Saturday, 27 December 2008

A Yuletide Quiz

As regular readers of this blog probably already know, Beth of the lovely voice laid down a challenge for me at the first of the year. The challenge was simply this: I must create and post one pop culture quiz a month in A Shroud of Thoughts. The quizzes can have a single theme or simply be a collection of random things. At the end of 2008, the reader who has accumulated the most points throughout the year will win a pop culture related prize. For those of you curious about the prize, I decided that it will be a pop culture related key chain of the winner's choice, to cost no more than $5.00 (minus sales tax). The price limit is for the simple fact that I can't afford platinum plated key chains... I'll provide the answers on January 3, 2009.

Since it is the holiday season, I thought I would dedicate this quiz to it.

1. The Puritans in England banned Christmas in what year?

2. Who brought the custom of the Christmas tree to the United Kingdom?

3. In what newspaper was A Visit from St. Nicholas (AKA 'Twas the Night Before Christmas) published?

4. A Christmas Carol was responsible not only for reviving Yuletide customs in the United Kingdom, but also the career of what writer?

5. When and where was the Christmas card invented?

6. In what year was Christmas declared a federal holiday in the United States?

7. Who was the first person to light a Christmas tree with electric lights?

8. What was the name of George Bailey's guardian angel in It's a Wonderful Life?

9. In what year did A Charlie Brown Christmas first air?

10. What was it that Ralphie wanted for Christmas in A Christmas Story?

Friday, 26 December 2008

Eartha Kitt R.I.P.

Eartha Kitt passed yesterday, December 25, at the age of 81. She had fought a long battle with colon cancer. Kitt was a star of recording, stage, and screen, perhaps best known for singing the holiday standard "Santa Baby."

Eartha Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on Jan. 17, 1927 in North, South Carolina. She was born outside marriage to a mother of Cherokee and African American descent and a father of German and Dutch descent. When she was eight years old she was sent to live with her Aunt Marnie Kitt in Harlem. While young she was given both piano and dance lessons. Her career in show business started on a dare, when a friend dared her to try out for the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. She passed the audition and so began her long career in entertainment. Kitt would make her debut on Broadway in Carib Song in 1945. With the Katherine Dunham Dance Company she would make her film debut in Casbah in 1948. She would also appear on Broadway in Bal Negre in 1946.

Kitt would leave New York to play in cabarets in Paris. There she first sang the songs "C'est Si Bon" and "Love for Sale," both of which would become identified with her. Upon returning from Paris she was cast in the Broadway revue New Faces of 1952. In 1953 she would have two albums released, RCA Victor Presents Eartha Kitt and Bad Eartha. That year would also include her the biggest hit of her career, "Santa Baby." When New Faces of 1952 was adapted to the screen as New Faces (released in 1954), "Santa Baby" was included along with the songs from the original Broadway revue.

It was also in 1953 that Eartha Kitt would make her debut on television, with an appearance on The Red Buttons Show. She would go onto appear on Your Show of Shows, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Nat King Cole Show, What's My Line, The Ed Sullivan Show, Burke's Law, Ben Casey, I Spy, and Batman (on which she took over the role of Catwoman from Julie Newmar). In movies Kitt appeared in The Mark of the Hawk, St. Louis Blues, Anna Lucasta, Synanon, Friday Foster, Erik the Viking, Harriet the Spy, and Holes. She was the voice of Yzma in both the movie The Emperor's New Groove and the animated TV series The Emperor's New School.

On Broadway Eartha Kitt appeared in Mrs. Patterson, Shinbone Alley, Jolly's Progress, Timbuktu, The Wild Party, and Nine. She would also tour with The Wizard of Oz and Cinderella. More recently she would regularly appear in Manhattan cabaret. Kitt also continued recording for her whole career, released such albums as Down to Eartha, Bad But Beautiful, Thinking Jazz, and She's So Good.

Eartha Kitt was one of the last of the multimedia stars, appearing on stage, in the movies, and on television, all the while maintaining a recording career. There can be little wonder as to why. Eartha Kitt was talented as both an actress and a singer. What is more, she simply oozed with sex appeal, to the point that critics not only labelled her a "sex kitten," but Orson Welles called her 'the most exciting woman alive." Indeed, it must be pointed out that while many have covered "Santa Baby (including Kylie Minogue and Taylor Swift), no one ever matched Kitt's sultry tones. Kitt was also tireless as a performer. She continued to perform well into her Seventies. Even after she learned she had colon cancer, she opened New York City's Cafe Carlyle in 2006. In the whole of show business history Eartha Kitt was unique. It is doubtful we will ever see her like again.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Yuletide 2008

Since today is Yule Day, I thought I would dispense with doing a full entry and give you the gift of some holiday themed music videos, courtesy of YouTube.

This first video is a clip from Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, Crosby's last Christmas special. It originally aired on November 30, 1977, only about a month and a half after Crosby had died. I remember watching it when it first aired and was a bit surprised at one of Crosby's guests. In fact, it has one of the most surreal and most famous moments in the history of Christmas TV specials: Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing a duet of "The Little Drummer Boy." Although the team of Crosby and Bowie sounds strange, I have to admit that the results were very good.



This is one of my top five favourite Yuletide songs. "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" grew out of a campaign conducted by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1969, in which they placed posters and billboards in eleven cities worldwide which read "WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko," as a protest against the Vietnam War. The song was released on December 6, 1971 in the United States and reached #3 on the Billboard charts. A publishing dispute would prevent it from being released in the United Kingdom until November 1972, but it would go to #4 on the British Singles Chart. This is a collection of clips of Lennon set to the song from YouTube.



While "Snoopy's Christmas" by The Royal Guardsmen was a sequel to their popular song "Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron (which went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966)." Both were based on the comic strip Peanuts, in which Snoopy often fantasised he was a flying ace fighting the Red Baron. That having been said, "Snoopy's Christmas" also has its roots in history, being also based on the Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I. On that day British and German soldiers, without the knowledge of their superiors, called a truce between themselves. The British and German soldiers exchanged small gifts with each other, shared pictures of their loved ones back home, and, in some locations, even reportedly engaged in friendly football matches (that's soccer to my fellow Americans). I remember this song well from my childhood, and it has remained one of my favourites ever since.



Okay, I have to confess. This is not a Christmas video. It doesn't even have anything to vaguely do with the holidays. I simply posted it here because I have a big thing for Katey Perry (she combines two of my guilty pleasures--Eighties style synthpop and overly pretty brunettes...)



Merry Yuletide to all and to all a good night!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Some Christmas Movies You May Not Have Thought Of

Come Yuletide most people will watch It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, or A Christmas Story. In truth, however, there are many more movies about the holiday beyond these classics and other classics such as Holiday Inn. There are even films that are holiday movies, but people just haven't thought of them as such. Below I have listed three films that are set at the Yuletide and make for fine Christmas viewing.

The Apartment: Directed and co-written (with I. A. L. Diamond) by the great Billy Wilder, The Apartment took the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Original Screenplay, Editing, and Art Direction. And there is no denying that The Apartment deserved these awards. The Apartment is, in my humble opinion, the greatest romantic comedy of all time. Set from around Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, The Apartment centres on C. C. Baxter (played by Jack Lemmon), the employee of a major insurance company in New York who finds himself in the unenviable position of constantly lending his apartment to his superiors for their trysts. As might be expected, this is complicated by the fact that Baxter himself is in love, with elevator girl Miss Kubelik. The Apartment is not only one of the funniest movies ever made, but also one of the most touching and dramatic as well. And, short of Casablanca, in my opinion it is the most romantic.

Holiday Affair: Released in 1949, this light romantic comedy is generally only known to film buffs. That is a shame, as it is one of the most delightful Yuletide movies ever. Holiday Affair stars Robert Mitchum, in one of his few comedic roles, as Steve Mason, a veteran and drifter, who as a clerk at Crowley's Department Store meets young widow Connie Ennis (played by Janet Leigh). Connie is engaged to lawyer Carl Davis (played Wendell Corey), but that doesn't keep Steve from falling in love with her. Holiday Affair is well written and very funny (particularly in a scene featuring Harry Morgan as a Police Lieutenant). It is also very romantic, with a good deal of sexual tension between Leigh and Mitchum.

Love Actually: Love Actually is a British film released in 2003 that has somehow slipped through the cracks, even though it was made by the people responsible for Bridget Jones's Diary. With multiple plot lines, with Love Actually Richard Curtis succeeded where many before him failed, making an Altmanesque movie without being Robert Altman. And although often classed as a romantic comedy, it is actually a comedy that centres not so much on romance as it does on love in all its forms from friendship to the love between father and son to the love between siblings to romantic love. Set over a number of weeks leading up to and including Christmas, it actually has a good deal of holiday spirit, with all the trappings of the season. It is perfect holiday viewing, with one caveat--this is not a family film. There is content in the movie that is not suitable for children, so it is best viewed after they have gone to bed!

That is a short list of some Christmas movie that many may not have thought of. I will leave you now to celebrate this night and wish you a happy and joyous Yuletide!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

TV Show Christmas Episodes

When most of us think of television during the holiday season, we tend to think of the many Christmas specials that have aired through the years. And while A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are very much a part of the holiday television traditions, they are only part of the equation. From the beginning of regularly scheduled, network broadcast television in the United States and United Kingdom, TV series have devoted entire episodes to the holiday. And many of these episodes of these TV shows now form part of our collective memory regarding the Yuletide.

In fact, it is probably impossible to know what the first, regularly scheduled television show to have a Christmas episode was. I rather suspect that it might have been one of the many variety shows that aired from the late Forties into the Seventies. It was probably much easier for the average variety show to put together a Christmas episode than any other TV show format. All that was necessary to bring on singers to sing a few carols and other holiday oriented guests. It was early as 1950 that Milton Berle, host of The Texaco Star Theatre at the time, hosted his first Uncle Miltie's Christmas Party.

Of course, there was probably no bigger variety show in the history of television than The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan's show would become an institution on American network television, so powerful that Sullivan could attract the biggest acts to his show. For one Christmas episode he had Bing Crosby singing the classic "White Christmas." For another he had Johnny Mathis singing "Sleigh Ride." Of course, Sullivan's regulars would appear on the Christmas shows as well. On one episode the puppet mouse Topo Gigio told what he wanted for Christmas.

While Christmas for variety shows generally meant singers with Yuletide carols, many would do their own Christmas themed skits. As might be expected, the 1953 Christmas episode of The Jackie Gleason Show featured a Honeymooners skit centred around the holiday. The skit concerned a wild Christmas party being held down the street from the Kramden episode, and is unique in that all three of Gleason's most popular characters appear in the skit: Ralph Kramden (of course), millionaire Reginald Van Gleason, and Joe the Bartender.

Another classic skit featured on a variety show was one on The Red Skelton Show. "The Cop and the Anthem" was based on an O. Henry short story and centred around Skelton's classic character Freddie the Freeloader. Desperate to find a place to sleep on a cold Christmas Eve, Freddie decides to get himself arrested. The only problem is that the cop on the beat feels sorry for Freddie and doesn't want to arrest him on Christmas Eve! It was simultaneously one of the funniest and most poignant pieces on television.

Like The Jackie Gleason Show and The Red Skelton Show, one skit in Christmas episode of The Carol Burnett Show focused on one of the star's classic characters. Eunice was ready for a merry Christmas, only to have it spoiled when her prodigal brother Larry (played by Alan Alda) came home to surprise Mama (played by Vicki Lawrence). Like most of the Eunice skits, it was among Burnett's best work.

Of course, not every Christmas episode of every variety show centred around skits with classic characters. The 1967 Christmas episode of The Dean Martin Show was quite simply about family. Indeed, it features both the Martin family (including his son Dino) and the Sinatra family (including Frank and his daughter Nancy). Dean and Frank would even perform together. For Rat Pack fans it must have been a real treat.

The other dominant genre of the Fifties was the anthology series. Most anthology series did at least one Christmas episode, and usually more. Philco Television Playhouse featured one of the more memorable episodes, "Christmas 'til Closing." Directed by Hume Cronyn, it starred he and his wife Jessica Tandy as a couple struggling with their bills. The wife takes a part time job at a department store to make a bit of extra money, much to the irritation of her husband. Playhouse 90, the creme de la creme of anthology series, broadcast a colour production of The Nutcraker on Christmas night in 1958.

More familiar to modern audiences are the Christmas episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twlight Zone. In 1955 Alfred Hitchcock Presents aired its first, "Santa Claus and the 10th Avenue Kid." As might be expected, this episode focused on crime, but unfolded much differently than most Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes. An ex-convict takes a job at a department store as part of his plan to rob that store. When he meets a troubled kid, however, the ex-convict's plans actually change.

The Twlight Zone would feature two Christmas episodes during its run. The 1960 holiday episode was "The Night of the Meek." In that episode, a derelict is fired from his job as a department store Santa on Christmas Eve. It is then that he finds a mysterious bag that gives out gifts. The derelict decides to use the bag to help the poor have a prosperous Christmas. The show's second Christmas episode, "The Changing of the Guard," aired in 1962. "The Changing of the Guard" centred on an elderly teacher forced into retirement. He then decides that he has wasted his life and plans to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. As might be expected in The Twilight Zone, a ghost of one of his former students appears to teach him a lesson he won't forget.

Christmas as a theme for episodes is probably most easily incorporated into family dramas. After all, Christmas is an annual event for many American and British families. It is perhaps for that reason that the Christmas episodes of most family dramas seem a bit forgettable. That having been said, at least one family drama actually grew out of a Christmas themed television movie. The Homecoming: A Christmas Story first aired in 1971 and centred on the Walton family as they wait anxiously for their father to make it home on a snowy Christmas Eve. The Homecoming: A Christmas Story proved so popular that The Waltons was spun off from it, with much the same cast (with Michael Lerned replacing Patricia Neal as the mother). The Waltons itself would go onto have three Christmas episodes of its own.

While Christmas episodes are very easily incorporated into family dramas, because of their very format they are much harder to incorporate into action-adventure series. Indeed, many action-adventure series, including Star Trek and Danger Man, never had Christmas episodes. That is not to say that many action-adventure shows would not have Christmas episodes. Have Gun--Will Travel had one, "The Hanging Cross," by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. In the episode Paladin found out that a rancher planned revenge on Native Americans he thought had kidnapped his son, even though it is Christmastime. The Christmas episode of Bonanza, entitled "A Christmas Story," centred on singer Andy Walker, who wants to perform at the annual Oprhan's Christmas Benefit, but runs into a problem when his uncle and manager wants 10 percent of all the money made at the benefit.

It might surprise some to hear a few of the action-adventure shows that did have Christmas episodes. Among these was The Avengers. "Too Many Christmas Trees" featured John Steed and Emma Peel going to a country estate for what should be a pleasant Christmas, only to wind up investigating mass mind control. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. also had its own Christmas episode, "The Jingle Bells Affair." In the episode Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin assigned to protect a foreign leader from assassination attempts during the Yuletide. The Wild Wild West would go a step further with their Christmas episode. In "Night of the Whirring Death," James West and Artemus Gordon once more face Dr. Miguelito Loveless. This time they must save the state of California from bankruptcy while Dr. Loveless seeks to thwart them with his usual aplomb--all at Christmastime.

Even action-adventure shows of more recent vintage have done their own Christmas episodes. One of my favourite episodes of The X-Files is "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas," in which Mulder and Scully investigate a house haunted to two star crossed lovers (played delightfully by Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin) who committed suicide together on Christmas Eve. Needless to say, they have some special plans for Mulder and Scully...

Of course, when it comes to Christmas episodes of TV shows, it generally the sitcoms that we seem to remember. And they have offered some of the best holiday television viewing in the past several decades. A classic is "Christmas Story" from the first season of The Andy Griffith Show. In this episode wealthy but curmudgeonly Ben Weaver insists that Andy arrests moonshiner Sam Muggins even if it is Christmas Eve. Forced with placing Sam in jail, Andy and Barney then arrange for his family toh have their Christmas Eve celebration there. Another great Christmas episode was "Alan Brady Presents" from The Dick Van Dyke Show. The staff of The Alan Brady Show simply throw out the script on which they working and instead decide to hold a Christmas revue. This episode gave viewers a chance to see the talents of Dick Van Dyke (who was a song and dance man as well as a comedian), Mary Tyler Moore (a trained dancer), Rose Marie (a veteran of vaudeville), and Morey Amsterdam (another veteran of vaudeville) as they usually did not see them on the show.

During the Sixties and Seventies most sitcoms, from The Addams Family to The Monkees, produced Christmas episodes. In fact, some produced more than one. Bewitched would have a whopping four Christmas episodes. The Beverly Hillbillies would do it two better, with six episodes. One Christmas episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, "Christmas in Hooterville," is remarkable as a crossover with both Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. The Clampetts visited Hooterville for Christmas, interacting with the folks at the Shady Rest and the citizens of Hooterville.

Are You Being Served is also notable for having multiple Christmas specials. In "Christmas Crackers" the staff of Grace Brothers learn they must dress in novelty costumes as part of a promotion. "The Father Christmas Affair" finds the staff competing to see who should play Father Christmas at the department store. At the other end of the spectrum, Blackadder would have only one Christmas episode, but it would be very remarkable. Blackadder's Christmas Carol centred on what may have been the only decent member of the Blackadder family, Ebeneezer Blackadder in Victorian England, who undergoes a transformation after ghosts of his ancestors visit him one Christmas Eve.

It was on a show usually considered a sitcom (although I would say it is more a dramedy) that my all time favourite Christmas episode aired. The episode "Death Takes a Holiday" from M*A*S*H aired on December 15, 1980. While a Christmas party was being held in the mess tent, complete with the children from the orphanage, Hawkeye, B.J., and Margaret must race against time in the operating room to save a wounded soldier, who happens to be a husband and father, from dying on Christmas. I have never been able to watch the episode without crying.

Episodic television has generated a number of holiday memories for many individuals over the years. This is merely a short list of the Christmas episodes from various shows from the past several decades. To discuss even a majority of them would take a rather large book. And to this day shows still feature Christmas episodes, from 30 Rock to NCIS. It is safe to say that the Christmas episodes of more recent shows would form part of the memories of the holidays for many in years to come.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Eggnog

One of my favourite things about the holiday season is eggnog. I probably drink several gallons of eggnog from late November until early January. Indeed, it is possibly one of my favourite things to drink. For those of you who don't know precisely what eggnog is, eggnog is made with milk, cream, beaten eggs, and sugar, and flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg. In addition to these ingredients, it is also often mixed with some sort of alcoholic drink, most commonly rum although brandy or whisky can also be used (our family recipe calls for bourbon, preferably Jack Daniels).

The origins of eggnog are obscured by the mists of history, so that there is actually some debate as to when and where the drink originated. One claim is that eggnog actually originated in Colonial America as a variation on the many milk punches in existence at the time (more on that later). It was supposedly in Colonial America that rum, often called "grog," was substituted for the wine used in milk punches, and beaten eggs added to the mix as well. This drink was called "egg-and-grog," which was abbreviated to "egg 'n' grog," which then became "eggnog." Personally, I find this story a bit far fetched. First, it seems to me that eggnog is as much a British (or to be more precise, English) drink as it is an American one. Second, I find this etymology of eggnog to be a bit ridiculous. It would seem more likely to me that "egg and grog" would have been abbreviated to "egggrog" than "eggnog."

A more likely explanation is that eggnog evolved out of an earlier drink called posset. Posset was a milk punch--essentially boiled milk, which was then mixed with wine or ale. It was often given as a remedy for such things as a common cold, and people today still use it as a means to get to sleep. For posset to become eggnog, all it took was for some enterprising individual to add beaten eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. As to the etymology of the word, it apparently derives from our word egg and the Middle English word noggin. Just as it does now, noggin referred to the human head, but it was also applied to wooden mugs used in pubs to serve drinks.

Regardless of when it developed, eggnog was an exceedingly popular drink by the 18th century. President George Washington was quite a fan of the drink, and even had his own recipe that not only included whisky, but rye and sherry as well. Needless to say, it was said to be a very potent drink. British journalist Pierce Egan developed his own variation on the drink to promote his book Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom. Called a "Tom and Jerry." It is still served today. In Black and White: A Journal of a Three Months' Tour in the United States in 1866, English Barrister Henry Latham told how Christmas was not properly observed unless eggnog was made for all visitors.

As to precisely when eggnog became associated with the Yuletide, that is a bit of a mystery. It must be pointed out that posset and other milk punches, which would include eggnog, were primarily enjoyed during the winter months. In Baltimore it was strongly associated with New Year's Day, when young men would go from house to house drinking eggnog with friends. Given that eggnog was primarily a winter drink and that drinking as always been a part of Yuletide even before Christianity found its way to northern Europe, it is perhaps natural that it should become associated with the holiday.

Many families on both sides of the Pond have their own recipes for eggnog. As I mentioned earlier, in my family's recipe whisky (preferably Jack Daniels) is used instead of rum. Still, it was perhaps eventual that eggnog would be mass produced. I am not sure when this occurred. Milk was first delivered in bottles in 1878, so I am guessing it must have been sometime after that point. At any rate, it has been around for as long as I have been alive. Of course, there are many out there who maintain that eggnog bought in the store is not really eggnog.

Eggnog has become a well established part of the Christmas tradition. Several gallons of it are sold in store from November to January in the United States alone. And who knows how many gallons of it are made across the English speaking world using family recipes. I know it remains my favourite holiday drink to this day. Especially when made with bourbon.

it could go back as far as the 17th century. At any rate, it was well established by the 19th century.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Gene Autry, the Christmas Cowboy

When it comes to singers and Christmas, today most people probably think of Bing Crosby. And there should be no wonder why this would be the case. Crosby recorded the number one Christmas song of all time, "White Christmas," which originated in a classic Yuletide film (Holiday Inn). He also recorded several Christmas albums and had his own Christmas special each year until he died. It must be pointed out, however, that Bing Crosby did not have a monopoly on Christmas. In many respects he was rivalled by Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy who recorded the best selling Christmas song of all time besides "White Christmas ("Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer").

Today when most people think of Gene Autry, they probably think of the many B Westerns he made from 1934 to 1953. In fact, Autry was a recording artist before he ever graced the silver screen. He started performing on local radio in 1928. By 1929 he had signed a recording deal with Columbia Records. He would have his first hit, "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine," in 1932. From the early Thirties into the Fifties, Gene Autry was perhaps the top Western recording artist. Roy Rogers may have overtaken Autry when it came to B Western movies in the Forties, but no solo artist surpassed him when it came to recording Western music.

It was in 1947 that Autry began his long association with Christmas by recording "Here Comes Santa Claus," a song co-written by Autry with Oakley Haldeman. The song was inspired when Gene Autry rode in the 1946 Hollywood Christmas Parade in Los Angeles. He could hear the crowd chanting "Here comes Santa Claus (like most Christmas parades, the Hollywood Parade climaxed with the arrival of Old Saint Nick)." "Here Comes Santa Claus" would become one of Autry's biggest hits. It reached #9 on the Billboard pop charts and #5 on the country charts. It has since been covered by such diverse artists as Doris Day, Elvis Presley, and Billy Idol.

The success of "Here Comes Santa Claus" established Gene Autry who could make hits out of Christmas songs. Songwriters began to send their holiday themed compositions to him in droves. Among the songs on which he passed was one based on a Christmas character already established as a part of American pop culture. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had been created by copywriter Robert L. May for Montgomery Ward as part of holiday giveaway in 1939. It was about 1948 that May's brother in law, songwriter Johnny Marks, adapted May's original story as the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Among the artists to whom Marks sent the song was Gene Autry. Initially Autry was none too fond of the song, feeling it did not fit his image. Fortunately, his wife Ina loved the song, seeing great appeal in its ugly ducking story. She convinced Autry to record the song, which he did on June 27, 1949. It was perhaps the wisest decision of his career, as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was the biggest hit of his career, going all the way to #1 on the Billboard pop charts. In the end it would become the second best selling Christmas song of all time.

The success of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" would bring another hit song to Gene Autry, and would create yet another character that has become a part of American pop culture. Walter "Jack" Rollins and Steve Nelson had written "Here Comes Peter Cottontail," which had become an Eastertime hit for Autry. Taking note of the success of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," they decided to write their own children's Christmas song. After considering a number of ideas for a few months, they finally settled on the tale of snowman comes to life thanks to a magic hat. Rollins wrote the lyrics to "Frosty the Snowman," while Nelson then provided the music. They sent the song to Gene Autry in hopes that he would repeat the success he had with "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Recorded on June 12, 1950, "Frosty the Snowman" was not quite the success that "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was, but it was a bona fide hit. "Frosty the Snowman" went to #7 on the Billboard pop charts and #4 on the country charts.

Over the next few years Gene Autry would record several Christmas songs. In 1953 he recorded nine alone. Among the songs which he recorded were "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Up On the House Top," "'Twas the Night Before Christmas (with Rosemary Clooney)," "Jingle Bells," and others. Autry would also write other Yuletide songs following "Here Comes Santa Claus." He wrote co-wrote "Nine Little Reindeer" with Merle Travis and Johnny Marks (of Rudolph fame). He also co-wrote his last Yuletide hit, "Sleigh Bells," with Michael Carr. Released in 1957, "Sleigh Bells" was not the success that "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," or "Frosty the Snowman" were, although it did do quite well. In 1957 Gene Autry released a Christmas album: Gene Autry Sings Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Other Christmas Favourites. The album contained twelve of the Christmas songs performed by Gene Autry, which was not nearly all of them. In all, Gene Autry would record twenty six different Christmas songs in his career.

Having been the first artist to record three of the most successful Christmas songs of all time ("Here Comes Santa Claus," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "Frosty the Snowman"), one of them the second most successful Christmas song of all time, Gene Autry occupies a position among music artists that only Bing Crosby can match. Although many today do not identify Gene Autry with the season, there is every reason he should be so identified. Regardless, I am willing to be that for most individuals the holiday season would not be the same without hearing Gene Autry's renditions of various Christmas songs throughout the season.