August 14, 2014
Andy Williams Christmas Special
Perry Como Christmas Special
Charlie Brown Christmas
Red Skelton “Freddie The Freeloader”
Red Skelton “The Plight Before Christmas”
Christmas Television Specials
The celebration of Christmas is a little different for every generation. One of the unique aspects of Christmas for baby boomers was the creation and viewing of the television “Christmas Special”.
In the 1950’s and 60’s many of the iconic recording artists and some former movie stars had their own weekly television shows and often an annual Christmas special. For many of us those shows represented some of our most memorable holiday moments.
Whether it was Andy Williams, Perry Como, Red Skelton, Nate King Cole, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby or Bob Hope the Christmas TV special was a rating winner. In fact, I vividly recall as a kid looking forward to Red Skelton’s holiday show because one of his many characters, Freddie the Freeloader, always had a funny and poignant Christmas sketch. (see video at bottom of page)
If you loved holiday music then it was tough to beat Andy William’s or Perry Como’s specials. Andy Williams’s rendition of “Oh Holy Night” or Perry Como’s “Beginning to look a lot Like Christmas” became classics and are still heard on the radio today.
As a child I always paid close attention to the detail of the sets and staging. The more realistic the scene the more I was riveted to the screen and the imaginary of the world it created. The likes of Dean Martin strolling through a forest of snow covered pines, arm and arm with Ann Margaret, singing “Let It Snow” or Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” while strolling down a mock street of store fronts still sticks out.
The 1960’s also saw the creation of some of the most enduring animated specials of all time in “Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer”, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “The Grinch”. These highly popular programs became very big nights of TV viewing! Most children would start looking for the commercials promoting those specials in late November and then the buzz would carry through the schools and neighborhoods.
Today kids have access to DVDs and can watch their favorite program over and over again. In 1965 once the 30 minutes of Rudolph ended it was gone for another twelve months. However, after watching the favorites two or three years in succession the programs became etched in the minds of young and old viewers alike. Plus, the musical sound tracks featured songs that have now become a part of the regular Christmas radio play lists.
There was a reason why those programs back then held such a dear spot in our hearts growing up. Forty or fifty years ago the Christmas season came much later. Christmas obviously was still celebrated on December 25th, but the pre-Christmas pagentry didn’t start in October as it does today.
Christmas commercials, decorations, songs on the radio or anything related to Christmas didn’t start until after Thanksgiving. Back then people didn’t even decorate their houses until the first or second week of December. So, we eagerly anticipated the TV specials because they each signaled that the big day was drawing closer.
The way it worked was the new or lesser known TV Christmas specials would usually air the first week of December. As Christmas drew nearer, the programs became better known and more popular. The biggest variety stars usually had their programs air the week of Christmas or close to it.
In my house, when “Rudolph” was on TV it was a big, big night. I’m talking must see TV as the saying goes! I remember it usually aired on a Sunday night for some reason and we were all hundled around the TV set. Those still had black and white TV sets might visit a friend or relative with a color set to get the maximum viewing experience. Whatever the case, Christmas would not have seemed the same without that yearly fix of our favorite holiday specials.
It’s amazing that some fifty years later many of those programs still have mass appeal. The various kids programs have been available on VHS and now DVDs for years and yet they still receive high ratings on the nights they air on TV. Of course I think part of that is because Mom and Dad still enjoy watching them as much as their children do.
For the past several years public television has run a special that features highlights of the many Andy Williams Christmas TV programs. While many of the stars featured on those clips have left us, the musical segments are still classics. Today we have hundreds of TV channels, but few variety programs that offer that type of entertainment.
In my household I still pay close attention to the airing dates of my favorites and you can bet my DVR box will record those that I can’t watch live. Below are some of the favorites:
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
Featuring narration and songs sung by Burl Ives
A Charlie Brown Christmas
The whole gang is here to celebrate the meaning of Christmas
The Grinch That Stole Christmas
Narrated by horror movie icon, Boris Karloff.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
Featuring narration and songs songs by Fred Astair
Year With Out A Santa Claus
Featuring the voice of Mickey Rooney as Santa
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
Red Skelton takes a whirl as the vocal artist
Frosty The Snowman
Jimmy Durante narrates this holiday classic
‘Twas The Night Before Christmas
Narrated and performed by Broadway legend, Joel Gray