Thursday, December 11, 2008

Forgotten TV Christmas Specials

Here are 3 TV specials from 1969 to 1977 that I don't see listed in the regular holiday line up.

There are a number of Holiday TV specials that I remember that seem to have disappeared. It's hard to believe that any TV show can disappear what with all those cable channels, so please correct me if I'm wrong. I think these specials are pretty much gone from the broadcast & cable spectrum:

THE HOMECOMING - with Patricia Neal, Richard Thomas and Edgar Bergen. This 1971 TV movie was the pilot for the series THE WALTONS. Based on North Carolina TV writer Earl Hamner's book of the same name, he narrates the story of his Father missing on Christmas Eve. The movie has the requisite good and not so good child actors, and there are different actors as some of the Walton adults (with Patricia Neal doing a fine, very fierce Eugene O'Neill take on Mrs. Walton, as opposed to Michael Learned's mellower characterization). I got a kick out of Edgar bergen listening to Fibber McGee in one scene.

Maybe the movie is too much of a downer. These are poor people who can't afford anything and the reason Dad is missing is because he has to commute many miles to where the jobs are. Downtown Walton's Mountain has no industry.

Below is part 1 of 10 of the TV movie, which includes location shots in Jackson, Wyoming, standing in for Walton's Mountain. Here are links to part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, part eight, part nine and part ten.

- with Johnny Whitaker, Fred Gwynne and E.G. Marshall as God. This was a real star-studded (Cab Calloway, Tony Randall, John McGiver, George Rose, Connie Stevens, James Coco) 90 minute live action program, taped (yes, it's on videotape) at the height of Johnny Whitaker's child star power. This was a major production at the time, even though the money was not spent on film or decent quality effects. There was even an album released. Yes, Herman Munster sings on it! But I digress ....

SPOILERS for THE LITTLEST ANGEL follow after the clip.

Below is a 4 minute clip from the show where all the angels are lining up to give presents to God in a badly chroma-keyed version of heaven.

My opinion: The reason for this special not being aired today (although you can get it on DVD) is for one scene where Johnny Whitaker, who fell off a cliff chasing a white dove and died, returns home in ghost/angel form and tries to hug his mom. Now, no one knows he is dead yet and his Mom can't see him. It's all very nightmarish, with little Johnny crying, and Mom not hearing him because, you know, the kid's DEAD and all. (I looked for this clip, but did not find it.) At the end, when greedy God has all of his presents (see the clip above), there's Whitaker, staring happily at the dove; a happy, dead kid whose now-grieving Mom is down on Earth. Not the stuff of cheery TV specials that inspire one to go buy Chinese crap at Walmart.

A COSMIC CHRISTMAS - a 1977 special, inspired in equal parts by the Bible and STAR WARS. With pretty darn gorgeous animation & character design by Canadian animation studio Nelvana, this 22 minute prime time special caught the attention of George Lucas, who worked with the company on several STAR WARS projects, including the now-unseen STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (except online and its many bootleg copies).

COSMIC CHRISTMAS has some hammy dialogue. The aliens land and ask, What is Christmas? What is Bethlehem? All of the adults are pretty corrupt and disgusting. Some of the animation and little character moments seem like a nod to Bakshi's best work (this is a good thing). All of this is fine with me. Above is the entire special, which is unavailable on DVD.

Like I said, please feel free to correct me if these are on TV this year. Or if you have your own missing holiday specials to add.


Anonymous said...

Please watch out for and try to see "A Christmas Memory," based on the Truman Capote story. Made in the early 70's, I think, with Geraldine Fitzgerald. It is so touching, yet stringent, as narrated by Capote himself. Always cry buckets by the end, and I am extremely cynical!

A. Taylor said...

The Snow Goose with Jenny Agutter and Richard Harris hasn't aired since I was a kid, as far as I can tell. This makes no sense as it was produced by Hallmark who have Their. Own. Freaking. Cable. Network.
I'm guessing the reason it's not shown anymore is because it depicts the warm, caring relationship between a hunchbacked man and a young girl as they rehabilitate a wounded snow goose.
And the Harris' character (SPOILER ALERT) dies evacuating British soldiers from Dunkirk at the end. Bit of a downer.
Jenny and Richard are both quite good, though.

Anonymous said...

Love "The Littlest Angel"

"In my box
Two Blue Eggs
Bluer than any summer sky"

Best thing since "Sigmund and the Sea Monster"

Johnny C said...

I haven't thought of that pilot for the Waltons for years. But it was a on every year. I'll have to carve out some time to watch the whole thing; It's the one where the girl kills the duckling because she doesn't want it to grow up.

And The Littlest Angel, which I recently bought at a dollar store, is one of my earlest TV watching memories.

These shows remind me of the lonely feeling that always came around Christmas I watched TV in my room. Like you were the only person in the world who was watching them. Sorry, Too much information

Anonymous said...

The first of my favorite is a TV movie from 1977: "The Gathering", starring Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton. Ed plays an estranged family patriarch who finds out that he is dying and wishes to "tie up loose ends". I watch my copy every year...and I cry every year.

The second is an animated special circa 199-something: "Opus and Bill: A Wish for Wings that Work" by Berkeley Breathed. Everyone's favorite penguin from "Bloom County" (etc.) wants only one thing for Christmas - to be able to fly (well, that, and having the neighborhood ducks stop teasing him about his flightlessness...and that Bill the Cat would just LEAVE HIM ALONE). Hilarious (and with an uncredited cameo voice of Robin Williams as a kiwi).