About Christmas TV History

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Christmas in July 2018: Hugh H. Davis

Christmas in July 2018: Hugh H. Davis

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

In the end (and this is a challenge, since I actually could be happy in that proverbial desert island with only Muppet shows to watch), I think I have to go with John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, for it has some of the best songs written for Christmas specials and a mix of traditional music, and it is produced with absolute joy that shines through the screen. (My honorable mention is The Muppet Christmas Carol, which I've argued elsewhere is the ultimate adaptation of the Dickens' novella; similarly, Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is my favorite variation on O.Henry's "Gift of the Magi.")

July Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in 1946's Meet Me in St. Louis.

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

Another hard one--I have vacillated from the 1960s, (origin of the best Rankin-Bass, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, and the original Grinch cartoon), 1970s (for John Denver and the Muppets, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, etc.), the 1980s (when I first began seeing and noting some of the most popular trends), etc., but I will settle actually on the 1940s. That glorious decade gave us my two favorite Christmas films--It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife--as well as the original Miracle on 34th Street, plus such holiday staples as Holiday Inn and Meet Me In St. Louis. The 1940s also gave us two of the best recordings of A Christmas Carol--the records by Basil Rathbone and Ronald Colman, respectively. Finally, it's during this decade that The Curse of the Cat People was released. The Val Lewton film is my favorite "surprise Christmas" film, with a beautiful little scene involving Christmas singing and gifts.

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

Tempted as I am to offer something here like "Roast Who Beast," I think I'll just go with the traditional English Christmas feast. My family and I have always enjoyed our company more than a specific traditional meal, so why not go pseudo-Victorian here and have all the courses?

Whoops! I realize now I misunderstood question 3, and I answered it literally. How about a metaphoric approach?

I think I'll start the feast musically. For the appetizer, I'd have the Chieftains' album The Bells of Dublin (so we'd feel the home with Celtic beauty). For soup & salad, I'll go with the Lessons & Carols service from King's College, Cambridge (aired each Christmas Eve on BBC Radio) and then get visual with a variation of the same sort of service, the 2013 special A New York Christmas to Remember at St. Paul the Apostle (this was hosted by Regis Philbin and featured the puppetry of Jane Henson "performing" the scripture as it was read; it was beautiful to watch and hear). Having sated my soul with those, I'd turn to Charles Dickens for the entree. There is a wealth of options to choose from, but for this one, I'm listening to the Lionel Barrymore audio of A Christmas Carol (vegetarian option: the Rankin-Bass Cricket on the Hearth). Finally, for dessert, The Charlie Brown Christmas special. After-dinner mint: Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" (and maybe a quick round of "The First Noel").

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

Having seen (several) Christmas episodes created in recent years as specials for Doctor Who, that option is no longer the top of my list. I think I would call for a new version of the classic Babes in Toyland, one that uses the original Herbert Score but perhaps could also see some new songs also introduced. And I think this version should use the characters from Pixar's Toy Story. After the film trilogy, Pixar made a few holiday specials, and I've thought from the start they could offer a new take on this (now oft forgotten) classic. (After all, they already have Bo Peep ready among their characters.) If any group could adopt and adapt in a way to honor but also make the operetta fresh, it's the crew behind Toy Story.

from 1946's It's a Wonderful Life

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?

Again, this is a tough call, and I cheat by making it a split answer--for a film, I'll go with It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra's marvelous epic about the importance of being humane in a cruel and cynical world and doing good no matter how small. For a special, I'll go here with the original, unedited Muppet Family Christmas. There is a sense of fun and love throughout that special that just sums up the familial comfort of Christmas (plus I think it is a wonderful distillation of the Muppets to show to folks in 1,000 years).
As an honorable mention, I also suggest preserving the brief Animaniacs segment "Little Drummer Warners." That piece is pure musical magic, and the idea that the often insane Warners could be awed by the baby in the manger is a beautiful moment.


  1. The 1940s really was the golden era of Christmas cinema. Other than WHITE CHRISTMAS and THE GLENN MILLER STORY, all of my favorite classic holiday films come from that decade.

  2. The 40’s were solid! All the films you mentioned are gold!

  3. I never even considered the '40s when I answered, but you're right. Great decade, and I'll add Christmas in Connecticut from 1945 to that list.

  4. I never really thought of Curse of the Cat People as a Christmas movie. Should have used that for the year of my divorce when I was into "dark Christmas" or gothic Christmas movies. Great thoughts!

  5. What a feast for the eyes, ears, and soul. The 1940's produced much of the cinema I loved, the musical selections wet and then satiated the appetite, and any / everything by Jim Henson is a present I enjoy opening time and time again

  6. We have so many people reflect positively about the John Denver/Muppets show each year during this process that I'm surprised it has never been released in home video format. I've seen the bootlegs and have the songbook and soundtrack. Even these are incomplete. The bootleg that is circulating is the version that was syndicated and therefore has several minutes cut from it. The songbook contains many songs that are not on the soundtrack but still leaves out songs such as "Comradery" and "It's in Every One of Us". I would love to have a complete version in some form. I guess their must be a battle over music rights that is preventing this.

  7. What a great reflection on the 1940s holiday movies! Thanks so much for participating :)

  8. Great answers all around, Hugh. And I'm so happy to see you included the 2013 special A New York Christmas to Remember at St. Paul the Apostle! That special is wonderful, especially the beautiful puppetry of Jane Henson. For anyone who would like to see this special, and I urge you to do so, it's available on YouTube.