Today's little known holiday song -- this time, for Hanukkah -- comes from what I believe was the first season of the animated series South Park. It was their initial Christmas special, centered around the adventures of Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo, which brought the show even more attention. I have a couple of tangential stories connected to the song, "It's Hard to Be a Jew on Christmas."
As I think I've mentioned, back in my dark days of P.R. I was the unit publicist on the movie BASEketball, which was directed by David Zucker (of the Airplaine! and The Naked Gun series, which was why he brought me along) and starred Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who did -- and still do -- South Park. During the movie's production, which overlapped with them being in production on South Park (so, in essence, they were doing two jobs at the same time), Matt and Trey mentioned that the only reason they signed to do the movie is because they were sure the TV series would be canceled after 10 episodes, and they'd have plenty of time to make the movie. Ha. So much for the best laid plans. It was during the movie's production that the TV series started peaking -- for instance they made the cover of both Time and Newsweek during the film. They said that if they had any idea that the TV show would still be going on, they never would have agreed to be in the movie. It was a crushing schedule -- including having an editing trailer for them on the set every day, and going back to their production offices after the day's filming -- but they handled it seriously impressively.
Anyway, going back several months, we had a read-through of the movie script one night, and given that it was the "South Park guys," families and kids were invited. And as it happened, the read-through took place the night after their Christmas special aired.
In the milling around phase of the evening, I went over to Trey and Matt to introduce myself, and I also wanted to tell them how much I particularly had loved this specific song. Given the fame of South Park at that time, they were not surprisingly surrounded by a bunch of young boys gushing about the show. But in particular, they were gushing about another song in the TV special. So, I stood off to the side and waited for their fans to finish.
The other song in the show was sung by the character 'Cartman," and lasts about 30 seconds, with the words basically being, "Kyle's mom is a big fat b*tch, she's a b*tch, b*tch, b*tch, she's a big fat b*tch," over and over for half a minute. The little boys just loooooved that. And one after another, they enthused to Matt and Trey about it, and kept singing the song back at them.
After the kids all departed, I finally walked over. I said hi, we chatted a bit, and then I said how terrific I thought the song, "It's Hard to Be a Jew on Christmas" was. That the lyrics were so funny, yet touching, and the music was wistful, and it was just really nicely crafted. And what was hilarious and memorable was how their faces suddenly filled with a smile of relief. They completely understood why the little boys all loved the "Kye's mom is a b*tch" song -- but this other was an actual song. And one they took great pride in. So, they were SO relieved to have someone praise it, rather than the one getting all the attention.
A few months later, during production I also had a question for them that had been nagging me. About a minute into the song, the character Kyle singing it mentions some Hebrew phrase which I couldn't make out, words it seemed from some Hebrew Hanukkah song he has to sing instead of getting to sing "Silent Night." I asked what it was, since I didn't recognize the song, and if they did research to find it or what. Trey broke out with a big laugh, "Oh, that," he said, "we just made the words up. We didn't know any Hebrew, so we just wrote some gibberish that sounded right."
(Note: When I originally posted this for a few years, it's only been the audio track of the song from the special since the sweet video wasn't available. But I kept checking and finally -- it's at last there, and I found it. So...huzzah. Or rather, chuzzah.
I've written in the past about my love (and that of the inveterate Chris Dunn) for the series, Frank's Place. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear available to stream, and only a couple of episodes can be found on YouTube (at just mediocre quality). But happily, one of those two is a Hannukah episode! And we have it today as part of our Fest.
The quality is a fuzzy, but watchable. You may have to turn the volume all the way up, as well. I wish the video was better, but this is it, and since it’s hard to track down much of anything from Frank’s Place, I'll take what we can get. Especially during the holiday.
By the way, the video may jump start, and the opening credits being at the :40-second mark. The episode itself begins after commercials at 3:00. (This should start at 0:00, but I was having a little trouble. If for any reason it doesn't, just scroll back.)
As I mentioned earlier, our Holiday Music Fest also includes a few little-seen TV specials from the past. This one tonight wasn't a standalone special per se, but instead was the Christmas special episode for the weekly Julie Andrews Hour, and they went all out to make it stand out. This is from December 20, 1972, and the cast includes Jimmy Stewart, Joel Grey, Mama Cass Elliot, Carl Reiner, Steve Lawrence, Sergio Franchi, Dan Dailey, Alice Ghostley and Rich Little.
(Side note: For those who don't know his name, Dan Dailey had a successful movie career in the 1940s and 1950s, including many musicals, and even got an Oscar nomination as Best Actor for When My Baby Smiles at Me. I saw him on stage at the Blackstone Theater in Chicago as 'Oscar' in a 1966 production of The Odd Couple, which also starred Richard Benjamin as 'Felix,' who so often played nervous, neurotic characters and was memorably picture-perfect for the role. And years later I got to tell him that when I met him and his wife Paula Prentis at a Northwestern alumni party which was held before the football team played in the Rose Bowl in 1995. And yes, he was stunned. And pleased.)
(But I digress.)
The special is very well done. Carl Reiner even has a solo song, and does a nice job on "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Jimmy Stewart is the main guest, and travels around with Julie Andrews – and just when you think that that's pretty much all he'll get to do, later in the show he actually gets a solo number with "Away in the Manger" -- then sings a bit on two duets, including one with Julie Andrews, which in the singing world is the definition of courageous.
What's also fun is that Alice Ghostley sings one of the little-known Christmas songs I've posted here the past few years from the TV musical The Stingiest Man in Town. For that matter, they also perform yet another little-known song I post here every year -- “A Christmas Carol” from the movie Scrooge. And are a couple of fun short sketches between Jimmy Stewart and Rich Little. The special also includes the original commercials which adds some whimsy.
(Note: for some reason, this may open at the 1:48 mark, but I think I've finally gotten it to begin at the start. If not, though, you can just click on the scroll bar at the bottom of the video to get it all the way back to the beginning.)
This is fun, offbeat ‘Mystery Guest’ segment of What’s My Line? -- especially if you lived in the era or watch the Game Show Network. The contestants are Bud Collyer, Allen Ludden, Gene Rayburn and Ed McMahon, who were then all hosts of TV game shows produced by the Goodson-Todman company, which also produced What’s My Line? But what makes it all the more fun is that one of the panelists is Mark Goodson.
If you want to jump to the “Mystery Guest” segment, it starts around the 17:15 mark.
There's a point to this. Not a significant point, mind you, but a point, nonetheless. So, bear with me.
I've always liked the TV series Mission: Impossible. Since a kid and even now, when reruns are shown on cable. (I’m selective – there are some episodes I didn’t care for, so I pass those by. The ones I like the most are when they do a "simulation" to trick their target. My favorite is an episode where they make a guy think he’s on a submarine in order to get him to give up key information, when in fact they’ve just recreated it all in a warehouse.)
That said, I hate the movies. In fairness, I’ve only seen the first one, but I hated it so much, ripping the guts out of the point and core of the TV series, out of pure hubris, that I was so offended I haven’t had wanted to watch the others. But the TV series was and remains a joy.
My love for the show even helped on a PR job I had. I was the unit publicist on an awful, violent movie, The Hitcher, in which Jennifer Jason Leigh was the female lead. We got along well, but she was very shy and quiet. When I was interviewing her for her bio in the presskit, she mentioned her step-father being Reza Badiyi. “Oh,” I said, “Didn’t he direct a lot of episodes of Mission: Impossible?” Jennifer stopped and just stared at me – “How did you know that????” she almost sputtered. Well, I’d watched the show all the time as a kid, I explained, and he directed a lot of episodes (18, it turned out) and he had a name that caught the attention of a kid and was hard to forget. I think she may have said that I was the first person she’d met on a movie who actually knew of him. (Their loss, by the way -- Reza Badiyi had a long, 40-year career directing, up to 2006 when he directed the feature film, The Way Back Home with Julie Harris and Ruby Dee.) Anyway, it was a nice, added movie-set connection to make, which is particularly important for a unit publicist, since they’re usually very low on a movie’s totem pole of stature. All thanks to loving the Mission: Impossible series.
(Side Note: I tell some other tales about working on The Hitcher, including a couple of nice, amusing ones about Jennifer in this article here. But I digress…
All of this aside, the point here is about one thing that has always struck me as weird and totally unbelievable about Mission: Impossible. And that’s saying a ton, given the premise of the show and that each week they pull off a mission that is…impossible. However, viewers always accepted those weekly, monumentally-convoluted tricks that often stretched credibility (to the point, every once in a while, that brought about eye-rolling), but because they were pulled off with clever writing and great Impossible Mission Force skill, they landed on the good side of acceptable.
But not this one thing.
At the beginning of every show – at least in the earlier years – the team leader (first Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill who later was the first D.A. on Law & Order, and then Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves) would go through his IMF portfolio, decided which agents he wanted to join him on that week’s specific mission. And the ones he wanted, he’d toss their photo in a pile.
There was character actor Rollin Hand (“Man of a Million Faces,” his 8x10 actor’s glossy photo said, “World’s Greatest Impersonator”), electronics whiz Barney Collier and strong man Willy Armitage. (I’m guessing not many people know Barney and Willy’s last name. But them up there alongside Reza Badiyi.) And then also, there was Cinnamon Carter, played by Barbara Bain. Her photo was a magazine cover for a glamour magazine that said “Model of the Year.”
And that’s where I always got stumped.
Here was this attractive woman – who not only was a cover model, and not only a famous cover model, but one so famous that she was the Model of the Year!!! And…and…and No One in the Entire World Ever Recognized Her!!! (The team often had missions in Europe and South America.) Forget that no one ever knew her name, the Model of the Year – forget even that on that “Model of the Year” cover it had her name -- but no one in the series ever stopped her and said, “Hey, you look familiar. How do I know you?? Are you famous?” No one – and I don’t even mean the targets that she was thrown into close confines to trick each week, but I mean even people on the street or in restaurants or store who would regularly pass by her and say, “Wait, I know you!! You’re that lady on the magazines!” No one even ever did a double-take when seeing the Model of the Year right in front of them.
It's like, for that era, being the target of a spy mission, and the woman trying to con you is Twiggy or Cheryl Tiegs or Lauren Hutton or Jean Shrimpton or Grace Jones. Or today, Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford, Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Gigi Hadid or Gisele Bündchen -- and no one in the entire world for four years even recognizes that she might look familiar...!!!
I’m sorry, that was just a bridge too far for me. I never have been able to believe it that Cinnamon Carter, Model of the Year was never recognized. On occasion, sure, I could accept it like when on a mission in a small far-Eastern European country or a South American country that generally had a name like San Cristobal, or when she was made up to look like an old woman, but not recognized over the 78 episodes she was in – not once.
I almost, sort of have the same issue with Martin Landau as Rollin Hand, who was an actor and apparently a successful one. But because he was a character actor who could sublimate himself into secondary roles – and of course because often he’d create a perfect mask so that he could look like someone else, generally played by someone else -- that, at least, had an aspect of the "willing suspension of disbelief,” where you could accept, “Okay, his career is looking like other people, he’s the Man of a Million Faces, after all. The World’s Greatest Impersonator.” But not the Model of the Year the point of whose career was the exact opposite – making herself as attractive as possible and ensuring that you see her, stare at her, are enthralled by her jammed in your face on magazine covers.
Okay, yes, it’s a small thing in the great scheme of things. But in the world of famous TV series that one loves and has watched for decades, it’s worthy of being bugged by. And for all the absolutely unbelievable things on a show about “the impossible,” it’s the one thing I just don’t and have never bought.
There are similar offers for two streaming services which I wanted to mention in case they're to anyone's attention here.
Both Hulu and Peacock TV are having Black Friday sales on their websites. The offers are for $1.99 a month for 12 months. (You can cancel at any time -- though for $1.99 a month, it's almost worth keeping it in case they end up having a movie or series later on that interests you.) Peacock TV has an additional offer -- $19.99 if you sign up for the full year. That's two months free, or the equivalent of $1.67 a month.
The one caveat is that these Black Friday offers are all for the ad-supported services.
I'll mention that I signed up for this same Hulu offer last year (I'm not eligible for it this year...), and was fine with the ad-supported plan. They only have a few ad breaks for each show and tend to be about 90 seconds to two minutes. Never longer, sometimes less. And they have a little clock counting down the time left in the ads, which I love. I keep a book by my chair and read during the break, knowing how much time I have -- or run some "errand" in another room.) For $1.99, I found it well-worth it. If I watched Hulu a lot, I don't know if I'd have gotten the ad-supported plan. But because I don't watch Hulu a lot, that's why I tried it out this way. (And it turned out that I found more things that I watched than I expected it.)
And that's why I never paid for Peacock TV before. They didn't have much that interested me. But there are about 4-5 movies I have on my "Peacock List" that I do want to see, and was going to sign up for a month to watch them all. However, that would cost $12 for a no-ads plan. So, for just eight dollars more, I'm getting it for the whole year, during which time they might have some more movies I want to see, or series. Plus they carry Big Ten sports (like my beloved Northwestern...), which includes things not on my standard Big Ten cable channel.
Anyway, that's the deal. Do with it what you will...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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