Sunday, December 21, 2008

A few More Stocking Stuffers For Christmas





A Christmas tradition, first on radio, and then on television, was the Jack Benny Christmas show.  Each year jack would attempt to buy cheap gifts for Mary, Don, and Dennis from a harried store clerk (usually Frank Nelson or Mel Blanc), and each year Jack would keep returning the gifts until he drove the poor fellow nuts.


In this episode, Jack is buying a wallet for Don Wilson. In other years he bought shoe laces (exchanging plastic tips for one with metal tips, and then back again), and one year, he even bought gopher traps!


Mel Blanc steals the show with his sales clerk routine, and breaks up Jack at just shy of the 21 minute mark of the show. 


Even though the audience always knew what was coming, the Jack Benny show never failed to please.   This episode is from 1960.  By then, Jack had been doing the show for more than 25 years.




The Jack Benny Christmas Show - Jack Benny
An annual event on Jack Benny's radio show, Jack takes a trip to the local department store, only to run into some familiar characters. Notice Mel Blanc in his usual role as the salesmen unfortunate enough to have to wait on Jack, again, again, and again! IMDB for Jack Benny's Christmas Show Director: James V. Kern Writers: George Balzer, Hal Goldman Original Air Date: 18 December 1960 (Season 11, Episode 9) Jack Benny ...



Growing up in the 1950's, meant growing up with the Nelsons.  First on radio, and then on television, Ozzie and Harriet were America's family.  Here is their 1956 Christmas show.


"The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" 1956 Christmas episode
1956 episode of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet", the 2nd longest running American sitcom of all time. This is a Christmas-themed episode. "Ozzie and Harriet" never reached the top 10 in the ratings, But steading ratings made sure that it out-lived many more better-known shows, and it's gentle corny humor made it popular with kids. Overall it's a classic show that has aged well. NOTE: This copy is a mid-60's re-run print, and features different commercials to the original broadcast.


While just about everybody has seen  White Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life often enough to be able to recite the dialog along with the movie, there are other, lesser known movies out there certainly worth enjoying as well.


One little known gem is called   Beyond Tomorrow, and it stars Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winninger, Jean Parker, and Richard Carlson.


This charming 1940 fantasy revolves around 3 ghosts who try to watch after and guide two people they knew in life. 


Beyond Tomorrow - A. Edward Sutherland
Director: A. Edward Sutherland Writers: Mildred Cram (story) and Adele Comandini (story) IMDB PAGE Release Date: 10 May 1940 (USA) Harry Carey ... George Melton C. Aubrey Smith ... Allan 'Chad' Chadwick Charles Winninger ... Michael O'Brien Alex Melesh ... Josef - the butler Maria Ouspenskaya ... Madame Tanya Helen Vinson ... Arlene Terry Rod La Rocque ... Phil Hubert Richard Carlson ... James Houston Jean Parker .....




There was a time, not so terribly long ago, when animators produced high quality finely drawn cartoons. Nearly every frame was carefully rendered by hand, not generated using computers.  


The cost of making these intricate films, in terms of man-hours, grew so great that by the late 1950's animators were simplifying their techniques in order to save money, and the era of exquisitely rendered animation came to an end.


We are lucky, however, that the works of people like Max Fleischer remain available for us to enjoy.


Here then, from the golden age of animation, are a stocking full of mostly-forgotten Christmas cartoons.



click to play movieclick to play movie
click to play movieclick to play movie

Christmas Comes But Once A Year - 1936

Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer - 1948

Snow Foolin' - 1949

The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives - 1933

Somewhere in Dreamland - 1936

Hectors Hectic Life - 1948

Jack Frost - 1934

The Little King - 1934

The Christmas Visitor - 1959

Santa's Surprise - 1947


Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Christmas Potpourri




With Christmas just 5 days away, it's time for an eclectic collection of early Holiday TV and movie fare.   





Seymour Hicks as Scrooge



The perennial classic, "A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens, has been adapted to just about every medium since it was first published in 1843. 


Radio, TV, movies, cartoons, stage plays . . . .


Even though the 1935 British entry, Scrooge, was the first talkie version, it was at the very least, the 7th filmed version of the tale. The earliest being Marley's Ghost made in 1901.


Starring Seymour Hicks as Scrooge, this was a familiar role for the 64 year old veteran actor.  He'd practically made a career out of the character, first appearing on stage as the skinflint Ebenezer in 1901, and playing the role many times thereafter.


In fact, he played the role in the 1913 silent film Scrooge.






Scrooge - Julius Hagen
Seymour Hicks plays the title role in the first sound version of the Dickens classic about the miser who's visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. This British import is notable for being the only adaptation of this story with an invisible Marley's Ghost and its Expressionistic cinematography. This is the uncut 78 minute version.




In 1952 Studio One produced a live TV musical version of The Nativity, with Thomas Chalmers, Hurd Hatfield, Paul Tripp.   This is a traditional, deeply religious production, something you rarely find on television anymore.


Don't miss the Westinghouse TV set commercial with Betty Furness, extolling the virtues of the new `electronic clarifyer'.



Studio One : The Nativity
Studio One : The Nativity IMDB PAGE TV Series: "Studio One" (1948) Original Air Date: 22 December 1952 (Season 5, Episode 13) CAST : Thomas Chalmers, Hurd Hatfield, Paul Tripp




Dragnet produced a Christmas story on radio in the early 1950's called `A .22 rifle for Christmas'.  It was remade for the television series (many of the radio scripts were recycled) in 1952.  




This was hardly an upbeat show, as it portrays a young boy accidentally shooting his best friend with his Christmas gift.  




A Gun For Christmas
A Gun For Christmas from the 1950's series Dragnet


In 1953, the producers of Dragnet wisely elected to produce a more uplifting holiday show, one that would be remade again when Dragnet was revived in the late 1960's.



The Big Little Jesus

Sgt. Friday investigates the theft of a religious statue from a church on Christmas Eve. 


The following year (1954)  Four Star Playhouse would produce a remarkably well written and performed tale called `The Answer', starring David Niven, Carolyn Jones, and Anthony Caruso. 


`The Answer' was nominated for 4 Emmy's & won the 1955 DGA award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for Television. 


The story is by Leonard Freeman, a name that many will recognize as the producer of such critically acclaimed shows as Hawaii Five-0 and Route 66








Four Star Playhouse - The Answer - Leonard Freeman
Starring David Niven Directed by Ray Kellino Original Air Date: 23 December 1954 (Season 3, Episode 13) Anthony Caruso ... Bart John Harmon ... Sailor Carolyn Jones ... Dolores Jack Lomas (as Jack M. Lomas) David Niven ... Deacon Nestor Paiva ... Rocco Richard Reeve



The Answer reaffirms just how good early Television writing and acting could be.











Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two Small Miracles For The Holidays






One of the most enduring Holiday classics must certainly be A Miracle on 34th Street, which since it was first produced in 1947, has been remade a number of times.   


We have two versions available to us in the public domain.



Original movie poster



The original movie starring Maureen O'Hara and John Payne, alas, is not in the public domain, although their radio performance of the movie on LUX RADIO THEATRE is. 


First, a bit of background. 


Miracle on 34th Street, also know as  The Big Heart in the UK, was written by Valentine Davies, and was released in 1947 by 20th Century Fox.  


It not only became an instant classic, it won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story, and Best Writing, Screenplay.   It was nominated for best picture, but lost out to Gentleman's Agreement.


The story, which takes place immediately following the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, concerns a department store Santa who believes he really is Kris Kringle.  


Before the movie has ended, a great number of people who at first thought he should be committed, grew to believe he was right.


This delightful, and enduring classic, can be heard on the 1948  Christmas week edition of Lux Radio Theatre.


Lux_48-12-20_Miracle_on_34th_St.mp3       14 MB



A lesser known remake appeared on the 1955 20th Century Fox Hour television show, which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1957.  The show aired at 10pm on Wednesday evenings, and was shown on alternate weeks. 


The US Steel Hour, another anthology show, shared the time slot.


Starring Teresa Wright, McDonald Carey, and Thomas Mitchell, this 1955 remake runs only 45 minutes, but retains a good deal of the warmth and whimsy of the original. 



click to play movieclick to play movie
click to play movieclick to play movie



The Miracle on 34th Street - Jules Bricken
The Miracle on 34th Street (1955) (TV) Produced by Jules Bricken Director: Robert Stevenson Writers: Valentine Davies (story) John Monks Jr. (teleplay) Release Date: 14 December 1955 John Abbott ... Dr. Albert Sawyer Don Beddoe ... Mr. Macy Sara Berner ... Woman Shopper Whit Bissell ... Dr. Pierce Macdonald Carey ... Fred Gaily Ray Collins ... Judge Harper Hans Conried ... Mr. Shellhammer Sandy Descher .....


Another TV version would be made in 1959, this time in color, starring Ed Wynn as Kris Kringle.   The original appears to have been lost, although a Kinescope was recently discovered among a large group of videos donated by NBC to the Library of Congress.



In 1963, a Broadway musical version, written by Meredith Wilson, entitled Here's Love, would appear. It ran for 334 performances at the Shubert Theatre, and starred Laurence Naismith, Janis Paige, Craig Stevens, Lisa Kirk, Fred Gwynne, Michael Bennett, and Baayork Lee.


In 1973, a TV movie would be made, starring  Jane Alexander, David Hartman, Roddy McDowall,  and Sebastian Cabot.


And in 1994, a feature film starring Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, and Dylan McDermott would be produced, although certain elements of the movie would be changed.   Macy's and Gimbels are replaced by  `Coles' and `Shopper's Express', and the  movie took a much more serious tone.


No matter what version, more than sixty years after it was first produced, this Christmas miracle still touches the hearts of children of all ages. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Bing Crosby Christmas




Like many who grew up in the 1950's and 1960's, I miss variety shows.


The Ed Sullivan show on Sunday night was a family event, and Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Carol Burnett, and Dean Martin were weekly visitors to our living rooms.   


Variety shows were family fare.  Something for everyone, no matter their age.


Acts were generally short enough that boredom seldom set in.   The formula was simple.  A genial,  oft times talented host.   Dancers. An orchestra.  And guest stars who would perform, and then graciously appear in some skit.


And it was traditional for nearly every variety show to have a Holiday themed show Christmas week.


No performer was more closely associated with Christmas during the mid-1960's than Bing Crosby.   His two Christmas themed movies, Holiday Inn and  White Christmas, along with his best selling record  White Christmas, practically made him a poster boy for the holiday.




Bing appeared on his own Holiday TV specials practically every year, and would show up as a guest on other's as well.   His Christmas albums sold millions.


In 1965 and 1966, Bing hosted the Hollywood Palace Christmas shows for ABC television.    We are fortunate that both of these shows are available on the Internet Archive.


In the 1965 edition,  Bob Crane and the cast of Hogan's Heroes joins Bing for this Christmas day broadcast.   A bit unusual because the Hollywood Palace was an ABC show, while Hogan's hailed from CBS.


The mystery is cleared up when you realize that Hogan's Heroes was a Bing Crosby Production.  Bing's company also produced shows such as Ben Casey and Slattery's People.


Hogan's Heroes had premiered in September of 1965, and was headed for a long and very successful run.  Having them appear on a Christmas special was, no doubt, a great boost to the show.



The Hollywood Palace : 1965 Christmas Special - Gary Lockwood
"The Hollywood Palace" Episode #3.13 (1965) Original Air Date: 25 December 1965 (Season 3, Episode 13) Directed by Grey Lockwood Produced by William O. Harbach .... producer Nick Vanoff .... executive producer Bing Crosby ... Himself - Host / Singer John Banner ... Himself - Singer Robert Clary ... Himself - Singer Dorothy Collins ... Herself - Singer Bob Crane ... Himself - Singer Richard Dawson ...



The next year, Bing was back on The Hollywood Palace, this time on Christmas Eve with his family as his guests, along with Bob Newhart.



The Hollywood Palace : 1966 Christmas Special - William O. Harbach
The Hollywood Palace (1966) Season 4, Episode 14 Original Air Date: 24 December 1966 Directed by Grey Lockwood Produced by William O. Harbach Nick Vanoff .... executive producer Bing Crosby ... Himself - Host / Singer Harry Crosby ... Himself - Singer Mary Crosby ... Herself - Singer (as Mary Francis Crosby) Nathaniel Crosby ... Himself - Singer Excess Baggage ... Trained Dog Act Roy Fitzell ... Himself - Dancer Kathryn Grant .....


Both of these shows are wonderful time capsules of the mid-1960's, along with being delightful Christmas fare.  



Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Serviceman's Christmas Past




Over the next couple of weeks I'll be featuring Christmas and Holiday related shows available to view and/or download from the Net.



To start off, we'll take a look back at the Christmas radio shows beamed over to the troops during World War II, and Bob Hope's  USO Christmas tour of 1958.



Just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor the biggest stars in Hollywood began donating their time each week to appear on the Armed Forces Radio `Command Performance' show, beamed via short wave radio to the troops overseas.


The concept of the show was simple.  G.I.'s could write in their requests of what they'd like to hear from home, and Hollywood would do their Darndest to make it happen. 


It might be the rebroadcast of the final round of a big stateside prize fight, or a request for a love song from Dinah Shore.  One serviceman even requested to hear the sound of a Las Vegas slot machine.  


The shows normally ran for 30 minutes, but a number of them were extended editions that ran an hour, and sometimes two hours.   Holiday shows were generally at least an hour long.


All of the talent was donated, and as a morale booster, Command Performance was a huge success.   More than 400 episodes were produced, with literally hundreds of stars appearing over the years.


Two stars, however, were very closely aligned with the show.  Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.    The list of other talent reads like a who's who of Hollywood of the 1940's.  


Judy Garland, Sinatra, Dorothy Lamour, Betty Hutton, Betty Grable,  Harry James,  Glenn Miller, Jack Benny,  Fred Allen,  Francis Langford, Charles Laughton, Fred MacMurray, Vincent Price, Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Dinah Shore . . . .


From a nostalgia standpoint, these are true treasures. 


But don't discount the entertainment value.   These were big stars for a reason.   Not every segment works, and some of the jokes may be dated, but you will find there is a lot to like in these remarkable shows.


Here then are some of the Christmas shows beamed to the troops between 1942 and 1948.



1942 Christmas Show         14 MB

1943 Christmas Special      16 MB

1944 Christmas Show         31 MB

1944 Christmas Day            11 MB

1945 Christmas Program     22 MB

1946 Christmas Special       14 MB

1948 ChristmasSpecial_1    28 MB

1948 ChristmasSpecial_2    29 MB








For 50 years Bob Hope donated weeks (and sometimes months) of his time each year to entertain the troops overseas.


While he made movies, performed on the radio, and did TV specials - he is probably best remembered for bringing a little bit of home and cheer to our military personnel serving in dangerous and distant places around the world.


In 1958, like many other years, his USO Christmas tour was filmed and turned into a TV special.  You can view it on GUBA by clicking the image below.  






Over the next ten days I'll have more Christmas shows, including entries from Studio One, Dragnet, Ozzie & Harriet, Jack Benny, Four Star Playhouse,  and The Hollywood Palace.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Great Dane Pt II




In 1967, the New York Times called Victor Borge the funniest man in the world, and quite obviously many of his fans agree.  In a career that stretched over 7 decades, Borge's combination of talent and wit have charmed audiences around the world.  


He was, of course, a wonderful pianist - although he often mocked his own abilities. 


And now, in honour of the 150th anniversary of Beethoven's death, I would like to play "Clear the Saloon", er, "Clair de Lune", by Debussy. I don't play Beethoven so well, but I play Debussy very badly, and Beethoven would have liked that.

I only know two pieces, one is 'Clair de Lune', the other one isn't.




Borge's trademarks included repeatedly announcing his  intention to play a piece, and continually becoming distracted  . . . or starting to play a piece of classical music only to have it gradually morph into a pop or jazz tune.



Borge, who gained fame as a radio performer, found his piano antics translated well to television.  We are very fortunate in that a great many of his performances have been captured on film, and are available for generations to come.  



One of Borge's signature routines, performed many times with many partners, was Liszt´s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 as a `cross-hand piece'.






Here is a classic routine by Victor Borge as he attempts to accompany Italian Tenor Sergio Franchi.     Many of the elements used in this bit, you will find sprinkled throughout his other acts.






And here Victor does another variation of the page-turner routine, this time with his son playing his foil.




From a 1958 TV special,  Victor tries to play a difficult Chopin Waltz.




And of course, Borge enjoyed bringing to the public a bit of music education, as he does in this segment that explains what a conductor does.





Victor shows his appreciation for Opera in the Mozart Opera.




And here Victor teaches Dean Martin how to use his Phonetic Punctuation when he sings.




And again from the 1950's, Victor shows us how the great composers might have arranged "Happy Birthday".




And this last clip highlights the talents of a unique `band' that Victor introduces on I've Got A Secret, hosted by Steve Allen.   The reference to Borge's new Broadway show,  Comedy in Music, would put this around the fall of of 1953.


The use of `vocal instruments' was fairly common during the first half of the 20th century, and for many years it was a staple of the Mills Brothers act, but it is rarely done as well as in the following remarkable video.




Victor Borge was fond of saying that `Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.'


That being the case, Victor Borge undoubtedly brought millions of people together with his comedy and music.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Great Dane Pt 1




Of all of the live performances that I've been fortunate enough to witness, my two favorites were both given by the same man:  Victor Borge.






I was lucky enough to see him twice in the 1980's, including his 80th Birthday tour - and of course, I've seen his PBS specials many times.   If you don't know this Great Dane, then prepare yourself for a good time.


But first, a little about the man who narrowly escaped the Nazi's clutches, and who emigrated to the United States and became a radio star before he learned the English Language.



Born Børge Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, Denmark, Borge took up piano at the age of 3, and it was soon apparent that he was a prodigy.  In 1918, at the age of 9, he was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.


Borge's first few years were spent as a classical concert pianist. Later he  added his signature blend of piano music and jokes, which expanded his appeal. In 1933, he married American Elsie Chilton, and began touring extensively in Europe, playing classical music, and telling anti-nazi jokes.


Reportedly, Hitler was incensed by Borge's taunts, and after Germany invaded Denmark, Borge managed to escape from Europe on the last passenger liner (USS American Legion) to leave prior to the war.


He arrived in the United States with only $20 in his pocket. 


Despite not speaking English, Borge adapted his jokes to an American audience, learning his lines phonetically.   He took the name Victor Borge, and in 1941 he was featured on the Rudy Vallee radio show. 


Soon after, he was hired as a regular on Bing Crosby's Kraft Music Hall, and would appear on a number of other radio shows as well. 


He was pronounced "the best new radio performer of the year" in 1942  by the American press, and became a naturalized American citizen in 1948.

His radio career expanded, and in 1946 NBC gave him his own radio show.  When television came around, his physical humor translated extremely well to the new medium. 


In the 1950's, his broadway show, Comedy in Music, ran for 849 performances - a record for a one-man show.



Watching Victor Borge perform is to watch a man genuinely amused by his own success.   He's obviously having a good time, loves to interact with the audience, and appears to be enjoying the show as much as the audience. 


A more beloved performer would be hard to find. 


Although famous for his comedic piano playing, Borge also created `Phonetic Punctuation' and `inflationary language'  - both of which became signature comedy pieces for him.




First we have the Victor Borge Collection of audio files, available from the Internet Archive, followed by a selection of video clips of Borge performing over the years.


Victor Borge - a Mozart Opera                 8.9 MB

Victor Borge - All the Right Notes, Not Necessarily in the Right Order                                                       6.8 MB

Victor Borge - Brahms Lullaby                  3.3 MB

Victor Borge - Comedy in Music               25 MB

Comedy In Music, Pt. 2                            14 MB

Victor Borge - Denmark, My Native Land 1.3 MB

Victor Borge - Family Background             1.2 MB

Victor Borge - Friedmann Wiener Tanz 2  3.3 MB

Victor Borge - Happy Birthday                  15 MB

Victor Borge - Hungarian Rhapsody          19 MB

Victor Borge - in London                          3.0 MB

Victor Borge - Inflationary Language        5.0 MB

Victor Borge - Johann Sibelius Bach

& Family                                                   1.3 MB

Victor Borge - Live at the London

Paladium                                                   20 MB

Victor Borge - Live in Boston in 1953       15 MB

Victor Borge - Medley of Popular Songs   14 MB

Victor Borge - Mozart Opera by               8.9 MB

Victor Borge - Phonetic Punctuation       7.2 MB

Victor Borge - Rachmaninov Excerpts      3.2 MB

Victor Borge - Requests                           14 MB

Victor Borge - Saliere Opera                     7.9 MB

Victor Borge - Sweetheart                       9.7 MB

Victor Borge - Three Borge Fav                12 MB

Command Performance                            6.8 MB

Command Performance                            7.5 MB

Command Performance                            7.0 MB

xMail_Call_xxxxxx_Victor_Borge.mp3       30 MB




In my next blog, I'll highlight some of the memorable video performances by Victor Borge available on the Internet.