Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #45: A String of Blue Beads

If I sound a little dopey in these last few entries, it’s because I keep looking through my window at the second white Christmas I’ve had in my lifetime. Snow on the 25th in the Carolinas…as it just seems so ridiculous. I can’t stop laughing. Of course, no way in hell I’m actually travelling in it.

Anyway, nature made the decision that I never could: Christmas isn’t over until the snow is over. Also, I’m still kind of tuckered out from yesterday. And now, back to the home stretch of our seasonal distraction.

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Just Enough Information: It should be A String of Blue Beads (as a stand-alone title without the quotes), since this show was intended as a pilot for a proposed anthology to be called Screen Writer’s Playhouse. All the episodes would’ve been based on short stories and shot in color, which is very strange for a show aiming for a 1954 start date, but color TV had been just around the corner for quite awhile. Regardless, nobody bought it, and all that remains is this one orphan episode being passed around from dollar-bin label to dollar-bin label.

The Christmas Episode: A String of Blue Beads. Original Broadcast: your guess is as good as mine, but it was originally produced in 1953, based on the short story by Fulton Oursler.

We’re introduced to some narrator who presents the premise of the series that never came together, then shows us a string of blue beads in the shop window. And then…wait, puppets?

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Okay, whatever it takes to get the story going. Santa Puppet pulls a cute lady puppet out of his bag for a sad man, and everybody goes all marionette happy. That’s a transition, of course, to Peter and Marilyn, a young man and young woman who are all kinds of non-marionette happy because they’re engaged.

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Peter runs the shop with Marilyn, so when an old lady wants to buy the beads in the window, and Peter offers them for a firm $37, she’s even more surprised than the customer. Why, she asks, did you tell her $37 when just this morning they were $27? “Those blue beads belong on you.”

Mrs. Loomis, cleaning lady and generally helpful person, offers to watch the shop while the two young people get some alone time. They grab a soda and Marilyn tells Peter that she loves him but she’s scared because things have gone too smoothly, which is underlining that something might be about to happen, but just you shut your mouth about that.

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(…and from here on is where the spoilers happen. That’s how we roll around here.)

Peter returns to the shop alone, happy as a bucket of clams in a non-shellfish-eating household, but that doesn’t last, because Mrs. Loomis takes an awful telephone call that Marilyn died in a house fire. Peter drifts out the door in a sort of fugue state, and then…well, then we get Santa Puppet and Peter puppet again, with a little back and forth implying that Peter turned his back on Christmas—turned his back on everything—after losing his love. Well, if that’s the way you want to say it…

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Flash forward three years later, and Peter is still holding on to those beads, still clinging to the past, and he’s still asking $37. One regular customer says “For a young man, you’ve become old in a hurry!”, and really, you can see why. A little girl named Barbara Mae sees the beads in the window and asks how much, and Peter softens and says $27. It turns out she only has 11 cents, but she refuses his offer of going to look for another present closer to what she has to spend. The present is for her sister, and she wanted something very special. Then when she leaves, he really softens and takes off after her with the beads.

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Let’s just jump ahead to when the sister returns to the shop with a present she can’t in good conscience accept, since they’re far too fine for something her little sister could afford with her few pennies. How could she pay for them?

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And the answer is Our Holiday Lesson For Today: Well, here’s the line from the story, which gets to the heart of the matter a little bit better than the script. “‘She paid the biggest price anyone can ever pay,’ he said. ‘She gave all she had.’” And then he offers to walk the lady home, and Santa Puppet brings Peter Puppet a happy Christmas.

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Oh, and then the narrator comes back and (since this is a TV pilot) makes his sales pitch for the rest of the series. Sounds like it might have been fun, but as it is, what we have is a sad, sweet story that would turn up every year if there was a place for it.

Spot ‘Em: Louis Jourdan, recent (as in 2010 recent) Légion d'Honneur recipient who got his first big Hollywood break in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case and went on to play in a number of memorable films, plays Peter, while Margaret Hamilton (who will get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too) is Mrs. Loomis. Ellen-Cobb Hill, who was Marilyn, later played Ellen Tyrell Ames on the soap opera The Secret Storm, for those who remember things like that.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Just go with it. Trust me.

Next (fingers crossed): Dupont Theater!

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