I Wish You a “Busy Christmas”

Merry Christmas!  I hope you are all enjoying a peaceful and happy day. We have a lot of holiday traditions in our family. When it comes to pop culture “must see” shows, we always watch Frosty, The Snowman; How the Grinch Stole Christmas; and a Charlie Brown Christmas, and the other specials are extras if we get them in.  Christmas movies are different for each generation.  I like White Christmas, while my oldest son never misses Elf.  But when it comes to television, one episode we all agree on is “Busy Christmas” from the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  Our family makes an effort to watch this every year together. There is something charming about watching an episode that is more than 60 years old but still speaks to us in how we celebrate Christmas.  Ozzie, after vowing not to, involuntarily agrees to so many Christmas activities that he has no time to put up lights or buy a tree.

busy2

The show first aired in December 19, 1956 . It was the 12th episode of season 5. It was written by Jay Sommers, Don Nelson, Ozzie Nelson, and Alfred Nelson.  Alfred’s only writing credits were 4 Nelson episodes.  Ozzie, of course, helped write almost every episode.  Don Nelson, another brother, enjoyed a long writing career.  He helped Ozzie write the movie Here Come the Nelsons and he went on to write for a variety of shows including Bachelor Father, the Donna Reed Show, the Mothers-in-Law, the Doris Day Show, Bridget Loves Bernie, Herbie the Love Bug, Julia, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Nanny and the Professor, as well as a few episodes of Ozzie and Harriet’s later show, Ozzie’s Girls and 326 episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Jay Sommers got credit for 146 of the Nelson episodes and went on to write for Dennis the Menace, wrote many Petticoat Junction shows, almost all the Green Acres scripts, and, surprisingly, Hello Larry which we looked at a few weeks ago.

Produced by Ozzie and Leo Pepin, the show’s set decoration was created by Jack Moore.  Moore had six Academy Award nominations and won for Little Women in 1949. The costume designer was George Sedilla, and the show was filmed at the General Service Studios, 1040 N. Las Palmas, Los Angeles.

In addition to the regular cast, Phil Arnold appears as a tailor and Isabelle Randolph is Mrs. Brewster.

This episode opens with Ozzie and Harriet looking at some of their Christmas cards.  Ozzie mentions he wished people took time to write in their cards.  He sees one that is a perfect example of what a card should say.  It has a very warm and sentimental message.  When Harriet agrees it is nice and asks who sent it, Ozzie replies, “Acme Cleaners.”

 

Modern Christmas cards were started by the Hall brothers whose company would become Hallmark.  They were post cards, but people did not have enough room to write what they wanted to tell people they didn’t see often. In the 1930s, Hallmark switched to a “book format” which is our card today.  The cards increased in popularity from the mid-1930s to the 1960s. Hallmark began commissioning famous artists to design cards including Salvador Dali, Grandma Moses, and Norman Rockwell. The Nelsons would have had to use regular postage stamps, because Christmas stamps did not debut until 1962. It’s funny that the switch to these cards was made so people could write more, but Ozzie’s complaint (and one you hear often today) is that people didn’t write anything personal.

 

busy12

Scene 2 cuts to Ozzie trying to maneuver through a mad rush of people shopping in a department store.  His arms are full of wrapped packages. He tries to ask a clerk for a Donkey Party game.  Giving up, he takes cover in a seating area and ends up sitting next to Mrs. Brewster.  We learn it is a week before Christmas. They are watching a busy crowd and listening over the speaker as Irving Muller is lost and they attempt to find his mother.  Eventually they find her, but now Irving is gone.  Ozzie reminisces about a Christmas when he and Harriet were first married.  They were looking at the tree when all the sudden they heard “Silent Night” and were caught up in the beauty of the song and the carolers on Christmas Eve.  Mrs. Brewster says that is perfect because they would like the Nelsons to join them for caroling this Christmas Eve.  Ozzie says he’ll talk to Harriet, and if she agrees, they will.  Mrs. Brewster smiles and says Harriet has already agreed to it if Ozzie was willing. Over the loudspeaker they hear little Ozzie Nelson is missing and then the message is corrected that Mrs. Nelson is looking for Mr. Nelson.

busy10

 

Donkey Party was a version of pin-the-tail-on-the donkey. It came with a poster and 24-30 tails. Some of the other classic toys from this year are Candy Land, Mr. Potato Head, a Slinky Dog, and a Lone Ranger guitar.

busydonkey

Following World War II, the nation displayed an era of peace, productivity, and prosperity and this could be seen in the nation’s department stores.  At Christmas the windows were magical places where beautiful scenes were created, often with moving parts.  Ozzie’s presents were wrapped because that was a service department stores provided, saving the customer time later. Here are some vintage options Ozzie might have been able to choose from.

 

By Scene 3, a few days have passed. Ozzie is helping Harriet hang a wreath on the wall. When Harriet asks him about the tree and putting up lights, he says it’s too early to get the tree, and he decided not to put up lights this year.  He tells her he is not going to get overly busy again this year.  The doorbell rings and Doc Williams enters in.  Doc tells Ozzie that he has been appointed entertainment chairman of the Men’s Club for Christmas, and instead of the regular pageant, they have decided to do a shortened version of the Christmas Carol. Doc will be playing Bob Cratchet. Ozzie tells Harriet this is exactly what he was talking about.  They make one of the busiest men in town chairman and how unfair that is.  Doc looks confused and then starts to laugh.  He assumes Ozzie is auditioning for the role of Scrooge and he gives him the role. Doc asks when the lights are going up, and when Harriet says Ozzie isn’t putting them up this year, Ozzie says yes he is, he just hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

 

busyj

I have a beautifully illustrated book of  The Christmas Carol, and I try to find time to read it each year.  I also have a Scrooge in his striped night shirt, who is about 4 feet and I love him, although most of my family find him creepy.  My grandfather had a set of Dickens books and liked The Christmas Carol, and I find it inspiring that many generations have enjoyed and learned from this book.

Scene 4 finds Ozzie in his garage a day or so later trying to untangle lights. His friend Joe Randolph stops by and says the guy who always helped as Santa at the orphanage Christmas Eve party moved away.  Now they realized he used his own suit.  Ozzie offers his suit; however, Joe thinks his is also offering to be Santa.  Joe has to hurry off before Ozzie can explain.

busy11

Ozzie would be filling in for Santa because the real Big Guy was too busy Christmas Eve delivering gifts. NORAD began tracking his movements in 1955, so the Nelsons would have been able to follow his progress around the globe.

busy8

Scene 5 is December 23. Mrs. Brewster has dropped off a song, and Doc has dropped off his part. Ozzie climbs the ladder to hang lights and has Rick practice the part of Scrooge with him.  Rick, wearing a sheet like a ghost, leans out the window and plays Marley, ad-libbing the part till Ozzie tells him he must learn the part the way it’s written. David comes in the room and tells Rick to take off the sheet because it’s from David’s bed.  The boys get into a conversation and walk off, leaving Ozzie wondering what is going on.  Ozzie remembers he has to get the Santa suit out of the attic and goes to retrieve it. Mrs. Brewster stops by before he can get back on the ladder to bring more music and asks him to please learn the bass part, because she is short on basses. As he goes back up the ladder to put up the lights, he is called to dinner.

 

busy1

Scene 6 begins on Christmas Eve day.  Ozzie is walking around practicing his play part and singing his bass parts. He is just leaving the house to get a tree when the phone rings.  It’s Joe Randolph saying that there are so many children at the orphanage, they will have to do two parties instead of one.  Then Doc stops by and says he was called to the hospital for an emergency and Ozzie will have to go pick up the costumes. David offers to drive him.  They rush to pick up costumes from the tailor, then to the orphanage, and then to the play.  During the play, Ozzie knocks a picture off the wall, then drops a prop and, when he picks it up, his pants rip.

Everyone is back at home for Scene 7.  Ozzie is complaining that once again he was too busy.  He talks about how embarrassing the play was and how he hurt his knee hopping in and out of the car.  David says the audience thought what Ozzie did was part of the play and it was funny. Then David says he got a parking ticket.  That is the last straw for Ozzie, but when Harriet inspects it, she realizes it is an invitation to the Policeman’s Ball. At that moment, the carolers arrive to pick up the Nelson family. They are singing “Silent Night” and the family gets quiet and listens to the song, realizing how beautiful it is and what Christmas is all about.  Ozzie goes to get his coat which Harriet has put in the den.  Ricky comes into the hall with a Charlie Brown tree saying that was all they had left when he got to the lot.  As Ozzie opens the den door, a huge tree is revealed decorated with bulbs and tinsel with tons of presents under it. Harriet and Ricky said they did it while Dave and Ozzie were gone.

Tree decorations is one area that has changed drastically today.  Rarely do you see tinsel, garland, or snow flocking.  Back in the 1950s you might have seen bubble lights, or popcorn strands, and the rainbow colors of Shiny Brite ornaments.

 

They go outside for Scene 8 to join the carolers.  It begins to snow lightly. Doc mentions it’s too bad lights didn’t get put up, but then Ricky hits the light switch and he explains he and Harriet took care of those too. The group moves off singing “Deck the Halls.”

busy9

That’s the end of the 1956 episode, but in 1964, Ozzie replayed this show and added a Scene 10.  It is now 1964.  David is married to June Blair and they have a son Danny. Rick is married to Kris Harmon and they have a daughter Tracy. The entire Nelson family gathers around the tree.  Ricky plays his guitar, sitting in front of the fireplace and decorated tree and sings “The Christmas Song.”  While he sings, the camera pans around watching the rest of the family. It ends with everyone wishing the viewers a merry Christmas.

 

So much of our culture has changed today from 1956; however, thankfully many Christmas traditions remain.  We still send and get cards, although some of them are on the computer.  We still put up lights and a tree; we just tend to do it earlier, so we can enjoy it longer. We still do things for others like orphanage parties; we just don’t have actual orphanages much anymore. We also can get quiet, listening to “Silent Night” and be deeply touched by the season and what it means to us. This episode is a reminder of that for me every year, and I look forward to it.

 

 

 

 

The Perennial Popularity of 1960s Christmas Shows

Ask a variety of people from ages 6-106 and they will tell you it’s just not Christmas until they have seen Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman.  They may have other favorites on their list but all ages can agree on these four.  In our house, The Ozzie and Harriet Nelson episode, “Busy Christmas” is a given every December. Recently I heard sportscaster Bill Michaels say that he saved a night for hot chocolate and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We all have those “other” shows that are on our must-see list. However, even with the Nelson show, the animated specials from the 1960s have to be seen at least once or there’s not as much fa-la-la in the house.  Let’s look at each of the four.

 

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1964

Rudolph is born to Donner the Reindeer and Donner’s wife. He is discovered by Santa to have a shiny, glowing red nose. Donner, regardless of Rudolph’s defect, trains him to be a normal reindeer with skills such as gathering food and hiding from the “Abominable Snow Monster,” a giant, furry white beast. To hide Rudolph’s nose, Donner puts dirt on it to cover it with a black coating. This causes Rudolph to talk in a funny accent. Rudolph joins his peers at the Reindeer Games, where he meets Fireball, who is initially friendly and Clarice, a female spectator who takes a liking to Rudolph. Clarice’s flirtation inspires Rudolph to perform better than all of his peers at flying, but in his excitement he knocks the black cover off his nose, revealing a red glow that causes Fireball and the others to turn against him; this distraction, in turn, prompts the coach (Comet) to ban Rudolph from the Reindeer Games. Clarice remains loyal to him, only to be ordered by her father not to shame the family by associating with “a red-nosed reindeer.”

special1

Rudolph soon runs into Hermey, an elf who was forced out of his job at the North Pole’s toy factory; Hermey showed a total lack of interest in the toy making and singing aspects of being an elf and instead wanted to pursue dentistry. They come to the conclusion that they’re both misfits and decide to run away together. On their aimless journey, they run into Yukon Cornelius, the self-described “greatest prospector of the North” who nevertheless seems to never find any silver or gold, and attempt to stay away from the Bumble, an abominable snow monster. Their journey leads them to the Island of Misfit Toys, where toys go when they are abandoned by their owners. King Moonracer, the winged lion that lords over the Island, refuses to let them stay there permanently, instead telling the trio to return home and tell Santa Claus of the toys’ plight, in exchange for one night’s stay on the island. Rudolph refuses the offer and, fearing for his friends’ life, runs off alone.

special2

A now older Rudolph, still unable to find a place in the world, returns home to the North Pole, only to find that his family and Clarice had left to look for him and are now about to be eaten by the Bumble. With the help of Hermey and Yukon, who have come to look for him, they lure the Bumble away and pacify him by knocking him unconscious and allowing Hermey (with dental skills he has acquired by reading books) to remove his sharp teeth. Everyone eventually returns to Santa’s workshop, where a dismayed Santa Claus breaks the bad news that the weather is too bad to take the sleigh out and that Christmas would be canceled. Santa changes his mind when he notices Rudolph’s red nose and asks Rudolph to lead the sleigh team, which he happily accepts.

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965

The special begins on a frozen pond, put to use as an ice rink by the Peanuts cast, who skate together as the song “Christmas Time is Here” is heard over the opening credits.

It’s Christmas season, and Charlie Brown is depressed. He confides in Linus this fact, citing his dismay with the over-commercialization of Christmas and his inability to grasp what Christmas is all about; Linus dismisses it as typical Charlie Brown behavior at first. Brown’s depression and aggravation only get exacerbated by the goings-on in the neighborhood. Though his mailbox is empty, he tries sarcastically to thank Violet for the card she never sent him, but Violet just uses the opportunity to put Brown down again. Eventually, Charlie Brown visits Lucy in her psychiatric booth. Lucy, after presumptively diagnosing him with various phobias and admitting she wants real estate as a Christmas gift, determines that Charlie Brown needs more involvement and recommends that he direct a Christmas play. On his way to the auditorium, he finds Snoopy decorating his doghouse for a neighborhood lights and display contest. Continuing onward, he runs into his sister Sally, who asks him to write her letter to Santa Claus. When she hints at having an extremely long and specific list of requests, and says she will accept money as a substitute (“tens and twenties”– a massive amount for a child of Sally’s age in the 1960s), Charlie Brown becomes even more dismayed.

special4

Charlie Brown arrives at the rehearsals, but he is unable to control the situation as the uncooperative kids are more interested in modernizing the play with dancing and lively music. Thinking the play requires “the proper mood,” Charlie Brown decides they need a Christmas tree. Lucy takes over the crowd and dispatches Charlie Brown to get a “big, shiny aluminum tree.” With Linus in tow, Charlie Brown sets off on his quest. When they get to the tree market, filled with numerous trees fitting Lucy’s description, Charlie Brown zeroes in on the only real tree on the lot—a tiny sapling. Linus is reluctant about Charlie Brown’s choice, but Charlie Brown is convinced that after decorating it, it will be just right for the play. They return to the auditorium with the tree, at which point the children (particularly the girls and Snoopy) ridicule, then laugh at Charlie Brown before walking away. In desperation, Charlie Brown loudly asks if anybody really knows what Christmas is all about. Linus, standing alone on the stage, states he can tell him, and recites the angels’ message to the shepherds from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses 8 through 14 … ending with “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

special3

Charlie Brown quietly picks up the little tree and walks out of the auditorium, intending to take the tree home to decorate and show the others it will work in the play. When he arrives, he stops at Snoopy’s decorated doghouse, which now sports a first prize blue ribbon for winning the display contest. He puts an ornamental ball on the top of his tree; the branch, with the ball still on it, promptly flops over to one side instead of remaining upright, prompting him to declare “I’ve killed it” and run off in disgust at his perpetual failure. Linus and the rest of the group, along with Snoopy, quietly arrive outside Snoopy’s doghouse. Linus goes up to the tree and gently props the drooping branch back to its upright position, wrapping his security blanket around the tree. After they reconsider their previous stance, they add the remaining decorations from Snoopy’s doghouse to the tree and start humming “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Charlie Brown returns, surprised at the humming and the redecorated tree, as his peers greet him with a joyous “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” The entire group joins to sing the first verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” as the special ends.

 

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 1966

The Grinch is a bitter, grouchy, cave-dwelling creature with a heart “two sizes too small” who lives on snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep high mountain just north of the town of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos. His only companion is his unloved, but loyal dog, Max. From his cave, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Annoyed, he decides to stop Christmas from coming by stealing their presents, trees, and food for their Christmas feast. He crudely disguises himself as Santa Claus, and forces Max, disguised as a reindeer, to drag a sleigh to Whoville. Once there, the Grinch slides down the chimney and steals all of the Whos’ Christmas presents, the Christmas tree, and the log for their fire. He is briefly interrupted in his burglary by Cindy Lou, a little Who girl, but concocts a crafty lie to effect his escape from her home.

special7

 

special8

The Grinch then takes his sleigh to the top of Mount Crumpit, and prepares to dump all of the presents into the abyss. As dawn breaks, he expects to hear the Whos’ bitter and sorrowful cries, but is confused to hear them singing a joyous Christmas song instead. He puzzles for a moment until it dawns on him that “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting. The Grinch’s shrunken heart suddenly grows three sizes. The reformed Grinch saves Max from possible death and returns all of the Whos’ presents and trimmings and is warmly invited to the Whos’ feast, where he has the honor of carving the Roast Beast.

 

Frosty the Snowman, 1969

One day in a school shortly before Christmas, an inept magician named Professor Hinkle is hired to perform for the children. Following this, the children go outside for recess and build a snowman, whom they name Frosty. However, Hinkle’s rabbit Hocus Pocus, escapes from the building while wearing his hat, which the children decide to put on top of Frosty’s head. To their surprise, the magic of the hat causes Frosty to come to life.

This delights the students, but after seeing that the hat is actually magic, the agitated Hinkle wants it back. The children refuse to turn it over to him, but he eventually gets it. After he leaves, Hocus returns the hat to the children, thus bringing Frosty to life for the second time. The children are very happy with their new friend, but the temperature is rising and Frosty must leave for somewhere that is colder. Frosty explains that the only place he won’t melt is the North Pole. They parade through town to the train station, shocking passersby and a policeman. When they get to the station however, they find that they do not have enough money to buy tickets to the North Pole. So, Karen, Frosty, and Hocus sneak into the back of a train headed north. Hinkle also sneaks aboard, determining to get his hat back.

special5

While Frosty is safe from melting in the refrigerated car, Karen is freezing so the group leaves the train and Hocus gathers a group of woodland creatures to build a fire for her. Frosty knows that it is best if Karen is brought home and he and Hocus decide to enlist the help of Santa Claus to transport her there. Hocus leaves to search for Santa, but Hinkle comes back and tries to take Frosty’s hat by force. Frosty and Karen make a getaway from Hinkle, and race down the hill to a small greenhouse used to grow poinsettias. Frosty carries Karen inside where she will be warm and safe. However, Hinkle has followed them on foot and locks the door after Frosty and Karen go inside.

special6

Hocus brings Santa to the greenhouse only to find Karen crying over a melted Frosty. Santa explains to Karen that Frosty is made of Christmas snow and can never melt away. He then opens the greenhouse door which revives Frosty. However, Hinkle arrives, once again claiming that the hat is still his. Santa scolds Hinkle for being greedy, warns him that if he takes the hat, he will never get another Christmas present from him for the rest of his life. Hinkle begs for another chance and Santa tells him that if he starts acting nicer and writes a formal apology, he might reconsider and possibly give Hinkle a new hat for Christmas, to which an overjoyed Hinkle runs home to write his apologies. Afterward, Santa takes Karen home on his sleigh and brings Frosty back to the North Pole, keeping his promise to her that Frosty will return every year when Christmas snowfall comes around.

What is it about these specific shows that have earned them staying power for 50+ years? I think that there are five factors that ensure their must-see status.

One, each has special music we associate with the show and Christmas, in general.  “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the song the animation is based on.  A Charlie Brown Christmas features “It’s Christmas Time,” along with the rest of the soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. Who could forget the words to “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch”?  And of course there is “Frosty the Snowman.”

Two, the animation is well done, colorful, and eye-catching, great voices, and exceptional characterizations.

Three, each Christmas special has a lesson. Rudolph teaches us it’s not only okay to be different; those gifts are what makes each of us unique and special. Watching Charlie Brown, we learn that over-commercialization is not the theme of Christmas.  Seems like a lot of us still need to learn this lesson. The Grinch becomes aware that Christmas is not about things, but a feeling of joy. Frosty provides an awareness that Christmas is a magical time and incredible things can happen.

Four, the shows are still marketed.  Part of the success of these shows can be explained by the advent of DVDs.  However, other Christmas specials are available on DVD without the staying power of these four.  Just looking at my Christmas tree reminds me of the potential marketing each of these shows still enjoy. I have several ornaments of the characters on the Rudolph special; we have an entire set of Peanuts Christmas ornaments; a talking Grinch graces our tree that was purchased last year; and we have several Frosty ornaments.

Five, nostalgia might explain some of the popularity but new generations of kids continue to be caught up in the joy of watching these shows year after year.  There were several Frosty sequels and a Rudolph sequel that never attained the popularity of the original shows. It’s more the feeling that they instill in us.

I’m not sure about you, but in looking back over the Christmases of my life, I can’t recall a lot of the gifts I’ve received, although there were many special presents. For me, when I reflect back on Christmas and what makes it heart warming there are several things that come to mind:  attending church late at night on Christmas Eve with the candles and the Christmas hymns, listening to my favorite Christmas songs, the colored lights on houses and trees, the department store windows that were decorated when I was little, and decorating frosted cookies.  It’s those feelings that are conjured up again when I watch these four specials.  I was only 3 when Rudolph came out and I was 8 when Frosty debuted, but I can’t recall a Christmas without these shows.

There are not a lot of things I have been able to count on being there with me for over 50 years, but these four shows are on that list. Watching my grandson the day after Thanksgiving when he was watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas makes me happy that he expressed the same feelings about these shows and hopefully his children will as well.

I hope you’ve been able to enjoy these shows this year, but I have to end this because I have a few Christmas specials to catch up on.