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.)

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