Saturday, December 28, 2019

Lee Mendelson and Sue Lyon Pass On

Lee Mendelson

Lee Mendelson, best know as the producer of the many Peanuts television specials, died on December 25 2019 at the age of 86. The cause was lung cancer.
Lee Mendelson was born on March 24 1933 in San Francisco, California. He grew up San Mateo. He attended Stanford University. Following graduation he served for three years in the United States Air Force. After his service he worked for his father as a vegetable grower and shipper. In 1961 he went to work KPIX in San Francisco, producing public service announcements for the station. It was a serendipitous discover of footage from the 1915 San Francisco World Fair that led to the production of his first documentary, The Innocent Fair (1962). In 1963 he left KPIX to found his own production company and produced a documentary about baseball player Willie Mays, A Man Named Mays (1963). It was following A Man Named Mays that he approached Charles Schulz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts, about producing a documentary on the cartoonist and the comic strip. Mr. Schulz agreed, leading to the documentary  A Boy Named Charlie Brown. To provide animation for the documentary he recruited animator Bill Melendez, who had animated the Peanuts gang for a series of commercials for Ford Motor Company.

While Lee Mendelson was unable to sell his documentary on Charles Schulz, he was approached by John Allen, an account executive with the McCann Erickson Agency, with a proposal of an animated Peanuts special to be sponsored by McCann Erickson's client Coca-Cola for the Christmas season. This led to the classic television special A Charlie Brown Christmas. A Charlie Brown Christmas proved so successful that it would lead to over thirty more Peanuts television specials, all of them produced by Lee Mendelson.

In addition to the many Peanuts television specials, Lee Mendelson also produced the Peanuts feature films A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Snoopy Come Home (1972), Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977), and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!) (1980).  He also produced the Saturday morning TV series The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show and the mini-series This is America, Charlie Brown.

Lee Mendelson produced other projects beyond the Penauts specials. He produced the TV specials The Fabulous Shorts (1968), The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant (1968), Children's Letters to God (1969), Babar Comes to America (1971), Travels with Flip (1975),  Here Comes Garfield (1982), Garfield on the Town (1983), Cathy (1987), Cathy's Last Resort (1988), and Cathy's Valentine (1989). He also produced the TV documentaries It Couldn't Be Done (1970), The Unexplained (1970), From Yellowstone to Tomorrow (1972), The Fantastic Funnies (1980), and Movie Blockbusters: The 15 Greatest Hits of All Time (1983). 

There can be no doubt that Lee Mendelson had an enormous impact on American popular culture. With Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez he created some of the most successful television specials of all time. What is more, the Peanuts specials have had a lasting impact, inspiring many young filmmakers, musicians, and other artists. What Mr. Mendelson started as a documentary led to numerous televisions specials whose influence are still being felt to this day.

Sue Lyon

Sue Lyon, best known for playing the title character in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, died on December 26 2019 at the age of 73. No cause of death was given, but reportedly she had been in declining health for some time.
Sue Lyon was born Suellyn Lyon on July 10 1946 in Davenport, Iowa. Her father died before she was a year old. Her mother moved the family to Dallas not long afterwards. Three years later they moved to Los Angeles. When she was 13 she began working a catalogue model. She also appeared in small parts on television. She made her television debut in an episode of The Loretta Young Show in 1959. She also guest starred on an episode of Dennis the Menace in 1960. 

Sue Lyon beat out 800 other actresses to land the role of Lolita (1962). Even with concessions made to the Production Code, Lolita proved to be a controversial film. It also launched Sue Lyon on her career. In the Sixties she appeared in the films The Night of the Iguana (1964), 7 Women (1966), The Flim-Flam Man (1967), Tony Rome (1967), and Four Rode Out (1969). In 1969 she appeared in a television adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace. She also appeared in the TV movie But I Don't Want to Get Married! and guest starred on the TV series The Virginian.

In the Seventies Miss Lyon appeared in the movies Evel Knieval (1971), Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973), Tarot (1973), Crash! (1976), End of the World (1977), The Astral Factor (1978), Towing (1978), and Alligator (1980). She guest starred on the TV shows Storefront Lawyers; Night Gallery; Love, American Style; Police Story; and Fantasy Island. She also appeared in the TV movies Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1977) and Don't Push, I'll Charge When I'm Ready (1977). 

Chances are very good that Sue Lyon will always be remembered for her star-making turn in Lolita. There is very good reason for that, as she excelled in the role. That having been said, she had other notable roles in her career. She was Charlotte Goodall in Night of the Iguana, Emma Clarke in 7 Women, and Diana Pines in Tony Rome. While she would increasingly find herself cast in secondary roles in the Seventies, her career in the Sixties remains impressive.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Tony Britton Passes On

Tony Britton, who starred on such television shows as Robin's Nest and Don't Wait Up as well as such films as Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) and The Day of the Jackal (1973), died on December 22 2019 at the age of 95.

Tony Britton was born on June 9 1924 in Birmingham, Warwickshire. He attended Edgbaston Collegiate School in Birmingham and Thornbury Grammar School in Alveston, Gloucestershire. Upon leaving school he two amateur acting companies in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. At the same time he apprenticed as an estate agent and worked in an aircraft factory. He made his professional acting debut in the play Quiet Weekend at the Knightstone Pavilion Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

During World War II he was drafted into the British Army and served in the Royal Artillery. He was demobilised in 1946 and joined the Liberty Theatre in Manchester for nine months and then moved to a repertory company in Edinburgh. In 1952 he had his breakthrough rough as the Pharaoh Ramses in The Firstborn at the Winter Garden in London. That same year, at the Edinburgh festival, he appeared in The Player King. Afterwards he had a two year stint at at Stratford-upon-Avon, after which he returned to the West End.

Tony Britton made his film debut in an uncredited role in Waterfront (1950). His first credited role came in 1952 in the film Salute the Toff. In the Fifties he appeared in the films Loser Takes All (1956), The Birthday Present (1957), Behind the Mask (1958), Operation Amsterdam (1959), The Heart of the Man (1959), The Rough and the Smooth (1959), Upgreen---And at 'Em (1960), Den sidste vinter (1960), and  Suspect (1960). He made his television debut in an episode of the TV series Back to Methuselah in 1952. He starred in the TV series The Other Man. He appeared on episodes of the shows BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, The World Our Stage, Television World Theatre, Saturday Playhouse, and World Theatre. He also appeared in several TV movies.

In the Sixties Mr. Britton starred on the TV series The Six Proud Walkers. He starred on in the Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour mini-series The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. He appeared in mini-series Melissa. He guest starred on the TV shows Somerset Maugham Hour, ITV Television Playhouse, Armchair Theatre,. Comedy Playhouse, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Miss Adventure, ITV Play of the Week, The Saint, The Wednesday Play, Special Branch, Happily Ever After, and Kate. He appeared in the movies The Break (1962), Stork Talk (1962), and There's a Girl in My Soup (1970).

In the Seventies Tony Britton starred on the TV shows Father, Dear Father; The Nearly Man, and Robin's Nest. He appeared on the shows Ooh La La!, Marked Personal, And Mother Makes Five, Play for Today, Raffles, and Scorpion Tales. He appeared in the films Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971), Mr. Forbush and the Penguins (1971), The Day of the Jackal (1973), Night Watch (1973), The People That Time Forgot (1977), and Agatha (1979).

In the Eighties Mr. Britton starred on the show Don't Wait Up He guest starred on the show Strangers and Brothers. In the Nineties he starred on the TV series Don't Tell Father. He appeared in the mini-series The Way We Live Now. In the Naughts he guest starred on My Dad's the Prime Minister, Doctors, The Royal, and Holby City. His final appearance was in the film Run for Your Wife (2012).

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The American Holiday Calendar

Ever since childhood my brother and I have always been fascinated by calendars. One of the things that always interested us is when the various holidays fall on the calendar. One of the conclusions we have drawn during our discussions on the subject is that American holidays are rather awkwardly scheduled.

Before anything else, I have to point out that one of our conclusions is that there are holidays which most Americans celebrate, even if they are not Federally recognized, and those that are little more than a day off, even if they are Federally recognized. In the first category fall such days as the 4th of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. In the latter category fall President's Day, Labour Day and Columbus Day. Outside of an emphasis on the history of the American presidency in school and President's Day sales, I am not sure anyone has ever really celebrated President's Day. I don't recall too many George Washington parties growing up! Now at one time there were Labour Day parades and picnics, all in honour of the American labour movement, but those have long since fallen by the wayside. I am not sure that Columbus Day has ever been really been celebrated in most places. Indeed, given the controversy over Christopher Columbus of late, many want to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day (which, being part Cherokee, I would much more inclined to celebrate).

Anyway, in our discussions my brother and I determined that the bulk of holidays that people actually celebrate fall during the autumn and winter. In fact, a good number of them fall from October 31 (Halloween) to  December 31 (New Year's Eve). Halloween began as a Christian holiday, but over the centuries became so secularised that even non-Christians celebrate it. And while it is not a Federal holiday, it is one of the biggest holidays of the year. Dia De Muertos falls from November 1 to November 2 and is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Less than a month later are Veterans Day (November 11) and Thanksgiving, both of which are Federal holidays. Depending upon the year, Thanksgiving can fall only a little over a month to a little under a month before Christmas. While Christmas is a major Christian holiday, it is one that has been so secularised that even atheists observe the day. Here I point have to point out that yet other holidays fall close to Christmas. The earliest the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah can take place is November 28 and the latest is January 6. In most years it falls in December, not far off from Christmas. Kwanzaa takes place from December 25 to January 1. The final holiday of December is New Year's Eve. It is New Year's Day, January 1, that is a Federal holiday rather than New Year's Eve, but most of the holiday's celebration is centred on the night of December 31.

Of course, New Year's Day is not the final holiday of the winter. Martin Luther King Day falls on the third Monday of January, while Valentine's Day falls in February and St. Patrick's Day falls in March. Here I must mention that, for better or worse, none of these days are nearly as big in American popular culture as Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Once spring arrives, there is little in the way of major holidays. For Christians there is Easter, which can fall on March 22 at the earliest and April 21 at the latest.The Jewish festival of Pesach or Passover usually falls in April, although it can occur as early as late March.

It is following Easter and Pesach that holidays Americans actually celebrate become a bit spread apart. Memorial Day falls on the last Monday of May, while Independence Day is more often referred to by its date, the 4th of July. After the 4th of July there is not another holiday until the first Monday of September, Labour Day, a day which for many Americans (if not most) is little more than a day off. For Jewish people there are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipppur in September, but for most Americans there won't a holiday they actually celebrate following 4th of July until Halloween (most Americans ignoring both Labour Day and Columbus Day).

Of course, here I have to point out that some of the holidays that Americans celebrate won't be celebrated by many Americans, perhaps even most of them. Valentine's Day is only important to couples (which means I will never celebrate Valentine's Day again). Not being Irish, Nigerian, ‎Montserratian, an engineer, or a paralegal, I have never celebrated St. Patrick's Day. Even the most popular holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so on, won't be celebrated by every single American.

Anyway, what all of this all boils down to is that in the United States autumn and winter have many holidays that people celebrate, while spring has fewer, and summer has fewer still. For someone like me, who absolutely hates summer and could use a pick-me-up during that season, this leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, I don't know that there is any way this could ever be changed. As President's Day, Labour Day, and Columbus Day show, creating holidays through legislation really isn't very effective. It seems to me that most holidays either emerge from tradition or they develop organically. I suppose the best I can hope for is that people decide to start celebrating the traditional holidays of May Day (the spring festival, not International Workers Day) or Midsummer in the United States.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019

I am perfectly aware that many people appreciate some cheesecake with their eggnog. For that reason every Christmas Day I post classic pinups. Here are this year's.

Barbara Britton is playing Santa Claus!

Barbara Charles has just received her present (an official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock perhaps?).

Dotty Mack is ready to play in the snow!

Gloria Saunders and Olga San Juan are picking up their Christmas tree!

Janet Leigh is apparently someone's present!

Mary Martin delivering presents! 

Finally, here is Ann Miller with presents from her many admirers!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Five Films That Turner Classic Movies Should Show Every Single Holiday Season

I think it is safe to say that one of the things TCM fans most look forward to for the holidays is watching Christmas movies on Turner Classic Movies. What is more, I think every fan has their favourites that they absolutely want to see every year. In fact, there are specific movies that if omitted by TCM during any given December are apt to result in howls of protests from the fans. Here are five movies I believe that Turner Classic Movies absolutely must show ever December. Here I have to note for those who notice that It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and some other holiday favourites are missing from the list that there are some movies that TCM simply does not have the rights to show.

The Bishop's Wife (1947): The Bishop's Wife was a holiday favourite well before TCM was founded in 1994. After a slow start the film did fairly well at the box office. It would later become a perennial favourite on television. In fact, The Bishop's Wife would seem to be one of the very few Christmas movies that matches or nearly matches It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street (1947) in popularity. And there should not be any wonder why. The movie has an incredible cast, starring Loretta Young, David Niven, Cary Grant, and Monty Woolley. It also has a solid script, in which angel comes in answer to a bishop's prayer for divine guidance, only to find himself enchanted by the bishop's wife.

Christmas in Connecticut (1944): Amazingly enough, Turner Classic Movies did not air Christmas in Connecticut this year, even though it was produced by Warner Bros. and hence rights to the movie are owned by TCM's parent company Warner Bros. Entertainment. Needless to say, many TCM fans were not happy with the omission of Christmas in Connecticut from this year's schedule. And there is little wonder why. Christmas in Connecticut is an incredible movie. It is both a screwball comedy and a romantic comedy. Essentially, magazine columnist Elizabeth Lane (played by Barbara Stanwyck) finds herself in a bind when her publisher, Alexander Yardley, invites himself and a sailor to her Connecticut farm that she entirely fabricated for her column. The movie is filled with the sort of comic misunderstandings one expects from the best screwball comedies, as well as the Christmas trappings one expects from a holiday movie. The cast is one of the best of any comedy made in the Forties. In addition to Barbara Stanwyck, it features Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakall, and Una O'Connor.

Holiday Affair (1949): Unlike The Bishop's Wife and Christmas in Connecticut, which were successful in their initial theatrical runs, Holiday Affair bombed at the box office. The film was saved by television, airing on local stations throughout the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, and still later on many cable channels. These repeated airings would finally allow Holiday Affair to join the ranks of Christmas favourites. There is little wonder that Holiday Affair should eventually find success. The movie benefits from an intelligent script by Isobel Lennart which approaches a romantic triangle in a realistic and mature fashion. Indeed, the two rivals for the hand of Connie Ennis (played by Janet Leigh), Steve (played by Robert Mitchum) and Carl (played by Wendell Corey), are both nice guys with no real flaws. The movie also has plenty of humour, and a scene with Harry Morgan as a wisecracking police lieutenant is one of the best in any comedy.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947): It Happened on Fifth Avenue has a complicated history. Even though it was released more in time with Easter than Christmas, it did well at the box office. It also proved to be a hit on television, where it often shown during the holiday season from the Fifties to the Eighties. Strangely enough, for whatever reason, it disappeared from television screens around 1990 and would be largely unseen for nearly twenty years. It was in 2008 that Warner Home Video released It Happened on Fifth Avenue on DVD. In 2009 Turner Classic Movies began airing the film each holiday season, often multiple times. Since then the movie has become a holiday favourite. There is a little wonder why, as the film was very nearly made by Frank Capra (he chose to make It's a Wonderful Life instead) and plays much like a Frank Capra film. The film centres on Aloyisius T. McKeever (played by Victor Moore), a hobo who makes his home in the mansion of the second richest man in the world while the millionaire is wintering in Virginia. There he remains until its wealthy owner returns in March. McKeever's usual occupancy of the mansion is complicated by the arrival of a young, newly homeless veteran (Jim Bullock, played by Don DeFore) and eventually others as well.

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942): Unlike some of the films on this list, The Man Who Came to Dinner was a hit upon its initial release. What is more, it would later become popular on television and has never been out of circulation. There should be little wonder why it has been continuously popular, as it is unlike any Christmas movie of its time. The movie's protagonist is radio personality Sheridan Whiteside, a prickly and caustic wit who spares his venom for no one (not even his friends). Unfortunately, for the Stanley family, Whiteside slips and falls on the steps of their Mesalia, Ohio home and winds up staying for an extended period right before Christmas. Manipulative to the core, Whiteside is soon spinning his webs throughout the Stanley household, particularly after his assistant falls in love with the local newspaper publisher. As played by Monty Woolley, Sheridan Whiteside is a delightful combination of sarcasm, wit, and cunning. The rest of the cast stands out as well, with Bette Davis as his strong-willed assistant Maggie, Ann Sheridan as vain actress Lorraine Sheldon,and Jimmy Durante as madcap comic Banjo. The screenplay stands out as well, with non-stop one-liners and non-stop scheming and counter-scheming from the various characters.

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Charlie Brown Christmas

In the history of American television there have been only three animated specials that aired uninterrupted on the broadcast networks since their debut. One is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which has aired every year since its debut in 1964. Another is Frosty the Snowman, which has aired every year since 1969. Four years before Frosty the Snowman there debuted another of the three specials that have aired every year on a broadcast network without interruption. A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted on December 9 1965. It has aired every year on a broadcast network ever since. In fact, the past several years it has aired multiple times each holiday season.

The origins of A Charlie Brown Christmas go back to a never completed documentary on cartoonist Charles M. Schulz and his comic strip Peanuts. By the late Fifties and early Sixties Peanuts was a veritable phenomenon, easily the most successful comic strip in the world. Having just completed work on a documentary on baseball player Willy Mays, producer Lee Mendelson decided that Charles M. Schulz would be the subject of his next documentary. To provide animation of the Peanuts characters in the documentary, Lee Mendelson turned to animator Bill Melendez. Bill Melendez had already animated the Peanuts gang in a series of commercials for Ford Motor Company that started airing in 1959 and ran into the early Sixties.

Despite the popularity of Peanuts, Lee Mendelson was not able to interest any of the broadcast networks in the documentary. It was after Peanuts was featured on the April 9, 1965 cover of Time that John Allen, an account executive with the McCann Erickson Agency, called Lee Mendelson with a proposal of an animated Peanuts special to be sponsored by McCann Erickson's client Coca-Cola for the Christmas season. Lee Mendelson and Charles M. Schulz had to move on the proposal quickly. Mr. Allen had made the call on a Wednesday and Coca-Cola wanted an outline for the special by the following Monday. The two of them got to work on the outline right away, with the majority of ideas coming from Charles M. Schulz.  The outline was ultimately created in less than a cay. After they had made their pitch for the special, they heard nothing for several days. John Allen finally contacted them, letting them know that Coca-Cola had approved the special, but they wanted it ready for an early December broadcast. This gave them only six months to produce the special.

Charles M. Schulz then got to work on the writing the teleplay for the special. The teleplay not only included holiday-oriented scenes of ice skating, snow, and a Christmas play, but also Linus reading about Jesus Christ's birth from the Bible. This last scene concerned Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, who were concerned that religion could be a controversial topic on American television in 1965. Mr. Schulz held firm that Linus's reading from the Bible remain in the special, pointing out that very few Christmas specials referenced religion at all.

In the end, the teleplay was completed in a matter of weeks and the special began to take shape. Lee Mendelson suggested that the special use a laugh track, which was common on many animated television cartoons of the era (particularly those of Hanna-Barbera). Charles M. Schulz rejected the laugh track out of hand, feeling that audiences did not have to told when to laugh. It was decided that the music for the special would be a mixture of jazz and traditional Christmas music, along with Schroeder playing Beethoven just as he did in the comic strip. The original jazz music for the special was composed by Vince Guaraldi and performed by The Vince Guaraldi Trio. Mr. Guaraldi had previously had a hit with his 1962 composition  "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

A unique approach was taken to casting. Not only were children cast in the lead roles, but primarily non-actors at that. The only character not voiced by a child was Snoopy, who was voiced by Bill Melendez himself. Mr. Melendez created gibberish for Snoopy to utter, then sped it up. As to the voice of Charlie Brown, Peter Robbins had provided the voice of Charlie Brown in Lee Mendelson's unfinished documentary and had already appeared on such shows as The Munsters, The Farmer's Daughter, and The Joey Bishop Show prior to A Charlie Brown Christmas. He would voice Charlie Brown in several more specials, the last being It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown in 1969. If anything, Tracy Stratford, the voice of Lucy, had even more experience than Peter Robbins did. She had guest starred on Bonanza and Ben Casey before playing the regular role of Maria Massey on The New Loretta Young Show. Before A Charlie Brown Christmas she would also guest star on such shows as The Twilight Zone, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Fugitive.

Of course the animation was provided by Lee Melendez. Initially CBS had wanted an hour-long special. Mr. Melendez talked them out of it, not only believing an hour long animated special was too much, but harbouring his own doubts that even a half hour of animation could be completed in six months. Fortunately, the animation was completed in only four months. CBS had budgeted A Charlie Brown Christmas at $76,000 and it went over by $20,000.

As to the title, A Charlie Brown Christmas, it must be pointed out that Charles M. Schulz hated the title Peanuts. The origins of Peanuts go back to Charles M. Schulz's single panel comic strip that ran weekly in the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1947 to 1950, Li'l Folks. When Charles M. Schulz submitted a revised version of Li'l Folks as a multi-panel comic strip to United Features Syndicate, the Syndicate had planned to use the title Li'l Folks. Unfortunately, objections were raised by cartoonist Tack Knight, who felt the title was too close to his early Thirties comic strip Little Folks. As a result, United Features Syndicate sought to come up with another name for the new comic strip. Ultimately, a production manager of United Features Syndicate came up with the name Peanuts, drawing upon the child audience of the TV show Howdy Doody who were seated in "the Peanut Gallery." Charles Schulz hated the title, maintaining that it made no sense unless the comic strip featured a character named "Peanuts." It is for that reason that none of the Peanuts specials ever used the comic strip's name in their titles.

 In the end A Charlie Brown Christmas was completed only ten days before it was set to be broadcast. The special's production team had mixed feelings about what they had produced. Bill Melendez was convinced that they had produced a flop. Lee Mendelson also had his doubts about the special. While Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson thought they had killed Charlie Brown, animator Ed Levitt disagreed. He said, "This show is going to run for a hundred years." 

Messrs. Melendez and Mendelson's doubts about the show were nothing compared to the reaction of CBS executives. The CBS executives thought the pace of A Charlie Brown Christmas was too slow. They did not like special's jazz score. They did not like the voices. Bill Mendelson later said of the executive's reactions, "I really believed, if it hadn't been scheduled for the following week, there's no way they were gonna broadcast that show."

Fortunately, there was one very important person  who not only disagreed with the executives, but signalled that A Charlie Brown Christmas would be well received. The CBS executives had invited critic Richard Burgheim of Time to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. His review, which was published in the December 10 1965 issue of Time, was extremely positive. He called it "...a special that is really special." Most critics were in agreement with Richard Burgheim. Fortunately, most critics agreed with Richard Burgheim, so that in the end A Charlie Brown Christmas earned overwhelmingly positive review. The audience also agreed with Richard Burgheim.  Fifteen millions viewers tuned into A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It placed second in the ratings for the week, beaten only by no. 1 show Bonanza. Not only would A Charlie Brown Christmas proved to be a hit with critics and viewers alike, but it also won awards. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program and a Peabody for excellence in programming.

With such success A Charlie Brown Christmas would have a lasting impact. Its most immediate effect was that CBS ordered four more Peanuts specials (one of which was another major success and soon-to-be-classic, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). In the end over thirty specials would air on CBS alone, with yet more Peanuts specials airing on other networks.

Also immediate was the way in which the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas became a part of the American holiday tradition The soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas was released in December 1965 by Fantasy Records. The album proved to be a success, as did the song "Christmas Time is Here."

One immediate effect of A Charlie Brown Christmas was also unexpected. Starting in 1958 aluminium Christmas trees proved to be all the rage. At the peak of the aluminium trees' popularity, the primary manufacturer of the tree, Aluminum Specialties, employed 750 people to make them. Unfortunately for the manufacturers of aluminium Christmas trees, A Charlie Brown Christmas was in large part a protest against the commercialization of Christmas, and in the special's plot the aluminium tree was used as a symbol of that commercialization. In fact, Charlie Brown chose a rather scraggy real tree rather than an aluminium one. The special's impact was immediate. Still selling phenomenally well in 1965, by 1967 aluminium trees had very nearly disappeared from the market.

While A Charlie Brown Christmas was the template for all Peanuts specials to come, it would also have an impact on animated Christmas specials to come. According to Charles Solomon in The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas "..established the half-hour animated special." It is to be noted that the two major animated Christmas specials before A Charlie Brown ChristmasMr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, were an hour long. Following A Charlie Brown Christmas, there would be such half-hour holiday specials as  How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), and many others. While the majority of the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated specials and Air Programs' 1969 animated adaptation of A Christmas Carol were an hour long, they were the exceptions to the rule.

A Charlie Brown Christmas and the other Peanuts specials would also have a lasting influence on various artists to come. Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Nemo (2003) and  WALL-E (2008),, among other animated films, has acknowledged the influence of the Peanuts specials on his work. Pete Docter, who directed Monsters Inc. (2001), Up (2009), and other animated films, also credits the Peanuts specials with influencing his work. The music of A Charlie Brown Christmas has influenced such diverse music artists as Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo and jazz pianist David Benoit.

There would also be other spinoffs from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which has never gone out of print since 1965. Various manufacturers would eventually begin making "Charlie Brown Christmas trees," replicas of the scraggly tree Charlie Brown chose for the school play. In 2013 Tams-Witmark Music Library, which provides licenses to Broadway productions to both professional and amateur theatres, began licensing a stage version of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

In the end it is impossible to completely calculate the entirety of the impact of A Charlie Brown Christmas. A smash hit upon its initial release, A Charlie Brown Christmas has received extremely high ratings ever since. It would have a lasting impact not only upon television, but upon artists in various media and even on the celebration of the holiday of Christmas itself. Few, if any animated specials, have ever had the impact of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Cash on Demand (1961): An Unusual Christmas Story

On this past Saturday night and Sunday morning, Eddie Muller gave Turner Classic Movies viewers a Christmas present in the form of Cash on Demand (1961). Cash on Demand was made by a studio now best known for their horror movies, Hammer Film Productions. Cash on Demand was not a horror movie or even one of the studio's well-known psychological thrillers. Instead it was a heist film set at Christmastime. What is more, while Hammer's horror movies were shot in glorious Eastmancolour, Cash on Demand was shot in black-and-white.

Cash on Demand was based on the teleplay "The Gold Inside" by Jacques Gillies, which aired as an episode of the ITV anthology series Theatre 70 on September 24 1960. "The Gold Inside" was directed by Quentin Lawrence, who would also direct Cash on Demand. While Quentin Lawrence had an extensive career in television, he only directed a few feature films. Prior to Cash on Demand, The Trollenberg Terror (1958--known as The Crawling Eye in the United States) was the only feature film he had directed. After Cash on Demand he would go onto direct three more films.

Cash on Demand centres around Harry Fordyce, a bank manager in a small town in England. Mr. Fordyce is overbearing with his staff and is disliked by all of them Even his long-time chief clerk, Mr. Pearson, has no real affection for him. Unfortunately for Mr. Fordyce, it is shortly before Christmas Day that Colonel Gore Hepburn shows up at the bank claiming to be an insurance investigator. Colonel Hepburn (most likely not his real name) soon reveals himself as a thief who has a heist planned for the bank, a heist in which Mr. Fordyce, against his will, plays a pivotal role.

Cash On Demand featured some familiar faces from various Hammer Films. Of course, the most notable of these is Peter Cushing, to this day best known as Professor Van Helsing from Hammer's "Dracula" series and Dr. Frankenstein from Hammer's "Frankenstein" series. For Mr. Cushing, Harry Fordyce would be a very different role from Van Helsing or Frankenstein. André Morell played Colonel Hepburn. Like Peter Cushing, André Morell was also a bit of a mainstay for Hammer Film Productions. He had played Dr. Watson to Peter Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in Hammer's 1959 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Immediately prior to appearing in Cash on Demand he had appeared in Hammer's The Shadow of the Cat (1961). He would later appear in Hammer's movies She (1965), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), The Mummy's Shroud (1967), and The Vengeance of She (1968). Richard Vernon reprised his role of Mr. Pearson from "The Gold Inside," the only actor to be retained from the original teleplay. Today many may be best known as the man on the train who castigates The Beatles for playing the radio in A Hard Day's Night. While Cash on Demand would be his first Hammer film, he would go onto appear in The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). Today Norman Bird, who plays the bank's employee Sanderson, is probably best known Mr Braithwaite in Worzel GummidgeCash on Demand would also be his first Hammer film. He would go onto appear in the studio's movies Maniac (1963) and Hands of the Ripper (1971).

Cash on Demand was part of a co-production agreement with Columbia Pictures. What made Cash on Demand unusual is that, unlike many Hammer movies at the time, it was not cut when it was released in the United States. What is even more unusual is that it was released in the United States well before it was the United Kingdom, on December 20 1961. For whatever reason it was not released in the United Kingdom until December 15 1963. What is more, its original running time of 88 minutes was cut to only 67 minutes and it was shown on a double bill with Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

While Cash on Demand would not receive the British release it should have, it was well received in the United States. The New York Times gave the movie a modestly positive review. It also received a good review in Motion Picture Exhibitor, which stated, "Credit should go to the fine performances." Harrison Reports noted, "There are clever touches of suavity, simplicity, and subtlety as the fake insurance investigator goes about his work." Cash on Demand also made a modest amount at the box office in the United States.

Of course, there may be those who might question how a heist film can be a Christmas movie as well. Well, for one thing, the movie includes touches of the holiday season. At the start of the movie two of the employees open Christmas crackers. There are also consistent references to the bank's Christmas party. At the start of the movie Mr. Fordyce castigates one of the employees for displaying her Christmas on her desk. For another thing, as Eddie Muller said in introducing the film on Noir Alley, it owes a good deal to Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Mr. Fordyce is clearly a Scrooge figure. Not only is he overly strict with his employees, but he is so cheap that he keeps the bank's central heating set so that the bank consistently feels cold. What is more, Colonel Hepburn's role isn't simply that of a thief robbing a bank, but that of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. As Eddie Muller notes, there are times that he appears to take more pleasure in mocking Mr. Fordyce than he does robbing the bank.

Given the plot of Cash and Demand, Peter Cushing and André Morell's performances were pivotal in the success of the film, and neither one of them disappoint. Peter Cushing is sterling as the stern bank manager whose experience with the bank robber makes him warmer to his fellow human beings. André Morell is also excellent as the bank robber who apparently wants to improve Harry Fordyce as a person as much as he wants to rob the bank. It is the interactions between these two characters that makes Cash on Demand one of the best movies ever released by Hammer Film Productions.

Today Cash on Demand is not particularly well-known, but with an inventive plot and incredible performances from its leads, it deserves to be better known.