White Christmas

Well, I planned on ending this last night but work got in the way. It was a great night, a memorable night, and oh yeah, it was Christmas Eve too.

It was in the forecast. Yes, it was. I have Facebook posts from reputable sources to prove it. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Here in Northern California we haven’t had the perfect blend of at or below freezing temperatures and precipitation to create it.

It came close I just learned – it just missed me. Dammit.

There was a full moon on Christmas Eve for the first time since 1977, but, I did not get my wish and I am still dreaming of a…

  1. White Christmas – 1954

I hate musicals. I really do. I don’t know why. They are just not my thing. I don’t like them in person and I don’t like movie musicals. Perhaps the only one I enjoyed growing up was The Wizard of Oz, if you want to call it a musical.

I do love Christmas music. I counted down my favorites. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is on the list. The song first appeared in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. And yes, the hotel chain is named after the movie. I own the movie. I’ve watched it once. I like it well enough, just not enough to put it on this countdown.

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye star along with Rosemary Clooney, yes, George’s aunt, and Vera-Ellen. Crosby and Kaye are in the Army together and Kaye saves Crosby’s life. Crosby is an established entertainer and Kaye is an up and comer. Kaye uses the “lifesaving bit” throughout the film to get Crosby to do pretty much whatever he fancies, except hit the dating circuit.

Enter the Haynes sisters. Siblings of an old Army buddy, they get Wallace and Davis (Crosby and Kaye) to come check out their song and dance act on false pretenses. Both Davis and Judy (Vera-Ellen) cook up a scheme within minutes/hours of meeting each other to get Bob (Crosby) and Betty (Clooney) together.

A train trip to eventually leads the quartet to Vermont (where it hasn’t snowed since Thanksgiving) and a chance reunion with their former general, who now runs a ski lodge. No snow means no customers which equals a destitute former general.

The boys cook up yet another scheme, a misunderstanding between Bob and Betty threatens to undo what is now a budding romance. Eventually all is forgiven, the general is surprised with a Christmas Eve reunion of his old outfit, and Wallace and Davis fall for the Haynes sisters. It all ends with a rendition of White Christmas as snow has finally blanketed the area.

My father was in the Army and I grew up in western New York where white Christmases were the norm not the exception. So this movie speaks to me on many levels. I only discovered it a few years ago during an AMC Christmas marathon. I thought, “What the hell, why not?” I was hooked, I watched it three times and cried every time. There is a lot of random is this movie and there is a lot “why don’t they just…?” But then we wouldn’t have much of a film and it’s fun to be all Pitfall Harry swinging over the plot holes.

By gosh by jolly, I thought I was going to get it this year. It snowed here five or six years ago but it was a couple of weeks early. My folks passed away almost nine and 10 years ago respectively and I miss them dearly. Christmas was a big deal for me growing up. My father would have been 80 tomorrow. This movie has come to mean quite a bit.

I got my White Christmas, albeit on DVD. And that’s okay. I watch it all the way through once on Christmas Day. It has truly become my favorite Christmas movie/special and it is required viewing snow or no snow. And for all the looney tunes out there who say “White” Christmas is racist. Just get over yourselves. Go find a real cause to bitch about. I guess they have never seen snow. And if they have and their snow is anything but white, they might want to change their surroundings or their situation. As far as I’m concerned, they can just shut the hell up.

Merry Christmas everyone. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you enjoyed the countdown. I’ll be back soon with my usual health and fitness updates, rantings and ravings about whatever happens to be pissing me off at any given moment and more. Thank you for reading. It means a lot to me.

A Christmas Carol

Just like A Christmas Story, this blog entry needs no catchy title or clever moniker. So many of these Christmas tales are stories of redemption as the bitter and the jaded are reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. Whether that be the antagonist in Christmas Vacation in the form of Clark Griswold’s boss or Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, some curmudgeon comes to the realization that goodwill toward men is this way to go over greed and avarice.

Tonight’s entry is the best example of all. As the main character was visited by three spirits, I give you three different versions.

  1. A Christmas Carol – 1938, 1951, 1984

Reginald Owen set the standard in 1938 and Alistair Sim perfected it in 1951. George C. Scott was well, George C. Scott in the 1984 version. There have been numerous adaptations and stage productions, animated versions, dramatic readings, radio presentations and the Muppets.

We all know the story. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly, nasty, bitter business man is visited by the ghost of his former business partner one cold, lonely Christmas Eve. Scrooge is warned that he needs to change his ways and learn to keep Christmas, and that he will be visited by three spirits to teach him these lessons.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future drop in on Scrooge, who is reminded of and shown who and what he once was, why he is the way he is and what will happen if he doesn’t learn to be charitable.

The triumvirate of specters is successful and by the end of the story Scrooge makes a sizable donation to charity, makes up with his estranged nephew, rehires and gives a raise to his assistant and pledges to provide the funds for his assistant’s son’s medical treatment.

Again, we know the story as Tiny Tim delivers one of Charles Dickens’ most memorable and iconic lines.

My favorite is the 1951 version with Alistair Sim and it is a must-watch. I have been known to kill a bottle of Merlot while taking it in on Christmas Eve. To me the three versions I mention here are the essentials. I don’t care for the animated versions and I have never seen the Muppets version. I don’t like the musical version. I think Sim really captures who and what Scrooge is and he is very believable as he finally sees the light.

As someone who has been described as bitter at an early age, I can certainly identify with Scrooge. However, it can never be said that I don’t know how to keep Christmas and those close to me know that I can be charitable.

A Bonus Christmas Special Blog Because My Mind was in a Fog

Okay loyal readers, here’s the deal. My notes were lost so I tried to reconstruct my Top 10 Christmas Movies/Specials off the top of my head. That was an epic fail as I forgot one. On top of that, said the Cat in the Hat, I started my countdown surely a day too early. The original plan was to end it on Christmas Eve. That way you would not be bothered with feeling compelled to read another one of my missives on the holiest of days, and I wouldn’t feel pressured to deliver a literary present.

In my fog I decided to fill the void with Bob Hope Christmas specials, which I dearly loved and truly miss. While I was writing last night’s entry about A Christmas Story I wanted something on TV in the background that was of the season. I decided to put on Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Halfway through it dawned on me that this was the missing special. Duh.

So I offer an extra entry in the series.

3b. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – 1966

Chuck Jones of Warner Bros. and Bugs Bunny fame animated this fantastic tale of Christmas redemption. Thurl Ravenscroft, the original voice of Tony the Tiger (and totally uncredited), performed the theme song, You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch, and one of my favorite actors of all time, horror master Boris Karloff, narrated Dr. Seuss’ loose version of A Christmas Carol.

The Whos of Whoville love Christmas and the Grinch, a vile, furry green creature whose heart was two sizes two small, hated it. He hated everything to do with it. One year, he gets the awful idea to try to keep Christmas from coming. How does he attempt to do this? By stealing it of course. And he steals everything, I mean everything. He even convinces Cindy Lou Who that he is Santa Claus and that he has to take her Christmas tree to the North Pole for repairs.

Come morning the Whos don’t need trees, decorations or presents, Christmas comes anyway, the Whos starting singing and the Grinch realizes the true meaning of Christmas. He decides to return everything, and I mean everything. And the Whos even let the Grinch carve the roast beast at the annual feast.

I don’t have any real personal attachment to this other than the fact that I just love all things Dr. Seuss, I love books and I love stories. I just like this. The music is fun, Karloff is great as the narrator and Ravenscroft’s rendition of the theme has become synonymous with the Grinch character. For the record, I can’t stand the Jim Carrey live action film. Carrey is more Jim Carrey than he is the Grinch and a 30-minute cartoon was unnecessarily stretched out to a two-hour feature.

This is the only traditional 2D animation that makes my list. There’s a reason for that.

A Christmas Story

I’ve been trying to get creative with my headlines since the 100 Favorite Horror Movie Countdown but you know what? The title of the next film on the countdown of my favorite Christmas movies/specials speaks for itself. As I mentioned in a previous entry, the closer we got to No. 1, the more personal these were going to get.

  1. A Christmas Story – 1983

Peter Billinglsey stars as Ralphie, Darren McGavin of Kolchak – The Nightstalker fame – plays his father, and Melinda Dillon (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) his mom. You may not know that Zack Ward, who plays bully Scut Farkus, went on to play an Umbrella Corporation mercenary in one of the Resident Evil movies.

Jean Shepherd’s tale of childhood Christmas has become a cult classic thanks to TBS bringing it back as a Christmas day marathon several years ago. The story is set in Indiana in the late 1940s and was actually filmed in Cleveland. You can visit the actual house as it has been transformed into a museum in recent years.

This may be set 20 some odd years before I was born but I swear it’s my childhood Christmas brought to life on screen. We’re not talking parallels here, we’re talking direct correlations.

Now, I could give you the synopsis for the film but I’d rather explain how this movie relates to me or how I relate to it.

I have no idea how old I was here but I was certainly excited to get that panda bear transistor radio.
I have no idea how old I was here but I was certainly excited to get that panda bear transistor radio.

First of all – the furnace. Darren McGavin spends a lot of time in the basement battling the wonky furnace while shrouded in a cloud of black smoke. Now, we didn’t have furnace issues but I lived in a duplex for much of my childhood, age 5-14 if I remember correctly, and we had oil heat. As I have mentioned in previous posts, we were poor for a good number of years – not too many but enough. We didn’t always have money for oil and I remember my dad borrowing oil from the neighbor and transferring the noxious, black fluid via used milk cartons.

I remember what seemed to be the slow build up to Christmas while suffering through endless days in the classroom. Trips to see the department Santa Claus were a highlight of the season, not quite the nightmare Ralphie encountered. In my hometown of Rochester, N.Y., Midtown Plaza downtown was the place to go at Christmastime. It was always decked out for the season and the monorail was a must-ride attraction. It’s been dismantled and put away in storage. Sad.

The scene where Ralphie’s father plugs in the Christmas tree lights or the leg lamp or whatever it was into the multiple plug adapter cracks me up every time. I remember such adapters as a kid. We also had those 4,000-candlepower Christmas tree lights too. It’s a wonder we didn’t burn the damn house down. My father hated all things electric. He wouldn’t touch the house wiring, ever. After my electronics training in the Navy, he’d wait until I came home for a visit and ask me to install a light fixture or a ceiling fan. The house he bought when I was 14 still had the original 1920s wiring, complete with fuse box. I’ll never forget visiting my parents one time when dad had the microwave plugged into the wall with a three-prong to two-prong adapter. He had the coffee maker, toaster and the miniature nuclear reactor we used to cook food all going at the same time. He smoke-checked that adapter and I had to pull two feet of burnt wire out of the wall so I could install the three-prong outlets he had sitting in the drawer for six months.

Dad never won a major award in the form of a leg lamp but I do remember the weatherproofing we had to do every winter with plastic covering the windows and foam in the air gaps under the doors.

We didn’t have the neighbors dogs barge into our house and steal out turkey, but I did get not one, but two BB/pellet guns for Christmas. We won’t discuss what I did with the second one when I was a freshman in high school. I didn’t shoot my eye out but let’s just say the cops were involved.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the movie for me is the rush of opening presents on Christmas day. The thrill of coming down the stairs, or entering the living room (I did live in a duplex on one floor) and seeing that Santa had in fact been there was the stuff dreams were made of. As an only child, I always made out like a bandit, money or no money.

When it comes to A Christmas Story, the late 1940s weren’t much different than the 1970s when it came to the Yuletide season. Jean Shepherd’s childhood Christmases and mine weren’t all that dissimilar and every time I watch it, I feel like I am home for Christmas.

This is a must-watch but I’ll only watch it on Christmas day, and I’ll watch it all the way through uninterrupted at least once.

A Ghost of Christmas Past or Jerry “WordPress” Knaak

You know, when your list of your Top 10 favorite Christmas specials gets tossed out you just have to improvise. I swear I had 10 items on the list. But, for the life of me, I can only remember nine. Is it the Scotch? Probably not. Johnny Walker wouldn’t do me like that. Where was I? Oh yeah, improvisation.

I recently had the occasion to tell a coworker, a young coworker, about what it was like to watch television this time of year in the 1970s and 80s.

I submit for your approval a ghost of Christmas past – Bob Hope.

  1. Bob Hope as I remember him.
    Bob Hope as I remember him.

    Bob Hope Christmas Specials – 1968-1993

I know they predate my birth in 1969, but during the 1970s, the variety show was all the rage on television. From Sonny and Cher to Donny and Marie – singing, dancing, comedy sketches and more – the stars of the day could be found on weekly variety shows and specials. I grew up on Laugh-In reruns and the subject of this blog entry – the Bob Hope Christmas special. Many other entertainers had their Christmas specials – Bing Crosby, Perry Como et al, but Hope’s was the gold standard.

Crosby and Hope were longtime pals, especially after starring together in numerous “road” pictures. Crosby, who became the voice of the Yuletide with Christmas Sing with Bing on the radio and several TV specials, including an unexpected treat with David Bowie, couldn’t hold a candle to Hope’s TV specials if you ask me.

Hope spent many a Christmas entertaining the troops overseas and became a national treasure for doing so. His USO shows were the stuff of legend and featured talents like Ursula Andress and Ann-Margret.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the Playboy All-American, later AP All-American college football team. Each player was introduced and Hope would deliver a zinger with each intro.

Just as the annual Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer airing heralded the start of the Christmas season, Bob Hope’s special ushered it in with a one-liner or a patented, “This is Bob [insert sponsor or locale here] Hope…”

The show was formulaic and you put it on every year like a comfy sweater or pair of slippers. It started with a monologue of patented Hope jokes and would always feature a rendition of Silver Bells with Hope and the starlet du jour.

Eventually Hope grew old and frail and they started rolling him out on a hand truck and propping him up in the corner as his wife, Delores, took over hosting duties. I blame Hope for discovering Joey Lawrence. I wish he left him where he found him.

Several people have tried to emulate Bob Hope and recreate the magic of his Christmas specials. The one I had high hopes for was Michael Bublé but he’s managed to hose it up with guests like Justin Beiber and recent development of some vocal weirdness in both his speaking and singing voices. Larry the Cable Guy and Stephen Colbert have attempted such Christmas variety specials and have come off as caricatures of the genre.

There is an entire generation of people growing up not knowing who Bob Hope was or how he contributed to entertainment as we know it and that is a crying shame.

After the occasion of which I spoke earlier, the one where I told this millennial coworker about the Bob Hope Christmas special, Time Life released a new DVD collection of ALL of Bob Hope’s televised specials, including Christmas and the USO shows entertaining the troops deployed to combat zones, for $100. Now, as much as I would love such a thing, I have better things on which to spend $100. However, I thought it was a mighty coincidence that days after I pulled up YouTube clips for this colleague, a prototypical Time Life infomercial aired on TV during a trip to Detroit. As I flipped channels while sick in bed on a business trip, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I saw this set released.

Thanks for the memories, Bob.

A Vacation that Really Wasn’t a Vacation

We’re into the Top 5 of my favorite Christmas movies and specials and it’s going to get very personal now. When I was growing up we had specific things we did as a family. We went to my Aunt Carole’s for Thanksgiving. We did our own Christmas Eve and Christmas morning (and usually dinner) and eventually found my way to my aunt’s house for evening festivities. I recall a few New Year’s Eves at my Aunt Bertha and Uncle Bob’s as I suffered Guy Lombardo. And we’d invite a cadre of relatives to our house for Easter. We had a lot of summer birthdays in the family so we’d do a big family picnic to celebrate.

Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be the two major holidays when it is fashionable to get large groups of family members together. Folks travel from near and far to get “home for the holidays.”

Tonight’s drink of choice? Crown Royal. Accompanied by Dunkin Donuts old fashioned donuts. Tonight’s subject?

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – 1989

In all honesty I am not a big fan of most of the National Lampoon movies, especially the “vacation” flicks. I liked the original, but European Vacation did nothing for me, and the rest, well, seem to be cheap attempts at recapturing the magic of Animal House and the first Vacation.

My favorite doesn’t involve a vacation at all – Christmas Vacation is more of a Staycation. The cast is second-to-none in the series. In fact, I am watching now as I write this. Most people don’t make the connection that Rusty is played by Johnny Galecki of Roseanne and The Big Bang Theory fame. Juliette Lewis is great as Audrey, E.G. Marshall, Beverly DeAngelo, Doris Roberts, Randy Quaid, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus round out the ensemble. The actress who played Aunt Bethany is the original Betty Boop, which I just learned earlier tonight.

“You set standards that no family event can ever live up to,” Ellen Griswold. I have absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. I don’t know anyone who would possibly do that. Ahem.

There are so many quotable lines from this movie. I could practically live blog this movie.

Affable Clark Griswold tries to have the ultimate family Christmas complete with parents, in-laws and the giant Christmas tree the Griswold’s practically freeze to death to cut down after a road rage incident with a with pair of pick-up truck driving rednecks.

One disaster leads to another as Clark tries to create the ultimate exterior Christmas light display on his house, not just the roof, but his entire house. The bickering parents show up and Clark climbs the ladder to start stapling strands of lights to the siding.

The grandfathers asleep in the easy chairs in the living room (very much a reminder of my Uncle Freddy), Ellen and her daughter Audrey arguing about the sleeping arrangements to Clark’s incessant stapling all lead up to the real slapstick and witty repartee to come. Never mind that Clark falls off the roof twice.

The mayhem projected onto the non-Christmas celebrating next-door-neighbors is comedic gold. Todd and Margo are tormented by the Griswold clan and end up fodder for numerous physical comedic tragedies.

Of course, the lights don’t work on the first try and Clark is left astonished and embarrassed. The lights eventually work by accident thanks to Ellen’s mom but more on that in minute.

Clark ends up trapped in the attic and finds a box of home movies and we see where he gets the idea for having the old-fashioned family Christmas.

The lights eventually come on as we watch the electric meter spin out of control. The lights are impressive if you find the sun impressive. But Clark’s dream of an awesome exterior lights display is finally realized much to the chagrin of the local nuclear power plant.

Ellen’s cousin Eddie, his wife and two of their kids, show up unannounced, Aunt Bethany and Uncle Lewis finally arrive and hilarity ensues. A cat and a Rottweiler wreak havoc throughout the house, a squirrel is discovered in the Christmas tree, and Eddie is…well…Eddie. The “shitter was full” scene where he empties his RV’s chemical toilet into a storm drain while dressed in not much more than a tattered bathrobe cracks me up every time.

Eddie’s wife Catherine’s Christmas turkey is bone dry and eats more like bad jerky.

The whole thing ends with a kidnapping as Clark’s boss decides to drop the annual Christmas bonus that Clark was counting on for realizing his dream of installing a swimming pool.

Prior to the committing of a felony, Clark utters my favorite line from any Christmas movie or special. As Clark’s dreams of a swimming pool seemingly head down the drain and the family bickering turns into a knockdown drag-out, Clark proclaims, “We’re going to have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye!”

This movie speaks to me on so many levels – the sledding scene – I spent many a winter’s day sledding back home in New York – the turkey dinner scene – I have unfortunately experienced a Thanksgiving turkey almost that bad once but I won’t speak ill of the dead. We bought the house with the swimming pool. We have the 21-foot vaulted ceilings that could accommodate a Griswold tree if I was so inclined. One of these years I am just going to say screw it and drag in an 18-foot Douglas fir.

“We’re going to have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye!”

Chevy Chase is at his best, I believe in this movie and it resonates with me because of so many of the, albeit disjointed, parallels with my own life. There was that one year my wife electrocuted my cat with the Christmas lights, but he survived, unlike Aunt Bethany’s poor cat.

Mom died in 2006, Dad passed in 2007 so it’s been nearly a decade of Christmases without them in my life. I fondly remember all the ones I did have with them and my Aunt and Uncle and my first cousins. My aunt sold Avon so guess what I got – cologne in decorative decanters. But, she passed away in 2009, and you know what? I’d take some Stetson in a Duesenberg decanter in a second.

And I would give anything to have a family Christmas with my folks, aunts and uncles and cousins. This movie reminds me of those days although mine were much more sedate. The funny thing is, now I’m Clark Griswold.

From Supermarionation to Live Action

You know this would be a helluva lot easier if somebody hadn’t thrown away my freaking Top 10 Favorite Christmas Specials/Movies blog notes. I don’t know if it’s that or the Scotch but I think I am missing one in my head here.

So far my favorites have been “animated” in one form or another. I have one or two more of those on the list; you’ll just have to log on to find out. And when I tell you about tonight’s entry you might say, “But Jerry isn’t this A Christmas Carol?” You would be correct. However, I think this one stands alone and appears on the list separately for a few reasons.

  1. Scrooged – 1988

Today’s Bill Murray can pretty much do what he wants thanks in part to the work he did in the 1980s with Ghostbusters, Caddyshack and well, Scrooged (among other things). This film features an all-star cast and serves as a passable treatment of Charles Dickens’ classic tale of Christmas redemption.

Instead of Ebenezer Scrooge, Murray plays bitter, mean, abrasive TV executive Frank Cross. His former boss, played with aplomb by John Forsythe, takes the place of Jacob Marley and foretells the visitation by the three spirits. Ha, spirits. I’ve never seen Tab (for those of you who remember Tab cola) used as a mixer except by Frank Cross with his vodka.

It’s groovy watching Cross transform from one of the meanest Scrooge-like characters into the generous reformed. While at his nasty best he actually suggests a stagehand should staple prosthetic antlers on a mouse when all other methods fail. As he tries to reconcile with an old flame, played by Karen Allen of “Indiana Jones” fame, Cross is mortified at her dedication to her charity work.

Through the Ghost of Christmas Past, a cigar chomping cab driver played by David Johansen, we see Cross as a young, aspiring, idealistic fast-climbing TV station employee. And we see how Frank chooses his career and upward mobility at the expense of his burgeoning relationship with Claire (Karen Allen). There is some hint that Frank and his brother were abused, or neglected at best, as children and learned that Christmas wasn’t a happy time.

Carol Kane plays the Ghost of Christmas Present and is she ever a scene-stealer. She has no tolerance for Frank’s reluctance to tag along and at one point, whips Frank’s ass with a toaster. I lose it every time I watch this scene – it is absolutely freaking hilarious. Kane’s bouncy, almost Tinkerbell-esque whimsy mixed with good old-fashioned Sadism are reason enough to watch this film. There is so much more. The dystopian approach to Christmas future is rather unique.

From Olympic champion gymnast Mary Lou Retton’s cameo as Tiny Tim to Murray’s hot, steamy kiss with one of the Solid Gold Dancers, Scrooged is a must-watch any time, not just at Christmas.

As always, the “Scrooge” character learns to keep Christmas and become a generous soul. Frank reunites with his long lost love; his assistant’s son has a breakthrough and delivers Tiny Tim’s iconic line.

I was born in 1969 and I was raised in the 1970s and 80s. I was 18 when Scrooged came out and I remember being a bit skeptical. I rediscovered it a few years ago when AMC did a three-night marathon airing of the movie and I got hooked.

If you haven’t seen it, give it a shot. If you have but it’s been a while, watch it again. Carol Kane kicking Bill Murray’s ass is worth it. Yes, I know I am advocating gratuitous violence, but watching the 5’2” Kane take the 6’2” Murray apart is off the hook.

Frank Cross’ revelation and redemption takes place on live television as part of a live production of A Christmas Carol – Cross’ big-time production. It makes for an interesting twist.

Just watch the movie, lest be Scrooged.

The Year Without a Santa Claus

The last of the supermarionation specials on my countdown, and I am actually watching it I as write this, the last Rankin and Bass Christmas special that really mattered, is featured as I continue my Top 10 Favorite Christmas Movies/Specials.

  1. The Year Without a Santa Claus – 1974

Mickey Rooney reprises his role as Santa after his turn in Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Shirley Booth jumps in as Mrs. Claus and our narrator. Santa wakes up and isn’t quite feeling right. Mrs. Claus summons a curmudgeon of a doctor who convinces St. Nick that no one cares, nobody believes in Santa and that Christmas doesn’t matter anymore. Santa’s kneejerk reaction is to cancel Christmas.

Santa goes back to bed and Mrs. Claus cooks up a scheme to send two elves down the populace to find some Christmas belief. Jingle and Jangle fly down with Vixen and get themselves in a spot of trouble. Vixen ends up in the pound and Santa zips down to find out what’s going on.

Eventually the mayor of Southtown, USA, makes the little boy a deal – make it snow in Southtown and he’ll declare a holiday for Santa Claus. Santa meets a young boy whose father very much believes in Christmas and eventually teaches his son to believe.

We meet and are entertained by Snow Miser and Heat Miser, as Mrs. Claus has to negotiate a little snow in Southtown. I am disturbed by the fact that many of the 20-somethings I know have never heard of Snow or Heat Miser. Eventually, Mrs. Claus has to get the Miser brother’s mother, Mother Nature, involved. You don’t mess with Mother Nature.

I enjoy this one for its innocence and message of Christmas spirit. I won’t get into my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but I do believe in Santa Claus. These Rankin and Bass supermarionation specials conveyed the message of keeping Christmas and learning how to feel the spirit. I may have mentioned it before, but there is a sweetness to these Rankin and Bass specials.

Mickey Rooney is phenomenal as Santa Claus. And Snow and Heat Miser are highly entertaining.

Jack Frost is okay, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is crap, and Frosty the Snowman is the first Rankin and Bass special done in traditional 2D animation. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Year Without a Santa Claus are the only three that matter, and as I am fond of saying, they are “filmed in Supermarionation.”

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

I continue my countdown of my 10 favorite Christmas movies/specials with another supermarionation classic. Rankin and Bass finally created a cohesive North Pole world with recurring voice actors reprising their roles. That began with…

  1. Santa Claus is Coming to Town – 1970

Fred Astaire plays your friendly neighborhood mail carrier and he narrates the story of Santa Claus’ origins. Mickey Rooney begins his run as Kris Kringle/St. Nicholas/Santa Claus.

[Check out the IMDB entry]

This special gives us Burgermeister Meisterburger, a despotic ruler who hates toys and fun in general. A clan of toy makers raises Kris Kringle, an orphan left on their doorstep in a basket as a baby. Eventually, Kris decides to become the deliverer of toys to the children of Somber Town, which is ruled by Burgermeister.

Kris is branded as an outlaw even as he falls in love with the local schoolmistress. The story also explains how it came to be that reindeer can fly as the Winter Warlock provides the magic beans for this central element to the legend.

When he was dropped off with the Kringles, he wore a nametag that said “Claus.” It was a short walk to Santa Claus.

I enjoy this one for numerous reasons. I look at it as the origin story of Santa Claus, but it also tells the tale of how Jessica, Somber Town’s school marm, became Mrs. Claus. Kris’ outlaw status drives our merry band of toy distributing fugitives all the way to the North Pole.

I don’t recall noticing any odd overtones or subtext with this other than maybe a shot at Eastern Bloc and Iron Curtain-type governments. Of course, the Christmas classic song Santa Claus is Coming to Town is included, a great tune that has been covered and recorded more times than I can count. The song dates back to 1934, and it wouldn’t bother me any if of every copy of the Bruce Springsteen version was destroyed.

Stay tuned kiddies, more supermarionation on the way.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or How a Misfit Overcame Discrimination

The countdown of my favorite Christmas movies/specials continues with a story filmed in a style that would become synonymous with holiday specials. Arthur Rankin, Jr., and Jules Bass (Rankin and Bass) brought a song to life and created one of the most beloved shows to ever hit the airwaves. An annual staple, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is usually the first Christmas special to air each year – typically on Dec. 1.

Filmed in what I affectionately call super marionation (think Stingray and Thunderbirds, or um, Team America: World Police), Rudolph is one of the most endearing holidays specials ever made because of the animation style, the music, the voice performances, and the characters.

Johnny Marks originally wrote the song and Gene Autry turned it into a No. 1 hit in 1949. Burl Ives lent his voice to the TV special as Sam the Snowman and he also sings Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Silver and Gold and A Holly Jolly Christmas.

[Check out the IMDB entry]

When I watched it again this year, I noticed a few things that bothered me.

  1. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – 1964

We all know the story. Rudolph is born with a birth defect and rather than cherish his son, Donner decides to hide the affliction. Eventually Rudolph’s honker is discovered and the other reindeer proceed to discriminate against him. They bullied and excluded him because he was different. Even Santa Claus was guilty here. This resonates tonight because my background TV program is the final episode of Nick News with Linda Ellerbe (don’t judge me). I just watched a segment on children who are different or have special needs.

One doe, Clarice,  accepts Rudolph for who he is but it’s not enough to keep Rudolph from striking out with Hermie, an elf who’d rather be a dentist. They end up on the Island of Misfit Toys. Eventually, they make their way back to Christmastown and Rudolph’s affliction turns out to be just what everyone needs as the storm of the century threatens to cause the cancellation of Christmas. Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh through the storm.

So, the lesson here is we have no use for you if you’re different – make yourself useful and we have a place for you?!? The older I get, the more of a humanist I become. Politically, the more to the center I drift. Don’t read into that – I am no humanitarian. But you know what? We are all the same. We should all be treated equally. And you know what? I think that’s the overarching message here, it’s just a little ham-handed.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. I watch it every year. It wouldn’t be on this list if I didn’t. These elements just struck me as odd this year. The characters are endearing – Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, Hermie, Clarice, even the Abominable Snowman. The music is wonderful and many of the songs have become beloved Christmas classics that stand on their own apart from the show.

More Supermarionation to come Christmas party people. Stay tuned.