this musical?

I've been looking for this record for a while! Finally, I found it. Promises, Promises is the Broadway musical adapted from the Academy Award-winning 1960 movie The Apartment. If you remember the movie, it includes several Christmas scenes. You may be interested to know that the musical adaptation includes holiday tunes! Yup. There's more: the music was written by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David, and Jerry Orbach was in the original cast and is featured on this recording. I know--right? Back to the holiday tunes--yes, this musical includes the songs "Turkey Lurkey Time" and "Christmas Day." Bacharach fans will recognize "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" and "Promises, Promises" from this musical too. This 1968 12" is from United Artists Records.

Soundtrack to movie Lilies of the Field, directed by Ralph Nelson. Epic Records 1964.

In my collection, I also have the original soundtrack to Academy Award-winning 1963 movie Lilies of the Field. The music was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith but the vocals are by Jester Hairston. I have this soundtrack in my Christmas collection because there was a sequel made in 1979, the made-for-TV movie Christmas Lilies of the Field. Billy Dee Williams takes over the role of Homer Smith--the role that won Sidney Poitier his first Oscar. I've written about Christmas Lilies of the Field on this website before, click HERE to see it again. The sequel also includes a version of the the gospel song "Amen" originally found on this soundtrack. In the 1963 movie, Jester Hairston provides the vocals for Poitier on the song "Amen." Hairston is a very noteworthy artist--not only did he write the popular Christmas carol "Mary's Boy Child" but her sang it in the 1987 Christmas of the TV sitcom Amen in which he played the regular Rolly Forbes! I've written about this 1987 Christmas episode HERE.

Columbia Records (1967)

Ed Sullivan Presents Music of Christmas is a pleasant album of orchestra and chorus music. The TV variety host selected the songs for the album--what a sweet gig! The music was produced by Ted Macero, arranged by John Gregory, with musical consultant Ray Bloch. The songs range from the secular ("Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer," "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "Jingle Bells," "White Christmas" and more) to the sacred classics ("The Little Drummer Boy," "Three Wise Men, Wise Men Three," O Holy Night," "O Bambino," "The First Noel," the English carol "Bethlehem," and more).

I like that Sullivan's photo is on the album cover. Although I'm too young to have watched the variety show when it originally aired, I did watch it on PBS in the 1990s and I've watched DVDs of the highlights of the original program. The Christmas music clips from The Ed Sullivan Show are some of my favorites--including The Supremes singing "My Favorite Things" on his show in 1966. So stylish. See what I mean?

 Bob and Doug McKenzie's Great White North. Mercury Records (1981)

I was a teenager in the 1980s, so, of course, I'm a big fan of SCTV and the characters Bob & Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas). Great White North is their comedy album with  spoken word tracks and a couple songs. The hit song from the album was "Take Off" featuring fellow Canadian Geddy Lee. But my interest is in the song "Twelve Days of Christmas" in which the lyrics enumerating the gifts given by a true love are instead re-written to reflect the beer-drinking, toque-wearing, jelly donut-eating Canadian brothers' lifestyle. I'm not sure this song gets much radio play anymore during the holidays but it was a popular parody of the traditional song during the 1980s, based on characters from an influential sketch comedy TV show.

Soap Opera Christmas. Pink Wings Productions (1982)

Soap Opera Christmas is very easy to find in thrift stores where I live, and I have several copies. With a little digging, I discovered several artists on the album are originally from Northeast Ohio! Just as the title suggests, this is a collection of Christmas songs performed by soap opera stars. Side A: Candice Earley (All My Children) sings "O Holy Night/O Happy Day," Allan Fawcett (The Edge of Night) performs "Christmas Is You," Randy Hamilton (Texas) sings "Merry Christmas, Darling," Lori Loughlin (The Edge of Night) sings "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," and John McCafferty (Texas) rocks out on "Jingle Bell Rock." Side 2: Mary Gordon Murray (One Life to Live) performs "Blue Christmas," Tom Nielsen (Guiding Light) sings "Winter Wonderland," Frank Runyeon (As the World Turns) sings "White Christmas," John Wesley Shipp (Guiding Light) sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and Darnell Williams (All My Children) sings "The Christmas Song." ***Several of these actors have been on other soaps too, however I've credited the soap they were appearing in when the record was produced in 1982.

For those paying attention, Lori Loughlin continues to have a very acting successful career. Christmas fans may have seen her recently in the TV movie Every Christmas Has a Story (2016), and the two yuletide installments (2016 and 2017) of the series When Calls the Heart on the Hallmark Channel.

Caedmon Publishers (1957)

I just love this stylish woodblock print-inspired album cover art. Regular readers of this website know I'm a huge fan of Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales." Click HERE to return to my discussion of the 1987 Christmas TV special adapted from Thomas' story. I've read Thomas' story before, and listened to Youtube clips of the writer reading his own story. But I also have my own copy of the artist reciting his wonderful prose poem "A Child's Christmas in Wales." This album features Dylan Thomas's recitation, recorded February 22, 1952 in New York--arguably his most famous recording. I cherish this record.

RCA/Victor (1952) box and book.

Another highlight of my collection is this 1952 soundtrack. This is a recording of the very first Hallmark Hall of Fame production, 1951's Amahl and the Night Visitors--the first opera commissioned especially for television. The 1952 33 1/3 record comes in its own box and includes a booklet with photos from the 1951 TV production, a history written by its composer Gian-Carlo Menotti, and the Libretto. When my partner came home from the record store with this package for me, I cried! I feel blessed to have my own copy, complete with booklet. THIS is what Christmas TV history looks like.

Do you own any of these musical titles? Do you have other records in your collection that were adapted from Christmas programs? Share the titles below.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned here 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. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701

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

Friday, March 23, 2018

Christmas Books--Part 3

Last year I shared some of the Christmas books in my collection. I'm always looking for books that inspire Christmas movies and TV specials, and books created from Christmas TV specials and movies. Did you see Part 1 and Part 2? Click the links to see those again. Those earlier essays were so popular, I thought I'd share more of my collection.

Oversized paperback from Hardlake Animated Pictures Corp. (1981)

Christmas music collector Jeff Fox gave me this book. Thanks Jeff! It was adapted from the 1981 animated Christmas TV special B.C.: A Christmas Special based on the characters from the popular newspaper comic strip by Johnny Hart. The full color pages of the book were taken directly from the images created for the cartoon TV special. This book is noteworthy for how rare and nearly forgotten the animated special has become over the years.

Triad Publication comic book (1987)

Pardon my fingers but I wanted to capture the inside double page spread of original art work.

Speaking of comics, I also have the 1987 comic book from Triad Publications which is the Christmas edition of The Honeymooners. The Christmas one is #3 of 24 in the Honeymooners comic series. The story in the comic book is not adapted from one of the many Honeymooners Christmas TV programs. Instead, it is Ralph Kramden and Alice in a version of It's a Wonderful Life. What an amazing crossover, right?

Hardbound book from Dutton Children's Books (2006)

Another adaptation of the 1946 movie It's a Wonderful Life is this picture book version for children. It is written by Jimmy Hawkins--the same man who played Tommy Bailey in the original movie! This adaptation tells a similar heartwarming story but from the perspective of George Baily's son Tommy. Clarence the angel is instead helping young Tommy come to understand his importance to the family and community. Fascinating, huh?

If you're curious, I wrote a mini-review of the book The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern--the original inspiration for the movie It's a Wonderful Life. Click HERE to see that review again.

Deluxe storybook from Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

If you recall from the earlier essay Christmas Books--Part 2, I shared four other books I have in my collection from Santa Claus: The Movie. Two of them were premiums from McDonald's Happy Meals (I'm still missing two from that series), another was a hardbound Weekly Reader edition, and the fourth was a pop-up book. Now I have a fifth book added to my collection. This is an oversize hardbound book--the deluxe storybook version. It's the best of all of them. The photos inside are all color stills taken the movie. Thanks again to Jeff who also passed this on to me.

Look at that title page--David Huddleston in color!

paperback by Harper Keypoint (1988) edition

Another gift, this paperback book is a later edition of the Barbara Robinson best-seller The Best Christmas Pageant Ever first published in 1972. This charming story about an inexperienced pageant director managing a family of misfit children in a Nativity play was adapted into the 1983 Christmas special, starring Loretta Swit and Fairuza Balk. Check out my discussion of that TV special HERE.

Soft cover Golden Book (1993)

Another awesome storybook is this children's picture book of the 1992 movie The Muppet Christmas Carol. All the color photos inside are taken directly from stills of the movie. Nice.

Hardbound Golden Book (1982)

Another second-hand purchase was A Sesame Street Christmas. It is not adapted from any of the many Sesame Street Christmas programs but rather a collection of stories, poems, recipes, and crafts for children at Christmas. What a nostalgic treat!

I just like looking at the pictures! A Sesame Street Christmas (1982)

Hardbound from Running Press (2013) with sound clip buttons from the movie along the right side.

Last December, I finally had a chance to meet A Christmas Story superfan Tyler Schwartz in person. You may remember I wrote about Schwartz, his documentary film Road Trip for Ralphie, and this book A Christmas Story Treasury in my project Triple Dog Dare in 2016. We had corresponded by email and phone but meeting him in person was a treat! Schwartz attended the festivities in Cleveland, Ohio surrounding the Christmas Story House & Museum 5k race. I wrote about meeting him HERE. I picked up another copy of his book and got it signed by him. Actor Tedde Moore who played the schoolteacher Miss Shields in the movie was also there and I got her to sign it too! Have you seen this book about the making of the 1983 movie and its cultural impact? It's a fantastic read.

Music book from The Tiny Tree (1975)

But the Christmas book I'm most excited about--and one of my more recent acquisitions--is this music book from The Tiny Tree. The Tiny Tree is an animated TV special created by DePatie-Freleng starring the voice talents of Buddy Epsen, Allan Melvin, Janet Waldo and Paul Winchell. Over the years, this charming half-hour special has fallen into obscurity.

This book is essentially a music book for piano and vocals.

The music for The Tiny Tree was written by Johnny Marks--known for writing the iconic Christmas hits from the 1964 animated TV special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and other Christmas classics.

The book contains more than the sheet music for the animated special's outstanding music.

Roberta Flack performed the main themes in The Tiny Tree.

The book also includes lyrics for each song. This is awesome!

This oversize music book is a treasure for fans of The Tiny Tree. I didn't even know it existed until I saw it on-line for sale.

Do you own any of these titles? Do you have other books in your collection that inspired Christmas episodes, specials or movies, or were adapted from Christmas programs? Share the titles below.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned here 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. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701

Monday, February 26, 2018

Diff'rent Strokes Christmas (1982)

Happy February! It's Black History Month again. I enjoy honoring BHM each year on my blog because there are many noteworthy Christmas episodes, specials, and TV movies with exceptional African-American cast members. There are also numerous outstanding or touching Christmas TV story lines aimed at black audiences. Please indulge me while I highlight another of my favorites.

Kimberly and Willis need their money to buy gifts too.
The sitcom Diff'rent Strokes produced two Christmas installments, a clip show in 1978 and this second one in 1982. The fifth season episode "Santa's Helper" sees young Arnold in need of money to buy Christmas presents. Rather than ask his father for money, Arnold looks for a way he can earn it.

When Arnold gives a few coins, he's told "You can rest assured it will go to someone needy."

On the street, Arnold meets Mr. Jones, a bell-ringing Santa Claus collecting money for an orphaned children's fund. Mr. Jones is sympathetic to Arnold's need for money and once he learns that Arnold lives on Park Avenue, he invites the boy to join him in his charity drive. Jones promises Arnold a small percentage of the charity money collected by Christmas.

"Give 'til it hurts for the homeless squirts." Arnold draws awareness for an orphaned children's fund.
Happy to raise awareness for a good cause, Arnold eagerly applies himself to the task. Jones and Arnold sing Christmas carols and ring bells for the people on the sidewalk.

Hey--that's ARNOLD!?

When Mr. Drummond walks past the street corner Santas, he recognizes his son behind the beard. Young Arnold is pleased to show his father that he's working for his Christmas money.

Drummond has hired Jones to work as Santa on Christmas Eve for his family.

On Christmas Eve, the family gathers around the Christmas tree excited to see the brightly decorated packages underneath. A surprise guest arrives and it's Mr. Jones as Santa Claus delivering Mr. Drummond's gifts for Willis, Kimberly, Arnold, and the housekeeper Pearl. Despite being paid well for his appearance, Jones returns in the middle of the night to rob the Drummond home of its gifts and valuables. When the family awakens early Christmas morning, they are shocked and saddened by the theft. Mr. Drummond explains that they have insurance to cover the missing valuables but Kimberly, Willis and Arnold feel let down by the thieves' lack of holiday spirit.

One thing that wasn't stolen: Arnold's gift for Mr. Jones.

In the afternoon, Arnold reports to work for the last day to collect for the orphans' fund. Mr. Jones listens as Arnold explains what has happened to his family and how they feel about missing out on exchanging gifts. Mr. Jones remarks that whoever stole from the Drummond family must be someone who has great needs. Yet Arnold won't accept this justification--he explains he has known poverty himself and knows the ethical difference between stealing and living without. Despite his frustration, Arnold carries on with his last day at work.

The thief can't steal their holiday spirit.

As Christmas day continues, the family gathers for the holiday meal. They decide to cheer themselves up by discussing what gifts they intended to exchange. Feeling better, they hear the door bell ring to find the Christmas tree, their gifts and valuables being returned to them. This surprise is welcomed by everyone but the robber's behavior is mysterious--who would do this and then change their mind?

The note reveals the location of the household valuables that were taken.

Drummond tells Jones he knows he's a compassionate man.

Not a mystery to Mr. Drummond, we see him take one more visit to see Mr. Jones on Christmas day. Drummond thanks Jones for returning the stolen items and explains that he's offering him a second chance at life to change his ways. He reveals that he won't share his name with the police. A grateful Jones gladly returns to his charity work for the rest of the day.

This yuletide episode offers Arnold a chance to utter a variation on his catchphrase, this time declaring, "Wha-choo talkin' 'bout Santa?"

I remember this uncomplicated holiday story felt satisfying when I was a young viewer. For those not old enough to remember the original run of this sitcom, the series was a TV phenomenon beyond explanation. Young Gary Coleman was a charming, larger-than-life actor that helped popularize this family show, and many other TV projects including TV movies and a Saturday morning cartoon series. I still see t-shirts for sale emblazoned with the Diff'rent Strokes catchphrase "Wha-choo talkin' 'bout Willis?"

Looking back on this series from a 21st century perspective, a wealthy white family adopting two poor black kids from Harlem seems like an incredibly patronizing scenario to base a show upon. I think we can still honor the series for bringing young African-American characters into America's living room each week at a time when it was still all too rare.

Garrett Morris as the down-on-his-luck Santa Claus.

Another reason to remember this episode is the appearance of comedian/actor Garrett Morris as Mr. Jones. His Santa Claus convinces us that Mr. Drummond was right to offer him mercy. You know Morris--he's been on TV and in film quite a bit. Not only has he regularly appeared on Martin, The Jamie Foxx Show, and more recently on 2 Broke Girls, but he was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live. His outstanding performance of the song "Winter Wonderland" on the 1975 SNL Christmas show is one of the classic sketches that is often repeated each year in their holiday clip show collections. (I wish I could share the video but it's not available.)

Left to right: Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi and Garrett Morris. The "Winter Wonderland" song and dance performance also includes Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Candice Bergen, and Laraine Newman.

How do feel about the fifth season Christmas episode of Diff'rent Strokes?  Got a favorite early 80s sitcom holiday episode? Feel free to share your comments below.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned here 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. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701