Friday, June 15, 2018

Christmas in July 2018 ANNOUNCEMENT




It's that time again! The annual Christmas in July party I host each year on this blog is happening soon.  If you've been around awhile, you may remember that each year the summer time party is a little different.  I try to do something special in July each year because we all get very busy in December and it's fun to have a get-together when we aren't in the midst of the holiday season. This is the fifth year we've come together to do this--HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to us!




This year I'd like to repeat the mini-questionnaire as a way to spark a dialogue and to have everyone get to know each other  better. I was inspired to try this approach from what I saw (and participated in) five years ago on the website Kindertrauma.  With their blessing, I've adapted the questionnaire to fit our needs. We did this last year too--remember all the fun answers?  Click on the links to see the 2014 recap, the 2015 recap, the 2016 recap, and the 2017 recap.




This is how we do it: Answer the following five questions as completely or as briefly as you like.  Everyone is invited to take part--long-time readers, other bloggers, casual TV fans, or just the curious passer-by.  ****Everyone should feel free to join the Christmas in July party.******

Copy + Paste the questions below in an email, answer them, and email it back to me.  Send your responses in immediately and I'll email you back with a number. That number is your confirmation that I received your answers and it is your place in the queue. I will begin posting the responses starting on July 1st--and roll them out in the order received. (DON'T put your responses to the questions in the comments below--email them in). Email your responses to: [sorry--Christmas in July is now over].

Don't worry about photos either--I'll take care of that. And, duplicate answers are part of the party experience--don't exert too much effort trying to find rare examples for your answers. If you want to change your answers after you email them to me--please resist the urge. Instead, add comments to your own post when it goes up in July.


The Miser Brothers


The Christmas in July party is supposed to be fun and entertaining so don't sweat your responses.  Don't spend hours on it--just go with the responses that come easily. Get creative and have fun with it!

If you feel you need a little help, feel free to flip through your dog-eared copy of the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV--or put a copy on hold at your local library.  You can also use the search box on this website (not easily visible on a mobile device but it is top right of the screen for computers) or click through the archives on this website (along the sidebar on the right).  Christmas TV memories will come flooding back, I'm sure.


2018 badge--feel free to use on social media!
 
Whether you send in a response or not, please feel free to follow along throughout the month of July.  Reading other people's responses is half the fun. I want to encourage everyone to leave comments too--it makes people feel good to know their entry is being read by others. If you like, please feel free to use the Christmas in July 2018 badge on your website or social media posts to let others know what you are up to!




Let's get this party started:

Christmas in July 2018: (insert your name--your website/optional)

1) Name your favorite Henson's Muppet Christmas program and why. (For example: "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street," "Muppet Christmas Carol," "Muppet Family Christmas,"John Denver and the Muppets: Christmas Together," "Elmo Saves Christmas," "The Christmas Toy," etc.) If you have no Muppet preference, feel free to name another puppet Christmas favorite.

2) Which decade produced the bulk of your favorite Christmas entertainment?

3) Imagine the entertainment behind your ideal Christmas Eve dinner. Name the appetizer, entré, and dessert.

4) What Christmas episode, special or movie doesn't exist--that you wish did? Feel free to get creative.

5) If one Christmas movie, special or episode was to be selected for a time capsule to opened in 1,000 years, which title do you think should be included?




 
Since I'm hosting this party, I'll be glad to be the first one to jump in and lead by example.  Isn't this fun already?

Christmas in July 2018:  Joanna Wilson from ChristmasTVHistory.com

1) Name your favorite Henson's Muppet Christmas program and why.

As a kid, I looked forward to watching the John Denver and The Muppets: Christmas Together. The soundtrack still holds a powerful nostalgic trip for me each year when I hear it again. However, as an adult, I end up watching Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas more often. The attention to detail in the background shots, the music, and the heartwarming story are satisfying.

2) Which decade produced your favorite Christmas entertainment?

I'm going with the 1970s. The 1970s saw the development of the Christmas TV movie. Watching the made-for-TV movies The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971) and The House Without a Christmas Tree (1972) each year in my house was must-see-TV. I still fondly remember many of the TV variety specials of the 1970s, from Bing Crosby to The Captain and Tennille, Donny & Marie Osmond, to Sonny & Cher, and Andy Williams. Re-watching those musical programs is still quite pleasurable.
 
3) Imagine the entertainment behind your ideal Christmas Eve dinner. Name the appetizer, entré, and dessert.

My ideal Christmas Eve viewing party: Appetizer--1996's "The Christmas Lunch Incident" episode of The Vicar of Dibley.  Entré--It's a Wonderful Life. Dessert: 1987's A Garfield Christmas.

4) What Christmas episode, special or movie doesn't exist--that you wish did? Describe it.

I still can't believe there isn't a Christmas episode of I Dream of Jeannie! But I wish there was a classic Star Trek Christmas episode. Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy referring back to the ancient Earth custom of the yuletide has so much potential. I can hear Spock saying "That's illogical!" and watching Kirk roll his eyes. Uhuru would insist upon a gift exchange. What a missed opportunity.

5) If one Christmas movie, special or episode was to be selected for a time capsule to opened in 1,000 years, which title do you think should be included?

I would pick one of those mid-1960s Andy Williams Christmas specials. The color was so vibrant and the music was swingin'. Williams features his brothers on the show singing with him, and the Osmonds are there in five-part harmony too. I like the idea that Christmas is a time of music and a time for family which clearly comes across in these TV specials. If I can be so bold as to suggest a second title, I might include Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol in the time capsule. It incorporates Christmas animation, a musical, and the classic Dickens tale. Can I include both? LOL





Do you have any questions about Christmas in July 2018?  Ask below in the comments.

Send in your responses today!  Thanks for playing along and Merry Christmas in July.



Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her most recent 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

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Christmas Is (1970) animated TV special


Animated TV special from 1970

We all remember watching the animated TV specials Rudolph, Frosty, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. But do you recall Christmas Is, also made during the golden age of Christmas TV animation? Christmas Is is a half-hour, traditional cel animated TV special produced by Lutheran Television. It aired for many decades in syndication. Not only do I remember seeing it when I was young in the 1970s, but I know it was STILL airing each holiday season through the early 2000s after I had begun the research for the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV.


Best friends Benji and and his pet dog Waldo.

Christmas Is centers around the characters Benji and Waldo, a little boy and his long haired sheepdog. This is the first of four animated specials to feature Benji and Waldo. The two characters can also be seen in The City That Forgot About Christmas (1974), Easter Is (1974), and Freedom Is (1976, Fourth of July TV special).


More about these 7" records in the essay Christmas Records, Part 2. Click HERE.


My Benji and Waldo plastic coin bank.


Benji and Waldo were also featured in children's merchandise. I've found three different plastic 7" records that I believe were offered as free giveaways. I also have a Benji and Waldo 5" plastic coin bank. (If you know of any other Benji and Waldo items--please let me know!)


At play rehearsal. (Benji is the boy touching the floor).

Even though Benji has played Shepherd #2 before, he claims he still doesn't understand what's going on.


Christmas Is casts a long shadow despite its simple story. Benji is playing Shepherd #2 in a children's pageant about The Nativity. After a chaotic rehearsal--another child misbehaves several times--everyone is instructed by the director to return in the evening for the production. Carrying his costume, Benji walks home with the other children. He remarks to the others his frustration with playing the minor role of Shepherd #2 for the second year in a row. Benji expresses doubt that his role is necessary to the production.


Existential crisis time! Benji wonders about the role of Shepherd #2.


To better understand his role, Benji takes a second look at a storybook with the entire tale. Next, he finds himself with Waldo in Bethlehem at the time of the first Christmas. The streets are crowded as people come to the city to be counted in the census. A Roman soldier orders everyone off the streets for the night but the local inn is already full.


Ever find yourself lost inside a book? Benji does.

Benji wisely obeys the orders of a Roman soldier.

Benji enters the building and sees that the innkeeper is struggling to bring food and meet the needs of his guests. Benji volunteers to assist the innkeeper in exchange for a place on the floor to sleep. The innkeeper agrees.


Aahhh. Now Benji has a better understanding of the context of the story.

Going from table to table, bringing food, pouring wine, and cleaning up, Benji overhears various conversations of the people in Bethlehem. He hears people talking about the importance and purpose of the census. He hears Roman soldiers discussing the power and authority they hold over the local residents. And, he hears people discussing their need and desire for the Messiah. When Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary arrive at the front door, Benji sees the innkeeper direct them towards the animal shelter behind the inn.


A baby has been born in the stable but the crowds don't yet know the significance of the event.


In the middle of the night, Benji, Waldo, and the others in the inn are awakened by a bright light coming from the sky. A commotion is happening in the nearby stable, and people begin gathering there. Shepherds arrive at the animal shelter and begin sharing with everyone the importance of the newborn baby. The shepherds reveal that an angel visited them in the fields and told them that this baby is the Messiah of prophesy.


Benji addresses the real-life Shepherd #2.


Benji speaks with one of the shepherds and comes to understand that no one gathered at the stable would know who this baby was if it weren't for the shepherds. Feeling like he has a better understanding of his role in the dramatic story, Benji is eager for the evening's Christmas pageant.


The children's play is a success!

Benji's "research" allows him to bring a sense of authenticity to the role of Shepherd #2.

The animated TV special includes two original songs in its soundtrack: "Christmas Is" and "Christmas All Over the World." The original music is composed by Jimmie Haskell, with lyrics by Guy Hemric.




The voice cast for this production is stellar. Actors Hans Conried, Don Messick, Jerry Hausner, Vic Perrin, and June Foray are certainly familiar voices in the history of animation. This production clearly had a significant budget which they used wisely in casting. The investment clearly contributes to the longevity of Christmas Is.

The short title makes this production a bit confusing to locate in the age of on-line search engines. Make the effort anyway. Christmas Is is available for viewing on DVD, and elsewhere. Do you remember watching the TV special? Have you seen it more recently? Is this one of your favorites? Do you have any additional Benji and Waldo merchandise not mentioned above? Tell me about it in the comments below.


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her most recent 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

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


Little House on the Prairie travel destinations


Got your summer travel plans already? How about for next year? You know me, I love journeying to pop culture destinations. Let me share photos with you from a trip I took last month. I recently re-read the whole series of Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. So I packed my bags to visit a couple of the real-life sites mentioned in her books.
  
Just like everyone else growing up in the 70s, I watched the TV series Little House on the Prairie. I'm a big fan. After re-reading the entire book series, it has been fun re-watching all nine seasons of the TV series too, making note of all the changes in the series that are different from the books. I'm such a nerd, I think that's fun!


The Ingalls family dances together in the first season episode "Christmas on Plum Creek."
 
Want to re-visit three discussions of the Christmas episodes from the TV series? Click on the titles for the links:

1974's "Christmas at Plum Creek"
1977's "Blizzard" 
1981's "A Christmas They Never Forgot"


 The real-life Ingalls family and the TV family both lived in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

In May, I visited Minneapolis, Minnesota--you remember I stopped at the Mary Tyler Moore Show house and statue. Click HERE to see that visit again. While in Minnesota, I decided to head to the southwestern part of the state and visit the real-life sites of the Ingalls family and the museums dedicated to them. (If you didn't already know, Laura Ingalls Wilder actually lived in six different states in her lifetime and there are museums or markers in each of those historic locations).

Driving the 150 miles from Minneapolis to Laura's hometown in Walnut Grove, I found myself thrilled to drive through Mankato and Sleepy Eye too--both are real-life cities that are also mentioned in the TV series!




Just outside of Walnut Grove is Plum Creek and the site of the original dugout where the Ingalls family lived. The site is located on farm property privately owned by a family that allows access to the public. Although the original dugout has since collapsed and disappeared--a reasonable reclamation by nature for a 140 year-old structure--the site is worth the visit. The waterway still seems to match every romantic description from Laura's book On the Banks of Plum Creek. We easily spent a pleasurable afternoon there soaking up the sun and imagining our favorite scenes from Laura's writings happening before us. If you haven't read the books and only know the TV series--this real-life location is still depicted in the show.


On the banks of Plum Creek.

It was a beautiful Spring day in May when we were there but less than 30 days before, the area had experienced a severe snow fall. More than 2 feet of snow had shut down much of Minnesota. We were grateful to have missed it all.


You can't miss the Ingalls influence in Walnut Grove.

Life on the plains is windy!

In downtown Walnut Grove (it's a one stop-light town!), we found the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. Out of all the Laura museums around the country, this is the one most dedicated to collecting memorabilia from the TV series.


This display case was filled with Little House TV Guide stories and covers, board games, and Halloween costumes.

There are displays dedicated to each of the regular cast members. Above includes memorabilia on former professional football player-turned-actor Merlin Olsen who played Jonathan Garvey.

The museum here is a collection of buildings that house the TV memorabilia, Ingalls family items, and recreations of pioneer life. You could easily spend an entire afternoon here and much of it is designed for children. I gravitated towards the TV items displays, of course!


They have the original Dr. Baker costume worn by actor Kevin Hagen.

LOOK FAMILIAR? That's the original wooden shelf with the initials 'C + C' carved into it--for Charles and Caroline--used on the TV show.

Fan girl posing for a selfie in front of a painted mural inside the museum.

We also stopped to have lunch at Nellie's Cafe, up the road from the museum.

The museum in Walnut Grove and the dugout at Plum Creek (just a few miles apart) are enough to keep a traveler busy for a day. However, two hours drive further west takes you to DeSmet, South Dakota--another important stop for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the TV series. If you've read the Little House books series, then you recognize that Laura's life in DeSmet takes up five of the nine books! So west I headed, from Minnesota to North Dakota, spending another full day steeped in Ingalls history.


Established in 1880--yup! Charles Ingalls and his family were some of DeSmet's first residents, brought here by his job working for the railroad.


Visiting DeSmet is a must-see experience for Little House readers and fans. There is quite a bit established here just for tourists. It's another small town so you can't come through here and miss it! In real life, the Ingalls family was one of the city's first residents. Charles was working for the railroad, saving money to finance another homestead. The family was given the opportunity to stay over for the winter in the railroad surveyors' house and they did that so Charles could be one of the first to file his claim in the Spring. The original surveyors' house is now a museum, as are several other buildings. Historians have also mapped the downtown area with all the references from Laura's books. This is a real treat for fans of the books and those that admire Laura from the TV series.

This place is an unforgettable experience for Laura and her family in the book By the Shores of Silver Lake, now preserved as a museum for tourists.

Many others looking to homestead further west along where the railroad was built joined the Ingalls family in the growing town. DeSmet is where Laura spent her teenage years, where she received most of her education, and where she met and married her husband Almanzo Wilder.


This building is now a museum to the Ingalls family--the home Caroline and Charles shared until they passed. Inside are family items and furniture that originally belonged to the Ingallses.

This visit to DeSmet reminds visitors that the rosy picture Laura paints about homesteading is misleading. In reality, Charles was never much of a successful farmer--in fact, too few on the plains ever were. This home he shared with his family most of his life was actually in the city. If you're interested, the 2018 Pulizer Prize-winning biography this year Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser details the difficulties of homesteading for the Ingalls family and discerns between fact and fiction.


A fantastic read for Laura fans.

In DeSmet on the site of the original Ingalls homestead, there is another tourist destination that teaches about pioneer life. Although everything there is a recreation of homesteading, it is worth noting that there still remain five cottonwood trees Charles Ingalls planted--one for each of the five women in his life (wife Caroline, and four daughters Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace).


The one-room schoolhouse in DeSmet where Laura and her sister Carrie attended. History comes alive in this small town in South Dakota.



This sign stands in front of a large farming field.

Even though I knew there was nothing to see but the sign, I still made a point to drive just outside of DeSmet to the original location of the homestead worked by Laura and her husband Almazo Wilder. This is also the place where their daughter Rose was born. When Rose was still quite young, the Wilders packed it all up and moved to Missouri for greener pastures, as they say. Yes, Laura had her father's wanderlust for homesteading. Rose would grow up to be a writer and encouraged her mother to write as well. That's how we ended up with the Little House books. Even though the spot where Laura and Almanzo's homestead used to be is now just a field used for farming, I lingered and recalled her descriptions of her home from the books. It still was a powerful experience.


The DeSmet cemetery is another historical stop for tourists.

I stopped at the DeSmet cemetery too to play my respects to the final resting places of the Ingalls family. Laura and Almazo are buried in Missouri where they lived most of their lives, however the rest of the Ingalls family are all buried here. Charles, Caroline, Mary, Carrie and Grace all have headstones together. In nearby plots, you'll also find markers for neighbors who filled the Little House books including the Boasts and the Loftus family.


Outside of DeSmet, in nearby Huron, South Dakota, make sure you stop to see the world's largest pheasant.

There's quite a bit to see and do for Little House fans in Minnesota and South Dakota. I know there are museums and markers in other Laura destinations too, including Wisconsin, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri. Whew!! I feel like I'm still processing all the experiences for just these few days in Laura's personal history. Do you have a favorite pop culture destination that you've visited?

In case you haven't seen them yet, here are links to some more pop culture destinations connected to Christmas:

Hamner House/The Waltons in Schuyler, VA
John Denver statue/Mork & Mindy House in Colorado
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
and the Mary Tyler Moore House and statue in Minneapolis, MN

And earlier this year, I recorded a podcast with travel writer Lisa Iannucci for her series Reel Travels. Listen again HERE.


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website 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

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