Thursday, December 22, 2005

What We Were Watching

By Mitchell

Continuing our look back at 1964 Christmas week programming as seen in the pages of TV Guide, we're up to Tuesday, December 22.

One of the things you don't see too often any more is the local variety show (and when you do see it, it often takes the guise of a news program). Here in the Twin Cities, we had a program called "Dialing for Dollars" that combined elements of the game show with local news and entertainment. On Tuesday's edition, shown at 12:20 p.m., the Columbia Heights senior High School Choir sang Christmas music. Channel 4 had its own local show, "Around the Town," airing at 4:00 p.m. and featuring the choir from Investors Diversified. (Remember when companies used to have their own employee choirs? It still happens, I guess, although not as often as it used to.)

Channel 4 also had local programming at 7:00 that evening, preempting the Joey Bishop Show. "The Sounds of Christmas" presented the Senior Choir, Holiday Singers, and children from Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis (a very big church; for Christmas Eve they have eight services, every hour on the hour). A nice program of Christmas music, including "White Christmas," "Jingle Bells," "Winter Wonderland," and (lest we forget it's a church choir) "O Holy Night," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." The pastor of the church, Dr. Reuben K. Youngdahl, read the Christmas story from the Bible. This in particular seems to be the kind of program that it's very hard to imagine appearing on television nowadays.

At 7:30 CBS presented Red Skelton's annual Christmas show, with special guest Greer Garson. An elementary school choir from Los Angeles gave their version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and I ask myself how many public schools would even have a sacred song like that in their repritorie? The sitcom Petticoat Junction was on at 8:00, with the townfolk doing their traditional Christmas caroling.

At 9:00 NBC presented one of their prestige music shows, The Bell Telephone Hour. Host of this live program was Maureen O'Hara, who read the story of the Nativity (which back then was acknowledged as an integral part of Christmas), the Columbus Boychoir, and singers Howard Keel, Phyllis Curtin and Martha Wright, along with the Bell Telephone Orchestra. The Bell Telephone Hour was a prime example of a program that used to be common on TV but as completely disappeared from the airwaves - a show that combined classical music (one of their most famous broadcasts was a 1960 production of the operetta The Mikado featuring Groucho Marx) with popular entertainment. As one critic said of The Mikado, "It is indicative of how far we've come [or fallen] that such a program would be considered high-brow entertainment were it presented today."

And if you couldn't get enough of the luminious Maureen O'Hara (and, let's face it, who could?), she was back at 10:00 on Channel 11 in Miracle on 34th Street with John Payne, Edmund Gwenn (in his Oscar-winning role) and the very young Natalie Wood. This original version remains one of my favorite movies of all time. It's a heartwarming holiday story that's also a sly satire on commercialism, Freudian psychiatry, Dr. Spock-type child rearing and other modern fads; and any attempt to understand or remake this picture as a simple Christmas fable without considering these elements (as well as the sharp, crackerjack writing) loses much in the translation. Watch this movie, and see if it doesn't make you want to go out and shop at Macy's (which only goes to show how far that store has fallen).

It's getting closer to Christmas, but there's still much to see and hear. Stay tuned for tomorrow.

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