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Rudolph, Charlie Brown, and Zu-Zus Petals

I remember the first year it aired.  

At the time, I didn’t know it was the show’s premiere, or that would start a Holiday tradition.  I just knew that I wanted to see it and my parents, who were going out that particular Saturday just before Christmas in 1964, gave strict orders to my babysitter that I be allowed to watch.  

It was the NBC version of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” which premiered on the General Electric “Fantasy Hour.”  The show was the familiar story about a reindeer whose nose was so bright that it could serve as a headlight for Santa’s sleigh.  This story, by the way, was originally written back in 1939 as a Christmas promotion for Montgomery Ward.  But that didn’t matter, it was about Rudolph, and the story was

perfect for a six year old who was totally enamored with Christmas.  Oh, and a footnote to that story.  My grandmother, in Goldsoboro, North Carolina, even lived on Rudolph Street.

 Since that first airing NBC has shown Rudolph every year for the past 46 years.  Just like the other networks have done with a host of TV and movie Christmas treasures.  In fact, there is probably no holiday that prompts as many TV specials, holiday themed episodes of popular shows, or movies as Christmas.  No sitcom can run for very long without a Christmas episode and all those TV specials, done way back when, just like Rudolph, keep running year after year.  

 A Charlie Brown Christmas, one my favorites, so much so that I can ever recite some of the lines, first debuted in 1965, and like Rudolph, is shown, without fail each year.  The same is true for “Frosty the Snowman,” complete with the voices of Jimmy Durante and Fred Astaire (most people don’t even remember these once famous names), and of course, there is the animated version of Dr. Seuss’s  “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  This one was done decades before the movie.

 When it comes to movies, Christmas has been a topic which no producer it seems is above capitalizing on.  Some, alas, are distinctly forgettable.  Thing is, they’re so bad you can’t.  For instance, does anyone out there remember “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians?”  I do, and I regret having to admit that I went to see it.  

Fortunately though, most films have done a lot better.  Perhaps my favorite is Jimmy Stewart in that familiar classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Sappy, slow, and perhaps overly romantic, Mr. Potter, Zu Zu and her petals, and of course, the angel to be, Clarence, all have to put in a yearly appearance at Christmas time or things just don’t seem right.

 And it seems everyone, in every medium, does their version of a “Christmas Carol.”  This Charles Dickens classic about Scrooge and his three ghosts was perhaps the first modern Christmas story.  Published in newspapers back in 1843 its been given credit for making the Christmas Holiday, which in the early 19th century had fallen out of favor, the modern day celebration we know so well.  

But my gosh has it been copied.  Mr. Magoo has been Scrooge, Fred Flintstone has played the role, and yes, so has George Jefferson.  There have been at least four, maybe five, major motion pictures, several stage plays (my favorite is with Patrick Stewart), and a host of traditional TV “Christmas Carol” specials.

 TV shows too, dramas and sitcoms, go to great lengths to find a way to write a show that involves Christmas.  Some are noteworthy accomplishments.  Earl Hamner, creator of the Waltons, crafted the series pilot around a Christmas time story called the “Homecoming.”  It ran just a couple of weeks ago.  M.A.S.H. the 1970’s sitcom about a mobile surgical hospital unit during the Korean War did at least two rather poignant episodes about Christmas in wartime.

Of course, the number of situation comedies that have done a Christmas show are far too numerous to even think of naming.  Also, few if any, stand out as being worthy of any mention.  Well, maybe one.  I still remember the Mary Tyler Moore show about Mary having to work Christmas at her job, TV station WJM.  Perhaps it reminded me of one Christmas Eve when I had to work and was none too happy about it.

 You might think that with the hundreds of TV episodes with a Christmas theme, the yearly specials which come back year after year, and the long list of movies, that Hollywood and television, have done all they can with the holidays.  But, I sincerely doubt it.  The entertainment industry, in a refreshing departure from their usual fare, have created some of their most beloved products with a Holiday Theme and I don’t think they are anywhere near being finished.  That’s fine, of course, and they can make whatever they want.  Just as long as they keep showing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

And always remember.  As I learned in “Its a Wonderful Life,” whenever a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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