Saturday, December 24, 2016

My 12 Favourite Yuletide Movies

Today being the day before Christmas I thought I would list my twelve favourite holiday movies of all time. Here I have to stress that, except for the topmost films, this list does change from time to time. I find it very hard to narrow down my favourite Christmas movies to just twelve! If one of your favourites did not make the list, then, keep in mind it may have almost made the list. In composing this list I limited the selection to films I consider to be Christmas movies. While I adore Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), then, it did not make the list because I have never thought of it as a holiday movie (in fact, I prefer to watch it during spring and summer).

Here then are my favourite Yuletide movies (the list will probably change before Twelfth Night....)

12, Scrooge (1970): Albert Finney was only about 34 when he played Ebeneezer Scrooge, which makes it all the more incredible that he is great in the role. Besides Albert Finney's performances, Scrooge also features some great songs (I still can't believe "Thank You Very Much" lost the Oscar for best song). It also happens to be one of the more faithful adaptations of Charles Dickens's novella.

11. Die Hard (1988): There are those who would question if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but to me it has all the qualifications. It is set on Christmas Eve and begins with a Christmas party. It also deals with themes common to Christmas movies, such as reconciliation and redemption. Those things already make it more of a Christmas movie than any version of Little Women (none of which I consider Christmas movies). Of course, in addition to being a Christmas movie, it also happens to be one of the greatest action movies ever made.

10. Love Actually (2003): Love Actually is the only 21st Century film to make this list and one of the few holiday films made in the past thirty years that I actually love. The film follows a number of different characters from Britain through the weeks leading up to Christmas. While some of the stories are stronger than others, all of them are enjoyable and there are some particularly strong performances in the film (particularly Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, and Bill Nighy). And I guarantee "Christmas is All Around" will get stuck in your head!

9. A Christmas Story (1983): I love A Christmas Story because it sums up Christmas as seen by children in the mid-20th Century so well. While the film seems to be set in the late Thirties or early Forties (I always thought it was probably 1939), anyone who grew up from the late Thirties to the Eighties can probably identify with Ralphie in his quest to get an official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. It certainly reminds me of the holidays when I was a child in the Seventies.

8. A Christmas Carol (1951): While A Christmas Carol (1951), also known as Scrooge, does stray a bit from its source material, in my opinion it remains the best adaptation of the novel. Much of the film's success rests with Alastair Sim's performance. He gave what may be the greatest performance as Scrooge ever. The film also benefits from Brian Desmond Hurst's atmospheric direction. In A Christmas Carol (1951), Victorian London is much as it was in the novella--a very dreary, very grim place!

7. Holiday Affair (1949): In most romantic comedies in which a woman is pursued by two men, it is inevitable that one of them will be a heel. This is not the case with Holiday Affair, as both Steve Mason (played by Robert Mitchum) and Carl Davis (Wendell Corey) are both likeable fellows. What is more, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey,and Janet Leigh all give good performances. That having been said, Harry Morgan steals the show as a befuddled police lieutenant in what is easily the funniest scene in the movie. It is one of the funnier, more delightful Yuletide movies out there

6. It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947): It Happened on Fifth Avenue is one of the lesser known films on this list, but there really is no reason it should not be better known. Victor Moore gives one of his best performances as  Aloyisius T. McKeever, a hobo who takes up residence each winter in millionaire Michael J. O'Connor's boarded up mansion. Complications arise after McKeever takes in homeless ex-GI Bullock (played by Don DeFore). It's Happened on Fifth Avenue is a truly wonderful movie, with just the right amount of humour and sentimentality. Frank Capra had considered the script before making a certain other holiday classic, and it is easy to see why Mr. Capra might have liked it.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947): Miracle on 34th Street often tops lists of greatest Christmas movies of all time, and it is easy to see why. It contains some fantastic performances, including Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and Maureen O'Hara as Doris Walker. It also has a fantastic script with some truly great dialogue. It is also genuinely funny and touching at the same time. It is easy to see why it has remained popular for all these years.

4. The Bishop's Wife (1947): Arguably The Bishop's Wife has one of the best casts of any movie ever made. What is more, Loretta Young, Cary Grant, David Niven, and Monty Woolley are all in top form. The film even has a great supporting cast, with Elsa Lanchester and James Gleason particularly standing out. As to to its script, The Bishop's Wife has one of the best of any holiday movie ever made.

3. Christmas in Connecticut (1945): Over the past few years Christmas in Connecticut has gone from relative obscurity to being one of the best loved holiday movies ever made. And it is easy to see why. Christmas in Connecticut forgoes sentimentality for screwball comedy. Quite simply, food writer Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) finds herself in trouble when her publisher, Alexander Yardley (played by Sydney Greenstreet), insists she host war hero Jefferson Jones (played by Dennis Morgan) for Christmas dinner. The problem is that Elizabeth can't cook! Christmas in Connecticut is a very funny movie with a great cast that includes S.Z. Sakall, Reginald Gardiner, Una O'Connor, and Dick Elliott.

2. It's a Wonderful Life (1946): I am guessing this would top most people's list of favourite Christmas movies. Indeed, I really can't think of anything to say about It's a Wonderful Life that hasn't been said before. Quite simply, it is one of the greatest films ever made in any genre. Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra each counted it as the favourite movie they ever made, and it is easy to see why.

1. The Apartment (1960): The Apartment is my favourite movie of the films Billy Wilder made, which is saying a lot given Mr. Wilder is one of my favourite directors. There is just so much to love about this film: its incredible cast, its remarkable script, Billy Wilder's direction, the film's score. For me The Apartment is one of the few movies ever made that I would describe as perfect. In fact, it is my second favourite movie of all time (after Seven Samurai).

Friday, December 23, 2016

The 200th Anniversary of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

A giant Nutcracker outside
the Mayo Cabin in Huntsville, MO
This holiday, much as in previous holiday seasons, many people will attend a performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker. What many might not realise is that The Nutcracker was very loosely based on a much darker novella. Nussknacker und Mausekönig (literally in English, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King) was a novella by E.T.A. Hoffmann, a still influential author of some renown in his time. It was in 1816, exactly 200 years ago, that The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was first published.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King centred on young Marie Stahlbaum and the nutcracker that her family received for Christmas. As it turns out the Nutcracker has a life all his own, and is locked in conflict with the evil, seven headed Mouse King. Eventually the Nutcracker defeats the Mouse King in battle and whisks Marie off to his own magical kingdom. In many respects The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is a much more frightening and much darker work than Tchaikovsky's ballet. There is a good deal of violence, a bit of gore, and there is no character even resembling a Sugar Plum Fairy in the entire novella.

Of course, it should be little wonder that E. T. A. Hoffmann would write a rather scary novella for children. Mr. Hoffmann worked in the genre we would today call "dark fantasy", and dealt with concepts that today we would consider science fiction as well. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffmann was not the only work in which an inanimate object came to life. His short story "The Sandman" included a clockwork automaton as part of the plot. His short story "Automata" centred on the very subject of automatons. E. T. A. Hoffmann was a bit of a renaissance man. In addition to being an author he was also a composer, a draughtsman, a caricaturist, and a legal scholar. His works were enormously popular in the 19th Century, so that The Nutcracker and the Mouse King would not be his only work to be adapted to other media.  Jacques Offenbach's opera The Tales of Hoffman was based on E. T. A. Hoffmann's stories "The Sandman", "Councillor Krespel", and "The Lost Reflection". The ballet Coppélia and the piano composition Kreisleriana were also based on the works of E. T. A. Hoffmann.

It was in 1844 that Alexandre Dumas, père published a retelling of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King entitled Histoire d'un casse-noisette, The Story of a Nutcracker. Mr. Dumas's version was largely faithful to Mr. Hoffmann's original, although he softened it a good deal. While the plot of  Alexandre Dumas's The Story of a Nutcracker was virtually the same as The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, he removed most of the darker elements, including the graphic violence.

It would be Alexandre Dumas's The Story of a Nutcracker upon which Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker would be based. That having been said, there would be even greater changes made to E. T. A. Hoffmann's original tale for the ballet. In the ballet Marie was renamed Clara. A long section of the original novella titled "The Tale of the Hard Nut" (essentially the origin story of the Nutcracker) was entirely omitted. What is more, a relatively short, satirical passage in the original novella was expanded to occupy a large part of Act II of the ballet. Indeed, no such character as the Sugar Plum Fairy, who occupies a prominent place in the ballet, appears in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

Over the years The Nutcracker and the Mouse King has been adapted a few times. The 1973 Russian animated film The Nutcracker drew upon both Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker and E.T. A. Hoffmann's novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The 1979 Japanese stop motion film Nutcracker Fantasy was very loosely based on both Tchaikovsky's ballet and E. T. A. Hoffmann's original novella. The 1990 animated film The Nutcracker Prince was another very loose adaptation of the ballet and the original novella. In 2009 a rather more faithful adaptation, The Nutcracker in 3D, was released. Unfortunately the film was critically panned and bombed at the box office. In 2010 BBC Radio adapted The Nutcracker and the Mouse King as a radio drama consisting of four 30 minute episodes.

While Tchaikovsky's ballet continues to be popular, there would eventually be a more faithful ballet based upon The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. In 1981  Kent Stowell, then artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and author/illustrator Maurice Sendak collaborated on a version of The Nutcracker ballet that drew upon the darkness inherent in the original novella for its inspiration. Every year, from 1983 to 2014, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Messrs. Stowell and Sendak's Nutcracker ballet. In 1986 the ballet was adapted as the film Nutcracker: The Motion Picture.

Although the average person today probably is not even aware of its existence, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King has had a lasting influence. It was one of the earliest works of dark fantasy, and one with elements of science fiction as well. Through Alexandre Dumas's retelling of the story, it would be the ultimate source for Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker, which continues to be performed every holiday season. An early work of dark fantasy that blends horror with flights of fancy, it really deserves to be better known than it currently is.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Characters in Christmas Songs

Over the years several characters have become attached to Christmas. In England Father Christmas dates to at least the 17th Century. Santa Claus emerged in the United States in the early 19th Century. The 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (better known as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas...) elaborated on his mythology, even giving the names to the reindeer who guide his sleigh. For a period in the late Forties and early Fifties, there was a time when songwriters were intent on introducing new Christmas characters through song.

The trend started with Gene Autry's smash hit "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Although the song contributed to Rudolph's enduring popularity, he had actually been introduced many years before that. In 1939 Robert L. May created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as part of an advertising campaign for the department store Montgomery Ward. That year Montgomery Ward published a book that told the story of Rudolph. Rudolph was a young reindeer who was ostracised by his peers because of his red, shiny nose. It is on a particularly foggy Christmas Eve that Santa Claus discovered Rudolph and asked him to guide his sleigh. Here it should be noted that in the original story that Rudolph was not part of Santa's herd, as in the later Rankin/Bass television special.

The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer proved immensely popular. In 1939 alone Montgomery Ward distributed 2.5 million copies of the story. It was after World War II, for reasons that are not clear now, that Montgomery Ward simply gave the rights to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to his creator, Robert L. May. In retrospect it might have been a mistake on Montgomery Ward's part, for Rudolph was about to become more popular than ever. In 1948 Max Fleischer directed an animated short for the Jam Handy Organization. The following year would have something even bigger in store for Rudolph.

Robert L. May's brother in law was Johnny Marks, a radio producer and songwriter. Mr. Marks got Mr. May's permission to adapt the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to song. The song was introduced by crooner Harry Brannon on radio in November 1949. It was also performed on the December 6 1949 episode of the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly by Marion Jordan's character Teeny. That having been said, it was Gene Autry's single released that same year that would make Rudolph a holiday superstar. In 1949 alone "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Gene Autry sold 1.75 million copies. It would go on to sell  12.5 million copies. For a time it would be second best selling song of all time, right after "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby. The song would also launch Johnny Marks's highly successful songwriting career.

Of course, since then there has been the Rankin/Bass special based on the song (which featured new songs by Johnny Marks in addition to the original song), books, comic books, colouring books, a feature film, and tonnes of merchandise.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" would also inspire a bit of a fad towards new Christmas characters. In fact, the very next Christmas character introduced in a song was directly inspired by the success of Rudolph. Noting the success of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", songwriters  Walter "Jack" Rollins and Steve Nelson decided to write their own song centred around a wintry character. They sent the resulting song to Gene Autry, who recorded it.

Interestingly enough, while "Frosty the Snowman" is regarded as a Yuletide song, it makes no reference to the holiday or any of its trappings It is simply about a snowman who came to life one day through the magic in an old silk hat. Although it is generally only played and sung during the holiday season, there is really nothing to keep "Frosty the Snowman" from being sung all winter long.

Regardless,"Frosty the Snowman" would prove to be an enormous hit for Gene Autry in 1950, although it was not as big a hit as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".  Little Golden Books published a book, Frosty the Snowman, almost immediately. In 1954 UPA produced an animated short based on the song. Of course, in 1969 Rankin/Bass produced an animated TV special based on the song, which would make the character even more famous.

The year 1951 would see two more songs featuring new Christmas characters, although neither would see the success of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or "Frosty the Snowman". One was "Suzy Snowflake" by Rosemary Clooney. "Suzy Snowflake" was written by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett, who were responsible for "Red Roses for a Blue Lady", among other songs. The idea behind "Suzy Snowflake" was quite simple. It revolved around a snowflake personified as a girl named Suzy. "Suzy Snowflake" would do respectably well, although it would not be the success the success that "Frosty the Snowman", let alone "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", was.

Regardless, in 1953  Centaur Productions adapted the song "Suzy Snowflake" as a stop-motion animation short. Starting in 1956 Chicago television station WGN would air it each year alongside UPA's "Frosty the Snowman" and one other short (more on it in a little bit).

The other song to introduce new Christmas characters in 1951 was "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)". "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)" was written by Stuart Hamblen, who had written the song "Texas Plains" (which Patsy Montana redid as "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart") and would later write Rosemary Clooney's hit  "This Ole House"."Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)" centred around the dwarves of the title, who assist Santa on his midnight ride during Christmas Eve. In the song it is Hardrock who drives Santa's sleigh and Coco who helps with navigation. Santa Claus had no real need for Joe, but took him along "'cause he loves him so."

To promote "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe", the song's publisher, Hill and Range Songs Inc. looked to Centaur Productions to create an animated short based on it. The result was a 2 minute, 45 second, stop motion animation short titled "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe". Along with the animated short "Suzy Snowflake" (also produced by Centaur Productions) and UPA's "Frosty the Snowman", it would be aired on WGN for years.

In 1951 "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)" was also recorded by Gene Autry. Unfortunately, the third time did not prove to a charm for Mr. Autry and "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)" did not perform particularly well on the charts. Today it is often forgotten that he even recorded the song.

The next Christmas character to be immortalised in song was not a new character at all, much like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Unlike Rudolph, however, Mrs. Santa Claus had been for over a century before having a song centred around her. Mrs. Claus was first referenced in the story "A Christmas Legend" by James Rees in 1849. Afterwards Mrs. Claus would be referenced on and off for much of the 19th Century. She even received a starring role in Katharine Lee Bates's 1889 poem "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride" ("Goody" is short for "Goodwife", an old, polite form of address much like today's "Mrs.").

References to Mrs. Claus would continue into the 20th Century, with whole books written about her, including Sarah Addington and Gertrude's 1923 book The Great Adventure of Mrs. Santa Claus and  Alice and Lillian Desow Holland's 1946 book The Story of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus and The Night Before Christmas).  It was in 1953 that the song "Mrs. Santa Claus" appeared as the flip side of Nat King Cole's single "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot". "Mrs. Santa Claus" was composed by  Jack Fulton, Louis Steele, and Hazel Houle. Curiously, "Mrs. Santa Claus" turned out to be more popular than "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot", which, well, has sort of been forgotten.

By the mid Fifties the trend towards new Christmas characters had pretty much ended. This is not to say that since then composers would not occasionally attempt to introduce new holiday characters in songs. The year 1960 saw the release of Lou Monte's  single "Dominick the Donkey". "Dominick the Donkey" centred upon Santa Claus's donkey, Dominick, whom he uses to deliver presents to children in Italy because reindeer do not handle the hills there well. Unfortunately, "Dominick the Donkey" did not prove to be a hit. It only made it as far as no. 14 on Billboard's "Bubbling Under the Hot 100" chart in December 1960. While "Dominick the Donkey" would never be a hit in the United States, it would prove to be on in the United Kingdom upon its re-release in 2011. There it peaked at no. 3 on the UK singles chart.

Since "Dominick The Donkey" there have been very few attempts to introduce new characters into popular holiday mythology through song. One notable exception came in 2014. That year rock band The Killers (who release a Christmas single each year) and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel teamed up to write "Joel the Lump of Coal". The song centres on a lump of coal named Joel at the North Pole who finds, to his dismay, that he is to be given as a "booby prize" to a naughty little boy. The song was accompanied by a music video done in a style approximating the stop-motion animation of the old Rankin/Bass specials. The song saw some success, reaching no. 27 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart.

Ultimately the Christmas songs from the late Forties onward did not add a large number of characters to holiday mythology. Suzy Snowflake is remembered only by fans of classic American pop music. Hardrock, Coco, and Joe are remembered only by those Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in Chicago and the few other places the animated short was shown. Dominick the Donkey was pretty much forgotten until recently. Only Frosty the Snowman would go on to lasting fame. As to Rudolph, he had originated in an advertising campaign and was already famous well before his song was written. Regardless, these songs are still enjoyed by many today, whether or not their characters were incorporated into the mainstream holiday mythos. And who is to say that fifty years from today Joel the Lump of Coal won't be as well known as Frosty or Rudolph? If only Rankin/Bass would make a special based on the song.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Connections Between It's a Wonderful Life & The Bishops Wife

The Forties were a bit of a Golden Age for Yuletide movies. In fact, a good number of classic Christmas films we still watch today were made during the decade. The years 1946 and 1947 seem to have been a particularly good time for holiday movies, with no less than four films considered among the very best released in those years. It's a Wonderful Life (1946), It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and The Bishop's Wife (1947) number among classic movie fans' favourites from the era. Indeed, It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Bishop's Wife often rank at the top of any list of the greatest Christmas movies ever made.

It should then come as no surprise that many of these films have a good deal in common. In particular, there are a number of connections between It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife, more than many people may realise. Some would be obvious to those who have seen both films. Others might only be obvious to classic film buffs. Yet others might only known to those familiar with the history of the films. I thought then I would list some of the connections between It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife.

Both Films Centre Upon Angels Helping Mortals

This is one of the more obvious things that It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife share in common. In It's a Wonderful Life, when George Bailey (played by James Stewart) contemplates suicide, it is the angel Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) who comes to George's rescue. In The Bishop's Wife, when Bishop Henry Brougham (played by David Niven) prays for guidance, it is the angel Dudley who comes to assist him. Here it must be pointed out that it is The Bishop's Wife that is more accurate in its portrayal of angels with regards to Judaeo-Christian theology. In Judaeo-Christian theology an angel is a spiritual being who is more powerful than humans, but less powerful than God. They serve as intermediaries between God and humans. This describes Dudley in The Bishop's Wife perfectly. On the other hand, in It's a Wonderful Life Clarence is a mortal who died and went to heaven. According to Judaeo-Christian theology, then, Clarence would not be an angel, but simply a ghost or more precisely, the helpful dead of folklore.

Cary Grant Almost Starred in What Would Become It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life was based on the story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern. Unable to sell the story, Mr. Stern had 200 copies of the story printed and sent out as a Christmas card during the holiday season of 1943. One of these cards would find its way into the hands of RKO producer David Hempstead. It was then in 1944 that RKO bought the screen rights to "The Greatest Gift" as the source for a possible vehicle for Cary Grant. Three failed drafts of the screenplay were written before RKO abandoned the project. It was RKO head Charles Koerner who interested Frank Capra in "The Greatest Gift". It was then in 1945 that RKO sold the rights to the story to Mr. Capra's production company Liberty Films.

Of course, Cary Grant would go onto star in The Bishop's Wife. Here it must be pointed out that prior to making It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra was looking at another property that would also become a Christmas classic. In 1945 Frank Capra acquired the rights to the story "It Happened on Fifth Avenue" by Herbert Clyde Lewis and Frederick Stephani with the intent of making a film based on the story. When Frank Capra read "The Greatest Gift", he abandoned plans for a movie based on "It Happened on Fifth Avenue" and made It's a Wonderful Life instead. He sold the rights to "It Happened on Fifth Avenue" to Monogram Pictures, who made the film It Happened on Fifth Avenue .  It was the first film released by new unit Allied Artists.

It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife Shared Cast Members in Common

Most classic film buffs know that Karolyn Grimes played both George and Mary Bailey's daughter Zuzu in  It's a Wonderful Life and Henry and Julia Brougham's daughter Debbie in The Bishop's Wife. That having been said, the two films have more cast members in common than just Karolyn Grimes. Bobby Anderson, who played 12 year old George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, played the captain of the team of boys defending a snow fort in a snowball fight in The Bishop's Wife. Quite simply, in The Bishop's Wife we then have an actor who played George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life engaging in snowball fight with the actress who played his daughter in It's a Wonderful Life!

Two minor roles in The Bishop's Wife were filled by two actresses who played minor roles in It's a Wonderful Life. Sarah Edwards, who played Mary's mother Mrs. Hatch in It's a Wonderful Life, played Mrs. Duffy, the organist at St Timothy's Church, in The Bishop's Wife. Almira Sessions, who played Mr. Potter's secretary in It's a Wonderful Life, appeared as one of the ladies in the restaurant Michel's in The Bishop's Wife.

Both Films Were Nominated for Academy Awards

While neither Its a Wonderful Life nor The Bishop's Wife did particularly well at the box office (It's a Wonderful Life actually did better, with $3.3 million to The Bishop's Wife's $3 million), both received recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It's a Wonderful Life was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (for Frank Capra), Best Actor (for James Stewart), Best Film Editing (for William Hornbeck), and Best Sound Recording (for John Aalberg). While it won none of them, it did win a  a Technical Achievement Award for the development of a brand new method of faking snow on movie sets. The Bishop's Wife also received its share of Oscar nominations. It was nominated for Best Picture; Best Director (for Henry Koster), Best Film Editing (for Monica Collingwood), and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (for Hugo Friedhofer). It won the Oscar for Best Sound, Recording for Gordon Sawyer.

Of course, beyond these things in common, It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife are both films that are regarded among the greatest Christmas films ever made. While neither was exactly a smash at the box office, over the years their reputations would grow, particularly through repeat showings on television. Indeed, it is often the case that if for some reason It's a Wonderful Life does not top a list of the greatest holiday films ever made, it is only because it has been beaten by The Bishop's Wife. It would seem that when it comes to Christmas movies, audiences prefer those where angels tread.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The 70th Anniversary of It's a Wonderful Life

When it comes to Yuletide movies, none may be more beloved than It's a Wonderful Life (1946). It regularly ranks at the top of lists of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. On review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes list of "The 25 Best Christmas Movies of All Time" it came in at #1. It also came in at #1 on a list of the 50 best Christmas movies of all time compiled by Good Housekeeping this year. What is more it is counted as one of the greatest films of all time and may well be the best known film director Frank Capra ever made. It was 70 years ago today that It's a Wonderful Life premiered in New York City.

The origin of It's a Wonderful Life can be traced back to the story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern. In 1939 Mr. Stern awakened from a dream inspired by A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. While he began "The Greatest Gift" in 1939, he would not finish it until 1943. Unable to find a publisher for the story, he printed 200 copies of it and sent it out as a Christmas card to friends during the holiday season of 1943. The story would seem very familiar to anyone who has seen It's a Wonderful Life. It centres on George Pratt, a man thinking of suicide on a bridge on Christmas Eve in 1943. Pratt is approached by an unnamed stranger with a bag, with whom he begins a conversation. When Pratt wishes he had never been born, the stranger tells him he should take the bag and tell people he is a door-to-door salesman if anyone ask. When Pratt returns to town, he finds it very different. No one knows who he is, not even his closest friends and family, and everything is very different. Quite simply, it is as if he had never born. Pratt returns to the stranger, who restores Pratt's life to normal.

"The Greatest Gift" was later published in the December 1944 issue of Reader's Scope magazine. Good Housekeeping published the story in its January 1945 issue under the title "The Man Who Had Never Been Born". Regardless, one of Philip Van Doren Stern's original Christmas cards came to the attention of David Hempstead, a producer at RKO. Mr. Hempstead showed "The Greatest Gift" to Cary Grant's agent, and in April 1944 RKO bought the screen rights to the story. At that time the goal was to turn the story into a vehicle for Cary Grant. After three failed drafts of the screenplay, however, RKO ultimately shelved the film. As to Cary Grant, he went onto star in another holiday classic from the mid-Forties, The Bishop's Wife (1947).

Fortunately, there was still a chance for a movie based on "The Greatest Gift" to be made. The head of RKO, Charles Koerner, suggested to director Frank Capra that he read "The Greatest Gift". Frank Capra became interested in making a film based on the story, and in 1945 RKO sold the film rights to Mr. Capra's brand new production company, Liberty Films. As part of the deal RKO included the three unused scripts. Frank Capra,  Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Jo Swerling,with input from a few other screenwriters, took liberally from all three screenplays and ultimately came up with a whole new script entitled It's a Wonderful Life.

Today it is hard to picture anyone but Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed as George and Mary Bailey, but others were considered for the parts. In addition to James Stewart, Frank Capra also considered Henry Fonda for the role of George Bailey. As to the role of Mary Bailey, Frank Capra initially wanted Jean Arthur for the role of Mary, but she was already committed to performing in the play Born Yesterday on Broadway. Ginger Rogers was approached about the role, but turned it down as being "too bland". Frank Capra also considered other actresses, including Olivia de Havilland, Martha Scott, Laraine Day, and Ann Dvorak.

Many actors were considered even for the role of the villain, Henry F. Potter. Among those considered were Edward Arnold,  Charles Bickford, Edgar Buchanan, Louis Calhern, Victor Jory, Raymond Massey, and Vincent Price. Even Thomas Mitchell, who would play Uncle Billy in the film, was considered for the role of Potter. Ultimately the role went to legendary actor Lionel Barrymore, who had played the similar role of Ebeneezer Scrooge for literally years on radio. Frank Capra and Lionel Barrymore had earlier worked together on You Can't Take It With You (1938), in which Mr. Barrymore played the very different role of "Grandpa" Martin Vanderhof.

While both Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore had worked with Frank Capra before, one star of It's a Wonderful Life had worked with the director many times before. Jimmy the Raven first worked with Mr. Capra on You Can't Take It With You. Afterwards he appeared in some role in every Frank Capra film. In It's a Wonderful Life he had one of his bigger roles, that of Uncle Billy's pet raven.

It's a Wonderful Life would be filmed at RKO properties from April 15 1946 to July 27 1946. Interior shots were filmed at RKO Radio Pictures Studio in Culver City. For exterior scenes in the fictional city of Bedford Falls, Max Ree's sets from Cimarron (1931) were assembled on RKO's ranch in Encino and redressed as "Bedford Falls". To the old Cimarron set Frank Capra added a centre parkway lined by trees, 20 fully grown oak trees, and a functional bank set. Naturally, for the reality in which George had never been born, the Bedford Falls set was redressed as "Pottersville". The exterior of  Martini's house was actually a home in  La Cañada-Flintridge, California. The gym floor with the hidden swimming pool was shot in an actual high school gym. It was shot at Beverly Hills High School. The gym and its swimming pool still exist to this day.

It's a Wonderful Life premiered on December 20 1946 in New York City. It then began its run in that city the following day. It premiered in Los Angeles on December 26 1946. It went into wide release in the United States on January 7 1947. It's a Wonderful Life received positive reviews over all, with the only real criticism being the sentimentality of the film (a common criticism of Frank Capra's movies at the time). Contrary to common belief, It's a Wonderful Life did not bomb at the box office. For the year 1947 it ranked no. 26 out of over 400 feature films released this year. It ranked only one place above another holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street, which was considered a hit at the time. The problem was that It's a Wonderful Life was a fairly expensive movie to make. Its budget was $3.18 million. Even raking in a respectable $3.3 million at the box office, it lost $525,000.

As to why It's a Wonderful Life was released to Los Angeles before it was the rest of the country, this was to put it in consideration for the Academy Awards for 1946. Ultimately it would be nominated for five major awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (for Frank Capra), Best Actor (for James Stewart), Best Film Editing (for William Hornbeck), and Best Sound Recording (for John Aalberg). Ultimately it lost all of them, four of them to the juggernaut that was The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).  Many historians and critics believe It's a Wonderful Life might have fared better at the Oscars if it had been released in 1947, when competition was not not quite as stiff.

That is not to say that It's a Wonderful Life walked away from the Academy Awards with nothing. Russell Shearman and RKO's special effects department won a Technical Achievement Award for the development of a brand new method of faking snow on movie sets. Before It's a Wonderful Life, snow was created on movie sets with corn flakes coloured white. Unfortunately, the corn flakes would make a crunching noise when stepped upon, which meant any scenes in the "snow" would have to be redubbed later. There was no need for redubbing with the chemical snow developed at RKO. Made using water, soap flakes, foamite and sugar, it was relatively quiet to walk upon.

Just as It's a Wonderful Life was not exactly a box office failure, it was not exactly forgotten after its initial, general release in 1947. It's a Wonderful Life continued to be shown in theatres throughout the Fifties and even into the Sixties. It was shown regularly on television in the Fifties and even more so during the Sixties. Even before it was incorrectly assumed that it had fallen into public domain, It's a Wonderful Life was a very well respected movie. In his column from March 27 1962, Associated Press writer Bob Thomas compared the Oscar nominees of 1946 with the Oscar nominees of 1961, mentioning It's a Wonderful Life quite favourably. By 1977, not that long after it had been assumed that the film had become part of the public domain, It's a Wonderful Life was already being referred to as "Frank Capra's classic". It's a Wonderful Life was not forgotten between its premiere in 1946 and when it was assumed to be in the public domain, nor did it achieve the status of a classic only after it was assumed to be in the public domain.

That having been said, the assumption that It's a Wonderful Life was in the public domain would introduce the film to a wider audience and would largely be responsible for the film becoming considered by many to be the greatest holiday film of all time. The rights to Liberty Films were initially bought by Paramount Pictures. In 1955 Paramount sold its pre-October 1950 library to U.M. & M. TV Corporation. This included It's a Wonderful Life.  U.M. & M. TV Corporation was bought out by National Telefilm Associates (better known simply as NTA) in 1956. It was a clerical error at NTA that resulted in the copyright for It's a Wonderful Life not being renewed in 1974. Since the copyright had not been renewed, it was assumed by many that the film was in the public domain. As a result hundreds of television stations would show It's a Wonderful Life during the holiday season throughout the Seventies and Eighties.

As it turned out, however, It's a Wonderful Life was not in the public domain. It was based on the story "The Greatest Gift", whose copyright had been properly renewed in 1971. As a derivative work of a story that was still protected under copyright, It's a Wonderful Life then belonged to whoever owned the screen rights to "The Greatest Gift". This happened to be Republic Pictures (as NTA renamed itself in the Eighties), who asserted their claim to It's a Wonderful Life in 1993. In 1998 Viacom bought out Spelling Entertainment, who then owned Republic Pictures. The end result of this is that Paramount, which is owned by Viacom, again owns the rights to It's a Wonderful Life.

Given it was assumed to be in the public domain, there would be multiple releases of It's a Wonderful Life on VHS in the Eighties and Nineties. By the advent of DVD Republic has already reclaimed its right to It's a Wonderful Life, so there have been fewer DVD releases. It's a Wonderful Life was first released on DVD on September 19 1995. Since then have been several more DVD editions of It's a Wonderful Life, including a 60th anniversary edition and now a 70th anniversary edition. It has also been released on Blu-Ray.

In 1993, when it was still assumed that It's a Wonderful Life was in public domain, the film was released on CD-ROM for viewing on PCs with Windows 3.1. At the time it was the longest running video that could be viewed on a computer. Besides being able to watch the entire film on a computer (which was novel enough at the time), one could also follow along with the screenplay. The It's a Wonderful Life CD-ROM was developed by , Kinesoft Development, with help from Republic Pictures.

It's a Wonderful Life would be responsible for the existence of at least two television movies. In 1977, when it was still assumed that Its a Wonderful Life was in the public domain, ABC aired a television remake entitled It Happened One Christmas. The film reversed genders, with Marlo Thomas playing Mary in what essentially the George Bailey part and Wayne Rogers playing George in what is essentially the Mary Bailey part. It Happened One Christmas first aired on December 11 1977. It would be rerun in 1978 and 1979, but has not been aired since. It Happened One Christmas has never been released on VHS or DVD.

A spinoff from It's a Wonderful Life, simply titled Clarence, aired on the Family Channel on November 24 1990. Clarence centred on the guardian angel Clarence Oddbody, who must help a woman in 1989. None of the other characters from It's a Wonderful Life appeared in the film.

Since 1994 It's a Wonderful Life has aired exclusively on NBC. For the past many years the network has aired it early in the month of December and then again on Christmas Eve.

After 70 years It's a Wonderful Life shows no sign of fading in popularity. It still regularly tops lists of the greatest Christmas movies ever made and the greatest films ever made. In 1990 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress. Over the years there have been several adaptations to other media, including a Lux Radio Theatre radio play in 1947 and a musical version, simply titled A Wonderful Life, in 1986. The film is referenced so often in American popular culture that even a short list of references would require a small book. It's a Wonderful Life may have made no money at the box office on its initial release and won only one Oscar, but it has become one of the best loved films of all time.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Variety Specials on American Television

There was a time when the schedules of the American broadcast networks would be filled with Christmas variety specials during the month of December. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Christmas variety specials, they were essentially Christmas specials in the form of variety shows. They were generally hosted by big names in music or comedy. Over the years artists ranging from Judy Garland to The Carpenters hosted Christmas variety specials. The typical Christmas variety special would feature plenty of music and often some comedy skits as well.

Although they are relatively rare on American broadcast television today, from the Fifties to the Seventies Christmas variety specials were incredibly popular. For the week of December 9 to 14 in 1974, Bob Hope's Christmas special was the number one programme on the air. His old friend Bing Crosby's Christmas special was the third ranked show for the week. For the week of December 7 to 13 in 1975 no less than four Christmas variety specials ranked in the top ten programmes for the week. Bob Hope's Christmas special was the second highest rated show for the week, while John Denver's Christmas special came in at number 3 and Dean Martin's Christmas special came in at number. 4. Mac Davis's Christmas special lagged behind at a still very respectable number 7 for the week.

The tradition of Christmas variety specials actually began in the days of Old Time Radio. Many radio shows would have Christmas-themed editions that aired during the holiday season. Bing Crosby, one of the all time champions when it came to Christmas variety specials, hosted his first Christmas special on radio in 1935 as a special edition of his regular radio show. Mr. Crosby hosted Christmas editions of his radio show until it went off the air in 1954. In 1955 he started an annual tradition of Christmas radio specials that aired under the title of A Christmas Sing with Bing. These specials lasted until 1962. Bing Crosby's old friend Bob Hope also began hosting Christmas specials on radio in the Thirties. The December 20 1938 edition of The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope had a Christmas theme and featured Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton as Blondie and Dagwood, among other guests.

It may well be impossible to say definitively what was the first Christmas variety special to air on the American broadcast television networks. That having been said, it is safe to say that they began very early. Like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, crooner Perry Como was one of the all time champions when it came to Christmas variety specials. It was in 1948 on his own regular show, The Perry Como Chesterfield Supper Club, that he hosted his very first Christmas special. Perry Como hosted one Christmas special a year on The Perry Como Chesterfield Supper Club until 1954. From 1955 to 1958 he hosted one a year on his next show, The Perry Como Show. From 1959 to 1966 he hosted a Christmas special each year on Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall. Afterwards Perry Como continued to host Christmas specials regularly from the late Sixties into the mid-Eighties. His last Christmas variety special, Perry Como's Irish Christmas, aired in 1994.

Bob Hope also hosted Christmas variety specials from the earliest days of television. His very first, Hope for the Holidays, aired on Christmas Eve in 1950. Afterwards Bob Hope hosted Christmas variety specials on a regular basis. In fact, during the Vietnam War there would be some seasons in which he hosted two Christmas variety specials. The first, aired in December, would be one of his typical Christmas variety specials. The second, usually aired in January (well after the holidays), would be a recording of one of his USO shows for the troops in Vietnam. Bob Hope hosted Christmas specials throughout the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties. His last Christmas special, Bob Hope's Cross-Country Christmas, aired in 1991.

Oddly enough given how long he had hosted Christmas specials on radio, Bing Crosby would not begin hosting Yuletide variety specials on television until much later than either Perry Como or Bob Hope. He was a guest on the 1957 Christmas edition of The Frank Sinatra Show, titled "Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank". The first of his very own Christmas specials, The Bing Crosby Christmas Show, would not air until 1961. Bing Crosby may have started hosting Christmas specials later than either Perry Como or Bob Hope, but once he got started he hosted either a Christmas special or a Christmas edition of a regular show every year until his final special in 1977. His 1964 Christmas programme was an episode of his short-lived sitcom The Bing Crosby Show. In 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968 he hosted the Christmas editions of ABC's variety show The Hollywood Palace.

Interestingly enough, Bing Crosby's first Christmas special, The Bing Crosby Christmas Show, and his final Christmas special, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, bookended each other quite well. Both were filmed in London. Both featured exclusively British guests (Dame Shirley Bassey and Terry-Thomas on the first; Twiggy and David Bowie on the last). English actor Ron Moody was featured prominently in both specials. What makes this even more interesting is that at the time Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas was filmed, no one realised it would be Mr. Crosby's last Christmas special. He died only a few weeks after the special was shot (for more on Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, read my post on it from last year).

Andy Williams would be another one of the all time champions when it came to hosting Christmas variety specials. His own variety show, The Andy Williams Show, debuted in 1962, and he hosted a Christmas edition of the show every year it was on the air until 1967 when it was cancelled, and he did so again when it was revived from 1969 to 1971. In fact, Mr. Williams introduced the now classic Christmas song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" on the 1963 Christmas edition of his show (the song was written by the show's vocal director, George Wyle, with his writing partner Eddie Pola). Starting in 1973 Andy Williams began hosting Christmas specials on a somewhat regular basis, in addition to appearing as a guest on other performers' specials (most notably Bob Hope and Johnny Cash's specials). His last Christmas special was actually the December 17 1997 Christmas edition of The Daily Show. It was appropriately titled, "The Andy Williams Christmas Special". What amounted to a "greatest hits compilation" of moments from Andy Williams's Christmas specials, Happy Holidays: The Best of The Andy Williams Christmas Shows, aired in 2001.

It would probably take a book to discuss every single Christmas variety special that aired on the American broadcast networks from the Fifties to the Eighties. The Sixties saw Christmas variety specials hosted by such luminaries as Judy Garland, Mitzi Gaynor, Danny Kaye, and the King Family. If anything it seemed as if there were even more Christmas variety specials in the Seventies. Among those hosting Christmas special in the Seventies were such entertainers as The Carpenters, Johnny Cash, Mac Davis, John Denver, Jackie Gleason, and The Muppets. Between December 1 and Christmas Day for much of the Seventies several Christmas variety specials aired during any given week.

Sadly, the Christmas variety specials would go into a swift decline in the Eighties. Such stalwarts as Perry Como, Bob Hope, and Andy Williams continued to host them, but there would be fewer and fewer such specials as the Eighties progressed. By the Nineties the number of Christmas variety specials each year had slowed to a trickle, although a few entertainers, such as Kathie Lee Gifford (who hosted several in the mid-Nineties), carried the tradition on. By the Naughts the Christmas variety special was very nearly extinct.

As to why Christmas variety specials fell out of vogue, there are probably several reasons. Foremost among these may have been changing musical tastes on the part of the American public. The sort of traditional American pop, sung by artists from Bing Crosby to Andy Williams, began to decline in popularity with the rise of rock 'n' roll in the Fifties. As the Fifties became the Sixties and again when the Sixties became the Seventies, American music diversified even further, so that it  became difficult to find a performer who would appeal to a majority of viewers in the way that Perry Como, Bing Crosby, or Andy Williams had. Another problem is that, unlike the crooners before them, most rock artists and R&B artists showed little interest in appearing on television beyond the occasional performance on the variety shows of the era. The Who might appear on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. They probably would not host a Christmas special on American television even if they had been asked.

Another reason for the decline of Christmas variety specials on American television is quite simply that American television itself began to diversify. From the late Forties to the Eighties, American television was dominated by the broadcast networks. It was an era when many communities in the United States had access to as few as two to three TV channels. The Seventies and Eighties saw tremendous growth in cable television and hence cable channels, so that the broadcast networks had competition that they never had before. Through the Eighties, Nineties, and Naughts, the broadcast networks would gradually lose their audience to the numerous cable channels that had emerged. This not only affected the networks' regularly scheduled programmes, but the Christmas variety specials as well. Indeed, even the beloved classic animated specials would feel the brunt of the decline in the broadcast networks' audience, so that ultimately only Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman would air annually to this day without interruption on one of the networks.

Although they are still not as common as they once were, the Teens have seen a bit of a comeback for the Christmas variety special. Indeed, for a time NBC seemed to be trying to bring the format back. Starting in 2011 modern day crooner Michael Bublé has hosted one Christmas special a year on NBC. In 2012  country singer Blake Shelton starred in Blake Shelton's Not So Family Christmas on NBC.In 2013 pop singer Kelly Clarkson hosted Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale.  This year a capella group Pentatonix hosted their own Christmas special on NBC.

NBC is not the only broadcast network to air Christmas variety specials of late. Last year Fox aired Taraji and Terrence's White Hot Holidays, hosted by Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. Taraji P. Henson hosted a Christmas variety special by herself on Fox this year. Even a streaming service has produced its own original Christmas variety special. Last year Netflix debuted A Very Murray Christmas, a variety special starring Bill Murray that was very much an homage to the variety specials of old.

It is difficult to say whether Christmas variety specials will ever truly make a comeback. At the moment it seems unlikely that they will ever be as common as they were in the Sixties and Seventies. That having been said, it seems possible that they could at least become less rare than they were in the Nineties and the Naughts. After all, there have already been several Christmas variety specials that have aired in the Teens. Christmas variety specials might never be as common as they once were, but it would seem that they are not ready to disappear entirely quite yet.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The 50th Anniversary of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

It was fifty years ago tonight, on December 18 1966, that the TV special Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! debuted on CBS. It was among a number of classic animated specials to debut in the Sixties,  including Mr. Magoo's Christmas  Carol, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Even with such competition Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! proved to be among the most successful Yuletide specials ever.

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was based on the 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss. The character of the Grinch first appeared in the poem "The Hoobub and the Grinch", which was published in Redbook May 1955. The poem centred on the Grinch's effort to sell a piece of green string to the Hoobub. It was in early 1957 that Theodor Geisel, better known by his pen name Dr. Seuss, began work on How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. He completed the book in a matter of weeks, so that it was finished by May 1957. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was published that December, and proved to be rather successful. The book received good reviews and sold very well.

It would be legendary animator Chuck Jones who would bring Dr. Seuss's book to television screens. During World War II Theodor Geisel served in the animation department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces. It was while  he was in the Army that he became friends with Chuck Jones. Together the two of them worked on the series of "Private Snafu" Army instructional cartoons. Chuck Jones thought that How the Grinch Stole Christmas! would make for a good animated special and approached Dr. Seuss about bringing his book to television.

One hurdle Chuck Jones faced in adapting How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was that the book is rather short. It can be read in a matter of minutes, and Mr. Jones had 24 minutes to fill. Expanding How the Grinch Stole Christmas to fit a half-hour, television format was accomplished to a small degree with the addition of songs, all of which had lyrics written by Dr. Seuss. The character of the Grinch's dog Max was also expanded a good deal. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was originally published in black and white, so Chuck Jones had to determine the colours of the Grinch, Max, the Whos, Whoville, and so on. It was Chuck Jones who decided that the Grinch should be green.

 Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! would ultimately prove very expensive to make. It reportedly cost $300,000 to make in 1966. In comparison A Charlie Brown Christmas cost only $76,000. It even cost more than the hour-long Mr. Maggo's Christmas Carol, which cost $250,000 to make in 1962. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was ultimately the most expensive animated programme or half-hour programme CBS had aired up to that time.

Fortunately, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! proved to be well worth the money spent on it. As mentioned earlier, it received positive reviews. It also did very well in the ratings. Its success would inspire a string of animated specials based on Dr. Seuss's work, including Horton Hears a Who! in 1970, The Cat in the Hat in 1971, The Lorax in 1972, and several more. Its success would also lead to two more specials starring the Grinch. Halloween Is Grinch Night debuted on ABC on October 29 1977. The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat, which also starred Dr. Seuss's popular character the Cat in the Hat, debuted on ABC on May 20 1982.

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! would prove to be one of the perennial Christmas specials from the Sixties.  CBS aired it annually until 1986. In 1988 cable channel TNT began airing the special annually. In 1996 Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! finally returned to broadcast network television, airing on The WB. It remained there until 2006 when it moved to ABC. Since 2015 it has aired on NBC.

Along with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas proved to be one of the most successful animated Yuletide specials of all time. It would not be surprising if people are still watching it fifty years from now.