Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas TV – 1950s Style





Unlike today, during the 1950s variety shows were a staple of television.

A curmudgeon like myself might simply observe that 50 years ago, there was a lot more show biz talent to populate these shows than we have today.


The alumni of the fabled `studio system’ and of vaudeville almost all had more than one entertainment skill.  Actors could sing, singers could dance, comedians could act, etc.  


Perhaps not well . . .  but they could do it.


Today, actors walk through their parts.  Singers either scream or rhyme.  Comedians hurl random obscenities until someone in the audience laughs.

And apparently nobody dances. 


It’s tough to build a variety series around today’s questionable pool of talent.


But in 1955, viewers lucky enough to have TV set and access to all 3 networks (NBC, CBS, ABC) could watch more than 15 variety shows each week, including:

The Ed Sullivan Show 

The Original Amateur Hour

Colgate Variety Hour

Caesar's Hour

Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts

The Milton Berle Show

The Martha Raye Show

The Chevy Show

Tony Martin Show

Dinah Shore Show

Eddie Fisher Show

Arthur Godfrey and His Friends

Lawrence Welk

Perry Como



And while the formats differed, as did the style of music presented, they all had one thing in common.


Each year they almost all aired a Christmas show.


Sadly, most of these shows were never taped (kinescoped or film), and so they are lost forever.  A few have survived, however.


So today, I present three to warm you up for the Holidays.



First stop is Liberace, whose show aired not during prime time, but was syndicated to more than 100 local TV stations and aired at various times – sometimes twice a day in some markets.


One of TV’s first big stars, Wladziu Valentino `Lee' Liberace wasn’t a big hit with music critics, but audiences loved him.  You can read more about Liberace in my blog entry Mr. Showmanship.


The Liberace Show - 1954 Christmas episode (1954)



Next stop is the Perry Como Christmas show from 1952.


During the 1950s, many variety shows were only 15 minutes long, and aired sometimes 2, 3, or even 5 times a week.


This episode is just 15 minutes long, and features Perry, the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra, and the Fontane Sisters telling the story of the first Christmas.


You’ll also get a Chesterfield commercial, along with Como’s signature Ave Maria.


"The Perry Como Show" - 24/December/1952


Our last stop today is Your Hit Parade, a long running show (first on radio, then TV) which counted down – and performed - the top songs of the day.


My first MOMPD blog entry was on this iconic variety show, which you can read at 'Twas Rock & Roll That Killed Your Hit Parade.


You can join Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson, Russell Arms, and Gisele MacKenzie for this Christmas eve 1955 episode.


Your Hit Parade - Christmas Eve Show 1955 (1955)



For a lot more on Your Hit Parade and the Golden Age of Television, I would also direct you to my friend, and fellow blogger, Andrew Fielding’s site:

The Lucky Strike Papers


His book, chronically his mother’s career as an early TV performer on the Lucky Strike Your Hit Parade is a wonderful read, and I recommend it highly.


I wrote a full review of The Lucky Strike Papers in And Now, A Lucky Strike Extra . . .

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