Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Year's Movies

When it comes to Christmas Day, movie buffs have many movies to choose from, everything from inspirational films like It's a Wonderful Life (1946) to action films like Die Hard (1988). Unfortunately, when it comes to New Year's the pickings can be a bit more slim. With that in mind, here are five movies that I have always found suitable for viewing on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. Here I must stress they are in order of release, not preference.

After the Thin Man (1936): This is the first sequel to the wildly successful The Thin Man (1934). In fact, it takes place immediately after the events depicted in The Thin Man. Since The Thin Man was set during the Yuletide, After the Thin Man takes place at New Year's Eve. In fact, the movie begins with Nick and Nora Charles (played by William Powell and Myrna Loy) returning home to find a New Year's Eve party unfolding in their house! Like all of the "Thin Man" films After the Thin Man is a good deal of fun. What is more, it features Jimmy Stewart in an early role (and a role like no other he ever played before or since at that)!

The Apartment (1960): I tend to think of The Apartment as a Yuletide movie (my favourite, in fact), but while Christmas plays a central role in the film, it actually takes place over a month. Indeed, the climax takes place at New Year's. This makes it perfect for a New Year's Eve movie. Of course, in my humble opinion, The Apartment is suitable viewing for any time of year. It has one of the best casts ever assembled for a film, from the leads (Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray) to the supporting cast (Jack Kruschen, Ray Walston, David Lewis, David White, and more). It also has an incredible script by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. Billy Wilder made some truly great films, but in my humble opinion, The Apartment is his very best, movie-wise.

Ocean's 11 (1960): For me this is the New Year's movie. It's not necessarily the best New Year's movie out there (although it certainly numbers among them), but it is the one I most identify with the holiday. In fact, Ocean's 11 could not possibly take place at any other time of year. Quite simply, Ocean's 11 centres on 82nd Airborne veterans (played by members of the Rat Pack) who plot to rob five different Las Vegas casinos (Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn, the Flamingo, the Riviera, the Sahara, and the Sands) on New Year's Eve. The film obviously has a great cast and it is a whole lot of fun. It even features performances by the two coolest members of the Rat Pack, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972): I am not a big fan of those all-star disaster movies of the Seventies, but The Poseidon Adventure is one of the best in the genre. The film centres on the ageing luxury liner Poseidon, which is capsized by a tsunami on New Year's Eve. Both the crew and the passengers must then find their way to safety. What lifts The Posideon Adventure above most disaster movies of the era is a solid script by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes (based on Paul Gallico's 1969 novel of the same name) and the direction of Ronald Neame.

When Harry Met Sally (1989): I will fully confess that not many films made after 1970 number among my favourites, but When Harry Met Sally is one. The film actually takes place over several years' time, but the climax is set at New Year's Eve. I cannot see how many classic film buffs cannot love this film. It owes much more to movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood than the rom-coms of the Eighties and Nineties, and it draws inspiration from films from It's a Wonderful Life to The Apartment.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Late Great Rose Marie

Rose Marie, who achieved stardom on vaudeville and radio while still a child and later gained fame as Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, died yesterday at the age of 94.

Rose Marie Mazetta was born on August 15 1923 in Manhattan, New York City. She was the daughter of vaudeville performer Frank Mazzetta, who used the stage name Frank Curley. Even as a toddler she had a fully developed voice that sounded like it belonged to an adult. She started performing when she was only three years old, using the name "Baby Rose Marie". In fact, she was only three when she made her first appearance on radio, singing on Atlantic City radio station WGP. Later in the year she made her national debut, performing on NBC.

Rose Marie made her film debut in 1929 in the Vitaphone sound short "Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder". Starting in July of 1931 she had her own, regular radio show on New York City station WJZ. In 1932 her show went nationwide, airing on the NBC Blue network. It lasted until 1934. She appeared in several movie short subjects in the Thirties, including "Rambling 'Round Radio Row #3", "Sing, Babies, Sing!", "Rambling 'Round Radio Row #10", and "Flippen's Frolics". She also appeared in the feature film International House (1933). It was when she was 11 that she stopped being billed as "Baby Rose Marie" and started being billed simply as "Rose Marie". In the early Thirties she continued to perform live, including a national tour organised by NBC in which she sang at RKO theatres across the United States.

Rose Marie retired briefly from show business to finish high school. From March 21 1938 to February 20 1939 she had her own show on the Blue Network. Over the years she would make several appearances on Old Time Radio, including such shows as The Radio Hall of Fame, Command Performance, The Jimmy Durante Show, Club Hollywood, and The Bing Crosby Chesterfield Show. She made several appearances on The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. She also sang at various nightclubs around the country. In 1946 she was a headliner at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. 

Rose Marie made her television debut in 1950 singing on an edition of Cavalcade of Stars. In the Fifties she appeared on various variety shows as a comedian, singer, or, often, both. She appeared on Toast of the Town, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Red Skelton Show, Texaco Star Theatre Starring Milton Berle, Four Star Revue, The George Jessel Show, and Tonight Starring Jack Paar. Rose Marie guest starred as an actress Gunsmoke, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, M Squad, and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. She had a regular role on The Bob Cummings Show and My Sister Eileen. On Broadway she appeared in Top Banana with Phil Silvers. She appeared in the 1954 film adaption of Top Banana, as well as the movie The Big Beat (1958).

Rose Marie began the Sixties with her best known role, that of comedy writer Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The Dick Van Dyke Show took time to build an audience, but when it did it proved to be one of the most successful shows of the early Sixties. Except for its first season, it ranked in the top twenty every season it was on, reaching a peak of no. 3 for the year in its third season. It won 15 Emmy Awards and was nominated for many more. Rose Marie was nominated for three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress for her role as Sally.

Later in the decade and into the Seventies Rose Marie was a regular on The Doris Day Show. She also regularly appeared as a panellist on Hollywood Squares, appearing on both the first and last edition of the show's original incarnation. She guest starred on such shows as Occasional Wife; The Monkees; Hey, Landlord; The Virginian; My Three Sons; and My Friend Tony. She continued to appear on such variety and talk shows as The Steve Allen Playhouse, The Joey Bishop Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Hollywood Palace, The Don Rickles Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and Della. She appeared in the movies Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title (1966) and Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966).

In the Seventies Rose Marie guest starred on such shows as Adam-12, Petrocelli, Kojak, Get Christie Love Chico and the Man, Flying High, and The Love Boat. She had a recurring role on S.W.A.T. She appeared in the films Memory of Us (1974), The Man from Clover Grove (1974), and Cheaper to Keep Her (1980). 

In the Eighties Rose Marie guest starred on The Love Boat, Cagney & Lacey, Hail to the Chief, Brothers, Remington Steele, Duet, Mr. Belvedere, and Murphy Brown. She appeared in the films Lunch Wagon (1981) and Witchboard (1986). In the Nineties she was a regular on the show Hardball. She guest starred on such shows as The Man in the Family, Scorch, Herman's Head, Wings, and Caroline in the City. She was a guest voice on the animated series Freakazoid!, The Blues Brothers Animated Series, and Hey Arnold! She appeared in the films Sandman (1993) and Lost & Found (1999). She was the voice of Mrs. Bates in the 1998 remake of Psycho.

In the Naughts Rose Marie guest starred on the shows The Hughleys and Andy Richter Controls the Universe. She appeared in the Dick Van Dyke Show reunion movie The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. She was also the voice of a secretary in the animated special The Alan Brady Show. Into the Teens she provided additional voices for The Garfield Show. This year a documentary about Rose Marie's career, Wait for Your Laugh, was released.

In the past many years Rose Marie was active on social media, where she interacted with her many fans.

There are probably very few performers who had a career as long as Rose Marie. She began performing when she was still a toddler and never retired. There should be little wonder that she would have a career that long. Rose Marie had a good singing voice, a wonderfully dry wit, and a warm personality One could help but love Rose Marie. It was something that was clear on social media. She had over 125,000 followers on Twitter. What is more, Rose Marie clearly loved her fans back.

The fact that her fans loved her and she loved her fans explains how she was so successful her entire life. Starting at age three she saw phenomenal success as Baby Rose Marie. She continued to be successful as an adult, peaking once more with her performance as Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Rose Marie worked very hard to please audiences. In a 2011 interview with historian Kliph Nesteroff, Rose Marie told how she was visited backstage by Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas, who were looking to hire her for what would be The Dick Van Dyke Show. They asked, "Don't you ever bomb?" She told them, "I try not to."

Indeed, in many ways Rose Marie was a pioneer. Before Carol Burnett, even before Lucille Ball, Rose Marie was entertaining audiences. She was a star of vaudeville and radio as a child. As a young adult she played major nightclubs and continued to appear on radio. On television she played a pivotal role on one of the greatest shows ever made, The Dick Van Dyke Show. I don't think it is an overstatement to say that Sally Rogers was a pioneering character. Before Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she was a single woman working in a job usually occupied by men. What is more, her co-workers, Rob (played by Dick Van Dyke) and Buddy (played by Morey Amsterstam), treated her as an equal. And while Sally was always on the lookout for a possible husband, there was no sign that she planned to give up comedy writing after she married.

The word "legend" is often bandied about these days with regards to performers, but in the case of Rose Marie it is truly applicable. She was a legend, one whose career spanned vaudeville, radio, film, television and the stage. If she had a far longer career than most performers, it is quite simply that she was that good.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Animator Bob Givens Pases On

Bob Givens, who worked as an animator for Walt Disney, Warner Bros., UPA, and DePatie–Freleng Enterprises, among other studios, died on December 14 2017 at the age of 99. The cause was acute respiratory failure. Among other things, he redesigned Bugs Bunny before he made his official debut in the animated short "A Wild Hare" (1940).

Bob Givens was born on March 2 1918 in Hanson, Kentucky. He was a twin. To improve their father's health, the family moved to Southern California. An artist from a young age, not long after graduating from high school he got a job at Walt Disney as an animation checker and in-betweener, primarily working for Grim Natwick. Mr. Givens was one of the team that worked on the groundbreaking animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937). He later attended night classes at the Chouinard Art Institute and the New York Art Students League.

From Walt Disney he moved to Leon Schlesinger Productions, the company that provided Warner Bros. with its cartoons. Bob Givens had not been with the studio long before Tex Avery asked him to redesign a rabbit character developed by director Ben Hardaway and character designer Charles Thorson, thinking the character "too cute." Mr. Givens redesigned the rabbit to something much closer to the modern day Bugs Bunny. Bugs would make his debut in "A Wild Hare" in 1940 and later would be further refined by Robert McKimson. Mr. Givens continued to work at Leon Schlesinger Productions until 1942, when he was drafted into the United States Army. His last short before military service was "The Draft Horse". During World War II he worked with fellow Leon Schlesinger Productions animator Rudolf Isling making military training films.

Following the war Bob Given went to work for Warner Bros. Cartoons (Warner Bros. having bought out Leon Schlesinger), primarily working with Robert McKimson and Chuck Jones. He remained with the studio until the mid-Fifties, afterwards working for a variety of studios. He animated the short "The Talking Dog" (1956) for Walter Lantz Productions, and then did the first of his work in television. Mr. Givens worked as a layout artist for Hanna-Barbera on Quick Draw McGraw starting in 1959. The following year he worked as a production designer on UPA's television series Mister Magoo and King Features Syndicate's new batch of "Popeye the Sailor" shorts made specifically for television. In the Sixties he worked as a layout artist on the Saturday morning cartoons The Super 6, Here Comes the Grump, and Doctor Dolittle. He was a storyboard artist on the animated series Linus! The Lion Hearted. In the Sixties he returned to Warner Bros. Cartoons where he worked on the last of the studio's output for some time and later the theatrical shorts produced by Depatie-Freleng Enterprises for Warner Bros.

In the Seventies Bob Givens worked on a variety of animated TV shows, including The Houndcats, Yogi's Gang, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, and Heathcliff. He worked on the TV special The Cat in the Hat. He also worked on Depatie-Freleng theatrical shorts early in the decade. In the Eighties he worked on such TV shows as The Puppy's Further Adventures, Saturday Supercade, Dragon's Lair, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Ghostbusters, She-Ra: Princess of Power, and Garfiled and Friends, as well as various TV shows and specials featuring the Warner Bros. characters. He also worked on two Warner Bros. theatrical shorts.

In the Nineties Bob Givens worked on the TV shows Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa, The Angry Beavers, and The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries. He also worked on the Warner Bros. animated short "Another Froggy Evening". His last work in animation was the direct-to-video feature Timber Wolf in 2001.

Bob Givens also provided animation for television commercials, including work on a long-running campaign for the insecticide Raid.

Bob Givens's career spanned over sixty years. Even if he hadn't been responsible for the redesign of Bugs Bunny that eventually made it to the screen, he would be notable as an animator. Over the years he worked on a large number of Warner Bros. shorts from the late Thirties to the Nineties. He also worked on some of the earliest television animation, including Mister Magoo, Linus! The Lion Hearted, and The Super 6. He worked for most of the major animation studios at one time or another, including Warner Bros. Cartoons, Walter Lantz Productions, UPA, and Depatie-Freleng Enterprises. He also worked with some of the biggest names in animation history: Grim Natwick, Tex Avery, Rudolf Isling, Robert McKimson, and Chuck Jones. He had enormous talent, particularly when it came to layout and character design. If Bob Givens had a long career, it was just because he was that good.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Martin Ransohoff R.I.P.

Martin Ransohoff, co-founder of Filmways and movie producer, died on December 13 2017 at the age of 90.

Martin Ransohoff was born on July 7 1927 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He went to Wooster School in Danbury, Connecticut. He attended Colgate University in Hamilton Village, New York, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in history in 1948. He worked at various odd jobs before getting a job at Caravel Films in 1950 where he worked as a salesman, writer, and producer.

In 1952 he co-founded Filmways with Edwin Kasper. Mr. Kasper would leave the company after five years. Initially Filmways produced commercials before moving into television show production in 1959 with 21 Beacon Street. In 1961 the company produced their first hit show, Mister Ed. Filmways would go onto produce some of the most successful shows of the Sixties, including The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, The Addams Family, and Green Acres. In 1962 Martin Ransohoff entered film production, producing films for both MGM and Filmways (whose films were distributed by MGM) and later Columbia and Paramount. In the Sixties Mr. Ransohoff produced such films as Boys' Night Out (1962), The Wheeler Dealers (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Loved One (1965), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), Ice Station Zebra (1968), Castle Keep (1969), and Catch-22 (1970).

It was in 1972 that Martin Ransohoff left Filmways. He continued to produce movies throughout the Seventies, including Fuzz (1972), Save the Tiger (1973), Silver Streak (1976), Nightwing (1979), and A Change of Seasons (1980).  In the Eighties Mr. Ransohoff produced such films as American Pop (1981), Hanky Panky (1982), Class (1983), Jagged Edge (1985), The Big Town (1987), Switching Channels (1988), Physical Evidence (1989), and Welcome Home (1989).  In the Nineties he produced the films Guilty as Sin (1993) and Turbulence (1997).

As both the head of a television production company and as a movie producer Martin Ransohoff was in many ways brilliant. It is notable that while president of Filmways, the company produced some of the most successful shows of all time. In fact, episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies still rank among the highest rated television programmes in the United States. It was after Mr. Ransohoff left Filmways that the company's fortunes took a sharp turn for the worse. As a movie producer Mr. Ransohoff also saw a good deal of success, producing such films as Boys Night Out, The Americanization of Emily, Ice Station Zebra, Catch-22, and Jagged Edge. Even when one of Martin Ransohoff's films did not initially see success, such as The Loved One and The Fearless Vampire Killers, they might later develop cult followings. Martin Ransohoff certainly had a knack for knowing what audiences wanted to see.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour

It was fifty years ago tonight that The Beatles' television special Magical Mystery Tour premiered on BBC1. The special was given a prime spot at 8:35 PM on Boxing Day. The Beatles were fresh from their success with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which had just been released that June. Sadly, while Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band received dozens of accolades, Magical Mystery Tour would leave viewers baffled and television critics incensed.

The origins of the television special go back to a song Paul McCartney had written in early 1967 titled "Magical Mystery Tour". The song had been planned for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but ultimately Paul McCartney decided it did not quite fit the album and as a result "Magical Mystery Tour" was not included on it. It was when The Beatles were discussing how to proceed following the death of their manager Brian Epstein that Paul McCartney came up with the idea for the film Magical Mystery Tour.

Paul McCartney got the idea from essentially two sources. In the Sixties tours by bus to various English seaside towns were quite popular (such as ones taken from Liverpool to see the Blackpool Illuminations every autumn). Many of these bus tours were "mystery tours", whereby people on the tour did not know their destinations until they actually arrived there. The other source was Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, who toured the United States by bus in 1964. The Merry Pranksters' adventures were later chronicled in Tom Wolfe's 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Paul McCartney's plan was simple: hire a bus, set out on a mystery tour, and film it. For that reason, Magical Mystery Tour never had a proper script, only a handwritten hodgepodge of ideas and sketches.

To this end The Beatles hired extras and chartered a bus. Shooting took place from September 11 1967 to September 25 1967. Unfortunately, the small amount of planning for Magical Mystery Tour would make shooting difficult at times. It was not long after filming began that The Beatles discovered the bus was being followed by a rather large contingent of reporters and photographers. Worse yet, the bus sometimes found itself caught in traffic jams and work stoppages were a regular occurrence.

The Beatles had meant to film some of the interior sequences at  Shepperton Film Studios, but no one had thought to book the studios. Ultimately several sequences, including the one for the song "I Am the Walrus", were shot around the airfield RAF West Malling in Kent. The climactic sequence for the song "Your Mother Should Know" was shot in an unused hangar there. The psychedelic sequence for the instrumental "Flying" was created by production assistant Dennis O'Dell, using footage from outtakes of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Mr. O'Dell had worked on the film).  Shot in black and white, the footage was colourised for its use in the television special. The sequence in which The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band perform "Death Cab for Cutie" was shot at the Raymond Revuebar in London. The sequence for "Fool on the Hill", with Paul McCartney simply singing the song, was not shot in England at all. Instead it was shot on a hill near Nice, France.

While Magical Mystery Tour took only two weeks to film, it took eleven weeks to edit. The filming had ultimately produced around ten hours worth of footage, of which only 52 minutes would be in the television special. The film was edited by Roy Benson and The Beatles at Norman's Film Productions in London. Much of the reason the editing took so long was The Beatles themselves. As Tony Bramwell (George Harrison's childhood friend, The Beatles' road manager, and later CEO of Apple Records) said, "Paul would come in and edit in the morning. Then John would come in, in the afternoon, and re-edit what Paul had edited. Then Ringo would come in..."

Magical Mystery Tour debuted on BBC1 on Boxing Day 1967. Although the special was shot in colour,  it was broadcast in black-and-white as BBC1 had not yet converted to colour. It was viewed by 15 million people, a huge audience for any programme on the BBC. Unfortunately, Magical Mystery Tour would receive a poor reception from both the audience and television critics. Reportedly the BBC's switchboards were filled with callers complaining about the special, many of who thought it was incomprehensible. If anything, the reaction of television critics was even worse than that of the average viewer. James Thomas of The Daily Express wrote, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall. And what a fall it was..." The Daily Mirror referred to Magical Mystery Tour as, "Rubbish!...Piffle!...Nonsense!" James Green of The Evening News wrote, "I watched it. There was precious little magic and the only mystery was how the BBC came to buy it."

The sheer vitriol British critics directed at Magical Mystery Tour would have a direct impact on how long it would be before the special would be seen in the United States. NBC, CBS, and ABC had each been negotiating to air Magical Mystery Tour for a reported $1 million. After the harsh reviews the special received in the United Kingdom, all three American networks withdrew their offers for the film. Magical Mystery Tour would be shown in colour on BBC2 on January 5 1968. Unfortunately, this would be too little, too late.

Indeed, Magical Mystery Tour would rarely be seen in the United States for the next two decades. On August 11 1968, at a fundraiser for the Liberation News Service, the Filmore East in New York City showed it twice. In 1974 New Line Cinema acquired the American distribution rights and it had a limited theatrical release. It would not be until 1987 that Magical Mystery Tour would get widespread exposure in the United States when it was syndicated to local television stations around the nation. In 1988 it would be released on VHS and Laserdisc. In 1997 it was released on DVD for the first time. Magical Mystery Tour would later be restored. The restoration aired on October 6 2012 on BBC Two and BBC HD, along with a documentary on the special. In the United States, the restoration aired on PBS as part of their series Great Performances on December 14 2012. It was also in 2012 that Magical Mystery Tour was first released on Blu-Ray and released on DVD again.

In some respects today it is easy to understand the British critics' reaction to Magical Mystery Tour in 1967. Portions of Magical Mystery Tour looks amateurish, not unlike a home movie that first year film students might have shot. The editing is sometimes choppy at best. Some sequences run too long and others don't run long enough. That having been said, what the critics missed in 1967 is that Magical Mystery Tour does have its share of assets. The musical sequences would seem to justify the special having been made at all. The "I Am the Walrus" sequence is actually better than some of The Beatles' promotional films for their songs shot by professionals. The sequence for "The Fool on the Hill", simple though it may be, also stands out.  The sequences for "Blue Jay Way" and "Your Mother Should Know" are a good deal of fun. Of course, while the television special Magical Mystery Tour might seem amateurish at times, the music The Beatles composed for the special certainly does not. "Magical Mystery Tour", "The Fool on the Hill", and "I Am the Walrus" number among their best songs. It must also be noted that The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's "Death Cab for Cutie" (best described as Elvis performing a teen tragedy) is a welcome part of the film.

Indeed, while the special Magical Mystery Tour was ill-received by both viewers and critics, the music from the special received a warm reception. An LP entitled Magical Mystery Tour was released by Capitol Records in the United States on November 27 1967.   Side one consisted of songs from the special, while side two consisted of such Beatles singles as "All You Need is Love". The album received good notices and hit no. 1 on the Billboard album chart. An EP entitled Magical Mystery Tour was released in the United Kingdom on December 8 1967, consisting only of songs from the special. It received good notices in the UK and topped Record Retailer's EP chart.

Historically Magical Mystery Tour has been regarded as The Beatles' first failure since the onset of Beatlemania in the United Kingdom in 1963. It was perhaps particularly noticeable given that it came on the heels of what was regarded as one of their greatest successes, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, that summer. Since its debut in 1967 Magical Mystery Tour has been re-evaluated. While there are very few who  would consider Magical Mystery Tour a masterpiece even today, it is not considered the catastrophe that it was in 1967. Indeed, as pointed out above, the musical sequences in the special may well have made the whole thing worthwhile.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

If you are a regular reader of A Shroud of Thoughts, then you know that I celebrate certain holidays by posting classic pinups. This Yuletide is no different, so without further ado here are this year's pinups.

First up is English actress Shirley Anne Field, who is making sure to post her presents early so they reach their destinations by Christmas!

Next up is Debbie Reynolds, who has fallen in love with her snowman!

Next up is Peggy Castle and an old Santa Claus decoration!

Here is Virginia Grey and her presents under her tree!

And this present is a real doll, Arlene Dahl!

And, finally, it wouldn't be the Yuletide without Ann Miller!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

All That Tinsel in Classic Christmas Movies...

Any classic film buff who has seen the majority of classic Christmas movies from the Thirties to the Sixties soon learns one thing. Tinsel was a very popular Christmas tree decoration. For those of you who are unfamiliar with tinsel, it is a decoration, originally made of metal, meant to mimic the appearance of ice. It was first developed in Nuremberg, Germany in the 17th Century. Originally silver was used, although later other metals were utilised to make tinsel. It was in the early 20th Century that aluminium tinsel was developed, reducing the price of tinsel greatly. It was perhaps for that reason that tinsel proved popular as a Christmas tree decoration for much of the 20th Century.

Indeed, an early example of  the use of tinsel in a classic movie can be seen in Nick and Nora Charles's Christmas tree in The Thin Man (1934), which prominently features tinsel. In sharp contrast, the Christmas tree in Holiday Inn (1942) had no real tinsel.

The tree in Holiday Inn
Holiday Inn appears to have been one of the exceptions with regards to Christmas trees in holiday films of the Forties. The trees in Christmas in Connecticut (1944), It's a Wonderful Life (1947), and especially The Bishop's Wife (1947) all had tinsel.

The tree in Christmas in Connecticut
The tree in It's a Wonderful Life
The tree in The Bishop's Wife
Tinsel continued to be popular in the Fifties. An example of this is the tree in Desk Set (1957). Not unlike the tree in The Bishop's Wife, it was absolutely drenched in tinsel.

The tree from Desk Set
While I cannot say for certain, it seems to me that the popularity of tinsel started to decline in the Sixties. At least in many of the Christmas variety specials made during the era, not to mention the various animated holiday specials, most trees did not appear to have a whole lot of tinsel.

Much of the decline in tinsel's popularity may have been due to the fact that for much of the 20th Century a good deal of tinsel was made using lead foil. As the dangers of lead poisoning became evident, lead tinsel was phased out following the Sixties. While other materials would be developed to make tinsel, the popularity of tinsel has never quite recovered from it had been in the Forties and Fifties. At the very least, I know my family never used much in the way of tinsel on our trees. Regardless, it seems to me that if one wants his or her tree to look like it came from a Christmas movie from the Forties, he or she would be wise to cover it in tinsel....