Modern Tech Can Ruin A Classic

As a fan of old movies and old TV shows, I sometimes find myself thinking about how modern technology can immediately take an entire show or movie and destroy it. Just to prove my point, I will quickly look at a movie that I have been meaning to write about for some time – It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

This movie is a classic and almost anyone who is anyone in comedy was in it. The main characters are played by Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, and Buddy Hackett. There are countless comedian cameos throughout the entire movie.

Here is a quick synopsis: A criminal who has been just released from prison has a car accident and drives off a cliff. Five motorists who witness the accident rush down to help the driver (Jimmy Durante) who is fatally injured. Just before he dies, he tells the motorists about $350,000 that he has buried in Santa Rosita State Park under “a big W.”

As police arrive, and question the motorists (who say nothing about the money), they climb back up to their cars and all eventually pull over to discuss what has transpired. They decide that they will all go to see if there even is any money, but first begin arguing over the best way to divide up the money between themselves.

After failing to come up with a satisfactory way to split the money, it becomes every man for himself and everyone begins racing each other to the park. What they don’t know is that they are all being watched by a police captain who has been following the case for years. The remainder of the movie consists of car chases, plane mishaps, car thefts, and plenty of property destruction as the motorists race across the country to get to the money first.

You don’t have to think hard about what piece of modern technology would stop the plot of this movie dead in its tracks – a cell phone.

All these motorists would have to do is call someone close by to look for the money, right? As a matter of fact, in the film Ethel Merman’s character calls her son (Dick Shawn) to tell him about the money because he lives close by. However, the son is so dumb and doesn’t listen to her and gets in his car and drives toward her instead of to the money.

Sid Caesar’s character charters a plan for him and his wife and the actually arrive in town first. They go to a hardware store to buy tools to dig with. They enter the store as the store closes for lunch (who does that anymore?) and are locked in the basement. A cell phone would have easily allowed them to call for help. Without the cell phone, however, he and his wife manage to destroy the basement of the store with fire and even dynamite!

It’s funny to think about how modern technology could change or completely erase story plot. The characters only knew that the money was buried under a “Big W.” They didn’t even know what that meant! Many of them were shown driving in their cars guessing what it could be (A water tower, or a windmill). Today, you could simply type into Google or ask Siri, “What’s a Big W located in Rosita Beach State Park?”

You could easily watch countless movies and TV shows from the past and say, “That would never happen today!” Think about how many old detective shows or courtroom shows would be different just because of the use of DNA evidence today?

What IS important is to sit back and watch these classics understanding the culture of the day and remembering the time frame they were created in.

What are your thoughts?

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

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This is one of two entries that I am writing as part of The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society (PEPS).  You can check out all of the first day participants here:

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While the rules state that the blogs should be about holiday “films”, I appreciate them allowing me to write on what is my favorite television holiday special – The Year Without A Santa Claus from 1974.

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Rankin and Bass Productions produced many holiday television specials.  Many of these were based on songs (1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1968’s Little Drummer Boy, 1969’s Frosty the Snowman, and 1970’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town).  Along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas, these holiday specials were something that I (and many children) looked forward to watching every year.

So what makes these specials so special?  Here are my thoughts: First of all, many of them were produced using a stop-motion animation process called “Animagic”.  Animagic was used on shows like Puppetoons, Gumby, and Davey and Goliath.  Compared to the advances we see in animation today, these specials shot with this primitive process still hold up and are entertaining.

Second, many are based on familiar Christmas songs.  We know the songs and the stories, but the specials elaborate on them.  We know the story of Frosty – but the song doesn’t mention Professor Hinkle (and we know we need his magic hat).  We know the story of Rudolph – but there is no mention of Yukon Cornelius, Hermie, or Bumbles in the song (and we know Yukon saved Rudolph’s life).  We know the story of Santa Claus – but the song doesn’t mention the Burgermeister Meisterburger (who is responsible for him going down chimneys) or the Winter Warlock (who gives Santa his magic snowball so he can see if you’ve been bad or good).

Next, you have the wonderful musical score and additional songs throughout the specials.  Maury Laws, who sadly passed away in March of this year at age 95, was the music director for almost every Rankin and Bass production.   He conducted and arranged so much of the wonderful music heard in these specials.  Along with the title songs, who can forget “Holly Jolly Christmas”, “We Are Santa’s Elves”, “Silver and Gold”, “There’s Always Tomorrow”, “Put One Foot in Front of the Other”, “No More Toymakers to the King” and so many others?!

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the voice work of some very talented actors and actresses make the Rankin and Bass specials so very entertaining.  I read somewhere that they really tried to find unique voices for their characters.  They did have their own company of actors (Paul Soles, Larry Mann, Billie Richards, Paul Klingman, and Paul Frees), but they were able to get some “star power” for narrators and other characters.  Think about the voices of Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon (who was known for his blue comedy work), Buddy Hackett, Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, and Burl Ives.  They all had very unique voices that were perfect for these characters!

The Year Without A Santa Claus

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The Year Without a Santa Claus originally aired on the ABC TV Network on December 10, 1974.  The story is not based on a song, but is based on a poem/book.  In 1956, Good Housekeeping magazine published the poem “The Year Without a Santa Claus” which was written by Phyllis McGinley.  It was so popular that it was turned into a picture book the following year with illustrations by Kurt Werth.

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In 1968, 6 years before the Rankin and Bass special, just a few months before he passed Boris Karloff (who narrated How The Grinch Stole Christmas) narrated an LP record version of the story/poem that was available on Capitol Records.

The poem tells of a year where Santa decides to take a vacation because he is feeling old and worn out.  As the children of the world hear of this, they become very sad and cannot imagine a Christmas without Santa.  There is one boy, Ignatius Thistlewhite, who takes a stand and explains that even Santa needs a vacation.  He explains that Christmas is not only about receiving, but about giving.  The children of the world launch a big campaign to give back to Santa and send him gifts to show him how much they love him.  He is so moved by this gesture that he decides not to take the vacation and goes out on his annual flight like every other year.

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(Note:  Spoilers) For the most part, the special follows the poem/book, with some minor and major changes.  Shirley Booth plays Mrs. Claus, who tells us the story.  This would be Shirley’s last acting role, as she retired after her part was completed.  Santa is played by Mickey Rooney, who also played Santa in the Rankin/Bass special Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

In the special, Santa is sick.  He is advised by his overly honest and grumpy doctor to stay home.  The doctor also tells him nobody care about Christmas, and that no one believes in him anymore!  Santa, feeling that his doctor may be right, decides to cancel Christmas for the first time ever.

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Mrs. Claus, however, feels that it wouldn’t be fair to the children, and has a plan.  She sends two Christmas elves, Jingle and Jangle, along with reindeer Vixen into the world to prove that there is still Christmas Spirit and that children still believe in Santa. Jingle and Jangle provide some comic relief (I always sensed a Laurel and Hardy vibe with them).  Bob McFadden voices Jingle, while Bradley Bolke (best known as Chumley in the Tennessee Tuxedo cartoons) voices Jangle.

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Santa knows his wife is up to something and gets her to explain just what she’s got going on.  He is aghast to learn that the elves and Vixen are heading into the world.  In a bit of foreshadowing, he mentioned that they’ll be lucky to make it past the Miser Brothers.  The Miser Brothers are easily two of the most memorable characters ever created by Rankin and Bass, more on them shortly.  As the elves fly directly into their path, the are shot down by Heat Miser (who calls them members of “the Santa Claus Gang”).  Vixen and the elves narrowly escape and wind up landing in a place called Southtown USA.

While in Southtown, they find a lack of Christmas Spirit, and children (one of them Ignatius “Iggy” Thistlewhite, mentioned earlier) skeptical that Santa even exists.  Things go from bad to worse in Southtown, as the elves receive a ticket and then Vixen is taken to the pound by the dog catcher (who thinks she is a dog).  The elves are told by the policeman to see the mayor if they want to free Vixen.

Santa, who is now on a mission to save Vixen and the elves, has also flown down (on Dasher) to Southtown in search of them.  He seems to be a step or two behind them.  He runs into Iggy as he is coming home, introduces himself as “Mr. Clowze” and asks if he has seen his friends.  Iggy replies that he has, but when Santa sneezes, Iggy’s mom invites him in for tea to help his cold.

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While at the table, he learns that the elves were asking if he believed in Santa Claus.  Iggy asks the old gent if HE believes in Santa Claus.  He admits that he does in song, and we learn that Iggy’s dad actually saw Santa as boy, and he still believes.  Iggy then tells Santa about the mess that the elves were in and that the dog catcher has their “dog”.  Santa, worried about Vixen, jumps on his reindeer and flies away, not caring that he is in plain sight of the family.  Iggy now realizes who Mr. Clowze really is and decides he is going to help Jingle and Jangle.

Santa pays a fine to the dog catcher and decides it is best to take Vixen home.  Meanwhile, Iggy and the elves tell the mayor their story and the mayor laughs in disbelief.  He does not believe that they are Christmas Elves, or any bit of their story!

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He does, however, agree to free Vixen (and give Santa a holiday) if they can PROVE they are elves (who he says can do magic) and make it snow in Southtown, where it hasn’t snowed in over 100 years! Knowing that they are in a spot, they call Mrs. Claus to help.  When she arrives, they go to see Snow Miser.

The Miser Brothers, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, are the offspring of Mother nature.  Snow Miser controls all of the cold weather on the earth, while Heat Miser controls all the warm weather.  There is no doubt that these two characters are the stand outs in this holiday special.  The characters are larger than life.  They are two step brothers, who obviously dislike and despise each other.  We got a glimpse of them both early on, but now we get their official “introductions”.

Each Miser Brother has his own introductory song, with choreography and dancing minions.  Each song is a boost to their egos as they admit that they are both “too much”!

Snow Miser is voiced by the amazing Dick Shawn, while Heat Miser is voiced by George S. Irving.  Both were very well known character actors and each play their roles to the utmost.  Shawn’s Snow Miser is a friendly guy who is full of puns and energy, while Irving’s Heat Miser is a miserable grouch!

It would just be wrong for me NOT to post a link to their songs – which are truly the highlights of the special!

Mrs. Claus arrives and asks Snow Miser for a snow storm.  He will gladly oblige!  However, when he hears where they need it to snow, he tells them he cannot help because the South is under Heat Miser’s control, and they must get his permission.  Upon arriving at Heat Miser’s volcano, and listening to his song, he is obviously miffed at his visitors.  He even accuses Santa of going out “doing commercials” for his brother.  When the ask to let it snow in Southtown, he refuses at first, but then says he will allow it to snow there if he can provide a nice sunny day at the North Pole. The two brothers bicker on the phone and Mrs. Claus stops them and says that she is going over their heads.  She is taking this to their mother – Mother Nature!

Despite the fact that the brothers, the elves, and Mrs. Claus are all a bit scared of Mother nature, she is a pleasant lady.  She summons her boys with thunder and lightening (very reminiscent of the old Chiffon margarine ads that featured Mother Nature).  With some initial bickering, she eventually gets the boys to agree.  Snow Miser will allow a nice warm day at the North Pole and Heat Miser will let it snow in the south.

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Once the snow hits Southtown, the mayor finally believes Jingle and Jangle and gets on the phone with all the mayors around the world.  They officially declare a national holiday for Santa.   The newspapers proclaim this “Day Off For Santa!” and the word spreads from pole to pole! With this news, all of the children begin to send letters and presents to Santa to show their appreciation for him and wish him a happy holiday.  Santa receives one letter from a little girl who says she’ll have a Blue Christmas without him (and the song accompanies this)…

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Santa is very moved by this letter, and the outpouring of gifts and love by the children of the world.  He decides that it is ridiculous for him to take the night off!  Christmas is back on again!  He tells the elves to load up the sleigh and his ride begins by going down “Santa Claus Lane” in Southtown, USA.

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At the end of the special, Mrs. Claus reminds us that somehow, “yearly, newly, faithfully, and truly” Santa ALWAYS comes!

Final Thoughts

In 2006, NBC remade this classic into a live-action special that was a huge disappointment.  In 2008, ABC Family aired “A Miser Brothers’ Christmas” which, despite having a few of the original voice actors, was also something that never achieves the magic of the original.

Had The Year Without a Santa Claus simply told the story of the poem or book, it would easily be classified as a typical and standard Christmas special.  However, Rankin and Bass take it above and beyond that.  They make it a truly wonderful story with great characters, wonderful voice actors, well known and original music that brings a smile to my face each and every year!  When I listen to the radio and hear “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, “Frosty the Snowman” and “Holly Jolly Christmas” from other TV specials, I find myself wondering why stations don’t take a chance and play the Miser Brothers songs?  Every time I mention this special to someone – they IMMEDIATELY know them and their songs!!  It’s a missed opportunity!

I can still remember the first time my brother and I sat in front of the TV to watch this.  I remember over the years checking the TV guide to see if and when it would air again.  When it was available on home video/DVD, I made sure I had a copy.  It was one of the first specials I shared with my sons.  I still tear up when Santa is reading about the little girl’s Blue Christmas.  I sing along with the Miser Brothers.  My heart doubles in size when Santa declares that Christmas isn’t cancelled.  And every time I watch it, I am laying on the floor in front of the TV with my younger brother next to me … and I am 6 again.

Thanks to the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society for allowing me to participate in this blogathon!  Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Top 20 Favorite Christmas Characters

Growing up, I loved watching all of the various Christmas specials that were shown on TV every year.  With the availability of almost all of them on DVD, we can watch them whenever we want – even if it’s not during the holiday season!  My brother and I would sit in front of the TV and watch Jimmy Durante tell us the story of Frosty the Snowman, Fred Astaire delivering mail while telling us about Santa, and Burl Ives shared the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I don’t care who you are or how old you are, if you have kids – it’s still just as special watching these specials together.  I even know some people my age who have no children – they find themselves watching them on TV, too!

Technology has come a long way from when these TV specials were made!  Today, the cartoons and animation are above and beyond what these classic specials had.  While some of the specials were animated – most of the favorites were done by Rankin and Bass and were done in stop animation.  It had to have taken a long time to shoot these specials for sure!  What make these so memorable are not only the stories and songs, but the characters and the people who voiced them.

There were some pretty talented voice actors and big stars who provided voiced for these iconic characters!  They had many memorable lines, too.  Here now, are my Top 20 favorite characters from the Specials of Christmas Past (and Present):

20 – Jingle Bells (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Jingle Bells (right) is the #1 elf at the North Pole.  He is partnered up with Jangle Bells (left) and they remind me of a Laurel and Hardy type team.  Jingle is the smart one, Jangle – not so much.  Together, they get in some trouble while trying to find some Christmas Spirit. It’s Jingle who suggests they call Mrs. Claus for help.

19 – Sally Brown (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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One thing that I loved about the Charlie Brown Christmas special is that the voices are done by real kids.  As someone who has had to record children for commercials and such, I can tell you this is no easy task.  You often have to feed them lines one at a time and edit them together.  This is obviously what happened with the girl who plays Sally. Listen to her say  – “Will you please write a letter to Santa Claus for me?” next time you watch it … you can hear the edits.

I love Sally because in her letter she gets on Santa’s good side by asking how his wife is and then goes on to say she has included a list of things she wants and for him to “note the size and color” of each item.   LOL!  When Charlie Brown questions her – she tells him that she just wants her “fair share”

18 – Doc Bobbin (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Santa is sick, so Mrs. Claus calls the doctor.  This guy is just miserable!  He’s cranky and angry!  He’s an example of someone with no Christmas spirit.  He tells Santa he’d be surprised if anyone still believed in him and is just plain rude.  His appearance is a short one, but my favorite line from him is “Nobody cares a hoot and a holler for you (Santa) or Christmas!”

17 – The Grinch (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)

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The Dr. Seuss classic – not the new one or the Jim Carrey one! This guy reminds me a lot of Ebenezer Scrooge.  He’s a mean one, as the song suggests, and yet in the end, he finds the true meaning of Christmas and he is a changed Grinch.  It’s a bonus that the great Boris Karloff is the narrator for this cartoon.

16 & 15 – Mr. and Mrs. Claus (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Mickey Rooney and Shirley Booth!  What’s not to like?  Mickey played Santa in Rankin/Bass’s Santa Claus is Coming To Town and did and amazing job.  It’s a treat to hear him revisit the role – his vocal inflections (while acting like he has a cold) are perfect.  The playfulness of Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus is just as good.  She is our story-teller and plays and all important part in the story.

14 & 13 – Rudolph and Hermey

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Now, to be honest, I wasn’t going to include Rudolph in this list.  However, when I thought about Hermey (the elf who wants to be a dentist), I felt that Rudy should go with him.  These two are here because they are truly a “couple of misfits”.  They are different and you know what?  That is ok!  Be different!!!  Be spectacular!

Recently there have been rumblings about the lessons taught by this Christmas special, and in all honesty, the talk is annoying to me.  Something offends everybody and everybody is offended by something these days!  Hey!  Get a grip!  In order for the wonderful ending of this tale to mean anything – there had to be mean reindeer and a mean elf!

12 – Professor Hinkle (Frosty the Snowman)

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Here is a nasty man.  He is a crappy magician and he has no idea how important his hat really is!  He’s on the list because he is voiced perfectly by Billy De Wolfe.  One of my favorite lines of his is: “When you’re grown up, you’ll realize that snowmen can’t come to life!”  Oh, how wrong he was!

11 – Lucy Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Lucy is a real piece of work.  She bosses everyone around, has an opinion about everything, and is a know it all.  She’s also kind of a jerk.  So why is she on the list?  Because of all the things I just mentioned and this quote: “Look, Charlie Brown, we all know that Christmas is just a big commercial racket.  It’s run by a big Eastern Syndicate, you know?!”

Maybe it is not run by a syndicate – but one thing is for certain – Christmas is, and continues to be, a big commercial racket!

10 – Santa Claus (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Ok, yes … Santa is already on the list.  That, however, is the Mickey Rooney Santa.  This Santa is different and is played in a whole different way.  I agree, he was a jerk to Rudolph.  However, he does come around at the end and Rudolph saves the day.  Why is he #10?  He says one of my favorite lines: “Every year I shine up my jingle bells!”

Take that however you want.

9 – The Head Elf (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Just like the above Santa, this guy was kind of a bossy jerk!  Think about it, how many bosses have you had that were jerks?  That is what some bosses are good at – being jerks.

At any rate, this guy gives Hermey a hard time.  Not only does he have a workshop to run, but he also has to run Elf Practice!  I mean – how else are elves gonna learn how to wiggle their ears, go “hee-hee” and “ho-ho” and “important stuff like that”?  He was probably thankful that Hermey’s dental practice was able to get him in so soon after Christmas……

8 – The Winter Warlock (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)

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Voiced by Keenan Wynn, the Winter Warlock is yet another character who has a change of heart.  He is a mean man who is frigid and cold – that is, until Kris Kringle gives him a toy.  The ice and cold melts away to show he is really a gentle old man.  He tells Kris he really is a mean and “despicable creature at heart” and tells Kris how difficult it is to “really change”.   Kris tells him that changing from bad to good is “as easy as taking your first step” which leads into the great song “Put One Foot In Front of the Other”

7 – Linus Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Linus is Charlie Brown’s friend.  He is often there to give him insight on issues that he is dealing with.  He often prompts Charlie to think about things a little differently.  It is Linus who says the crappy little tree that Charlie Brown picked out isn’t so bad and just needs a “little love”.

It is also Linus who gives an amazing little speech about what Christmas is all about quoting from the King James Bible Luke 2: 8-14.  Linus, who carries around his security blanket at all times, does something really unique while reciting these verses.  To the casual observer, it may go unnoticed, but I think it is amazing how this kid who needs this blanket so badly, drops it when he says “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy”.  That’s powerful.

With so many people offended by things, I am truly amazed that there isn’t an uproar about this special because of Linus’ speech.

6 – Sam the Snowman (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Voiced by one of the familiar “voices of Christmas”, Burl Ives, Sam the Snowman tells us Rudolph’s story.  He’s like a gentle old grandpa telling us the story.  Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing Burl’s version of Holly Jolly Christmas – which is just one of the songs he sings in this special.

He tells us the story with bits of info (First castle to the left) and humor (“haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?”) Even though he is telling a story, he still is frightened by certain parts of it (the Abominable Snow Monster of the North), enough so that he hides under his umbrella!

I have to admit, I often find myself singing lines from Silver and Gold every year when I trim the tree.  As a kid, I remember making a snowman and then sliding behind him, making a trail – so it looked like he glided into place …. just like Sam.

5 – Charlie Brown

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How many of us can relate to Charlie Brown – not just at Christmas, but all year round? He tells Linus, “I’m just not happy. I don’t know the way I am supposed to feel.” While this is a real issue for many people, Linus tells Charlie Brown that he is the only kid he knows that “can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem”.

He’s a “blockhead”, but he means well.  He tries and he fails – but he never stops trying.  He is the director of the Christmas play and louses up the production, but in the end, it all comes out ok.  He buys a scrawny tree, and his friends make it something special they wish him a Merry Christmas.

Charlie is a simple kid and we are all a little bit like him.

4 – Burgermeister Meisterburger (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)

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Voiced by the great Paul Frees – this guy is a presence on screen!  Just what the hell is a Burgermeister?  Well it is a sort of mayor – he is an executive.  Our Burgermeister is the head of Sombertown (why would anyone want to live there?).  He makes it clear that he hates toys and children too, apparently!

The story could have gone very differently, as the baby Claus shows up on his doorstep and he orders his soldier to “Get the brat out of here!”  Good thing the soldier, Grimsley, loses the baby on a sled and it shows up at the Kringle house…..

He isn’t all bad – he does love playing with a yo-yo!

3 – Yukon Cornelius (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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How can you not love Yukon Cornelius’ sense of adventure!?  Here is a guy who is out looking for gold and silver!  He is on the hunt with the mindset of striking it rich!  He knows no fear!  He makes his own rules!  He isn’t afraid of that Abominable Snow Monster of the North, whom he downplays by calling him Bumbles, and actually attacks him.  Sadly, he goes over a cliff with the monster during the attack.

He is a scene stealer and there is a sense of sadness when he tumbles off the cliff, but he is friggin’ Yukon Cornelius!  He shows up later with Bumbles to everyone’s amazement!  How did he survive?  Well…..Bumbles Bounce!!

2 – Heat Miser (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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He’s Mr. Green Christmas!  He’s Mr. Sun.  He’s Mr. Heat Blister.  He’s Mr. 101!

To me, when you talk about the Miser Brothers from The Year Without a Santa Claus, everyone knows Heat Miser first.  Some would say that he should top this list.  I can see your argument and it’s a good one – but a close one.

Voiced by George S. Irving, Heat Miser obviously doesn’t care about Santa.  He asks Mrs. Claus is Santa is “out doing another commercial” for his brother.  He describes Santa a “traipsing around in that stupid sleigh of his!  Stirring up cold winter breezes and causing everyone to think fondly of snowball fights and – urgh – ice hockey!”

Not only does he not like Santa, but he certainly does not care too much for his brother!

1 – Snow Miser (The Year Without A Santa Claus)

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He’s Mr. White Christmas.  He’s Mr. Snow.  He’s Mr. Icicle.  He’s Mr. 10 Below!

The Snow Miser tops my list.  He’s just a bundle of energy and damn funny!  Voiced by Dick Shawn, he conveys a carefree attitude and is just a fun dude.  When he is summoned by his mother (Mother Nature), he and his brother are arguing and they are told to stop.  His response is “If I can’t have any fun, I might as well leave.”   While he and his “hothead” brother don’t get along, he loves Santa and Mrs. Claus.  He tells “Mrs. C” to make sure she brings him with her next time she comes and they’ll have “a blizzard”. He is a friendly, loveable, and fun guy who loves “chilly humor”.

I have always been amazed that when radio stations play Christmas music, they will play songs from various Christmas specials, but they never seem to play the Miser Brothers songs….and that is just sad! You mention the Miser Brothers and the first thing that happens is someone starts singing their songs!

Closing thoughts

As I look at this list – there are some good guys and bad guys.  Maybe there are more bad guys than good … I don’t know, I didn’t count.  Here is an observation, though that fits into what’s going on today.

Without bad guys, there can be no heroes.  You kind of need bad guys, bullies, and jerks to make the end of the story a happy one.  Good conquers evil!  Good wins over bad!  Sure, the bad guys may be doing things that we don’t agree with, but they are necessary to the plot to get us to the happiness at the end!  Imagine A Christmas Carol without Scrooge!  Imagine It’s a Wonderful Life without Mr. Potter!  It feels better and more special when the good guys come out ahead….doesn’t it?

What characters are your favorites?  Who is missing from my list?

 

Birthday Tribute to “Fred”

If you have read my blogs in the past, you know that it consists of a mixture of pop culture things (like movie, TV and music thoughts) and personal things (radio stories, school memories, and things from my childhood).  As I thought about today’s blog topic, I realized that without this man in my life – this blog would probably not exist!  I guess I didn’t really realize it until now. As I scrolled back over the blogs of the past, I see just how much influence he has had in almost ALL of them!  I am talking, of course, about my dad.  Today – is his 72nd birthday.  So here are some birthday thoughts for dad.

In March I wrote a blog about his musical influence.  My musical taste is very broad, because I was introduced to so many different genres by him.  He introduced me to rock and roll with the music of Little Richard, Bobby Darin, Roy Orbison and Elvis.  He introduced me to the “Great American Songbook” with music from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Bing Crosby.  He introduced me to Jazz with Louis Prima, and Ella Fitzgerald.  He played me music from Johnny Paycheck, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard to introduce me to country music.  The list goes on and on … but what about other influences?

Movies

I could spend an entire week writing about the various movies he introduced to me!  As far as the classic films, most of those were introduced to me because he saw that they were playing on the Monday Night Movie on regular TV or something.  You have to remember VCR’s and DVD players were not a staple in the home yet.  You also have to remember that I grew up at the time where “pay TV” was just being incarnated.  One of the first pay services was “ON TV”.  It came on channel 20 at like 8 or 9 at night.  They put an antenna on your roof and it unscrambled the signal so you could watch movies.  I remember one time I wanted to record Smokey & the Bandit – but as I said, VCR’s were not for home use yet.  The last showing of it on ON TV was at 1am one Friday night.  My dad actually stayed up with a cassette recorder in front of the TV and recorded the audio for me.  What makes this even better is there were scenes that were so funny to him, you could hear him laughing in the background as the movie played.

With Cable TV came The Movie Channel and HBO.  As more and more channels became available, American Movie Classics, Turner Classic Movies, and others were the way to watch them. So he’d tell me “You gotta watch AMC at 3 today – they’re playing ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’!”  Growing up, I remember hearing my dad talking with my grandparents, my Uncle Tom, or his friends about actors and actresses and the movies they were in.  “Great Movie!” or “What a great flick!” I’d hear him say.  Well, if he thought it was great – I wanted to see it!  Movies I remember watching – only because I had heard him talk about them included The Godfather, White Heat,  Little Caesar, Key Largo, Patton, Midway, The Maltese Falcon, and Night of the Hunter.  Many of these were films that I’d walk in to the living room and dad would be watching and he’d tell me about them and catch me up so I could watch it with him. I was introduced to Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Mitchum, Burt Reynolds, and SO many actors just be casually walking into a room where he was watching TV!

The Godfather Part 1 & 2 and Patton are probably some of my favorite films.  I remember watching Godfather the first time trying to keep all the names straight.  Don Barzinni, Don Stracci, Luca Brazi, Sonny, Fredo, and Tom Hagen were all characters that I had to remember (amongst many more).  Dad was there to explain so many things to me as I watched this film the first few times through.  I have found myself doing the same thing when I sit and watch it with someone who has never seen it.  (On a side note, for one class I had to read books and write book reports for it.  I remember dad wrote a book report for me on The Godfather! He got an A!)

TV

Look through my DVD collection and amongst the movies are entire series of classic TV shows.  This, again, is a direct result from my dad’s influence.  I remember watching re-runs of The Honeymooners on channel 50.  I remember when dad told me that Ralph Kramden and Sheriff Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit were the same person!  I don’t know if I would have known that as a 7 year old!  I remember staying home sick and watching re-runs of the Dick Van Dyke Show on channel 9 out of Canada.  I knew about Carl Reiner because he was one of many cameos in the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (which should have been mentioned in the movie section of this blog).  The other stars of “Mad World” were also known to me because of my dad:  I knew Mickey Rooney from a flick called Quicksand he rented.  I knew Milton Berle from The Dean Martin Roasts and other TV appearances. I knew Jonathan Winters from a classic Twilight Zone episode (Loved watching TZ with him).  Among the other “classic” TV shows he introduced me to:  The Untouchables, F-Troop, The Munsters, Car 54, Where Are You?, McHale’s Navy, Perry Mason, Combat, Star Trek, Hogan’s Heroes, Mission: Impossible, and Get Smart.

With the availability of video rentals, I remember dad bringing home TV shows that were not shown on TV anymore or shown late at night.  You couldn’t really watch The Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy, or The Three Stooges on TV unless you stayed up late for comedy classics – which usually was on at 11pm or midnight.  With the VCR, though, we could go to the store and rent them!  I had listened to Jack Benny and Amos and Andy on cassette tapes of old radio shows (again, thanks to dad), but now I was able to see these TV shows – and they were amazing! I used to love watching these shows with him.  One thing I always love seeing is my dad laughing and these shows (and a couple I will mention in a minute) always made him laugh – I mean big belly laughs!

I guess you could say that I grew up at a time where some of  the “current” shows are now considered classics.  Those shows, my brother and I watched on a weekly basis and watched in re-runs.  These shows included The Love Boat, Mork & Mindy, Happy Days, Lavern and Shirley, The Dukes of Hazzard, Emergency!, Welcome Back, Kotter, All In the Family, The Jeffersons, The Carol Burnett Show, Barney Miller, Fantasy Island, and Charlie’s Angels.  Some of those dad introduced me to, while others he really couldn’t stand.

Sanford and Soupy

The one show that I will forever associate with my dad is Sanford and Son.  These shows, no matter how many times we see them remain funny.  I can be on the phone with my dad and say, “So last night I watched “the piano movers” and we will both start laughing!  Years later, we can quote this show to each other and still crack each other up.  Why do we and can we bond over this show? Perhaps it’s the fact that the show is about a father and son and their relationship.  I remember how I thought it was odd that Lamont always called Fred, “Pop”.  I never used to call my dad that, although somewhere over the years, dad has become “Pop” to me.  I call him that all the time now.  As a matter of fact, he still often calls me “Lamont”!  It is not used flippantly, I use it as a genuine term of endearment!  He’s my Pop – and I use it with much love and affection!

Another show that dad introduced me to was The New Soupy Sales Show.  He grew up watching Soupy at lunch time.  My grandmother often told stories of how Soupy would say “Tomorrow, we’re having bologna sandwiches for lunch” and if dad didn’t have them, he was pissed!  Soupy’s new show on channel 20 was pretty much just like the old show.  It was full of puns, bad jokes, clips of old movies, funny horoscopes on the radio, the Words of Wisdom, and his friends White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie and Hippy.  It may have been on right after school and before dad came home from work, because I don’t recall him watching it too much with me, however, when it became available on video – we talked about it just like we talk about Sanford and Son.

Traits of a Good Dad

When I became a father, I remember reading something about what makes a good dad.  Let me say here that none of us is perfect.  My dad was not perfect and neither am I.  My point is that when you look at these things, we can assess things we are doing well, things we can improve, and things that we will start doing.  As I think back on those things – I can see where I strive to achieve those things and, at the same time, can see a lot of those things in my own father.

For example, a father must be a good disciplinarian.  All dad’s love their children, but you know and I know that you can’t let them get away with everything.  Dad was this way.  The old story about mom saying “Wait till your father get’s home” and the child being scared to death?  Yep!  That was me!  You didn’t want to make dad mad!  I would say I made him mad more than a few times.

One time in particular I remember telling him I was spending the night at a friends house.  I was out with my girlfriend at the time.  We were still in high school, and it was a weekend.  We had no money, so we weren’t going to a hotel or anything like that.  We just planned on staying out all night.  I don’t remember how he found out, but  I remember getting a page from the friend who I said I was staying with and he asked why my dad thought I was there!  I think my girlfriend’s mom had called my house or something.  At any rate – I was in BIG trouble! Dad’s punishment was a fair one (even though I didn’t think so at the time).  He proved a point and I NEVER did that again.  He let me know that he was in charge.  Another time, I got in trouble at school for something.  We had a meeting with the teacher and he said what he would go on to tell every teacher afterward in parent teacher conferences, “If he gets out of line again, you have my permission to smack his ass!” (Yes, this was back before a teacher giving the kid a paddle was considered wrong).

A good dad allows his kids to make mistakes. Dad watched me make a TON of them, but he knew that if I was going to learn, I needed to make those mistakes.  He’d never let me make a mistake that was life threatening or would put me in danger, but he’d let me make mistakes that he knew, when all was said and done – I’d mature and learn from it.  While there were things he questioned, he never really interfered.  I learned a lot from that – even though there were times I wish he HAD said something!

A good dad has an open mind.  Times change.  The way that things were done when he was growing up, well, they may be handled differently now (the paddling in school is a good example).  He respected that and embraces it to a degree.  As someone who loved all kinds of music, I will never forget the time he called me into the living room to play me this “cool song” he heard and liked.  It was “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-lite.  The song was not like anything he’s ever played for me, but he liked it and played it at DJ jobs!  He embraces change!

A good dad teaches his kids to appreciate things.  Those things can be anything.  My dad certainly taught me how to appreciate family and friends.  He taught me how to appreciate good music, movies and TV.  He taught me how to appreciate what you have and the importance of living within your means.

A good dad accepts that his kids aren’t exactly like him. This may or may not have been a lesson he learned from my grandpa.  My dad had always been very accepting of my brother and I.  While we all have a lot of similarities, we are all SO very different.  He respects that our religious and political views may not be the same as his.

A good dad spends quality time with his children. This is one of those things that is difficult to do in today’s society.  We spend so much time working and trying to get things done, that we often spend the hours we are not at work doing these things.  As a divorced father with limited time with my boys, I really try hard to make the time we spend quality time, even if it is just a car ride.  Some of my favorite memories with my dad are just him and I throwing the ball around in the front yard.  That meant more to me than he will ever know!

A good dad leads by example.  Dad was never really the “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of guy.  He was a hard worker and knew the importance of providing for our family.  I never once thought of growing up and not having a job.  Dad wasn’t always perfect in this area, but because of that, I was also able to take some of the things that I didn’t like him doing (like smoking) and not doing them.

A good dad is supportive and loyal.  I am sure that in my 30 year radio career, my dad probably thought “he needs to get out of that career and find something more stable”.  If he thought it – he never once told me that!  He was nothing but supportive!  If I ever came to him with something that he questioned, he might ask a question or two regarding the opposite viewpoint, but that was it.  He might ask “are you sure you want to do this” or “have you thought about what might happen if…”, and then he let me decide.  Whatever the decision, he supported it.  I have a great respect for that.

A good dad is someone who challenges his kids. I’m sure that there were many ways that dad challenged me.  I know there were times I wanted to quit something and he gave me the pep talk to keep going.  I cannot recall specific incidents, but I know they were there.

A good dad is a teacher.  While dad taught me how to throw a “submarine” ball and how to swing a golf club, he also taught me some valuable lessons.  One of the things I have hoped to do is to write down some of those lessons and pass them down to my own children.  To illustrate my point: there is a cartoon I saw once of two guys standing in front of three piles of stuff.  The one guy asked what they were.  The second guy points to the first pile and says, “this stuff is the stuff my dad gave me that I want to pass on to my kids.”  He points to the second pile and says, “this is the stuff my dad gave me that I don’t really need.” He points to the third pile and says, “this is my stuff that I want to pass on to my kids.”  That’s the way it is – as a father, you take things that you learned from your dad and keep the stuff you want to share, throw out what you don’t, and then add stuff of your own.

A good dad protects and provides for his family.  When times were tough and money was tight, my dad would DJ or play in the wedding band to bring in extra money.  I remember as a young boy my dad going back to college to get a degree so he could move up in his place of employment.  It took me over 20 years, but I also decided to go back to school to better provide for my family.  I know that my dad would do anything for us, and I would do the same for my family.

Finally, a good dad shows unconditional love.  I read where this is the greatest quality of a good father.  Even though his child may let him down, upset him, make him mad, disrespect him, and disappoint him … the love remains constant.  Not to get theological, but it is one of the great principles spoken of about God in the Bible.  It says that no matter how much a child of God angers Him, ignores Him, or disappoints Him – His love is never ending and ever present.  THAT is the kind of love a father has for his children.

I am lucky that I have never had to question whether or not my dad loves me.  He has done so much for me during my lifetime and continues to do so.  I can only hope that he knows how much he is appreciated.  I can only hope he knows how thankful I am that he was chosen to be my father.  I can only hope that he knows of the impact that he has made on me.  I hope that he will never have to question how much I love him.

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Thanks, Pop, for being such an amazing man!  Thanks for being a wonderful example to me.  Thanks for everything you have done to support, encourage, accept, and love my family.  Today, I wish you a very happy birthday and wish you many more in the future!  I love you, Pop.

“Lamont”