Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 Reaches Its End

I think I can speak for most people when I say that 2021 was not a good year. Like the year before it, it was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The creation of vaccines gave some hope, and for a time businesses and theatres reopened. Unfortunately, the Omicron variant emerged and seems to have put us right back where we started. In New York City, Broadway theatres are closed again. In many places restaurants are closing again. As we enter 2022, it sometimes seems like the pandemic will never end.

Personally, I will always remember 2021 as a  year when some of my friends died. I had known Kelly Abbass since the days of MySpace. In August 2018 (have I mentioned how much I hate that month in that year) she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Sadly, this year she lost her battle with the disease. Kelly was an artistic model and she also sang. While she was an artistic model, she was at heart a sweet, small town, Canadian girl. She never missed wishing me a happy birthday, even as she was suffering from cancer. Every year she would post about her husband Steve's birthday and I would tell her to wish him a happy birthday and she said she would. She was perhaps the only person I know who was as big a Cheap Trick fan as I am.

Fellow blogger Steve Bailey of the blog Movie Movie Blog Blog died unexpectedly this year. This took me by surprise, as Steve was only a little older than me, even though he was not in good health. Steve had a wonderful, if twisted, sense of humour and he may well have been the biggest Jane Russell fan I knew. He was also a huge Beatles fan. He was a very active blogger and he participated in many blogathons. He was also a long time member of TCMParty.

Another long time friend who died this year was Channing Thomson. Channing was the king of movie posters and related memorabilia. Indeed, he had been in the movie poster business since 1985. I know only a few people who know more about classic film than Channing did. He was also gifted with a great sense of humour. He was one of the early members of TCMParty as well.

2021 also saw the deaths of many beloved celebrities. Indeed, it seems to have saved the most beloved celebrity for last. Television pioneer and legend Betty White died today at the age of 99. Like many her has shook me. I never met Betty, but I remember her from my earliest days and I always enjoyed seeing her on television and film. Betty White was a true pioneer. At age 18 she appeared on television for the first time, at which point the medium was still experimental. She produced her sitcom Life with Elizabeth, making her one of the few women at the time in total creative control of a TV show. Like nearly everyone, I adored Betty White and it hurts to know she didn't live to see her 100th birthday. I will post a eulogy for her January 3.

Sadly, this month also saw the death of Michael Nesmith, composer, singer, guitarist, movie producer, and Monkee. Anyone who has read this blog knows how much I love The Monkees, and Michael Nesmith was my favourite. I will freely admit that I grieved over Michael Nesmith more than any other celebrity save for John Lennon, George Harrison, and, for obvious reasons, my beloved Vanessa. I never met him, but he was part of my life since my early childhood. I loved his work with The Monkees and his solo work.

The year would see the deaths of other celebrities I love. Jane Powell was always one of my favourite actresses and she starred in some of my favourite movies: Royal Wedding (1951) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). In addition to Betty White, we lost two other members of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Ed Asner played Lou Grant on the show, but he played so many other roles and did them all well. Cloris Leachman had a long career before The Mary Tyler Moore Show and a long career afterwards. She was truly a force to be reckoned with when it came to acting. Another great actress to die this year was Jessica Walter. There seemed to be no role she couldn't play. Of course, I am a fan of The Andy Griffith Show, so I was sad when I heard of Betty Lynn's death. She was Barney Fife's one true love, Thelma Lou, and no one could have played her better. Aside from Michael Nesmith, two other music artists close to my heart died this year. Charlie Watts was The Rolling Stones' drummer and a large part of why the band was so great. Don Everly was one half of The Everly Brothers, whose music created entire subgenres of rock. Mary Wilson was always my favourite of The Supremes, and the only one to stay with the group form its beginnings to their break-up in 1977.

Many beloved actors died this year. This is a short list of those who died. I apologize for leaving out anyone's favourites, but so many died this year it was hard to keep track. Among those who died were Barbara Shelley, Deezer D, Cicely Tyson, Hal Holbrook, Christopher Plummer, Yaphet Kotto, George Segal, Gavin MacLeod, Clarence Williams III, Ned Beatty, Frank Bonner, Jane Withers, Markie Post, Pat Hitchcock, Sonny Chiba, Michael Constantine, Willie Garson, Tommy Kirk, Peter Scolari, Dean Stockwell, Arlene Dahl, Eddie Mekka, and Cara Williams. The music world also saw several losses, including Michael Stanley, Jim Steinman, Lloyd Price, ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill, Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge, and composer Stephen Sondheim. Among the others who died were comic book writer Dwayne McDuffie, magician Mark Wilson, children's writer Beverly Cleary, and novelist Anne Rice.

Streaming continued to be major news in 2021, although it is still not the dominant way of watching television. According to Nielsen, streaming platforms accounted for 28% of all television viewing. Most of my viewing tends to be older TV shows and movies, but I caught some of the streaming original shows this year. Doom Patrol is still my favourite streaming show and I watched its third season. I watched WandaVision and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is one of the best explorations of grief I have ever seen. I also watched The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and enjoyed it. I also enjoyed Only Murders in the Building, which was a lot of fun.

I can't say much about the movies released this year, as I haven't seen any. I have avoided the theatres this year and I forget to watch them on streaming. I want to see Dune and Passing. Some time I guess I will have to get caught up on them.

Anyhow, I hope that 2022 is a much better year. I hope that we can put this pandemic behind us and that everyone can enjoy peace and joy in the coming year. 2021 has been a rough year for all of us, and I think all of us need a break.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

TCM Spotlight on True Crime on Thursdays in January 2022

Every Thursday in January 2022 TCM Spotlight is on True Crime.. Every week Turner Classic Movies will be showing movies based on or, at the very least, inspired by actual crimes. The movies start at 8:00 PM Eastern//7:00 PM Central and run all night long.

As part of TCM Spotlight on True Crime, Turner Classic Movies is showing some truly great films. My suggestions as to the films you absolutely do not want to miss are as follows: Rope (1948), the Hitchcock movie based on the 1929 play of the same time, which was inspired by the murder of Bobby Franks in 1924 by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in Chicago; The Hitch-Hiker (1954), Ida Lupino's classic noir based on spree killer Billy Cook; In Cold Blood (1967), based on Truman Capote's non-fiction novel, which was in turn based on the murders of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959; The French Connection (1971), which was inspired by the real-life pursuit of French heroin smuggler Alain Charnier; Dog Day Afternoon (1975), which was based on the August 22 1972 robbery of the Chase Manhattan branch in Brooklyn; and Double Indemnity (1944), the classic noir based on James M. Cain's novel of the same name, which was in turn inspired by a 1927 murder case in Queens, New York in which Ruth Snyder persuaded her boyfriend Judd Gray to kill her husband.

Below is a complete schedule of the movies airing on TCM Spotlight on True Crime. All times are Central.

Thursday, January 6
7:00 PM Rope (1948)
8:30 PM Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
10:30 PM Badlands (1973)
Friday, January 7
12:30 AM The Honeymoon Killers (1969)
2:35 AM The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1977)
5:00 AM The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Thursday, January 13
7:00 PM In Cold Blood (1967)
9:30 PM The Boston Strangler (1968)
11:45 PM River's Edge (1986)
Friday, January 14
1:30 AM The Onion Field (1979)
3:45 AM 10 Rillington Place (1971)
5:45 AM The Strangler (1964)

Thursday, January 20
7:00 PM The French Connection (1971)
9:00 PM Patty Hearst (1988)
11:00 PM Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
Friday, January 21
1:30 AM Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
3:45 AM Star 80 (1983)

Thursday, January 27
7:00 PM A Place in the Sun (1951)
9:15 PM Double Indemnity (1944)
11:15 PM The Phenix City Story (1955)
Friday, January 28
1:00 AM I Want to Live! (1958)
3:15 AM The Wrong Man (1956)

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Wanda Young of The Marvelettes Passes On

Wanda Young, who sang with the girl group The Marvelettes, died on December 19 2021 at the age  of 78. The cause was complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Wanda Young was born on August 9 1943 in Inkster, Michigan. She attended Inkster High School. She had planned to become a nurse, but then her classmate Georgia Dobbins left the local girl group The Marvels. Wanda Young was asked to audition and as a result took Miss Dobbins's place in the group. It was not long after Motown signed The Marvels that they were renamed The Marvelettes.

The Marvelettes gave Motown their first no. 1 hit when "Please Mr. Postman" topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961. The Marvelettes would follow the success of "Please Mr. Postman" with such hits as "Playboy," "Beechwood 4-5789," "Too Many Fish in the Sea," and "I'll Keep Holding On." Wanda Young took over lead vocals from Gladys Horton in 1965 and sang lead on their hits "Don't Mess with Bill," "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game, and "My Baby Must Be a Magician." As the Sixties progressed, The Marvelettes would have fewer and fewer hits. The group disbanded in 1970. Wanda Young then recorded a solo album produced by Smokey Robinson which Motown released as The Return of The Marvelettes, even though no other Marvelettes appeared on the album.

It was in 1989 that Gladys Horton was offered a contract by Motorcity Records to record a new album as The Marvelettes. Wanda Young was the only Marvelette that Miss Horton interested in the project. the album, The Marvelettes Now!, featured both Gladys Horton and Wanda Young.

Wanda Young was a very talented singer. No less than Smokey Robinson wrote of her in his liner notes for The Marvelettes' compilation album Deliver: the Singles (1961-1971), "“Wanda had this little voice that was sexy to me, a little country kind of voice...I knew if I could get a song to her, it would be a smash." Miss Young's vocals were certainly bewitching and enriched The Marvelettes' records. While they may not be the be the best known girl group today, they remain one of the best.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Movies to Watch Between Christmas Day and New Year's Day

Ocean's 11 planning a rather unique New Year's Eve Party.

In some ways the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day is a strange. In some ways it is as if society has stopped celebrating Christmas, even though in many Christian denominations Christmastide runs from December 25 to January 5. Businesses and even some private individuals  take down their decorations. Radio stations stop playing Christmas music. Television stations stop showing Christmas fare. At the same time it is as if Christmas has not totally gone away. Many people will keep their decorations up until New Year's Day. Cities will keep their decorations up until New Year's Day as well. And one will still see the stray Christmas themed commercial on television (usually car commercials). Simply because Christmas Day has passed doesn't mean one can no longer watch festive movies. In fact, there are some movies that in many ways are better suited to watching after Christmas Day than they are before. Here is a short list of movies one can watch following Christmas Day but before or including New Year's Day.

These movies generally fall into one of two categories. One are movies that begin shortly before Christmas and last until New Year's. The other are movies that either take place on New Year's or climax on New Year's. Ether way, New Year's and sometimes the days between Christmas Day and New Year's play a significant role in each of them.

After the Thin Man (1936): The Thin Man (1934) takes place right at Christmas. After the Thin Man takes place right after They Thin Man. so it begins with Nick and Nora returning from at the end of the first movie on New Year's Eve to find an unexpected New Year's party taking place in their home. While much of the plot takes place after New Year's Day, the party that opens the film makes it perfect viewing shortly before or on New Year's.

The Apartment (1960): The Apartment is considered by many (including myself) to be a Christmas movie. At the same time, it is also a New Year's Eve movie and suitable for viewing any time before Christmas up to New Year's Day. Indeed, The Apartment begins on November 1 and ends with New Year's Eve, with Christmas playing a significant role in the plot. Indeed, it might well have the most famous climax at New Year's eve ever. While my favourite time to watch The Apartment is New Year's Eve, it makes for great viewing any time before or after Christmas Day.

Bachelor Mother (1939): Many people think of Bachelor Mother as a Christmas movie, but it might be more accurate to describe it as a New Yea's movie. It begins on Christmas Eve, when Polly Parrish's (Ginger Rogers) seasonal employment at the department store John B. Merlin and Son, and ends on New Year's Day. Bachelor Mother literally then takes place in the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day, which might just make it the perfect movie for this time of year.

(1982): Diner is set in 1959 and takes place from the night of Christmas Day to New Year's Day. Like Bachelor Mother, it is then a perfect movie for this time of year.

Holiday Affair (1949): Holiday Affair is often counted as a Christmas movie, but it takes place shortly before Christmas and ends on New Year's Eve. A good deal of the plot is dedicated to Christmas Day. Like The Apartment, then, it is not only a perfect movie for Christmas viewing, but New Year's Viewing as well.

Holiday Inn (1942): Holiday Inn takes place over a year and devotes several holidays, including New Year's Eve. It even includes a song dedicated to New Year's, "Let's Start the New Year Right." Wh8le often thought of as a Christmas movie, this makes Holiday Inn the perfect movie for New Year's viewing.

Ocean's 11 (1960):
Ocean's 11 could well be the New Year's Eve movie. After all, the movie centres on a group of World War II veterans from the 82nd Airborne, who plan to rob five casinos in Las Vegas at the same time on New Year's Eve. The bulk of the plot then takes place in the days leading up to New Year's Eve and the night itself.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972): The Poseidon Adventure largely takes place on New Year's Eve, with the S.S. Poseidon hit by a tsunami and overturned even as its New Year's celebrations are taking place. Like Ocean's 11, then, this makes it very much a New Year's movie.

Sunset Boulevard (1950): Sunset Boulevard unfolds over a period of six months, but its memorable climax takes place on New Year's Eve. Of course, it's not a very happy New Year's Eve for anyone involved....

When Harry Met Sally (1989): When Harry Met Sally takes place over literally years, but its climax takes place on New Year's Eve. In fact, aside from The Apartment, it might have the most famous New Year's Eve climax of all time.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Sally Ann Howes Passes On

Sally Ann Howes, who appeared in the movies Dead of Night (1945) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1969), died on December 19 2021 at the age of 91.

Sally Ann Howes was born on July 20 1930 in St. John's Wood, London. She was the daughter of comedian Bobby Howes and actress Patricia Malone. During World War II her family moved to their house in Essendon, Hertfordshire. She appeared in school plays before making her film debut in Thursday Child (1943) as a young girl. She appeared in the film The Halfway House (1944) before appearing as Sally O'Hara as a girl attending a Christmas party that takes a turn for the macabre in Dead of Night (1945). For the remainder Sally Ann Howes appeared in such movies as Pink Sting and Sealing Wax (1945), The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947), Anna Karenina (1948), My Sister and I (1948), The History of Mr. Polly (1949), Fools Rush In (1949), and Stop Press Girl (1949). She made her television debut in a production of Cinderella in 1950. She made her stage debut in Caprice in Glasgow in the same year.

In the Fifties Miss Howes appeared in the movies Honeymoon Deferred (1951) and The Admirable Crichton (1957). She appeared on the West End in such productions as Paint Your Wagon and A Hatful of Rain. She appeared on Broadway in My Fair Lady. She appeared on television in such productions as The Golden Year, Paint Your Wagon, and The Gift of the Magi. She guest starred on the shows Kaleidoscope, Buick-Electra Playhouse, and Sunday Showcase.

In the Sixties Sally Ann Howes appeared in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). She guest starred on the shows Play of the Week, The United States Steel Hour, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Run for Your Life, Journey Into Fear, Mission: Impossible, and Bracken's World. She appeared on stage in such productions as Brigadoon at New York City Center Light Opera Company, My Fair Lady at the Melody Top Theatre in Chicago, and Camelot at the Muny in St. Louis.

In the Seventies Sally Ann Howes guest starred on the shows The Virginian and Marcus Welby, M.D. She appeared in the TV movie The Hound of the Baskervilles. She appeared in the movie Death Ship (1980). For the remainder of her career Sally Ann Howes appeared almost exclusively on stage, in such productions as The Sound of Music at the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera in 1972, a British tour of The King and I in 1973, Hamlet at the Gardner Centre Theatre in Brighton in 1983, A Little Night Music at the Lincoln Center in 1992, and an American tour of My Fair Lady in 2008. She only appeared on television two more times, once when Live from Lincoln Center broadcast A Little Night Music in 1990 and two guest appearance on Secrets in 1992.

I have to think the majority of people will remember Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and with her beautiful voice she was certainly suited to the role. That having been said, Miss Howes had a long career on stage and appeared in movies other than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In fact, I don't think I'm alone when my favourite role she played was Sally in Dead of Night. As a young teenager she gave a remarkable performance. She also gave solid performances on her various guest appearances on TV shows. For instance, on Mission: Impossible she played an agent for the Impossible Missions Force who must pose as a baroness and Phelps's wife. She was a remarkable actress with a good deal of talent.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas 2021

Here at A Shroud of Thoughts, I realize that many people like some cheesecake on their Christmas Day. To this end I am providing you with some classic Christmas pinups, so without further ado, here they are:

Barbara Britton is mailing her Christmas cards!

A little over a week ago Vera-Ellen was reminding people to get their shopping done!

Loretta Young looking more like she belongs on the naughty list than the nice list...

Christmas Eve birthday girl Ava Gardner.

Shirley Jones is ready to place her presents under the tree.

And the lovely Ann Miller is ready to deliver presents around the world!

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Hallmark Hall of Fame and Christmas

Today the phrase "Hallmark movie" carries a negative connotation. It brings to mind poorly made romances aired on the Hallmark Channel, largely written according to a formula. This was not always the case. In fact, for much of its history Hallmark was known for the highest quality in television. Hallmark Hall of Fame is the longest running anthology series in the history of American television. Over the years it has won several awards, including Emmys, DGA Awards, Humanitas Awards, Peabodys, and WGA Awards. It was 70 years ago today that the very first Hallmark Hall of Fame episode (or "presentation," as Hallmark likes to call them) aired. It was the first of many Christmas presentations that would air on Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Hallmark Cards was hardly new to broadcasting when Hallmark Hall of Fame debuted. On radio Hallmark Cards had sponsored Radio Reader's Digest and later Hallmark Playhouse. It was with the radio show Hallmark Playhouse that Hallmark established their reputation for quality programming. It was in 1951 that NBC commissioned the first opera written specifically for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors. To sponsor the opera, NBC approached Hallmark Cards. Today it must seem incredulous that NBC would have approached the greeting card company about sponsoring Amahl and the Night Visitors. After all, it was set to air on Christmas Eve, after most people have bought their Christmas cards for the season. J. C. Hall, the head of Hallmark Cards, ultimately decided to go ahead with the special as a "thank you" for everyone who had bought Hallmark cards that Christmas season. Amahl and the Night Visitors aired to great acclaim. Even viewers were pleased with the opera, sending both letters and telegrams to Hallmark thanking them for it.

Amahl and the Night Visitors centred on Amahl, a young disabled boy known for telling tall tales. He encounters the Three Kings on their way to visit the baby Jesus, and his mother invites them into rest form their long journey. The success of Amahl and the Night Visitors would result in it being restaged several times over the years on Hallmark Hall of Fame. The December 19 1954 version of Amahl and the Night Visitors would be the first to air in colour.

Amahl and the Night Visitors was the first episode of what was then called Hallmark Television Playhouse. It was in 1953 that it was renamed "Hallmark Hall of Fame." Amahl and the Night Visitors was also the first many Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations with a Christmas theme. On December 21 1952, Hallmark Television Playhouse aired The Small One, a Christmas story narrated by Kate Smith about an unwanted donkey. On December 15 1957 Hallmark Hall of Fame aired a production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

While Hallmark Hall of Fame aired several Christmas themed episodes in the Fifties (a good number of which were new versions of Amahl and the Night Visitors), Christmas themed presentations became rarer in the Sixties. Much of this may have been due to when the series aired. For much of its history, Hallmark Hall of Fame aired only a few times each year, so that there were times it did not air in December. The first Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of the Sixties with a Christmas theme would be A Cry of Angels, which aired on December 15 1963. It was about the writing of Handel's The Messiah.

In the years following A Cry of Angels, Hallmark Hall of Fame once more aired Amahl and the Night Visitors. It was on December 6 1969 that one of the anthology show's best known productions was aired. The Littlest Angel was based on  Charles Tazewell's children's book of the same name. It centred on a young boy who dies and goes to Heaven, only to have difficulty adjusting to life there. It is when the birth of Jesus was announced that the angels prepare their best gifts for him, including the young boy. The Littlest Angel proved to be very popular, and it as repeated in 1970 and 1971.

In 1972 Hallmark Hall of Fame aired a production of The Man Who Came to Dinner. In 1977 Hallmark Hall of Fame aired Have I Got a Christmas for You. The movie centred on a Jewish community who take the place of Christians at their jobs so the Christians can enjoy Christmas. The following year Hallmark Hall of Fame's Christmas presentation was Stubby Pringle's Christmas. Set in the Old West, Stubby Pringle's Christmas centred on a lonely cowboy who spends Christmas with a homesteader, her ailing husband, and their children.

The Eighties saw Hallmark Hall of Fame air no presentations with a Christmas theme. Much of this was probably do with the fact that by the Eighties Hallmark Hall of Fame could have as few as two episodes per season to as many as four. There were times when it did not air in the month of December. It would not be until December 4 1994 that Hallmark Hall of Fame aired an episode that even touched upon Christmas. That night Hallmark's adaption of The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy aired. Like the novel, the Hallmark adaptation of The Return of the Native takes place over a year and a day. Part of its plot then deals with the Christmas season.

It was the following season, on December 10 1995, that Hallmark Hall of Fame aired its first presentation with a Christmas theme in years. Season of Hope centred on a family who experiences a crisis at the holiday season after their lemon grove has become diseased. Hallmark Hall of Fame would not have another Christmas themed episode until A Season of Miracles aired on December 12 1999. A Season of Miracles centred on a woman who has to take custody of her niece and nephew after their mother overdoses on drugs and the state threatens to put them in a foster home. She arrives in the small town of Bethlehem, Rhode Island at Christmas.

It would be three years before Hallmark Hall of Fame aired its next Christmas themed presentation. Fallen Angel centred on a successful lawyer who returns to Maine at Christmastime to settle his father' estate. First airing on November 26 2003, it was repeated on December 19 2004. In 2005 Hallmark Hall of Fame aired Silver Bells, which centred on a family that raises Christmas trees. When they go to New York City to sell them, the son runs away to pursue his passion in life, photography.

It would be another three years before Hallmark Hall of Fame's next Christmas presentation, A Dog Named Christmas. The film centred on a young boy with a learning disability who bonds with a dog in the two weeks before Christmas. November Christmas, which aired in 2010, dealt with a young girl with a terminal disease whose family celebrates holidays early so she can experience them one last time.

Hallmark Hall of Fame spent its first few decades on NBC. The series would then move to CBS and then briefly to PBS before airing on ABC. It was in 2014 that it was announced that Hallmark Hall of Fame would air exclusively on the Hallmark Channel. Regardless in the Teens Hallmark Hall of Fame continued to air Christmas themed episodes, including Christmas with Holly (2012), Christmas in Conway (2013), One Christmas Eve (2014), Just in Time for Christmas (2015), A Heavenly Christmas (2016), The Christmas Train (2017), Christmas Everlasting (2018), and A Christmas Love Story (2019). Sadly, many of these movies differed very little from the Hallmark Channel's movies, so that there was very little to set them apart as Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations.

Fortunately, many of Hallmark Hall of Fame's older Christmas presentations are available on DVD, and some even air on the Hallmark Channel some holiday seasons. Both A Season of Miracles and A Dog Named Christmas have popped upon the channel from time to time. And while the episodes of Hallmark Hall of Fame would eventually deteriorate, for decades it was known for the high quality of its presentations. While Hallmark may be best known for poorly made Christmas romance movies today, there was a time it was known for Amahl and the Night Visitors, The Littlest Angel, and The Return of the Native.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The 70th Anniversary of Scrooge or A Christmas Carol (1951)

(1951), also known as A Christmas Carol (1951), is often regarded as one of the best adaptations  Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. In fact, over the years it has become the favourite version of A Christmas Carol of many. As hard as it may be to believe today, this was not always the case. Scrooge (1951) premiered just a little over 70 years ago, on October 31 1951 in the United Kingdom.

Scrooge was produced and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, who had previously directed such films as The Tenth Man (1936) and Hungry Hill (1947). The screenplay was written by Noel Langley, who was one of the screenwriters who contributed to the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939). He also worked on such films as Babes in Arms (1939), Northwest Passage (1940), and Her Favourite Husband (1950). The title role was played by Alastair Sim. While he would later become known for the St. Trinian's films, Alastair Sim had played Inspector Cockrill in Green for Danger (1946), Felix H. Wilkinson in Hue and Cry (1947), and Commodore Gill in Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950).

In sharp contrast to MGM's lavish 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, the tone of Scrooge was closer to that of the novel. Quite simply, it was a very dark film. Regardless, it did well at the box office in Britain. Unfortunately, the fact that Scrooge was a very dark movie would work against it in the United States. It was slated for a run at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, but the theatre's management decided the film was too depressing. Retitled A Christmas Carol in the United States, it premiered in New York City on November 28 1951. The movie ultimately failed at the box office in America. It probably did not help that MGM's A Christmas Carol (1938) was still very popular in the United States and still the choice of many people with regards to their favourite adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

What saved Scrooge in the United States was the relatively young medium of television. Under the title A Christmas Carol, Scrooge made its television debut on WOR-TV in New York City in 1954. Throughout the Fifties and Sixties, Scrooge would pop up on various local television stations throughout the United States. In the Seventies, many PBS stations began showing Scrooge. Over time, more and more Americans were exposed to Scrooge, and it became regarded as a holiday classic in the United States. Eventually, it would become regarded by many as the quintessential version of A Christmas Carol.

That is not to say that Scrooge does not depart from the novel a good deal. The biggest difference between the two may be that a good deal of material is added in Scrooge dealing with his rise as a young businessman. An entirely new character, Mr. Jorkin (Jack Warner) was added to the film as the mentor to both young Scrooge (George Cole) and young Jacob Marley (Patrick Macnee, later of The Avengers). A more minor change is that Scrooge's fiancée, Belle, is renamed Alice in the movie. She portrayed in the present as working with the sick and homeless, whereas in the book she is married with children. Scrooge also expanded the role of Scrooge's charwoman, who had such a minor role in the novel that she is not given a name. In Scrooge she is named Mrs. Dilber (the name of the laundress in the novel) and she is given much more to do.

While Scrooge does depart a great deal from the original source material, it is loyal to the tone of the novel in a way that many adaptations of A Christmas Carol are not. Quite simply, Scrooge is a ghost story, and it can at times be a bit frightening. It also does not shy away from the realities of Victorian London as portrayed in the novel. Charles Dickens largely wrote A Christmas Carol as a protest against the poverty that existed in 1840s London, particularly poverty where children were concerned. This theme is not lost in the movie Scrooge.

Of course, much of what makes Scrooge such a good adaptation of A Christmas Carol is its cast. While Mr. Jorkin may have been a character who was original to the movie, he was wonderfully realized by Jack Warner, perhaps then best known for playing Joe Huggett in the Huggetts series of movies. Mr. Jorkin was about as far removed from Joe Huggett as one could get. Interestingly enough, Kathleen Harrison, who played the charwoman Mrs. Dilber, was also a veteran of the Huggetts movies, having played Ethel, Joe Huggett's wife. She does a wonderfully comic turn as Mrs. Dilber in Scrooge. Mervyn Johns may well have been the best Bob Cratchit to ever appear on screen. He even looks like the Bob Cratchit from the illustrations of Charles Dickens's novel in the Victorian Era.

As great as the cast of Scrooge is, there can be no doubt that the star of the film is Alastair Sim as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Ebeneezer Scrooge's transformation from a curmudgeonly old skinflint to a generous man who loves Christmas comes slowly, and Alastair Sim does a wonderful job of playing out that transformation. Suitably bad tempered and cheap at the start of the film, Alastair Sim is positively giddy once he has shown the error of his ways. For many, Alsatair Sim remains their favourite Scrooge.

Scrooge would not be the last time that Alastair Sim played Scrooge and Mervyn Jones played Bob Cratchit. Australian animation studio British animator Richard Williams produced and directed an animated version of A Christmas Carol in 1971. This version of A Christmas Carol, like Scrooge, was similarly dark. It would make its American television debut on ABC on December 21 1971. It was released theatrically and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1972.

Upon its premiere in the United States it must have seemed unlikely to many that Scrooge would ever become a Christmas classic. After all, no less than Radio City Music Hall had rejected the film as too depressing. Through the miracle of television it eventually found its audience and eventually became regarded by many as the best version of A Christmas Carol. Today it is hard to conceive of a time when it wasn't regarded as a beloved holiday classic. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

TCM Remembers 2021

I think I can speak for most Turner Classic Movies fans when I saw we simultaneously look forward to and dread TCM Remembers each year. We look forward to it because it is the best In Memoriam of beloved stars that any TV channel, network, or organization does. We dread it because we know that when we watch it there will be loads of tears.

This year I imagine TCM fans cried a good deal, as an inordinately large number of beloved stars died this year. When I first saw TCM Remembers 2021 this past Saturday I managed to maintain my composure, only tearing up at such beloved stars as Pat Hitchcock, Betty Lynn, Willie Garson, Jessica Walter, Ed Asner, Dean Stockwell, and Norman Lloyd. I did not break down until they got to Michael Nesmith. If there is one thing I love as much as classic film, it is The Monkees. My tears only grew more when they got to Jane Powell, one of my all time favourite actresses. In fact, if I had done this year's TCM Remembers, it would have been either Jane Powell or Ed Asner who have gotten the end spot. I love Christopher Plummer, but Jane Powell and Ed Asner are, well, Jane Powell and Ed Asner.

I do have to say I loved this year's choice of song. If it sounds familiar, it is because it is a cover of R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People" by Reuben and the Dark X AG.

Anyway, for those of you who haven't seen it yet, get out the tissues, because here it is.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The 53rd Birthday of My Dearest Vanessa Marquez

Today my dearest Vanessa Marquez would have turned 53. She was born on December 21 1968 in Los Angeles County. Many will be familiar with Vanessa from her role as Ana Delgado in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on the TV series ER. She also appeared in such movies as Twenty Bucks (1993) and Father Hood (1993). She was a regular on the TV show Culture Clash and she guest starred on shows from Seinfeld to Nurses. She also appeared many times on stage, in such productions as Demon Wine, August 29, and Street of the Sun.

While for many Vanessa was a talented and well-known actress, for me she was  both my dearest friend and a woman I adored. Like many I had first seen her in Stand and Deliver. I later remember watching the Nurses episode "The One After the Earthquake" and thinking the young guest star on the episode was remarkably pretty, only to learn later she had played Ana Delgado in one of my favourite movies, Stand and Deliver. Of course, that fall I began seeing Vanessa regularly as Wendy on ER. Wendy was (and still is) my favourite character on ER, and I even had a crush on her at the time. When Vanessa and I met as two of the original members of #TCMParty (the group of Turner Classic Movies fans who live tweet to movies on that channel), I knew exactly who she was, even if I was a bit doubtful at first that it was really her (I'd encountered people impersonating celebrities on Twitter before). I soon learned that not only was Vanessa very talented, but she was also entirely wonderful. She was sweet, thoughtful, warm, down-to-earth, intelligent, and funny. I also learned we had a good deal in common. Vanessa and I became friends, and we even grew close. Eventually we would be in touch nearly every single day, through social media, through texts, and through phone calls. Vanessa was my dearest friend and I loved her very, very much. If today is a bit bittersweet for me, that is the reason.

I will freely admit that I thought (and still think) Vanessa was the most beautiful woman to ever live. I am sure that even now Vanessa would disagree. She once took this survey on Facebook, "What Kind of Attractive Are You?" and got the result, "Adorable." She complained that she was tired of being cute. She wanted to be beautiful, gorgeous, glamorous, sexy, or hot. I told her that she was beautiful, gorgeous, glamorous, sexy, and hot. Vanessa still maintained she was only cute at best, but she accepted it when I told her that to me she was beautiful, gorgeous, glamorous, sexy, and hot. Over the past year I have bought slides of pictures of Vanessa taken at various events. I submit these as proof that Vanessa was far more than cute. She was absolutely gorgeous. I have to apologize for the quality of some of the pictures. I lack a proper slide scanner and so I had to use my smartphone and a lightbox.

This first photo is one of my favourites of the ones I got this year. It is from the NBC All-Star Reception at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pasadena on  January 9,1995.

This is another photo from the NBC All-Star Reception at the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena on January 9 1995.

This may well be my absolute favourite of the slides I got, as I think Vanessa absolutely radiates Old Hollywood glamour. This is from the 27th NAACP Image Awards held at the Pasadena Civic Centre on April 6 1996. ER had been nominated for several awards.

This picture is from the Memory Walk to benefit Alzheimer's disease at the Los Angeles Zoo on October 7 1995. That's fellow ER cast member Lily Mariye in the background.

This photo is from An Evening at the Net at the UCLA Tennis Center on July 31 1995. An Evening at the Net that year was a benefit for the California State Summer School for the Arts.

This is a picture from the Red Cross Spirit Awards held at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel on March 30 1996.

This photo is from the premiere of the movie Desperado (1995) at Manns National Theatre in Westwood, California.

For those of you who wanted to see all of Vanessa's outfit from the Desperado premiere, I found it on Getty Images, where for some odd reason they didn't note that it was Vanessa Marquez.

Of course, here I have to stress that Vanessa's beauty was not merely skin deep. She wasn't just physically beautiful, but she was an entirely wonderful person. As our mutual friend Paula Guthat said of Vanessa, "She's lovely through and through." Whenever one of her friends was sick or feeling down, Vanessa was always the first to comfort them. She had this remarkable ability to remember little things about people, down to the smallest detail. She was always the first to take up for one of her friends whenever one of them was attacked. Even when she was feeling poorly (which, given her health, could be often), she always maintained a cheery disposition. Vanessa had a great sense of humour and she was very intelligent. She was much, much more than a pretty face.

If I was in love with Vanessa, it was not because she was beautiful, but because she was an entirely wonderful person. She worried about me when I was sick. She had this incredible knack for cheering me up whenever I felt my worst. She was happy for me when something good happened to me and sad when something bad happened to me. If today is a bittersweet day for me, it is because it is a happy day because the one person I love more than any other was born, yet it is a sad day because she is no longer with us. I do hope that Vanessa has a happy birthday in the hereafter, and that she realizes just how very loved she is.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The British Tradition of the Christmas Number One

In the United Kingdom there is no more prestigious time to have a number one song than the week in which Christmas Day falls. During most years there is usually intense competition among music artists to have the number one single on Christmas Day, better known simply as the "Christmas number one."

The sometimes intense scrutiny paid to the contest for the Christmas number one may seem to have existed since the beginning of the UK singles chart, but that actually isn't the case. The official UK Singles Chart was started in 1952, when it was published in The New Music Express (NME). There were certainly number one singles in the week during Christmas from the earliest days, but it does not seem that any more attention was paid to them than any other time of year. In fact, if my research is correct, the phrase "Christmas number one" with reference to the race for the number one single on Christmas Day did not appear in print until 1973. That year is significant, as two popular bands each released Christmas themed singles. Slade released  "Merry Xmas Everybody," while Wizzard released  "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday." A rather intense competition developed between the two singles as to which would be the number one single on Christmas Day. In the end, Slade won with "Merry Xmas Everybody" going to number one. It has since become a British Christmas standard. As to Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday," it peaked at number four.

While it may be a bit anachronistic to speak of Christmas number ones before 1973, the first single to be number one on Christmas Day on the official UK singles chart was also the first single to be number one on the chart, "Here in My Heart" by Al Martino. It was at number one when the chart was started on November 14 1952. It was still at number one during the week of Christmas. As to what was the first actual Christmas song to be number one during the week of Christmas, that would be "Christmas Alphabet" by Dickie Valentine in 1955. As to the record for the most number one singles during the week of Christmas, that  belongs to The Beatles. They hit number one during the week of Christmas with four singles: "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in 1963, "I Feel Fine" in 1964, "Day Tripper"/"We Can Work It Out" (a double A-side) in 1965, and "Hello Goodbye" in 1967.

Although it might seem odd, the majority of Christmas number ones have not been songs about Christmas. After Christmas themed Christmas number ones in both 1973 ("Merry Xmas Everybody" by Slade) and 1974 ("Lonely This Christmas" by Mud), "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen was the Christmas number one for 1975. "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)"  by Pink Floyd, "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League, "Reet Petite" by Jackie Wilson, and even "Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine have all been Christmas number ones.

Given little attention was paid to what singles were number one during the week of Christmas prior to 1973, it should come as no surprise that it would be some time before the Christmas number one would be announced on Christmas Day. It was not until 1994 that the Christmas number one was actually announced on Christmas itself.

Since 1973 the annual attention paid to the race for the Christmas number one has been very much a part of British culture, so much so that the race for the Christmas number one formed one of the subplots of the movie Love Actually (2003). In the movie washed up rocker Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) records a Christmas themed cover of The Troggs' "Love is All Around" ("Christmas is All Around") in hopes of a comeback. As it turns out, "Christmas is All Around" is in competition with a single by the boy band Blue, their single being considered the odds-on favourite.

As to how having the number one single during Christmas became so significant in the United Kingdom, my guess it comes down to two things. The first is that Christmas remains the biggest holiday throughout the English speaking world, and this is no truer than anywhere than the United Kingdom. The second is that record sales in the United Kingdom increase to around 40%. The combination of the significance of Christmas and the increase in sales at Christmas both made having a number one single during the week of Christmas more prestigious than any other time of year.

After nearly fifty years of intense scrutiny being paid to the race for the Christmas number one, there appears to be no sign that the British public will stop paying attention to the Christmas number one. The favourite for this year's Christmas number one is "Sausage Rolls for Everyone" by LadBaby. If he wins the race for the Christmas number one, he will be tied with The Beatles for the most number one singles during the week of Christmas. We'll have to wait until Christmas 2022 to see if he breaks The Beatles' record.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The 70th Anniversary of The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Despite the fact that it introduced the classic Christmas song "Silver Bells," like many classic Christmas movies The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) was not released at Christmastime. Instead it was released on April 2 1951. That having been said, it has since become a favourite of many to watch at Christmastime. Given how well it captures the spirit of the holiday, this should come as no surprise.

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) was very loosely based on the short story "The Lemon Drop Kid" by Damon Runyon. The short story centred on the title character, a race track tout who cons a rich man out of $100 and then flees to settle down in a small town. It had been previously adapted as the movie The Lemon Drop Kid (1934), which was rather faithful to the short story. That having been said, about the only thing The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) has in common with the short story is that they are centred on a race track tout called the Lemon Drop Kid. In The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), Bob Hope plays the title character, who cons a woman into betting on a horse other than the odds-on favourite. As it turns out, the woman is the girl friend of gangster Moose Moran (Fred Clark), who demands the Lemon Drop Kid pay him the $10,000 his girlfriend lost on the bet. The Lemon Drop Kid then flees Florida for New York City in hopes of raising the money. It is December, so he concocts a scheme involving street corner Santas.

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) likely owed its existence to a previous Bob Hope movie inspired by a Damon Runyon short story. Sorrowful Jones (1949) was based on the Damon Runyon short story "Little Miss Marker," which had previously been adapted as the Shirley Temple movie Little Miss Marker (1934). Sorrowful Jones did brisk business at the box office, so another Bob Hope movie based on a Damon Runyon short story probably seemed like a sure thing. Indeed, the same director, Sidney Lanfield, directed both.

As to the casting of The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), Bob Hope insisted that Marilyn Maxwell be cast as his romantic interest, Brainey Baxter. At the time Marilyn Maxwell was far from being a household name. As might be expected, Paramount asked who she was. Bob Hope simply told the studio that he had worked with her in New York, and she was good. What Bob Hope did not tell Paramount is that he and Miss Maxwell were carrying on an affair. Of course, while Marilyn Maxwell might not have been particularly well known, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) featured a slough of recognizable faces, including Fred Clark, Jane Darwell, Sid Melton, and Lloyd Nolan. Among these recognizable faces was the only actor who had appeared in 1934 version of The Lemon Drop Kid, William Frawley.

Of course, today The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) may be best known as the film that introduced the Christmas standard "Silver Bells." While Jay Livingston and Ray Evans had already written a number of hits, in 1950 their career was in such a lull that the two worried Paramount might release them from their contract. It was at this time that the studio asked the two to write a Christmas song. Jay Livingston and Ray Evan's stories about the inspiration behind "Silver Bells" differ. Jay Livingston said that the song was inspired by the bells used by Salvation Army Santas and others on New York City street corners during Christmastime. Ray Evans said it was inspired by a bell that sat on the desk he shared with Jay Livingston. Regardless, of its inspiration, the song started out as "Tinkle Bells." The song's title changed immediately after Ray Evans's wife informed him that "tinkle" was a slang term for urination.

Once The Lemon Drop Kid (1931) was completed, Bob Hope was not particularly happy with the finished product. Bob Hope asked gag writer Frank Tahslin (who had also been an animator at Warner Bros.) to rewrite a number of scenes. Frank Tashlin agreed provided he could direct the retakes. This did not sit well Sidney Lanfield, who would never work with Bob Hope again.

Among the retakes directed by Frank Tashlin was the sequence involving "Silver Bells." The original "Silver Bells" sequence as directed by Sidney Lanfield was simply the cast standing in an empty casino singing the song. Aside from Mr. Lanfield's reportedly uninspired staging of the song, Bob Hope may well have had another reason for wanting the "Silver Bells" sequence to stand out more. Bob Hope's friend and Road to... movie co-star Bing Crosby had recorded his own version of the song, that had been released in October 1950. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had always had a friendly rivalry, so naturally Mr. Hope did not want to be shown up by Mr. Crosby. To this end Frank Tashlin moved the action of the "Silver Bells" sequence to a busy New York City street at the peak of Christmas shopping season. In the end it is not only the most impressive scene in the movie, but one of the most impressive scenes touching upon Christmas in any movie.

Despite being released in April, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) did well at the box office. And while it may not be as highly regarded as such classics as Christmas in Connecticut (1945), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), or The Bishop's Wife (1947), The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) remains a holiday favourite of many classic movie fans. While it may be best known as the movie that introduced the Christmas standard "Silver Bells," many realize it has much more to offer.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Bing Crosby and Christmas

With the possible exception of Gene Autry, there has probably never been an entertainer so closely associated with Christmas as Bing Crosby. Not only was his biggest hit a Christmas song ("White Christmas"), but that song remains the biggest selling single of all time. Over the years Bing Crosby appeared in numerous radio and television Christmas specials and recorded a number of Christmas songs and albums. In the mid-20th Century, it may well have been difficult to picture Christmas without Bing Crosby.

While "White Christmas" looms large in Bing Crosby's legend, his association with Christmas began long before its release in 1942. Bing Crosby's long association with Christmas began in 1935 with the Christmas edition of The Kraft Music Hall, which Mr. Crosby co-hosted with Paul Whiteman at that point. The Kraft Music Hall would include an annual Christmas edition every year that Bing Crosby hosted. In 1946 Bing Crosby moved to the show Philco Radio Time, where he also hosted an annual Christmas edition. Bing Crosby would have different shows from the late Forties into the Fifties, including This is Bing Crosby (1948-1960), The Bing Crosby-Chesterfield Show (1949-1952), The Bing Crosby Show for General Electric (1952-1954), and The Bing Crosby Show (1954-1956). On each of these shows Christmas episodes were annual traditions. After Bing Crosby's last radio show ended in 1956, he continued to do Christmas specials on radio each titled A Christmas Sing with Bing. Starting in 1946, these annual radio specials would last until 1962.

Strangely enough, while Bing Crosby's radio shows had featured Christmas episodes starting in 1935 and afterwards he hosted six years' worth of Christmas specials on radio, he was a relative latecomer when it came to Christmas specials on television. He was a guest on the 1957 Christmas edition of The Frank Sinatra Show, "Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank." He would not host his first Christmas television special, The Bing Crosby Christmas Show, until 1961.

After The Bing Crosby Christmas Show in 1961, Bing Crosby would appear each year in either a Christmas special or a Christmas episode of a television show for the next sixteen years.  In 1964 rather than a Christmas special, he appeared in a Christmas episode of his sitcom The Bing Crosby Show, "The Christmas Show." That having been said, descriptions of the episode make it sound as if it differed very little from his Christmas specials. In 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968 he hosted the Christmas episodes of the variety show The Hollywood Palace. Interestingly enough, in 1968 this put Bing Crosby in competition with himself. While The Hollywood Palace was airing on ABC, his movie White Christmas (1954) was airing on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies! Bing Crosby continued to host his own Christmas specials until the final one in 1977. That Christmas special, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, may remain his most famous Christmas special of al. Filmed in London in September 1977, among his guests was David Bowie, with whom he performed the duet "Peace on Earth"/"Little Drummer Boy." "Peace on Earth"/"Little Drummer Boy" would be released as a single in 1982 by RCA. It peaked at no. 3 on the UK single chart and received a good deal of airplay on American radio stations. It was only a few weeks after Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas had been filmed that Bing Crosby died of a massive heart attack at age 74. The special aired posthumously, bring an end to the tradition of Bing Crosby Christmas specials that had existed since the 1930s.

Of course, while Bing Crosby hosted Christmas specials on radio and television for years, he also recorded a large number of Christmas songs. The first Christmas song he ever recorded was a version of "Silent Night" in 1935. That initial version remained unreleased because Mr. Crosby felt it was not right for an entertainer to make money from a religious song. "Silent Night" was then re-recorded and it was arranged for all the money made from it to go to charity. This version of "Silent Night" went to no. 7 on the Billboard singles chart.

Bing Crosby would not record much in the way of Christmas songs until 1942, when a holiday-themed movie would bring him his biggest hit. Holiday Inn (1942) featured the songs "Happy Holiday" and "White Christmas." Bing Crosby had actually performed "White Christmas" eight months before the movie was released. He first performed it on The Kraft Music Hall on December 25 1941. Curiously, at the time it was thought "Be Careful It's My Heart," performed during the Valentine's Day sequence in Holiday Inn, would be the big hit from the movie. Initially "Be Careful Its My Heart" did perform the best of the two songs, making it all the way to no. 2 on the Billboard Pop chart. As the months grew closer to December, however, "White Christmas" began to pick up steam. In 1942 it ultimately spent eleven weeks on the Billboard Pop chart. It would return to the Billboard charts twenty different times before Billboard created a separate holiday chart. It became the biggest selling single of all time and remains so to this day.

Holiday Inn and "White Christmas" marked Bing Crosby's most prolific period recording Christmas songs, from 1942 to 1955. In 1943 he would have another hit that would become a Christmas standard, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." was written by lyricist Kim Gannon and composer Walter Kent, who had in mind the men and women serving overseas during World War II. The song struck a chord and remained on the Billboard Pop charts for eleven weeks, peaking at no. 3. Bing Crosby would have several more major hit Christmas songs, including his own version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "A Marshmallow World," his version of "Silver Bells," among others.

Bing Crosby also recorded Christmas songs with the Andrew Sisters. The first record they recorded together was "Ciribiribin (They're So in Love)" in 1939. In 1943 Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters recorded their first Christmas song together, "Jingle Bells." They later recorded  "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" in 1947, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and "Here Comes Santa Claus" in 1949, and "Poppa Santa Claus"  and "Mele Kalikimaka" in 1950.

After 1955 Bing Crosby recorded Christmas songs less frequently, although he would continue to release Christmas albums. His first was Merry Christmas in 1945. It was followed by Christmas Greetings in 1949, A Christmas Sing with Bing around the World in 1956, I Wish You a Merry Christmas in 1962, and others. Of course, compilation albums of his Christmas songs have continued to be released even after his death.

It is mark of how strongly linked Bing Crosby is with Christmas that his songs his songs continue to make the Billboard Holiday chart. In 2011 Billboard created the holiday chart, and since then multiple Bing Crosby songs have hit the chart each year. It should come as no surprise that "White Christmas" has made the Billboard Holiday chart every year since its creation. And while it is more associated with Perry Como, so has Bing Crosby's version of "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." Bing Crosby's Christmas television specials remain available on DVD and some have found their way onto YouTube. Both Holiday Inn and White Christmas continue to air on multiple television outlets each year. Forty four years after his death, Bing Crosby is still linked to Christmas in many people's minds.

Friday, December 17, 2021

"Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Calus Lane)" by Gene Autry

"Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane)" was the first Christmas song ever recorded by singing cowboy Gene Autry. It was also one of his biggest hits. The song went to #9 on the Billboard pop chart and #5 on the Billboard country chart. It marked the first many Christmas songs would record, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which remains one of the biggest singles of all time, and "Frosty the Snowman."

The roots of "Here Come Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane)" are in Hollywood history. In 1928 prominent businessman Colonel Harry Baine conceived of a Christmas parade to promote the businesses along Hollywood Boulevard. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce agreed to Colonel Baine's idea and as result the first Santa Claus Lane Parade was held in 1928. The area of Hollywood Boulevard from La Brea Avenue to Vine Street was renamed "Santa Claus Lane." That first Santa Claus Lane Parade was rather modest. It featured only a few floats and Santa Claus escorted by Universal starlet Jeanette Loff.

While the Santa Claus Lane Parade started out small, it grew swiftly in the coming years. The businesses in Hollywood received the cooperation of the studios, so that movie stars appeared in the parade and even served as Grand Marshals. For instance, popular comedian Joe E. Brown was the Grand Marshal of the Santa Claus Lane Parade in 1932. By the mid-Thirties, the parade not only featured floats, movie stars, and Santa Claus, but equestrian units and marching bands as well.

The Santa Claus Lane Parade was suspended from the years 1942 to 1944 because of World War II, but it returned in 1945 bigger than ever. It was renamed the "Hollywood Christmas Parade" in 1978.

Gene Autry had served as the Grand Marshal of the Santa Claus Lane Parade in 1939. He later rode in the parade in 1946, during which he heard children shouting, "Here comes Santa Claus!" The experience inspired him to write the lyrics to "Here Come Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane)," with  Oakley Haldeman writing the music. The song proved to be a hit when released in 1947. He re-recorded it in 1953 and then again in 1957. Since its original release it has been covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Elvis Presley.

The song was included in Gene Autry's 1949 movie The Cowboy and the Indians, its only appearance in a Gene Autry film. The Cowboy and the Indians is notable for the first appearance of Gene Autry's signature song, "Back in the Saddle Again." It is also notable for featuring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels not long before they appeared together on the TV show The Lone Ranger.

Without further ado, here is "Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane)."

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Those Times Santa Claus Was Naughty in Advertisements

The popular image of Santa Claus is jolly, kind, and morally upright old man who spreads Christmas joy and brings gifts to everyone. This was not always the case in the 20th Century, when some advertisements insisted on portraying Santa as, well, naughty. This might seem surprising today, but the mid-20th Century was a politically incorrect time when smoking was acceptable and sex was used to sell everything. During this time Santa drank and smoke, and even had an eye for the ladies in ads.

Yes, that's Kris Kringle himself smoking in this 1951 Pall Mall ad! Of course, keep in mind this was 13 years before the Surgeon General's first report on smoking.

Not only did ads portray Santa smoking cigarettes, but cigars as well. Indeed, in this 1940 White Owl ad not only is Saint Nick smoking a cigar, but a lady who is definitely not Mrs. Claus is sitting on his lap!

In vintage ads not only does Santa smoke, but he also drinks! What is more, from the size of those bottles in this 1936 Martini Vermouth he drinks a lot. I guess travelling around the world distributing gifts in a 24 hour period is stressful...

If smoking and drinking seems out of character for Santa Claus, then what about Santa being a peeping Tom in this 1944 Kayser Hosiery ad? The artist was Whitney Darrow, one of the many legendary cartoonists to work for The New Yorker.

In this 1951 ad for Mojud Stockings, Santa gives a present to a lady whose dress has gotten caught in her Christmas tree. From that look on Santa's face, I have to wonder that he isn't hoping she is on the Naughty List.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

One More Michael Nesmith Song

I am still reeling from the death of Michael Nesmith last Friday. Those who know me would hardly be surprised, as I have always been a huge Monkees fan and Mike was always my favourite. It is for that reason I decided tonight to share another one of my favourite songs by Michael Nesmith. It is "Papa Gene's Blues." It is one of Michael Nemisth's many songs in which the title seemingly has nothing to do with the song. Indeed, if "Papa Gene's Blues" seems like an odd title for the song, consider that its original title was "Brand X." The title did present some problems for Colgems, who misspelled it on some early pressings of the first album, The Monkees, as "Papa Jean's Blues."

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Godspeed Anne Rice

Anne Rice, who revolutionized horror fiction with such books as The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned, died on December 11 2021 at the age of 80. The cause was complications from a stroke.

Anne Rice was born  Howard Allen Frances O'Brien on October 4 1941 in New Orleans. Explanations for her male birth name have varied, but all agree that she was named for her father. She adopted the name"Anne" on her first day of school. A nun asked her what her name was, ad she said "Anne," because she thought it was a pretty name. Her name was legally changed to "Anne" in 1947. Her mother died when she was 15, and her father later remarried. Her father moved the family to north Texas when she was 16. It was at Richardson High School in north Texas that she met her future husband Stan Rice. After graduating from Richardson High School she attended for her freshman year and North Texas State College also in Denton for her sophomore year. She dropped out of college because she ran out of money. After moving to California she completed her education at the University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University.

It was in 1976 that Anne Rice's first book, Interview with The Vampire was published. It was the first book in the The Vampire Chronicles series and introduced her most famous character, Lestat. It would be followed by the much more successful The Vampire Lestat in 1985. It would be followed by twelve more novels in The Vampire Chronicles. Her second book was the historical novel The Feast of All Saints in 1979. In 1983 the novel The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, which she wrote under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure, was published. It was the first in her series of erotic novels based on the "Sleeping Beauty" fairy tale. In 1965 Exit to Eden and in 1986 Belinda were published. Both were under the pseudonym Anne Rampling and both were erotic fiction.

In 1989 Ramses the Damned was published. It dealt with the resurrected mummy trope. It was followed by two more Ramses novels. The following year The Witching Hour, the first in the trilogy Lives of the Mayfair Witches, was published. In the Naughts  she wrote two religious novels, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ  the Lord: The Road to Cana. In 2012 The Wolf Gift was published, the first of two books dealing with lycanthropy.

Anne Rice revolutionized vampire fiction. She was among the first authors to humanize vampires, starting with Interview with The Vampire. In humanizing vampires, Anne Riche also altered the mythos surrounding them. Not to content to use the myths established by Bram Stoker and countless vampire movies, Mrs. Rice created her own myths. She also infused her novels with an eroticism that was not yet commonplace in works on vampires. Anne Rice would bring her own take to other classic figures of horror as well, from resurrected mummies to witches to werewolves. Anne Rice changed the horror genre forever.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Cara Williams Passes On

Cara Williams, who played Gladys in the sitcom Pete and Gladys and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Defiant Ones (1958), died on December 9 2021 at the age of 96.

Cara Williams was born Bernice Kamiat in Brooklyn, New York on June 29 1925. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and her mother moved the family to Los Angeles. Bernice Kamiat took an interest in acting while very young and chose "Cara Williams" as her stage name. She attended the Hollywood Professional school and began acting on radio. She was only 16 years old when she was signed by 20th Century Fox.

Cara Williams made her film debut in a small role in Wide Open Town in 1941. She appeared in small, often uncredited roles in such films as Girls' Town (1942), In the Meantime, Darling (1944), and Laura (1944). She had her first major role in Boomerang (1947). For the remainder of the Forties she appeared in such films as Sitting Pretty (1948), The Saxon Charm (1948), and Knock on Any Door (1949). She made her television debut in an episode of Theatre of Romance in 1949. The following year she appeared in the shows The Clock, The Philco Television Playhouse, The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre, The Web, Starlight Theatre, The Billy Rose Show, and Suspense.

In the Fifties Cara Williams made several guest appearances on the TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1960 she began playing Gladys on the sitcom Pete and Gladys, opposite Harry Morgan as Pete. She guest starred on the show Robert Montgomery Presents, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Broadway Television Theatre, Steve Randall, Matinee Theatre, On Trial, Lux Video Theatre, Jane Wyman Presents Fireside Theatre, Date with the Angels, Naked City, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, and Zane Grey Theatre. She appeared in the movies The Girl Next Door (1953), Monte Carlo Baby (1953), The Great Diamond Robbery (1954), Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), The Helen Morgan Story (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), and Never Steal Anything Small (1949).

In the Sixties she continued to star on Pete and Gladys. She also starred in the single season sitcom The Cara Williams Show. She guest starred on Jackie Gleason: American Scene Magazine, The Red Skelton Show, and Valentine's Day. She appeared in the movie The Man from Diner's Club (1963). In the Seventies she guest starred on Rhoda, Medical Center, and Visions. She appeared in the movies Doctor's Wives (1971), The White Buffalo (1977), and The One Man Jury (1978). She made her last appearance on film in the TV movie In Security in 1982.

Chances are good that Cara Williams might be best remembered as Gladys, Pete's scatter-brained wife on Pete and Gladys, but she played a wide variety of role throughout her career. She played waitress Irene Nelson, a witness to murder, in Boomerang. In The Defiant Ones she played a mother who takes in two escaped convicts (Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis), a role for which she was nominated for an Oscar. In The Man form the Diner's Club she played a gangster's moll who becomes involved with the meek Diner's Club clerk (Danny Kaye) of the title. Cara Williams was equally adept at comedy and drama, and always gave a good performance, no matter small her role.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

My Favourite Michael Nesmith Songs

There are those artists we love from our earliest days, so early that we might not even recall where we first encountered them. The Monkees number among those artists for me. I might have seen the TV show in its first run on NBC, although I don't remember it. My much older sister owned The Monkees' albums and they were frequently played on the radio, so I am certain I must have heard their songs while very young. One thing of which I am certain is that I watched the reruns of The Monkees faithfully when CBS started showing the series in 1969. At six years old something about both the show and the band just clicked for me. I have to think much of it was that it was sheer escapism of the sort young boys enjoy. The Monkees faced everything from gangsters to modern day pirates to the Devil himself. While The Monkees was an escapist TV show, to a small degree it had an underlying message. Quite simply, each week it showed that four down-and-out young men could come out on top against whatever was thrown against them. Fora young boy or, really, anyone of any age, that can be an important message to hear.

While I love all four Monkees, from the beginning Michael Nesmith was my favourite. Mike was the intellectual of the group, possessed with very dry wit and a keen mind. It was Mike who most often got The Monkees out of any jams they were in, who came up with any solutions to problems they might face. As a relatively intelligent lad whose humour was ea bit left of centre even then, I identified with Mike, even if I might not possess his leadership skills (I still don't).

Of course, The Monkees was more than a sitcom. Each week it featured at least one song performed by the band, and some of those songs were written by the band members themselves. Indeed, Michael Nesmith was a songwriter before the TV show even debuted. He had written and recorded his own singles before the debut of The Monkees. His song "Mary, Mary" (later covered by The Monkees) was recorded by The Paul Butterfield Band in 1966, and his song "Different Drum" was recorded by The Greenbriar Boys that year. Michael Nesmith's songs for The Monkees number among my favourites of the band, and I love a number of his solo songs as well. In tribute to the great Michael Nesmith, I thought I would post some of my favourite songs he wrote. These aren't all of my favourites, by any means. Since I can't decide which ones I like best, I decided to present them in chronological order.

"Sweet Young Thing" was co-written by Michael Nesmith, Gerry Goffin, and Carole King, but it is identifiably a Michael Nesmith song. Indeed, it sounds a lot like his other early work. It is my second favourite Monkees song, after "She" (which was composed by Boyce and Hart).

Angry at Don Kirshner for releasing the album without The Monkees' input or even knowledge, Michael Nesmith once called the band's second album, More of The Monkees, "the worst album in the history of the world." That having been said, for all its shortcomings, More of The Monkees does include some of the band's best songs, including "She," Michael Nesmith's own "Mary, Mary," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin'' Stone," and "I'm a Believer." Among those songs is "The Kind of Girl I Could Love." It has always numbered among my favourite songs by Michael Nesmith.

Headquarters was historic as the first Monkees album recorded without substantial use of session musicians. "You Just May Be The One" had been recorded earlier for the television show, but for the album The Monkees recorded a new version. What is more, it is the one song on Headquarters on which all four Monkees play the same instruments that they are shown playing on the show (Mike on guitar, Peter on bass, Micky on drums, and Davy on tambourine). While I love both versions, I do prefer the album version of "You Just May Be the One" to the TV version. It has always been one of my favourite Monkees songs, although for a time I couldn't listen to it without breaking down in tears as I identify it with someone who is no longer with us.

"Daily Nightly" was inspired by the Sunset Strip curfew riots, and the media's misinformation regarding them. The Monkees had earlier discussed the Sunset Strip curfew riots at the end of the episode "Find The Monkees," even going so far as to point out that the word "riots" was inaccurate. Along with "Star Collector" (also from the album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd.), "Daily Nightly" was the first song on which a Moog synthesizer was used.

As mentioned earlier, Michael Nesmith's song "Different Drum" was first recorded by The Greenbriar Boys. It was included on their album Better Late Than Never! in 1966. Michael Nesmith had offered "Different Drum" to The Monkees, but it was one of a number of Michael Nesmith's songs that was rejected by music supervisor Don Kirshner. The Stone Poneys then recorded their own version of their song and relased it as a single. It went to no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. For me this is yet more evidence that Don Krishner was not the music expert he thought he was...

"Tapioca Tundra" appeared on the album The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees and it was also the B-side of the second single from the album, "Valleri." It did particularly well as a B-side, actually going to no. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Circle Sky" is perhaps best known for its inclusion in The Monkees' movie Head. The movie features a live performance of the song filmed at the Valley Auditorium in Salt Lake City on May 17 1968. Sadly, the movie Head bombed at the box office. Its soundtrack album became the first Monkees album not to reach the top ten on the Billboard album chart, going only to no. 45. A new version would later be recorded for The Monkees' 1996 album Justus.

"Rio" was a single from Michael Nesmith's 1977 album From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing. At the time music videos were hardly unknown. Musical short films have existed nearly as long as talking motion pictures have. In the Forties Soundies were made for the Panoram visual jukebox and in the late Fifties and Sixties there were musical shorts made for the Scopitone, Cinebox, and Color-Sonics visual jukeboxes. Of course, in the Sixties promotional films were made for artists from The Beatles to The Monkees' songwriters Boyce & Hart. That having been said, the music video for "Rio" was historic. In 1977 many American artists did not bother with music videos. What is more, conceptual videos were just coming into their own at the time. "Rio" would then have an impact. Indeed, while the video was shot in 1977, it looks like something that could have come from the Eighties.

"Cruisin'" was the last single Michael Nesmith would release as a solo artist. It was from his 1979 album  Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma. A music video was shot for Michael Nesmith's 1981 collection of comedy skits and music videos Elephant Parts. Elephant Parts also included the music video for "Rio," as well as music videos for "Magic," "Light," and "Tonight." Elephant Parts won the first Grammy for Music Video. As to Sunset Sam in the "Cruisin'" video that is Steve Strong, not a young Hulk Hogan as often reported.