Saturday 22 December 2012

Christmas Wishes to a Red-Baiter

At the very least, Christmas-time is about peace on Earth and good will to others. And it’s a time that’s sorely needed, considering how people sometimes treat each other over the course of the rest of the year.

So it is that entertainers—perhaps holding their noses—sent holiday wishes to International News Service columnist Jack O’Brian. O’Brian, to many people, was not a nice man. In the ‘50s, he was, frankly, an unapologetic, red-baiting bully. Robert Metz’s book CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye speculated how insulting and goading columns by O’Brian helped push CBS newsman Don Hollenbeck to suicide for supporting Edward R. Murrow’s anti-McCarthy telecasts, then showed anything but remorse for what happened. O’Brian later displayed his homophobic side in an early ‘60s column about a radio broadcast about gays. But O’Brian has also been credited with help busting open the Quiz Show scandal of the late ‘50s, though cynics might suggest a print reporter would gleefully revel in television’s downfall.

Differences, however, are set aside at Yuletide, and O’Brian waxed pleasantly in his column about the Christmas cards he received from many people in show biz. This is from 1957.

Yule Cards of Stars Bright Modest, Gay

NEW YORK, Dec. 24 (INS)—Merry Christmas, dear readers, and all holiday good wishes . . . Despite our position as an official heckler and skeptic and critic of the TV universe, the citizens thereof bothered in the spirit of the holy season to wish us the same.
Their cards are many, varied, expensive, modest, gaudy, glorious, but we must state none was in bad taste, none was anything but nice to receive.
Bob Hope’s indicated he’s ready to fly out into space to entertain (“have space ship, will travel”), with Bob and family-caricatured in out-of-the-world haberdashery . . . Mildred and Bert Lahr’s card was simple; tasteful red and gold on white background sprinkled with holly.
Alice and George Gobel kept it pure and simple, too: A pair of does-in the snow, looking toward a church whose windows glowed in gold against a midnight blue, all bathed in the light of the Christmas star.
Perry and Roselle Como’s card had its customary religious motif (mother and child) illuminated in lovely colors, bearing the rich, red cross of the least publicized portion of Perry’s private life, of which he’s proudest: The Hallmark of his Knighthood in the Roman Catholic Church’s “Order of the Holy Sepulchre.”
Patti Page wished yule good cheer via a cardboard pseudo-re-cording . . . Mike Wallace’s beautifully engraved, deep-dark blue card carried wishes for “peace on earth” in gold against white as its cover motif . . . NBC exec Veep Bob Kintner’s card had oriental children on its cover inscribing the season’s greetings in a variety of exotic languages.
Polly Bergen’s—a pure white card with three golden Christmas trees . . . Mary and Jack Benny sent a “Merry Christmas” embossed in gold on deep red velour . . . Peter and Mary Healy Lind Hayes’ card was in cardinal red, the holy family painted in color and inside, a most properly, and reverently inscribed: “With Best Wishes for a Holy Christmas.”
Sophie Tucker came caricatured in yellow slacks singing a Merry Christmas “All of These Days.” . . . Occasional TV actress and more frequent strip teaser Sherry (Mrs. Buddy Boyland) Briton’s pale blue card was the simplest, most restrained and polite greeting of our bunch.
RCA’s Frank Folsom featured a riot of gay good, taste and cheer with ornaments, holly, bells and all the merriest . . . Jo Stafford and husband Paul Weston: a red candle in a lamp, hung in gold against green . . . One hundred thousand dollar quiz winner Anette Chen’s was a Chinese Christmas scene in many oriental colors. The Fontaine sisters, religious girls, had the altar decorated for Christmas mass in lovely, natural colours . . . Rosemary Clooney’s white card was hand-writ in dark green.

Tomorrow: a vaudevillean Christmas.


  1. O'Brian also ultimately replaced Dorothy Kilgallen as "The Voice of Broadway" in that nationally-syndicated column originated from the New York Journal American upon her death on November 8, 1965 - unlike on "What's My Line?" where Miss Kilgallen's seat on the panel remained forever taken up by "guest panelists" up to its 1967 cancellation.

    But there were other infamies of O'Brian's, such as after a column where he sniped at Jackie Gleason, "The Great One" demanded the columnist give him back a watch he'd sent him as a gift.