Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Two Stories of Christmas From Hollywood

What does Christmas mean in Hollywood? Probably the same as anywhere else; it means different things to different people.

Associated Press reporter Bob Thomas covered the TV and movie scene in the city for decades. We’ve found a couple of seasonal columns of his that we’ll share.

The first is from December 23, 1964. It’s how Dick Van Dyke and his family marked the holiday, both religiously and secularly. As Mr. Van Dyke turned 91 a little over a week ago, it’s maybe fitting we spotlight him here.
Star Believes in the Spirit of Christmas

AP Movie-Television Writer
HOLLYWOOD (AP) – Everyone talks about having an old-fashioned Christmas, but few ever do anything about it. Exception: the Dick Van Dyke family.
For a guy who is as hep as any star in show business, Dick is a remarkably old-fashioned fellow. He believes in morality in movies, loyalty and the spirit of Christmas.
“I think the wrong emphasis has been placed on Christmas,” he said. “Now there is entirely too much obligatory giving. Christmas should be a time of giving to your family and close friends—the people you love. Instead, you're compelled to give to your customers, your boss, your employees, etc.
“I'm sure the average business man hates to see Christmas come around.”
The Van Dyke Christmas starts with picking out a tree. That's an all-family affair.
“Everybody goes along to the lot to make the choice, including the maid.” Dick said. “We look at every tree until we find the one that suits everyone. Then we bring it home and everyone has a job to do in the decoration.
“The big kids (Chris, 14; Barry, 13) handle the breakable ornaments, the younger ones (Stacy, 10; Carrie, 3) take care of the less fragile things. We've built up quite a collection of ornaments they have made; I mean like clay balls with glitter. We save them all.
“Me, I take care of stringing the lights and hanging the angel on the top of the tree, which is usually a 12-footer.” The Van Dykes attend the early Christmas Eve service at their church, the Brentwood Presbyterian. When they come home, Dick reads the St Luke version of Jesus’ birth from the big family Bible. The children hang up their stockings, and Dick and wife Margie exchange their gifts to each other. Christmas morning is for the kids.
“We've got it fixed now so they will wait until 7 a.m.,” Dick remarked. "Everyone has to line up to enter the room at the same time. Each child goes to the place where he or she has been stacking his presents in the room. Then they start opening. All I have to do is keep separating the wrapping paper.”
Friends drop in during the day, and the family sits down to a dinner in the afternoon. "We have a big ham, rather than turkey, which we have at Thanksgiving," said Dick. "Nobody's hungry,anyway. There's too much excitement for everyone.”
Let’s turn back the clock exactly four years from the previous post and look at Hollywood itself. We get the feeling this particular column is autobiographical, with Thomas himself searching for evidence of the “true” meaning of Christmas.
Visitors In Hollywood Look For Celebration

AP Movie-TV Writer
HOLLYWOOD (AP) – ‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and all through the town the visitor could find no indication of what the celebration was about.
He walked along the marble-fronted buildings of Beverly Hills, their windows ablaze with sable and silver. The street lamps of Wilshire Boulevard were brightly lighted with pictures of choristers, reindeer and a fat man in a chimney. Judging from these, the season might mark some pagan fete.
TV cowboys just off the range were filling their sports cars with gifts. The choice was vast. At Uncle Bernie’s Toy Menagerie, parents could buy their kiddies a six-foot stuffed dinosaur for $350 or some singing toy birds for $400, including cage.
At the Gourmet, late shoppers could pick up fresh Iranian caviar at $45 the pound or a methuselah (208 oz.) of French champagne for $75. Or, for those with jaded tastes, there were baby bees, chocolate covered ants, buffalo meat, quail eggs, rattlesnake (diamond back, of course), alligator soup, fried grasshoppers, whale meat.
The victor wandered into the drug store at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. It was also equipped for the outpouring of dollars. Five hundred of them could buy a man's hair brush—satinwood, wild boar bristle—$450 a solid gold compact.
“We don't sell many compacts because they're too heavy,” explained a salesgirl. “But we do sell some of the brushes: they’re a nice gift for the man who has everything.”
The visitor journeyed eastward, stopping at a wayside inn on the Sunset Strip. There he found celebrators but no hint of what they celebrated. Some gained cheer with a wassail called the Santa baby cocktail — cranberry juice and vodka.
Onward to Hollywood Boulevard he went, then to be greeted by endless repetition overhead of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer wreathed in gold tinsel. The visitor contemplated what Dancer, Prancer and the other black-nosed veterans would say about this reindeer-come-lately.
The visitor failed in his quest until he left the brilliant lights behind and started over the Cahuenga Pass. High on a hill above the pilgrimage theater he discovered a white neon cross that gave him a hint of what the celebration was for.

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