Well, the snow is finally dissipating and the grass is finally showing its head above the ground, which only goes to show you that as much as someone wants to hang onto the holidays, the New Year won’t wait any longer. So rather than the full treatment, here are the rest of the episodes in one lump.
Dupont Theater: “The Blessed Midnight”. Original Broadcast: December 18, 1956. Teddy O’Hara, a scruffy downbeat boy with a nasty piece of work of a father (hitting and shouting nasty), steals a fancy cake for his beloved aunt, and while the whole neighborhood is out to get him, his best friend Billy Hayes tries to help him. Maureen O’Sullivan plays the Sister who is the boys’ teacher in Catholic school, while Frances Bavier (Aunt Bea!) is Billy’s mom. A real winner.
Four Star Playhouse: 1) “The Answer”, starring David Niven (one of the four stars of the title, who is also billed as the producer). Original Broadcast: December 23, 1954. Bart Thomas, a burned-out Hollywood screenwriter, returns to his old neighborhood and his uncle’s bar to try and find his way around the block he’s hit. He runs across Deacon (Niven), an intellectual/booze hustler, and manages to pry out the details of a play Deacon has been working on for 15 years. The telling is a transformative experience for everybody involved.
2) “The Gift”, starring Charles Boyer (also billed as producer on this episode). Original Broadcast: December 24, 1953. Boyer plays a businessman who becomes difficult and sour around Christmastime, an attitude connected to his estranged son who didn’t follow in his footsteps, and the night that turns him back around. Another very nice story, and another television episode directed by Robert Aldrich. Maureen O’Sullivan plays Boyer’s wife.
General Electric Theater: “A Child Is Born”. Original Broadcast: December 23, 1956. A musical version of the Nativity as told from the point-of-view of the innkeeper’s wife. From a play by Stephen Vincent Benet with original music composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. Narrated by Ronald Reagan (again). And no video (ugh…again). Pretty ambitious holiday television, but whether you view it as overdone or not depends on your tolerance for operetta.
It’s a shame I had to do these as a sudden death overtime wrap-up, since they were some of the best straight holiday television of the lot. Something to kick off next year? We’ll see.
And that, good neighbors, is where our Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special comes to an end. In spite of the technical hiccups in the early going (and the occasional duds), this collection was well worth the handful of bills I paid for it.
“But really, Mister Scrounger Cheapjack,” I hear you say, “what did we learn from all this?” Well, first of all, that’s not my name, kid. But it’s a good question after processing such a large slab of video, so let’s look back:
- We learned that if a sitcom isn’t willing to put its metaphorical back into the season, the results are going to be kind of embarrassing. And sometimes even if it does.
- Even decades beyond his time, Liberace still maintains his eerie power to make you distinctly uneasy.
- When Frank asks “Well, what’s it all prove, Joe?”, Joe can tell you exactly what it all proves.
- The less likely the Christmas connection in a show, the weirder everything gets.
- And finally, the real gift of the whole experience: sometimes the simple stories work the best, especially at Christmas.
Thank you for sticking around this far, and as the kid with the crutch said, God bless us every one.
(Now what to do for an encore…any suggestions?)