Favorite Christmas Movies

By | Dec 16, 2017

A Christmas Carol
When it comes to Christmas Movies, it really begins and ends with A Christmas Carol. There has been many versions and retelling of the 1843 novella by Charles Dickens. Tops on my list is either the 1938 version starring Reginald Owens or 1951’s with Alastair Sim.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The Griswold Family takes their third vacation during the Christmas of 1989 without leaving home. The comedy is slapstick and in many ways the jokes are expected, but it still is the best of all of the Christmas Comedies made during this period.

Die Hard
Terrorist invade a company’s Christmas Party with Bruce Willis as an invited guest of one of the company’s Vice-Presidents is not your ordinary Christmas movie. But it is a great movie.

Simply the best movie that Will Ferrill has made. As time past it will be mentioned with the greats, hopefully not along with A Christmas Story and Home Alone, two movies I think that have been greatly over rated.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer
Ok this was a Christmas TV special and not a movie, but it was the best TV Christmas Special, besides A Charlie Brown Christmas, to be produced during the 1960s and early 1970s.

White Christmas
I doubt if any list of favorite Christmas Movies would be complete without the 1954 film White Christmas starring Bing Crosby. So I added it here as well.

No matter what your favorite Christmas Movie or Special may be, I hope that you get a chance to see it during this Holiday Season with your friends and Family.

Pagan Christmas

By | Dec 13, 2017

Many of the Christmas traditions come from pagan practices. The date of Christmas was the date that Roman pagans celebrated the Birthday of the Invincible Sun God.

It’s possible that December 25 was selected as the date of Christ’s birth in the early days of Christianity as a way for all to participate.

Yule is one of the pagan holidays and the idea of the Yule log came from that.

Decorating a tree has its origins with the Druids who saw evergreen as symbols of everlasting life and decorating the trees may have also come from the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, a celebration of the Winter Solstice.

Mistletoe is from an ancient Druid custom at the winter solstice with kissing under the mistletoe coming from the Druids as well.

Stories about Our Christmas Songs

By | Dec 11, 2017

When should Christmas music be started to played for the Holidays? One thought is after Halloween, another is as soon as the weather starts turning colder (living in Maryland this would be around Mid-October) but for most that time starts just after Thanksgiving.

We all know and love the following songs, but did you know that they also have interesting stories. Here are brief stories about six of our Christmas favorites. Oh, and for me I start playing them anytime after the first of October, sometimes even earlier.

White Christmas
Everyone knows that the song was introduced in the movie Holiday Inn, but many don’t know that it was a song about being stuck in sunny and warm LA and dreaming of a White Christmas. The original first verse is:

The sun is shining
The grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway.
I’ve never seen such a day
In Beverly Hills LA.
But it’s December the 24th
And I am longing to be up North…

This part is rarely performed with the song (The Carpenters version does) and was never recorded by Bing Crosby.

Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas
This Judy Garland song was written for and first introduced in the movie Meet me In St. Louis. The original intent for the song was to say that by next year things would be brighter. The original lines were;

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
May your heart be light
In a year our troubles will be out of sight
From now on

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
In a year our troubles will be miles away

At the request of Judy Garland it was changed to:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Let your heart be light,
From now on our troubles
Will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on our troubles
Will be miles away.

Then in 1957 when Frank Sinatra was recording his Christmas Album A Jolly Christmas he requested another change to the lyrics. Later in the song there was the line;

If the Fates allow
Until then, we’ll just have to muddle through somehow
And have ourselves a merry little Christmas now.

Sinatra wanted a more jolly song and asked for this to be changed. It was to:

If the Fates allow,
Hang a shining star
On the highest bough,
And have yourself
A merry little Christmas now.

This sure makes for it to be a merrier, Merry Christmas song.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas
The song was written in 1943 and recorded in that same year by Bing Crosby. Placing it in that time period it’s obvious that the song was about a soldier at war and his Christmas wish. If it wasn’t for White Christmas this would probably be considered His Christmas song. (Although his version of Silent Night sold more copies) The song remained on the charts for 7 weeks and well pass Christmas.

Silver Bells
The song was written by the prolific movie composers Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for the movie The Lemon Drop Kid, staring Bob Hope. It was originally going to be Tinkle Bells, until Livingston’s wife told him that to millions of american women the word tinkle meant something else and not something that would generally go over good in a Christmas song. The word tinkle was replaced with silver. Now the next time you hear the song replace the word ‘silver’ with ‘tinkle’ and see if it doesn’t have a slightly different song.

Frosty the Snowman
Frosty the Snowman was written with one thought in mind. Just before it was written Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer had be a huge commercial hit and the team of Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins wanted to write the next ‘Christmas Classic’. By the end of the winter they had put together two holiday songs to pitch to Gene Autry. Autry was sold and recorded Frosty for the next Christmas season.

And, the other Holiday song they pitched. It wasn’t a Christmas song, but the Easter song Here Comes Peter Cotton-tail.

A Christmas Song
In the hot heat in the summer of 1945, Mel Torme visited his friend Bob Wells. Earlier in the day Wells had written phases in a notebook in an effort to stay warm. A couple of these were; “Chestnuts roasting … Jack Frost nipping … Yuletide carols … Folks dressed up like Eskimos.”

Torme also in an effort to try to cool off, thought that maybe writing a winter song would help. They took these phrases and in 40 minutes much of the music and some of the lyrics of one of the most recorded Christmas song was completed.

The Voice of Christmas

By | Dec 9, 2017

When one thinks about Christmas and all of the songs and the artists who have recorded them, the one person who nearly everyone thinks about is Bing Crosby and “White Christmas”. He has even been called the Voice of Christmas.

And it’s hard not to agree with this fact. Although nearly every generation has a singer who is associated with Christmas. It could be Perry Como, who along with Crosby had a number of Christmas Special on broadcast TV during his life. Or Andy Williams, who along with his Brothers and another set of brothers, The Osmonds, enjoyed a run of Christmas shows on his variety show of the 1960’s. Even today Michael Bublé is beginning to look like he is the Voice of Christmas for this generation.

But it’s still the songs of Bing Crosby that many remember hearing during the Christmas of their youth. It could be “White Christmas” which he first recorded in 1942 for the film “Holiday Inn”. But that wasn’t the only one. In 1943 he released “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, which if not for the success of “White Christmas”, would be considered his classic Christmas Song. He also had a recording of “Silent Night” that reached the top of the charts as was a duet with the Andrew Sisters, “Jingle Bells” also in 1943.

Crosby also has had a few improbable Christmas pairings. One of his last recorded performance was the duet he recorded with David Bowie, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” for his 1977 Christmas Special. This year there will be an impossible duet, made possible by the wonders of modern technology, with him singing with Michael Bublé in his new Christmas Special slated for Monday December 10, 2012 at 10pm on NBC.

Bing Crosby was the biggest recording act of the 1930s and 1940s. Even though Billboard used a different method of charting, Crosby had separate charting singles in every calendar year between 1931 and 1954. In all 383 chart singles, including 41 No. 1 hits. Some of these were “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” (1938), “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Swinging on a Star” (Both 1943).

It’s his Christmas songs that is remembered and played. And will probably still be in a hundred years from now.

About the Christmas Season

By | Dec 7, 2017

Many people are away from home or alone on Christmas. Many people will journey home during the holidays, but there are those who won’t be able to with family during the holidays. Some may not be able to afford the expenses to travel. There are others who can’t take the time off from work or have jobs that require them to work on the holidays. People who work in the hospitals and those on active duty in the military would be examples. To those whose love ones can’t be with them or those who can’t be with their love ones, it can be depressing.

There are many common elements in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three believe in a Divine Being, the source of all that exists. All three religions believe that this God is the origin, cares about the entire creation and desires the well-being of all. God is just and merciful. They believe they are the children of Abraham and that Moses, David and Jesus are prophets. Islam believe in the virgin birth of Mary and accepts Jesus as a prophet and teacher but as Judaism do not believe in him as the savior.

Many of the Christmas traditions come from pagan practices. The date of Christmas was the date that Roman pagans celebrated the Birthday of the Invincible Sun God. It’s possible that December 25 was selected as the date of Christ’s birth in the early days of Christianity as way for all to participate. Yule is one of the pagan holidays and the idea of the Yule log came from that. Decorating a tree has its origins with the Druids who saw evergreen as symbols of everlasting life and decorating the trees may have also come from the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, a celebration of the Winter Solstice.

The vision of Santa Claus we know him today was created by Clement Moore and Thomas Nash. The legend of St. Nicholas can be traced back to 280 A.D. and a Turkish monk. By the time of the Renaissance St. Nicholas was one of the most popular saints in Europe and even when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged he maintain a positive reputation, especially in Holland. In 1822 Clement Moore wrote the classic christmas poem “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”. In the poem he classified St Nicholas as a ‘jolly old elf’ with the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney and riding a sled led by 8 reindeer. In 1881 Thomas Nash drew upon the poem and created the first likeness that matches our vision of Santa Claus as a cheery man with full, white beard and a sack of toys. Nash gave Santa his bright red suit and a North Pole workshop with elves and Mrs. Claus.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was originally an advertising campaign. In 1939 Montgomery Ward, a chain of department stores, asked one of their copywriters, Robert L. May, to create a christmas story to give to shoppers as a coloring book. Prior to that they had been purchasing the books and thought by creating their own they could save money. May had a knack for writing children’s stories and created Rudolph as an ostracized member of the reindeer community because of an abnormality, his red nose. The Montgomery Ward stores distributed 2.4 millions copies of the story in 1939 and by 1946 6 million copies had been given away.

White Christmas by Bing Crosby is the biggest selling song of all-time with over 100 million copies sold. The Song was written by irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant who also wrote God Bless America. It was first sung by Bing Crosby in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn and release each Christmas for many years. In 1942 it was number 1 on the music charts and reached number 1 again in 1944 and 1945, becoming the only recording to reach number one in three different years. Holiday Inn was remade in 1954 as White Christmas. White Christmas is the most recorded Christmas song with over 500 versions by over 150 different artists.

Originally posted in 2006

Vaudeville Becomes Less Vulgar

By | Oct 24, 2017

Vaudeville was a style of entertainment popular in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries that took the form of a series of separate, unrelated acts. The performance could include all or some of the following; musicians, dancers, comedians, animal acts, magicians, impersonators, acrobats, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels, or later short films.

Prior to 1880 Vaudeville was thought to be vulgar. Tony Pastor cleaned it of its obscenity to make it more wholesome to the general public. On October 24, 1881 he staged the self-proclaimed “clean” vaudeville in New York City. It was an effort to lure more women into the male dominated saloon and variety halls.

Vaudeville popularity increased when B.F. Keith built a chain of Vaudeville stages in various east coast cities. This was the beginning of the Vaudeville Circuit, a single booking system contracting acts for regional and national engagement that could grow from a few weeks to two years.

It was common for the performers to term a theatre by how much they were paid to perform at them. The three most common were the “small time”, the “medium time,” and the “Big Time”. When a performer reached the “Big Time” they were considered the best and most famous. The Big Time found its home in 1913 at New York City’s Palace. The Palace featured the best and brightest on its bill and many would consider playing there to be the apotheosis of their careers.

While Vaudeville never really died it just seemed to fade away as cinemas and radio gain popularity. In fact many of the early radio and cinemas stars, such as Marx Brothers, Three Stooges, Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen and Abbott and Costello began on the Vaudeville circuits

Even though vaudeville as entertainment is dead, it lives on in popular culture and entertainment. Many of the ‘entertainment slang’ came from vaudeville, such as “a flop” (an act that does badly) and “the limelight” (from the lime-green color of phosphorus lights). It’s not unusual to see common techniques and gags of vaudeville on television and in films today.

An American Playwright – Eugene O’ Neill

By | Oct 16, 2017

I was talking with a old friend over the weekend. We had gone to college together in the late ’70s and had taken a number of Theater classes together. We were discussing historical people who we would like to possibly do for performance history. The subject came up because he was thinking of doing Abraham Lincoln. I mentioned that I had always thought about working on a play with the Playwright Eugene O’Neill narrating the story of his life.

In the ’70s many people knew of Eugene O’ Neill. He was an American Playwright, who many felt was the Shakespeare of the American Theater of the first part of the 20th Century. O’Neill was born into show business. His father James O’Neill was considered a matinee idol as a stage actor in the later half of the 19th Century, his most famous role was that of The Count of Monte Cristo. Eugene O’neill was born in a hotel room on October 16, 1888, the third of three children that James O’Neil had with his wife Mary Ellen Quinlan.

It wasn’t until after he spent much of 1912 and 1913 in sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis that he decided to write plays. Prior to this he had spent time at sea. Quite a few of his early plays cold be classified as Sea Plays.

His career as a playwright can be seen as divided in 2 parts. The first from 1914-1936. His plays were a standard on Broadway during this period winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1920, 1922, 1928,) and in 1936 the Nobel Prize for Literature, the second American to win. The second part begin in 1946 after a 10 year period where no new plays of his were produced. Then Ice Man Cometh an autobiographical play was produced. It was the first of a number of autobiographical plays he wrote during this second phase of his career. Long Day’s Journey into Night is thought by many to be his best.

He was married 3 times; Kathleen Jenkins (1909–12), Agnes Boulton (1918–29) and Carlotta Monterey (1929–53). He had three children, Eugene Jr with Jenkins and with Boulton Shane and Oona. Oona married Charlie Chaplain at the age of 18. Chaplain was 54. O’Neill disapproved of the wedding and he never saw her again.

After a long illness which for many years made it difficult to write O’Neill died in Room 401 of the Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road in Boston, on November 27, 1953. It is said that while he was dying he whispered “I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room and died in a hotel room.”

He Changed What We Read

By | Oct 14, 2017

Harold Robbins with more than 20 published books in 32 different languages and selling over 750 million copies can easily be considered one of the World’s Bestselling Author.

He was born on May 21, 1916 and although he often claimed to be a Jewish orphan (just like the character in his first novel Never Love a Stranger) he was the son of well-educated Russian and Polish immigrants.

One version of his biography has it that he made a million dollars selling sugar, but lost it all during the second World War. What is known is that after the War he moved to Hollywood where he worked for Universal Pictures.

In 1948 he published Never Love a Stranger, a book that broke away from the norm with graphic real life scenes of love, sex and violence. The book was banned in many places. Perhaps his best known work is The Carpetbaggers a book loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes. The book was the basis of two popular movies of the 1960s, The Carpetbaggers and Nevada Smith.

His books were full of sex and violence at a time when it was not generally accepted. In many ways he could be called a trend-setter. In the future world of Star Trek Jim Kirk calls him one the great authors of the generation. The quote was made in Star Trek IV:The Voyage Home as he and Spock was walking the streets of 1986 San Francisco.

After a long career, one that found him spending the last few years of his life confined to a wheelchair due to hip problems, he died on fifteen years ago on October 14, 1997 from respiratory heart failure at the age of 81 in Palm Springs, California.

Cristoforo Colombo

By | Oct 12, 2017

Christopher Columbus is thought to have been born between August and October 1451 in Genoa, Italy. Little is known about his youth, although it is thought that he had a brother, Bartolomeo who may have worked in a cartography workshop in Lisbon. He did claim that he began his life at sea at the age of 10.

Columbus never sat for an authentic portrait. Writings have described him as having reddish hair, which turned to white early in his life. He was a lighter skinned person and with too much sun exposure his face had turned red.

At the time of his 1492 voyage it was a common belief, especially of seagoing men, that the earth was a sphere. Europe had begun trade with China, but the overland route was rough and the sea route around the southern tip of Africa was long. Columbus held a theory, that the earth’s circumference was 25,255 kilometers. The accepted theory at the time was that the earth’s circumference was greater, which in actuality is correct.

In 1485, Columbus presented to the King John of Portugal a proposal that the king should equip three sturdy ships to Columbus and in one year’s time he would sail out into the Atlantic, search for a western route to Orient, and then return home. Columbus also requested he be made “Great Admiral of the Ocean”, be granted governor of any and all lands he discovered, and given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands discovered. The king submitted the proposal to his experts. They who rejected it with an opinion that Columbus’ proposed route of 2,400 miles was far too short.

After being rejected by Portugal he presented the same plan to the newly married Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who ruled the combined lands of Spain. Even though they had similar reports as Portugal about Columbus’s estimates being too short, they didn’t want him to take his plan elsewhere. They gave him a gave him an annual annuity of 12,000 maravedis ($840) and in 1489 furnished him with a letter ordering all Spanish cities and towns to provide him food and lodging at no cost. Finally in 1492 the cash starved Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to fund 1/2 of his expedition. He had already lined up the the other half from private investors.

On the evening of August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Palos with three ships; the larger of the ships was the Santa María, nicknamed Gallega and two smaller caravels, Pinta and Santa Clara, nicknamed Niña . Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands, , where he restocked the provisions and made repairs, and on September 6, started what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean. Land was sighted at 2 a.m. on October 12, 1492, Columbus called the island (in what is now The Bahamas) San Salvador.

The End of The Summer of Love

By | Oct 7, 2017

The summer of 1967 is commonly known as the Summer of Love. In the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, thousands of young people from all over the world united for a new social experience. The result, the hippie counterculture movement came into public awareness.

Scott McKenzie in May 1967 released the John Phillip’s penned song San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). The song, written in 20 minutes, was originally designed to promote the June Monterey Pop Festival.

The Monterey Pop Festival took place on the weekend of June 16 to 18, 1967. Over 200,000 people attended. The artists played for free and the proceeds from the $1 entry fee were donated to charity. Many of the performers were unknown or little known acts and this was a big first step in their career. Performers at the festival included The Big Brother Holding Company with their new singer Janis Joplin, The Who, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

The Beatles released their Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band album on June 1st. With its musical innovations, Indian instrumentals, and vivid album cover it encapsulated the very essence of the Summer of Love.

The Summer of Love attracted a wide range of people: teenagers and college students drawn by their peers, middle-class vacationers to gawk, and even partying military personnel from bases within an easy drive. The Haight-Ashbury scene did deteriorated rapidly with overcrowding, homelessness, hunger, drug problems, and crime afflicting the neighborhood. When the fall arrived many left to resume their college studies. They took with them new ideas, behaviors, and styles of fashion to most major cities in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

On October 7, 1967, those remaining in the area staged a mock funeral, “The Death of the Hippie” ceremony, to signal the end of the played-out scene.

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