About Christmas TV History

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: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/reeltravels/2018/04/13/reel-travels-podcast-8-filmtv-highlights-from-chicago-author-joanna-wilson

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 press.com

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