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Growing up in Louisa – Christmas Special !

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

It was during the late forties and the fifties when growth of the television industry made it possible for us all to see the faces of people who would, in their own way, become family friends. I’m not talking about those neighbors that had a habit of popping in, but instead the celebrities that visited by means of their weekly TV shows and those perennial Christmas Specials. Stars, each with their own personalities, and their talented ‘side-kicks’ and guests, broadcasted those wonderful shows that pulled us into their magic world and built lasting memories.

I remember that our family enjoyed watching Sid Caesar and Imogen Cocca and some of their crazy skits. We would laugh until our sides hurt and our faces were wet with tears. We also watched Amos and Andy, with Kingfish always trying to pull a ‘fast one,’ but Sapphire always stepped in to Rockettes Rockettes keep him in line. Entertainment wasn’t just about comedy shows, but also variety and musical programs. I remember when Perry Como sang to us with his laid back and relaxed style. It was totally believable that he had been a barber in his former life, since he displayed no stress whatsoever. I remember when Dinah Shore sang about driving her ‘Chevrolet through the USA,’ between vignettes played by her famous guests.

In that day, Doris Day sang her songs while maintaining a pure, girl-next-door, wholesome image. Then, as if to portray contrast, Dean Martin either pretended to be drunk, or managed to get laughs in spite of being intoxicated. I never was sure. With Hollywood being as it was, there was room to wonder. I remember that it was common on his show for a ‘secret guest’ to simply walk in shocking Dean and the audience both. I remember once when a doorbell rang and Dean opened it to find John Wayne standing there. The words, “Watch it, Pilgrim,” was unexpected and made everyone go wild with laughter.

Many of my friends faithfully watched the Hit Parade. They had talented singers performing the ten biggest hits of the week. I liked dry humor, so a favorite of mine was the Jack Benny Show. Jack played himself as a straight-faced tightwad, who continued to drive an old Maxwell convertible (too cheap to buy a newer car). He had an employee named Rochester, who called him ‘boss,’ and showed his exasperation with Jack’s frugality.

GrinchGrinch As the years rolled by other shows including, Carol Burnette, with Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, and others were added to our circle of friends. They, too, put on their specials. I remember that some stars brought their own children onto the show. Everyone would gather on stage next to the Christmas tree and sing carols along with their famous guest stars. It was also the season to see favorite Christmas presentations such as ‘It’s a Wonder Life,’ and ‘White Christmas.’ Other perennial special were ‘The Grinch,’ ‘Charley Brown,’ ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, ‘Amahl & the Night Visitors,’ ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks,’ ‘Judy Garland,’  ‘Kenny Rogers,’  ‘Kate Smith,’  ‘Marie Osmond’s Merry Christmas,’ ‘Ozzie & Harriet,’ ‘Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes,’ ‘Red Skelton Christmas, Ed Sullivan Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas Special.

Marketing folks understood very well that these specials needed to be staged early in December to give the sponsors time to reap the benefits of the ads broadcast to a growing national audience. Productions were improved by taping the action ahead of time instead of trying to push out live events. While live TV sometimes had wild results when the unpredictable occurred, control of time and content improved by taping and editing the shows. Other technical improvements such as better photography and color (1965), made the programs absolutely spectacular.

Bob HopeBob Hope The champion of all Christmas Specials was the annual Bob Hope Christmas Specials that he filmed on location, for our military troops in the field. They were broadcast nearly every year I can remember. The audiences ate them up. Bob Hope’s shows were held in various venues around the world and were a major event in our household. After all, our military troops were often displaced in far-away regions and usually were in harm’s way, protecting our freedoms. The men in those days were often starved for even the sight of a pretty girl or the sounds of popular music from ‘back home.’ Their ‘day-to-day’ away from their families and friends, made any contact with folks from back home so important. Bob and his guests provided first-hand, professional presentations from some of the most highly revered celebrities, not only from the movies, but TV and other walks of life. It was clear that everyone went out of their way to bring joy to our troops. Some of these specials were so close to the battlefields that it was said that gunfire could be heard.

Guests over the years included ‘everyone who was anyone’ so to speak. They were the ‘Who’s who’ of American life and included many famous people such as: Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Raquel Welch, Phil Cosby, John Wayne, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, George Burns, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Dolly Parton, Ethel Merman, Jayne Mansfield, the Beach Boys, Fred MacMurray, Willie Nelson, Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Roy Rogers, Tom Jones, Neil Sedaka, David Niven, Donnie & Marie Osmond, the Carpenters, Ray Charles, Charlie Pride, the Jackson Five, Connie Stevens, Jimmy Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Milton Berle, Don Rickles, Joan Collins, Joey Heatherton, Olivia Newton-John, Jill St. John, Janet Leigh, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Sonny James, Fabian, Steve Lawrence, Roy Clark, Pat Boone, Rosemary Clooney, Pearl Bailey, Shirley McClaine, Smoky Robinson, Angie Dickinson, Elke Summer, Kim Novak, Gina Lollabrigeta, Brooke Shields, John Denver, Dorothy Lamore, Les Brown, Jerry Colonna, Francis Langford, Ethel Merman, Ann-Margret, Lindsey Wagner, Jimmy Durante, Lou Rawls, Dionne Warwick, Dianna Ross, Tony Bennett, Loni Anderson, Robert Cummings, Sammy Davis, Jr., Glen Campbell, David Cassidy, Vic Damon, Julie Andrews, Steve McQueen, Johnny Cash, Alan Shepard, Phil Cosby, Debby Reynolds, Annette Funicello, and Joan Crawford.

While these names were pulled from different sources on the web, they are from different eras. My research makes my best guess as to those who supported these specials over the years. I may have left some out and may have even named someone who really didn’t make one of the annual events. I mean no harm to any of these famous and wonderful, giving people. Even reading through the list was a treat for me because I was reminded of friends I had not seen in a while. They were the people in the industry who were highly successful, well-known, and that had a desire to give back to their fans.    

A Wonderful LifeA Wonderful Life A favorite channel that Suzy and I enjoy today is the Hallmark Channel. They have run several weeks of Christmas movies leading up to the season. These are ‘family safe’ and as in many movies of old, have a moral to take away from the stories. As a habit, I save those on our DVR so I can play them back as time allows. That’s often one per evening. I doubt we will be able to exhaust the supply of movies until well into January or February. In any case, we enjoy that time together each evening. They are fun and uplifting, restoring faith in humanity and giving us hope that our life may end as happily.   

Many of these shows are still ‘out there,’ and available to see on the web. It might be good to take a tour of some of these shows if you have a minute to live in the past. Meanwhile, there are shows still being produced to help put you in the spirit of the season. Christmas is a season well worth getting into, and it is a time to share with those we love.

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0 #1 Bernard 2017-12-05 15:35
Hey Mike, another great article. I agree with all the old Xmas Specials, too bad they don't make them like that anymore, especially the Bob Hope Xmas Special. In fact the whole TV industry could use a lot of cleaning up and make the shows more family oriented.
But this is the season to be jolly & let's not forget the "REASON FOR THE SEASON".
As always , Thanks for the memories, keep them coming.

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