Charles Lane: What a Character!

My blog theme for this month is “What a Character!” I am looking at the careers of four successful and hard-working actors. With 372 acting credits, perhaps there was no more prolific character actor than the beloved Charles Lane. He perfected the grumpy sourpuss always ready and gleeful to make life more complicated for others. His bio on imdb.com captures his type perfectly as the “scrawny, scowling, beady-eyed, beak-nosed killjoy who usually could be found peering disdainfully over a pair of specs, brought out many a comic moment simply by dampening the spirit of his nemesis.”

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However, despite that, we always knew there was more to him, and that his real persona was being covered up by his crotchety outward characteristics. His character Herman Bedloe on Petticoat Junction portrayed this dual-personality perfectly. Bedloe was always trying to shut down the train, but we knew he actually liked the Bradley family, and occasionally you would get a glimpse of the lonely and soft-hearted side of him.

He was born Charles Gerstle Levison in San Francisco in 1905. His family survived the 1906 earthquake. His father was an insurance executive, and Charles would follow in his footsteps for his first career.

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The Music Man

A friend, actor Irving Pichel, convinced Lane to try his hand at acting, and Lane joined the Pasadena Playhouse in the late 1920s. His first movie was City Girl in 1930, and his last was Acting on Impulse in 1993. During those six decades he had a successful career in both television and Hollywood. In 1933, Lane became one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). In that year alone he made 23 films. There was an anecdote told about Lane that it was not uncommon for him to go to a movie, see himself on screen, and be surprised because he completely forgot he had been in the film. Starting out at $35 a day, by 1947 he was earning $750 a week.

His longest-running role was husband. In 1931 he married Ruth Covell; the couple had two children and were married until her death in 2002.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Perhaps most people recognize Lane from his role of rent collector for Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra signed Lane to roles in ten of his movies. Lane was a corrupt attorney in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), an IRS agent in You Can’t Take It with You (1938), a newsman in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), a reporter in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and Blink Moran in State of the Union (1948). Among his most-cherished possessions was a letter from Capra where he wrote “Well, Charlie, you’ve been my No. 1 crutch.” Other popular films he was in include The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; and The Music Man.

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You Can’t Take It with You

During World War II, Lane joined the Coast Guard. When he returned to civilian life, his television career took off. His first role was on Burns and Allen in 1951. During the 1950s, he appeared in more than 30 shows including Topper, The Thin Man, Perry Mason, and The Ann Sothern Show. He was often seen on Lucille Ball shows. He and Lucy had become friends when they both worked for RKO, and he had a great respect for Desi Arnaz’s acting ability.

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I Love Lucy

During this decade he was cast on the show Dear Phoebe in 1954. Peter Lawford starred in the show as a former college professor who writes an advice column under the name Miss Phoebe Goodheart. Meanwhile, his romantic interest is Mickey Riley portrayed by Marcia Henderson, the paper’s sports writer. Lane took on the role of Mr. Fosdick, their boss.

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The Andy Griffith Show

The 1960s found him on almost every popular show of that decade. Tuning in to your favorite series, you would spy Lane on Bachelor Father, Pete and Gladys, Mister Ed, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Get Smart, The Bing Crosby Show, The Man from UNCLE, The Donna Reed Show, Green Acres, Bewitched, and The Wild, Wild West, among many others.

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Gomer Pyle USMC

Lane had recurring roles on five shows during the 1960s. On Dennis the Menace, he was the pharmacist Mr. Finch. He also could be seen on his friend’s series, The Lucy Show as Mr. Barnsdahl, a local banker. The Phyllis Diller Show had a cast that should have made it a hit and from 1966-67, Lane played Maxwell. Although many characters appeared on both The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, Lane had two different roles on the two series. He appeared in 24 episodes of Petticoat Junction between 1963-1968 as Homer Bedloe, a railroad executive who is always trying to find a reason to shut down the Cannonball. On the Beverly Hillbillies, he portrayed Foster Phinney.

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Petticoat Junction

Lane continued with both his movie and television appearances throughout the 1970s, taking roles on The Doris Day Show, The Odd Couple, Family, Rhoda, Chico and the Man, and he continued his television appearances into the 1980s and 1990s with shows that included Mork and Mindy, St. Elsewhere, LA Law, and Dark Shadows.

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Bewitched

The decade of the seventies would find him cast in two additional series, Karen and Soap. Karen debuted in 1975, starring Karen Valentine as Karen Angelo. Karen works for an advocate group for the common American citizen, Open America, founded by Dale Busch, who was played by Lane. On Soap, Charles took on the role of Judge Petrillo who presided over Jessica Tate’s murder trial; however, because of Jessica’s husband, the judge lost $40,000 in a bad investment.

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Soap

Charles Lane was honored in 2005 when he turned 100. SAG proclaimed January 30 “Charles Lane Day,” and TV Land honored him in March for his long career. After receiving his award, he let it be known “in case anyone’s interested, I’m still available!”

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TV Lands Award March 2005

Despite his being typecast in cranky roles, friends and family described him as funny, kind, and warm-hearted. Lane’s one vice was smoking. In 1990 he was rushed to the hospital when he was having problems breathing. When the doctor asked if he smoked, Lane informed him he had kicked the habit . . . 45 minutes earlier. He never smoked again and he lived another 12 years, dying peacefully in 2007.

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Homer Bedloe

Although it’s tough on actors to be typecast so early in their career, it’s a double-edged sword, because it also provides a lot of opportunities for roles. Lane was an enigma; while he always convinced us that he was just as mean as could be, we also knew if someone would give him a chance, he could be reformed like Scrooge; he just needed the opportunity. It always makes me smile to come across Charles Lane in a move or television episode. It’s like seeing an old friend, or perhaps the neighbor who yelled at you to get off his yard. However, if you looked closely, you would see him watching and wanting to be part of the action. As you watch your favorite older classic shows, keep an eye open for him.

Sheldon Leonard: A True TV Pioneer

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The Depression changed the course of Sheldon Leonard’s life. He was born in Manhattan to Jewish parents. He went to Syracuse University on an athletic scholarship. While there, he was president of the dramatics club. His degree was in finance, and he landed a job at a prestigious brokerage firm. Then the Depression hit, and he was out of a job. He had to fall back on the only other skill he could think of which was acting.

In 1931 he married Frances Bober whom he was married until his death. They would have two children.

Acting was not quick money either though. It took five years until he landed his first major Broadway role in Hotel Alimony in 1934. It did not have a long run, but his next two shows were more successful: Having a Wonderful Time in 1937 and Kiss the Boys Goodbye in 1938.

 

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He then entered film work. He had several very small roles in a couple of movies and a couple of shorts, but in 1939 he was cast in Another Thin Man, the popular movie series with William Powell and Myrna Loy. That began his career as a heavy, often being cast as a gangster. He would appear in To Have and Have Not with Bogie and Bacall in 1944. In 1946 he was cast as the bartender in It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Because it has become a Christmas staple, it has brought Sheldon a lot of recognition. Sheldon would appear in 74 movies during his career, 69 of them by 1952.

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During this time, he also gave radio a try. He was working on both sides of the mic. He sold scripts to several shows including Broadway is My Beat. He also portrayed his stereotyped gangster role on many shows including as Grogan on The Phil Harris, Alice Faye Show. You could hear him on Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Bob Hope, Duffy’s Tavern, the Halls of Ivy, and The Judy Canova Show, among others.

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It was only a matter of time before Sheldon took his talents to television. He appeared in four episodes of Your Jeweler’s Showcase in 1952. In addition, he was listed as producer and director for several of these episodes. He appeared in I Love Lucy in 1953 as vacuum salesman Harry Martin and several I Married Joan episodes in 1952-53. One of my favorites was his role as Johnny Velvet on Burns and Allen when he kidnaps Gracie but takes her back because she drives him crazy. In 1954 he co-starred in The Duke which lasted 13 episodes.  This show featured an artistic boxer who leaves the ring to open a nightclub. Sheldon also directed the pilot as well as some early episodes of Lassie and The Real McCoys.

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However, the show that made him a household name was his director/producer role on Make Room for Daddy, Danny Thomas’s hit sitcom. The show was in the top ten, and Sheldon even found time to appear on the show 19 times. The show continued from 1953-1964. Leonard had found his sweet spot. During his career, he would direct and produce shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle USMC, I Spy.

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Sheldon convinced Carl Reiner to step back from acting as Rob Petrie and produce The Dick Van Dyke Show. That conversation resulted in Dick Van Dyke accepting the role and 158 episodes. If you watch carefully, you will notice Sheldon appearing twice on the show in minor roles. The show was nominated for 25 Emmys and won 15.

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Sheldon also is credited with creating the spinoff. One of Danny Thomas’s episodes was set in North Carolina where he gets picked up for speeding in a rural town and has a run-in with Sheriff Andy Taylor. This episode turned into the long-running The Andy Griffith Show which was on the air from 1960-1968 netting 249 episodes. The show won 6 of the 9 Emmys it was nominated for.

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The spinoff was so successful he did it again, moving Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle from the gas station attendant on The Andy Griffith Show to his own show, Gomer Pyle USMC. That show was on the air for five years (150 episodes), and Sheldon would also make an appearance there as Norman Miles.

Thomas and Leonard (L&T Productions) were also behind the The Joey Bishop Show and The Bill Dana Show. Thomas and Leonard’s shows were notable for emphasizing the characters and relationships over slapstick or situation comedy. You cared about the characters even when they were a little kooky like Gomer Pyle or Barney Fife. They were committed to high-quality scripts. Many of the writers they employed went on to successful shows of their own including Danny Arnold for Barney Miller; Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson for The Odd Couple, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy; and Bill Persky and Sam Denoff for That Girl and Kate and Allie. L&T Productions ended in 1965.

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In the mid-1960s Sheldon produced I Spy. He cast Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as secret agents.  This was the first series to star a black actor in a lead role. In a March 7, 2016 Modern Times article, David Fantle and Tom Johnson discussed Sheldon Leonard and I Spy. Leonard said he knew what he was doing. “Race was very much an issue at that time,” he said. “I was intellectually conscious of it, but emotionally unaware of it. When I say emotionally unaware, I mean I was free to think of Cosby as the man to fill the slot I needed. Intellectually I knew the problems I’d have to face to get him on the air.” I Spy was a humorous suspense show and was known for its exotic locations, filming in countries such as Hong Kong, England, Morocco, France, and Greece among others. The critics rewarded Leonard. The show was nominated for Outstanding Dramatic Series Emmy every year of its three-year run and earned Leonard an Emmy nomination for directing in 1965.

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Sheldon was also the producer behind Accidental Family and Good Morning World, both shows debuting in 1967 and ending in 1968 and My World and Welcome to It in 1969. Accidental Family was about a widower  who is a stand-up comedian. He buys a California farm which is managed by Sue Kramer who is also his son’s governess and his love interest. Good Morning World was about morning disc jockeys in LA. One is happily married, and one is a ladies’ man. Goldie Hawn was the next-door neighbor and Billy De Wolfe was their boss. On My World and Welcome To It, John Monroe is a married man with a daughter. He frequently daydreams and fantasizes about life. This show was unusual in that it included some animation along with the live action.

 

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In the Fantle and Johnson article referenced above, Leonard also talked about his favorite sitcom. He said his favorite might be the one that needed the most attention. “My favorite show was cancelled after the first year. My World and Welcome to It, based on the writings of James Thurber and starring William Windom. It won every award, and they cancelled . . . It was satire and above their (the network bosses’) heads. That show and I Spy are my favorites.”

In the early 1970s Sheldon would produce From a Bird’s Eye View and Shirley’s World. From a Bird’s Eye View was a sitcom about two stewardesses, Millie from England and Maggie from America. Millie was always getting into mischief and Maggie bailed her out. Shirley’s World starred Shirley MacLaine as a photographer who travels the world for her London-based magazine. The locales were similar to I Spy.

 

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In 1975 Sheldon starred in a new sitcom, Big Eddy which only lasted for ten episodes. He was Eddie Smith was the owner of the Big E Sports Arena in New York. He was an ex-gambler fighting the impulse to get back into it. He has a bunch of eccentric people in his life including his ex-stripper wife Honey and their granddaughter Ginger.

In the 1980s, Sheldon would continue to show up on various television shows, appearing in Sanford and Son, The Cosby Show, Matlock, Murder She Wrote, and Cheers.

Along with author Mickey Spillane, Leonard was one of the first two people to become a Miller Lite spokesman. In his New York accent, he tells the audience, “I was at first reluctant to try Miller Lite, but then I was persuaded to do so by my friend, Large Louis.”

Sheldon Leonard passed away at the age of 89 in 1997. His wife Frances passed away in 1999.

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Sheldon Leonard is undoubtedly one of the greatest television producers. Most of his shows were consistently in the top ten. They are classic shows still seen today on Me TV and Antenna TV.  Sheldon required scripts that brought characters to life. He created spinoffs when he believed in the characters. He was not afraid to take risks. Besides casting Bill Cosby, he cast Lois Nettleton as divorced Sue Kramer on Accidental Family. This was in the mid-1960s and yet when Mary Tyler Moore’s show aired in 1970, the network refused to allow her to be a divorced character.

In the Mercurie Blogspot from November 10, 2013, Carl Reiner discusses Leonard: “Sheldon has mentored more people in our business than anyone else I know. He knew how to teach what he knew, and what he knew was situation comedy with the three-camera technique. Sheldon was a producing genius who understood comedy. He had four or five shows going, but he would walk in and give his intelligence and his time to every script that was being read for the week. And we always came away with a better script because we would discuss and argue and come to a better situation.”

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Garry Marshall was also quoted in this same article: “Sheldon was a sort of man’s man, yet he had all the creative sensitivity of the artist. No matter what story you were working on, he could help you fix it. He would never put down your idea. If I had to describe Sheldon in one word, it would be gentleman. He was a Renaissance man with a New York accent—and possibly a gun!”

 

The Herb Garden Germination

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As a salute to Leonard, the writers of The Big Bang Theory, named their main characters Sheldon and Leonard in honor of Sheldon Leonard.

 

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Sheldon himself seems to explain his success best. After working on his memoir in 1995, And the Show Goes On: Broadway and Holiday Adventures, he said “I was driven by an urge to survive and being very self-indulgent. I never did anything for very long that I didn’t like or enjoy. I would survive only on my own terms. I had to enjoy what I was doing, and I would have done what I did even if nobody paid me. That’s the secret of success in any business: do it well and enjoy doing it.”

 

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He did it all well, and we all enjoyed 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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.