If you didn't see Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, the Main story was on organ donations. It was a very interesting look at the positive issues with the subject, but also -- more to the point -- the problems with the system as currently set up. It should not come as a surprise, of course, that it was also a topic that lent itself very well to a lot of humor, albeit black humor.
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.)
From the archives. The contestant is Ivan Plis from Washington, D.C. Like the contestant, I didn’t have a clue what the hidden song was, though I could sort of hear it. Nor could I get it on the second go-round even knowing the composer. I did finally get it fairly quickly on the third pass but that’s only when composer Bruce Adolph pulled the song out more, so it doesn’t count for points, though for relief. It’s pretty hard. As for the composer style, it’s one that I always think could overlap with several who I find somewhat similar and I’m not knowledgeable enough to pick out the differences.
I can’t believe for all the years of The Holiday Music Fest posting wonderful, little-known holiday material that I didn't included this. Fortunately, that oversight was finally corrected last year. Growing up, I used to like the comic strip Pogo by Walt Kelly, and every holiday season I would always especially love his inclusion of the characters’ version of “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie” in the strip -- a song that actually got recorded, and the classical music station WFMT would play at Christmastime on their Midnight Special show. But when my pal Mark Evanier posted this video in 2022, it reminded me of it, and after slapping my head and thinking, “How in the world could I have forgotten this??!” I’m so glad to include it here where it rightly belongs, as a wonderful, little-known and adorably lunatic holiday song.
Mark is one of the world’s great experts on Pogo – quite literally, he’s helped edit and put out eight seriously-impressive volumes of the collected Pogo strips. As for the song itself, he noted that “Every year around Christmas in his strip, his lovely characters would debate the correct lyrics to their favorite carol.” This particular video does a wonderful job setting the apparently-correct lyrics (according to one of the characters) set to panels from the strip.
On this week’s Naked Lunch podcast, hosts Phil Rosenthal and David Wild take a slight detour. As they write, “Phil & David reveal their favorite movies ever with you and with each other. Who's still in love with Mary Poppins and hyperventilated when they actually met Julie Andrews? Who secretly dreams of Local Hero -- the ultimate movie about the romance of travel? Who was so profoundly scared of Jaws that he was afraid not just to go to the beach, but also go to the bathroom? How did The Graduate seduce both Phil & David? And who's a bigger believer in Pulp Fiction -- Phil or David? Find out all these answers and more right here --- and get ready for the inevitable sequel coming soon!”
Yes, it's that time o' year. 'Tis the season. It's our annual Holiday Music Fest, where we will be unrelentingly be posting wonderful holiday songs, comedy sketches, TV specials and more that -- for the most part -- are either significantly little-known or performed in uncommon ways.
And how could I not possibly begin the season with a song from my beloved Pickwick, starring my fave Harry Secombe. And being a musical based on Dickens, of course there's a song about Christmas.
The song comes near the beginning of the show -- told in flashback, after Pickwick has been released from debtor's prison for refusing to pay after losing a "breach of promise" suit, because he never proposed, but his widow landlady Mrs. Bardell misinterpreted his words. Pickwick reminisces back at home with his valet Sam Weller about when they first met. The score is by Leslie Bricusse (who usually wrote with Anthony Newley) and Cyril Ornadel, who did the music.
This is Harry Secombe, Teddy Green and the fellow-debtors singing "That's What I'd Like for Christmas," from the original London cast recording
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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