Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #18: Jack Benny pt. 2

The Christmas Episode: “Christmas Shopping With Jack”. Original Broadcast: December 15, 1957.

Some of these things just write themselves, folks.

As you could imagine for a show that ran from the dawn of creation (of broadcasting), there was a traditional Jack Benny Christmas show, which first aired in 1945. It was a slightly different story every year, but the same basic situation: Jack Benny is a disaster at Christmas shopping, and Mel Blanc (America's cartoon hero!) is the poor soul stuck with him. Again. And again. And again.

Oh, we do get Frank Nelson oozing contempt as that unctuous floor walker…

"Are you the floorwalker?" "What do you think I am with this carnation, a float in the Rose Parade?"

…and Dennis Day sings “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” surrounded by a bunch of kids...


But all you really need to know about any of the Jack Benny Christmas shopping shows is that Jack is trying to buy a gift for Don Wilson, and due to his endless second-guessing (and accompanying return visits to the counter) spends the rest of the show innocently wearing down the clerk’s (Mel) faith in humanity. It’s very simple, but these are two pros who know how to wring endless laughter out of a situation.

See how happy he is here?

(extra large for extra Mel)

That’s not going to last.

"Oh, why did the governor have to give me that pardon?"

As you can see, the situation escalates in a hurry.

Any time you put these two together, it's a joy to watch, so you should watch it very soon. A few more like this, and this set will be $5 well spent.

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: As somebody who did time in the retail trenches, truer words were never spoken: “The customer is always right! And that jerk is the customer!”

Spot ‘Em: Richard Deacon pops up again (that’s the easy one), but as you watch, see if you can place the voice behind this face.

That's Charlie Cantor, known to old radio fans as Clifton Finnegan, the beloved drunken idiot from Duffy’s Tavern. To everybody else, he’s “that guy who sounds like Pete Puma,” and I’m wondering if Stan Freberg had the same idea.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: You rub the lamp, the genie gives you Youtube. Use your other two wishes wisely.

Next: One more New Year's Eve with Jack.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #17: Jack Benny pt. 1

Speaking of cheapJACK

Just Enough Slightly Less Than “Way Too Much” Information: The Jack Benny Program came to television with two decades of radio history standing behind it. Starting out life as a comedy-variety show in the early 1930s, by the middle 1940s the show had become more of a sitcom about putting on a comedy-variety show, which made the television version a perennial in the second-run market in the same way The Honeymooners was while Jackie Gleason’s variety shows came and went.

Jack Benny as an on-air character had a laundry list of character traits—his easily-wounded vanity, his pettiness, and his legendary cheapness being just a few—which, in lesser hands, could’ve been molded into a thoroughly unlikable character. Instead, Benny the performer and his writers infused Benny the character with a vulnerability which kept the program in the top 10 for years.

There was another element of Benny’s success, of course. One of the most remarkable things is that for a guy whose name was usually in the title for forty years, Benny didn’t feel compelled to hoard all of the good punchlines for himself, sensibly reasoning that if your name is in the title of the show, you can afford to let the rest of your cast shine, too. Either way, they passed or failed under the umbrella of The Jack Benny Program, so he still got a piece of the credit or blame regardless. Among broadcast comedians of the time, this wasn’t exactly a universally held truth, so it’s worth recognizing here, especially since the result was one of the best supporting casts in the history of the medium.

Also featured in this episode’s cast are long-term Benny regulars Don Wilson, tenor Dennis Day, and Eddie Anderson as Rochester, Jack’s valet. Mary Livingtone, Jack’s TV girlfriend/real-life wife and a part of the radio show from almost the beginning, turned up on TV occasionally, but not in this episode.

The New Year’s Episode: “Reminiscing About Last New Year's Eve”. Original Broadcast: December 27, 1953.

As the show opens, Jack is talking to a reporter about his New Year’s plans, and the topic comes around to how he spent last New Year’s Eve. And the flashback begins…

Jack had invited Don, Dennis, and members of the orchestra to his dressing room for a post-show cup of cheer before they took off for a New Year’s party at Don’s house. Dennis hasn’t gotten around to changing out of his costume for the last sketch.

“When I was walking down the hall, a woman picked me up and burped me!”

Dennis does a song later, and thankfully he’s changed into a suit by then. I love this show to death, but there are limits to even what I'll bear.

Jack’s entrance is delayed as well, but he has a different reason: he’s decked out in tux and top hat for a night on the town.

Sammy from the band takes one look at Jack in his first-nighter gear and blurts out “You look like the head pot-man at the mortuary flower shop!” Dennis, being a bit more polite (but also a bit more dense), simply says “Don’t tell me who it was. I want to have a good time tonight.”

That’s when Jack announces that he won’t be coming to Don’s party, as he has a swanky night on the town lined up with a hot number named Gloria. At least that’s the plan, but there’s a phone call in the hall for Mr. Benny, and it turns out Gloria can’t come. It’s not too late to join Don and company, but Don is so gracious in accepting Jack’s refusal that Jack doesn’t get a chance to take it back. So Jack finds himself—in a crowd but so alone—on the streets of Beverly Hills.

(By the way, THIS IS WHERE SPOILERS START…don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Jack ducks into a diner to get a warm late dinner, and you can tell how down in the mouth he is when he turns down a free meal from the manager just for sitting at a window table. When the woman at the counter brings his soup over, she says “Gee, I’m sorry about tonight.” Jack answers “That’s okay, Gloria.”

Yes, that Gloria. It turns out she cancelled on Jack because she couldn’t get out of her shift.

When Jack makes it home, Rochester is preparing for his own night out, but when he sees his boss so down in the mouth, he decides to just stay in and ring in the new year with him instead.

“Reminiscing About Last New Year's Eve” is one of those classic episodes that Benny fans (guilty as charged) dote on, since it trades on years of familiarity with these characters. Again, nothing you need a storyline map and a compass to navigate, but it all means a lot more when you have a firm foundation in the way things usually go.

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: Make sure you submit your night-off requests in writing, but be prepared for last-minute disappointments.

Spot 'Em: You won't spot this one unless you know what to look for: the owner of the diner is played by Sam Hearn, who in the 1930s played the Jewish dialect character Schlepperman on the Jack Benny radio show. After Artie Auerbach took over that...um...designated position in the postwar era as Mr. Kitzel, Benny and company figured out other ways to use Hearn, mostly as a character called the Rube from Calabassas. He did play Schlepperman one last time on TV in 1963.

Reminder That You Only Paid $5 For This Set: At least on my copy, the sound and the picture were just a hair out of sync. (Anal retentive digital geegaw adjustment: -.3 seconds, if you can tweak it.)

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Veoh strikes again. Thank you, Veoh, for these unembeddable gifts we have received.

Next: Jack Benny’s Christmas show!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

That Thing I Was Gonna Show Ya (28 Nov. 2010)

And now, to run down the clock on Sunday in God's Own Time Zone, here's an amazing rendition of "Sixteen Tons" by the Red Army Chorus. God, that voice is 32 tons, bare minimum.

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #16: The Beverly Hillbillies pt. 4

One day into the new plan and already I’m out of whack. Oh well…

(The Second Part Of) The Other Christmas Show: “No Place Like Home”. Original Broadcast: December 26, 1962.

As we rejoin Jed and all his kin, we’re still in the Ozarks, and cousin Pearl’s still trying mightily to land herself an oil man. The current scheme is to convince Mr. Brewster that the town’s hotel is filled up.

Before that, however, we get cozy little piece of business where Jed reflects on the good ol’ cabin that his grandpappy built. Grandpa Clampett was a hearty old fella, the way Jed tells it. He built the cabin in the morning, then went into town, took a shine to a girl there, courted her, and carried her across the threshold before sundown. Then he turns to Granny and asks “Was that 18 and 97 or 18 and 98?” Granny, after thinking about it for a second: “18 and 98.” Jed: “That’s right. She was 18 and he was 98!” Pearl, once they’re alone again, warns Brewster that they’re just pulling his leg. Grandpa wasn’t a day over 90.

And if that little piece of whiskery vaudeville doesn’t hit a sweet spot somewhere inside of you, you’re going to have some rough sledding getting through the rest of 1960s sitcommery. Keep in mind that Andy Griffith is cut from slightly different cloth.

The second flank of the plan is to take Brewster into town for a movie at the theater where Pearl works. It’s a new one, too: BEN HUR…starring Francis X. Bushman. Well, ya gotta take these things in order. Whatever you do, don’t tell ‘em how The Phantom of the Opera ends.

Disrupting the “marry Brewster” campaign as best as he can is the wily Grandpa Winch, who carries a torch for the obviously uninterested Pearl. During an unexpected break in the proceedings, the old guy actually gets down on one knee and goes for broke.

“Be my blushing bride! Before your kinfolk, your neighbors, and Ben Hur I’m askin’ ya!”

There’s also a sweet little bit of business where Elly figures out that the reason her mountain critters won’t come near her while she’s in her mink coat. They’re afraid that she’s going to make them into a coat too, or a pair of fuzzy slippers. That one all comes together in the end, too...but not together enough that she goes vegan or something.

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: If you think the movies are packed with pre-show ads now, it was always so.

Whaddya mean “but it’s worse now”? Hey, a $12 popcorn doesn’t pay for that movie by itself!

Spot ‘Em: Grandpa Winch is played by the remarkable Paul Winchell, pioneering TV ventriloquist and cartoon voice artist. Don’t worry, we’ll be getting back to him soon enough.

Reminder That You Only Paid $5 For This Set: As it is in a few other PD collections, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” has been replaced by generic bluegrass music. I seem to remember missing a clip from the (still-copyrighted) Ben Hur which was playing on the screen at some point, but I could be wrong.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Youtube, all in one chunk, and just like my DVD, complete with replaced theme music.

Next: Jack Benny!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #15: The Beverly Hillbillies pt. 3

The Other Christmas Episode: “Home For The Holidays”. Original Broadcast: December 19, 1962.

For the back-end of out our selection of The Beverly Hillbillies, we double back with a pair of season 1 episodes. The “going home for the holidays” episode was something they did a lot over the years, although later on they played fast and loose with the concept of “home” by only sending them as far as one of the other Paul Henning folksy sitcoms, Petticoat Junction. Apparently Green Acres would’ve been a step too far.

But no, this time “going home” means heading for the good ol' cabin in the backwoods as a surprise to Jethro’s mother Pearl, the original kinfolk who said “Jed, move away from there.” It’s a surprise to Drysdale, too, because all he heard at the office was that the Clampetts were loading everything they arrived with on the back of their truck…

And it's the first half of season one, so that's something the Clampetts threatened to do a lot.

For once, we have a misunderstanding that is straightened out almost instantly, and Drysdale offers to arrange for a jet instead, getting them there in a few hours instead of the six day truck ride they were planning. But oh, them hillbillies, they seem to think a jet is some kind of bus! Well, it is now, but welcome to the sitcom 60s…

The entire first class section has been reserved for the Clampetts, and because they’ve been down the “Clampetts don't get these here modern doodads” road a few times before (even this early on), Miss Hathaway makes sure the family actually gets on the plane.

"Take good care of them, and remember, the tall, young, good-looking one is mine."

Meanwhile, just to complicate things, Pearl has decided to take Jethrine to Beverly Hills as a surprise, but she’s sidetracked when she hears that John Brewster, the tycoon who purchased the oil rights to the Clampett land and helped set the whole series in motion, is back at Jed’s old cabin. (And speaking of “welcome to the sitcom ‘60s,” the oil guy not only is the good guy, but may be the only one who isn’t a bit on the loony side. It’s like this show is from another universe, I tells ya...)

Since Brewster is unattached, Pearl has a bit of courtin’ on her mind.

And yes, it’s Bea Benaderet again.

Once it dawns on Brewster what Pearl’s got on her mind, things go south in a hurry…and since he was in town to get the cabin together for Jed’s surprise, he’s a bit alarmed when he hears about her plans.

That particular look of alarm above is because Drysdale tells him to keep Pearl in one place “by any means necessary.” And unfortunately, the widow has made it perfectly clear what means will be necessary.

Spoiler: Everything comes together in the end, and the whole family gathers around for a good ol’ country Christmas…which will be continued in the next episode.

There’s a reason Jethrine has her back to the camera in that shot, by the way…

Something tells me that egg didn't split far enough.

Shades of Patty Duke playing identical cousins, the part of Jethro’s sister Jethrine was played by Max Baer Jr. in a wig and dress. With a dubbed lady voice, because c’mon, let’s not get too ridiculous. Welcome to the…oh, never mind.

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: If you’re a single man of means and the lonely widow down the lane shows up for “a snack and a little bit of tidyin’”, and this is what she comes up with…

…there’s a good chance she’s not applying for a housekeeping job.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Nostalgia Merchant, a company that's been in the business of providing desirable oldie goldies for as long as there’s been a home video market, has the whole thing in one convenient chunk via (once again) Veoh. And once again, I can’t figure out how to do Veoh embedding, so you have to click that link to make the whole thing go.

Next: The day after Christmas in the hills! Boxing Day? Maybe Wrestling Day...

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #14: The Beverly Hillbillies pt. 2

Feel what you like about international politics, but no matter what happens between the Koreas this week, at least yesterday we could say we got even with turkey. *rimshot* And now back to our weekend with the Clampetts!

The Christmas Episode: “Christmas At The Clampetts” (the label calls it “Christmas With The Clampetts”, but the Internet begs to differ). Original Broadcast: December 25, 1963.

Well doggies, it’s Christmas time in Beverly Hills! With a big ol’ Beverly Hills Christmas tree with big ol’ mounds of fake snow piled around it! Also, real presents.

The presents are from Miss Jane and Mr. Drysdale, but all of Drysdale’s presents are really a scam to keep the Clampetts tethered to California by getting Jed hooked on deep-sea fishing. But oh, them hillbillies…

Mr. Drysdale got Jethro “a suit of clothes”…

Waterproof, too.

Granny got “one of them e-lectric washing machines”…with a clothes dryin’ rack, even!

Yes, a TV. And every channel apparently bribed to show the Pacific all day…

Elly also got “a fancy rain hat” from Miss Jane (really an old-style hair dryer—or as they called them back then, a hair dryer), which makes Granny a bit suspicious that California isn’t as rain-free as the family was led to believe. Jed says that’s just nonsense, but when he opens the door…

Welllll doggies, somebody done sailed a boat up the driveway in the middle of the night! Shave and a haircut, two bits. Commercial.

Of course, the boat is supposed to be Drysdale’s masterstroke, and to seal the deal, he included another Elly gift: a chimp dressed like a tiny sailor…which (oh, them hillbillies!) the Clampetts mistake for a tiny sailor.

Skipper would become a regular member of Elly’s menagerie, and in his first appearance he already makes himself right at home by out-Jethroing Jethro.

Quick quiz: which one is the monkey? The answer may surprise you...

Like every other episode of the series, this is what puts the “light” in “light entertainment”. It’s nothing that's going to blow your tiny mind or redefine the genre, but it’s nothing for which you need sixteen pages of continuity notes to get all the nuances, either. Just the type of inconsequential chuckles for your post-Turkey Day comedown: you’re in, you’re out, and there’s over 200 more just like it if it tickles your fancy. Y’all come back now, hear?

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: If you marry Jed Clampett, he’ll bend you over his knee if you step out of line. And not in the fun way, either. Welcome to the sitcom 1960s, everybody.

Wait, what's that tacked onto the end of the show?

VIACOM LOGO OF DOOM! AUUGH! Whatever I did, I won't do it again!

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Youtube, take us away… (Note: the cheapjack DVD does not include the cigarette ads)

Next: The Clampetts go home for the holidays!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Scrounger's Cheapjack Christmas Status Update

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: I started this dumb stunt waaaaay too soon.

(Eric puts on his "smarty hat", turns on the light bulb.)

Good evening, minions.

Yesterday I finally sat down to do the math and found out that at the rate of two a day, we'll run out of the $5 Christmas TV box a long time before we run out of Christmas. To make sure that doesn't happen, I have scientifically devised a schedule to maximize your holiday aggravation with strangers who write this type of garbage on a more predictable basis. To make sure this whole silly thing wraps up on December 24th--and not a week earlier--on some days (like today, for example) there will only be one Scrounger's Cheapjack Christmas to entertain the random stragglers that apparently make up my core audience, some days two, and on Sundays you will be left alone to make your own kind of fun. Maybe I'll fill the space with a stupid low-content video post. Maybe I'll juggle.

This does not discount my earlier theory that I'll get distracted by a shiny red ball at some point in the holiday season and blow off a whole week chasing it down the road like an overgrown manchild with deep-rooted maturity issues. When it happens it'll become obvious in a day or so, and everything will be adjusted accordingly once I figure out that no, it's not my ball and that woman's baby will not stop crying until I give it back.

Thank you for your understanding. You are dismissed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #13: The Beverly Hillbillies pt. 1

Just Enough Information: Really? You really need a paragraph about what The Beverly Hillbillies is? REALLY? Just watch the damn show! The song explains the entire premise!

*sigh* Fine, you callow little punks. Jed Clampett, Arkansas backwoodsman and widower with a heart of gold, was out one day in his swamplands just a’shootin’ at some food, when up from the ground come a’bubblin’ crude. Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea. With the resultant massive payout from the oil company, Jed buys a mansion in Beverly Hills next door to Milburn Drysdale, the investment banker who’s handling the Clampett account. With him, Jed brings his mother-in-law (Daisy May Moses, whom everybody calls Granny), daughter Elly May, the goregous tomboy who loves her ever-growing menagerie of wild animals, and nephew Jethro Bodine, the doofus by which all other TV doofuses are measured. The comedy, like most of the “hillfolk vs. flatlander” stories in American pop culture, comes from a combination of the Clampetts’ from-the-land family values and their complete and utter failure to understand 20th century urban America. Even after living in it for 274 half-hour episodes over the course of nine years. Go figure.

And if you grew up with a sound mind in the English-speaking world at some point in the last 40 years and somehow didn’t know any of that, your parents probably made you read instead. Or watch public TV instead. Hope you enjoyed your Dickens and your Lap Quilting with Georgia Bonesteel while the rest of us were bouncing your ass around the playground for being a freak, you lousy Commie. But I kid because I care…

The Christmas Thanksgiving Episode: “Turkey Day”. Original Broadcast: November 27, 1963.

I don’t know how useful (or long) this recap’s going to be, because if you watched this series as much as a lot of us did—and the Hillbillies have always had an unstoppable second life in reruns, especially if you lived outside the major urban centers—the episode’s plot points will probably all click into place in your head once I tell you the story involves Elly May teaching a turkey how to shake hands.

But here we go anyway…

The turkey in question has been given to the Clampetts by banker Drysdale with the understanding that he’s the Thanksgiving main course. Jed’s sharpening the axe, Granny’s getting all the non-turkey vittles ready, and Jethro’s…I dunno, he’s probably getting his eatin’ pants on. Meanwhile, Elly has found a new pet...a pet who has a date with stuffing and giblet gravy.

Jed’s kind of on the fence, first when he learns his main course now has a name (Herman) and then when his girl tells him what a smart bird Herman is. Elly: “I learned him to shake hands!” Jed: “What's gonna happen to him is bad enough without him thinking a friend did it to him!”

Jed shakes a drumstick, which is better than shaking a tail feather.

As he feared, Jed can’t drop the axe on the animal once he knows it's been Elly-fied. Granny, who won't be swayed, enlists Jethro, but honestly, you’d think she’d know better by now.

She did say clean the bird and dress the bird…

And somehow, a couple of “Indians” Mrs. Drysdale hired for a self-serving society page photo get tangled up in the mess. (“Indian #1” is played by Benny Rubin, and to be fair, the character is written like he’d be named Benny Rubin, too.)

Of course, "fair" is a relative term when this is what you're dealing with.

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: If your dinner can shake your hand, he’s probably not your dinner anymore.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Yet another friendly stranger, this time on DailyMotion, gives us the complete episode.

TV Series: Beverly Hillbillies-Turkey Day
Uploaded by FMO-TV-Shows. - Check out other Film & TV videos.

(P.S to the estimable Georgia Bonesteel: Sorry about all that mess further up the column. Yours was the first name I came up with...it was you or Bob Ross. I'll make it up to you at pledge drive time.)

Next: More Hillbillies! But not until after Thansgiving. See you punks Friday!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Holiday Special! #12: Liberace pt. 1


Just Enough Information: At the dawn of the 1950s, pianist Wladziu Valentino Liberace (just the last name professionally, or Lee to friends) was making some headway with his career, but small venues were still his bread and butter. Within a few years, The Liberace Show made him one of TV’s first matinee idols, and it was Vegas all the way, baby.

In 1950, Don Fedderson—the same Los Angeles station manager and television producer who gave us Betty White's first shows—found Liberace playing before a small San Diego crowd and offered him a series on KLAC-TV. Before the first show was over, the switchboard was ablaze, and by 1952, Liberace was the summer replacement slot for Dinah Shore’s NBC show, giving him his first coast-to-coast exposure.

Liberace’s next maneuver, however, was a bit riskier, as he signed with syndicator Guild Films for a series of filmed programs to be sold to individual stations. The gambit paid off, because by October 1953 The Liberace Show was running on 100 stations, more than any network show at the time. What's more, the distributor managed to more than double that a year later, while the critics looked on in disbelief.

As if there was any doubt who Lee’s target audience was, when The Liberace Show debuted in the Omaha and Cleveland markets, TV repairmen reported an unusual spike in picture tube breakage. “On a few sets,” said one technician, “I found lipstick on the busted glass.”

The Christmas Thanksgiving Episode: Syndicated c. 1953-1955.

It’s the simplest possible musical format: Liberace (and only Liberace (with orchestra)) plays a song, Liberace talks to the audience, lather, rinse, repeat. Canned applause greets the end of every song, and canned laughter follows every mild joke. Not a whole lot of clever production here—the biggest “special effect” is when the curtains open behind Lee—and just three basic camera angles during each performance. Also, it’s strictly white tie and tails. The overblown costumes that would make Lady Gaga hide her eyes would come later.
But when you sit down with the show for awhile, it dawns on you: Lee is The Continental with a piano. He’s locked you in his fancy apartment, shooting coy come-hither looks at you from across his instrument while he plays one showy piece after another until you just give in. Or blow your rape whistle.

Turned out you didn’t have much to worry about, lady. But let’s not go there just now…

Doesn't he ooze coziness? Doesn't he ooze saccharin? Whatever, he just oozes. Spread that voice on your pancakes, you’ll fall into a diabetic coma.

Once in awhile, his bandleader (brother George) turns up so everything doesn't stay anchored to one place. George Liberace doesn't speak a word, instead mugging to a spot just off-camera like a heavily repressed Harpo Marx without a woman to chase. It's an unsettling effect.

But since it’s the Thanksgiving show, Lee’s got your turkey with all the trimmings.

Man, he really knows how to work a drumstick! But let’s not go there just now…

And with a final flourish of "I'll Be Seeing You", we escape the grasp of Liberace for another week. Unless you lived in one of those desperate markets where the station ran the show twice daily every day, in which case the man lurked behind every corner and nobody was safe until Howdy Doody time.

Recommended viewing, oddly enough. They don't make this type of show anymore, and it's different enough that you should see it at least once.

The Holiday Lesson For Today: Unfortunately, every "lesson" I take away from Liberace ends with "but let's not go there just now," so let's just not go there at all. We'll come back to all of this later, anyway.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: The full episode doesn’t seem to be available from the usual sources, but to get the flavor, here’s “Turkey In The Straw” (with variations) from the show:

…and from EVTV1, the Ritual Fire Dance, featuring a Native American-style dance by some guy Lee calls Little Bear, but I'll believe it when I see his birth certificate. They're never in the same shot, so there's a good chance "Little Bear" made his getaway before Liberace even showed up.

Next: Turkey Day with The Beverly Hillbillies!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Holiday Special! #11: General Electric Theater

Just Enough Information: General Electric Theater was a CBS dramatic anthology series which ran from February 1953 to September 1962, hosted by Ronald Reagan beginning in 1954. A pretty large number of major stars made their television debuts on G.E. Theater, but for some reason it’s that Reagan guy everybody remembers now.

Speaking of ol' Dutch there, the show also made history of a non-television kind, since touring as a pro-business spokesman for General Electric over the years was one of the key points which turned lifelong Democrat Reagan into a Republican. So if you want to blame anything for Carter not getting a second term (after you’ve blamed Iran), blame G.E.

The Holiday Episode: “Fred Waring Christmas Music”, Original Broadcast: December 19, 1954.

Fred Waring conducts a program of Christmas music, in his first color broadcast (except here, of course). There, that’s the whole plot.

And now, to explain who Fred Waring is…

Often billed as “The Man Who Taught America To Sing”, Fred Waring started out his career in the 1920s as one of the many young men who led a dance band (as in “…and his Pennsylvanians”), and between 1923 until 1932, Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians were among Victor Records’ top sellers. In the 1940s, however, he fell in love with the sound of choral music, recruiting Robert Shaw to train his band singers in the style, and eventually the singing group overtook the band's place as his Pennsylvanians.

Oh, and in the 1930s he put up the seed money for the Waring blender, and later popularized the smoothie (at least the first time...somebody else had to repopularize it later).

So really, there’s not a whole lot of depth to go into. If you ever picked up one of those old Firestone Christmas albums from granddad’s record collection or at the Salvation Army store, that’s the sound of Fred Waring’s Christmas.

(edit @ December 1: If you would like a little more depth, the Fred Waring's America site from Penn State University is a good a place as any to start.)

The first half of the show is made up of some Christmas standards and a few classical numbers that I guarantee didn’t have words until this show. "Waltz of the Flowers" with words! Well, your parents paid good money to make you learn the language, you might as well use it.

Also, there's endless amounts of dancing, which varies between ballet-style and lots of flea-on-a-griddle jumping around, and all points in between..but mostly point B. They never stop moving.

And sometimes they're cowboys. Why? I dunno, because little boys don't dream about dancing shoe salesmen. And only older girls dream about dancing firemen these days.

The second half of the show is traditional religious music. Very tasteful.

None of which, of course, is connected to…

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: General Electric will turn you conservative. I cannot stress this enough. If this worries you at all, buy a Westinghouse light bulb and tell me if it helps. Keith Olbermann must've been vaccinated against it or something...

One more note: Earlier this year, General Electric donated restored tapes of all the Reagan-hosted G.E. Theaters--the entire run--to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. In other words, there's a better version of this program out there somewhere, but this is what's in the wild at the moment unless Shout Factory or one of those other "sweating up the oldies" companies gets on the case.

And that’s the end of the first disc of our collection! Warm your hands by the video fireplace for a moment, because tomorrow we take a detour into Thanksgiving.

But be sure to close the screen or else the video embers will burn your video carpet.

Next: A Liberace Thanksgiving! (And me contemplating living the type of life that led me to type those words.)