Christmas Special Triple Play

My countdown of my 11 favorite Christmas specials continues with a three-pack.

  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 knee-jerk 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.”

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 learn that Christmas wasn’t a happy time for the Cross boys.

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, 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’ opus. It makes for an interesting twist.

Just watch the movie, lest be Scrooged.

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, The Carpenters, 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.

Last year, 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.

Thanks for the memories, Bob.

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