Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Too Much Christmas On The Air

“Who wants to hear Christmas music so soon? It gets earlier every year.” No doubt you’ve heard somebody, somewhere, saying that, as if this is all something new.

Well, I hate to tell you ...

Shall we go back 60, even 70 years when people were saying the same thing?


Here are a couple of columns from John Crosby of the Herald Tribune syndicate. The first one is from December 23, 1947. We’ve edited out the second half that has nothing to do with the festive season. I must admit I like the idea of the stooges knocking on Fred Allen’s door, but there was already a radio show that had been doing it for years called “Fibber McGee and Molly.”

Christmas Rushed by Air Comics

In a letter to the editors of “Newsweek” magazine, a man from Hollywood complains about the encroachment of Christmas on Thanksgiving. The film colony, this man reports, staged a huge Christmas parade on Thanksgiving eve which, this man feels, was a little premature and rude to the Pilgrims.
This has bothered me quite lot lately too. Radio in this case is no more guilty than anyone else, but it is playing along the same direction. The pre-Christmas celebration started in radio around the middle of November. Christmas jokes have been flying around like raindrops since the last week in November. Ozzie has already Harriet's Christmas present and Phil bought Alice's on December 13. All the male barytones and many of the female barytones limbered up on "White Christmas" a month ago. All or most of the orchestral programs with choruses attached have sprung "Silent Night." Fred Allen, who way ahead of the crowd, got New Year's Eve jokes out of his system on December 13.
As this being written, Christmas is still a week off and the subject is close to exhaustion. What is the hurry, anyhow? The man from Hollywood implies the whole thing is a commercial plot staged by the storekeepers to ring up a few extra sales. This theory doesn't hold water in the case of radio. No one gives Rinso or Tenderleaf Tea for Christmas. No, the reason lies elsewhere. My theory is that there aren't enough holidays to keep the comedians gainfully employed. There's a long barren stretch between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving when the comedians have to fall back on their jokes about high prices and Harry Truman's piano.
I suggest we have another holiday just for radio comedians, a sort of All-Clowns Day, scheduled for around October 1 and designed to tide the boys over. On this date all the comedians would be permitted to do what they never got away with the rest of the year. Every one would be kind to Jack Benny, even his music teacher. Bergen would top all of McCarthy's gags. Mrs. Nussbaum would pound on Fred Allen's door for a change. Princess Elizabeth would return the compliment and drop in on Bob Hope's program. Duffy would show up at Duffy's Tavern.
In this way we could postpone Christmas until December 25, put Thanksgiving back in the calendar and get back to normal.

■ ■ ■

Just as some people gripe that Christmas comes too early, some complain it stays too late. Never mind that there are twelve days of Christmas and they start on December 25th, there are those who want the festive season to be done after they’ve finished their Boxing Day shopping. Here’s Crosby again on December 30, 1957. The irony of course, is the column appears five days after Christmas Day. But he’s grumbing about TV shows talking about Christmas after the 25th. Crosby focuses on two interesting individuals. Arthur Godfrey came across as the most casual guy on morning radio, Dave Garroway the same on morning TV. Godfrey, you well know, was exposed as a callous tyrant to his night-time TV “family,” while Garroway suffered from depression (he needed medical “assistance” to deal with the early rising for the Today show for a time) and ended his own life in 1982. I’ve seen the quote Crosby claims was Ed Wynn’s attribued to Stoopnagle and Budd.

Too Much Christmas

Every year, it seems to me Christmas starts earlier and runs longer, especially, on television. It seems almost like last Christmas when George Gobel was making a joke about the latest toys. ("Now they've got a “Send Your Sister to the Moon' kit that comes complete with launching pad, a can of kerosene and a match.”) It seems I heard that in June some time—but it couldn't be.
Christmas isn’t over yet. Arthur Godfrey’s annual Christmas talent scouts show [photo right] will be held tonight, having been pre-empted by President Eisenhower last Monday. (Yes, Junior, the President outranks Arthur Godfrey.) This year, besides starting earlier, the TV personalities wouldn't let go. Tennessee Ernie devoted his entire program the day after Christmas to talking about what happened the day before. ("It's kind of wonderful watching the kids ignore all those expensive presents you bought, playing over in the corner—with the boxes.")
Of the Christmas dramas, I was especially intrigued by one on Douglas Fairbanks' show. The scene is a little church, high in the Austrian Alps. “Two days before Christmas, and the organ is broken,” says the pastor in despair. “We must have a proper Christmas service. We need something simple—a melody the choir can learn in a few hours.”
“But where would we find it?”
“Let's write it ourselves.”
So one man starts pecking away on the harpsichord while the other muses over a pencil, working on the words. "Here what do you think of this—Sacred night, holy night—no?"
"How about Silent Night" suggests the other one.
"That's good," agrees the one. "Now all together..."
But that wasn't the end of it. Years later one of the authors the song is marooned in a blizzard on his Pennsylvania farm. Food is running low and the supply train seems to have been lost in the blizzard. He and his wife sing “Silent Night” to boost their morale and in a matter of moments, the door bursts open and in comes the guy with the supplies. "I made it! I made it! Heard singing and it guided me through the storm better than an Indian scout."
“The Dave Garroways At Home” was an interesting experiment in Christmas Eve programming. It opened with Dave Garroway discovered on a stepladder (where he advised us all to do our Christmas shopping late and avoid the crowds) in his Manhattan house.
Present was his wife Pamela, his son, Mike, and a couple of friends, Jack Haskell and Barbara Carroll. It was a very simple and informal show. Miss Carroll sang a song: "Christmas Is a Time," which was written for the Garroway At Large program. Garroway and his wife reminisced about places they'd spent Christmas Eve. (She'd spent one in the Tunisian desert. He'd spent one on a minesweeper.) Garroway volunteered the information that New York had contributed its share to Christmas customs. "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (" 'Twas the Night Before Christmas") was written here and New Yorkers claim to have originated Christmas cards. Mrs. Garroway read that old chestnut "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus," which isn't as sticky on Christmas Eve as you might think.
Garroway then demonstrated some dippy Christmas presents—a silent alarm clock for people who like to sleep late, a cork anchor for drifters, even an eleven-foot pole for guy you wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. (Shades of Ed Wynn.) The show closed with a reading of the birth of Christ from the Bible. The reason I go into such detail is that this is the sort of simple show that used to come out of Chicago back in the days when television had no money to speak of but lots of brains and enthusiasm.
At the opposite extreme was Kraft's production of "The Story of the Other Wise Man," Henry Van Dyke’s modern classic. With Richard Kiley in the role of the young priest whose search for his Saviour is constantly interrupted by good works for just plain people, this was a heavily bearded and costumed and weighty sort of religious drama. I found it oppressive and dusty and archaic for an occasion so joyful as Christmas day but maybe by then I'd had too much Christmas—especially on TV.

■ ■ ■

As you might gather from today’s offering, this is the start of our annual Christmas season posts, though we’ll take a little break on the weekend. We’ll continue for a bit after Christmas Day. John Crosby is no longer around to disapprove, as he’s been dead since 1991. As dead as a door-nail. I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. And ... oh, I’m sure you know how the rest of this goes. Watch Alastair Sim’s greatest film role if you don’t. Even if Christmas is a humbug, you can never get too much of Sim as Scrooge.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with Crosby in one respect, Christmas season starts earlier every year, at least here in the U.S. - the week before Halloween the stores are already dicsounting the Halloween merch and bringing in the Christmas stuff, and I start getting Christmas themed catalogs in early September.

    I hope you, like me, think that the Jack Benny Christmas Shopping episodes are the BEST classic radio holiday episodes of any series. "Plastic Tips! Metal Tips! Plastic Tips! Metal Tips! And we have Rubber Tips but I wasn't going to tell you!"