As a kid growing up, I always thought of Christmas as “toys” and other presents. I also remember going to the traditional Christmas Eve fish dinner at the home of my uncle’s Polish family (although I am not Polish myself — My aunt married a Polish guy, hence the relatives). Now that I am no longer a kid (far from it), and most of my family has passed on, I think of Christmas more for the movies I remember from my childhood. A few days ago I watched “A Christmas Carol” — the 1938 version starring Reginald Owens as Scrooge and the truly wonderful character actor Gene Lockhart (father of June from “Lassie” and “Lost in Space”) as Bob Cratchit. Film note: Gene Lockhart also appeared in one of my other Christmas favorites which I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post: “Miracle On 34th Street”. Lockhart played the shady and very funny judge who ruled that Santa Claus is real.
Another Christmas favorite that I also plan to watch is “Going My Way” (1944), with Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley — the hip Catholic priest who sings, plays the piano, and wears a jaunty straw hat (yes, this is fiction, folks!). Music by Jimmy Van Heusen, who picked up an Oscar for it. The film won six other Oscars besides that one, including Crosby as Best Actor, and Leo McCarey as Best Director. Internet Movie Database has the full and impressive list of awards.
Tradition will be maintained and form will hold if I also watch “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”, with Jim Backus as the voice of Scrooge as played by Mr. Magoo, an animated TV special from 1962. It had a wonderful score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill (they wrote the Streisand hit “People”). This is an A-list cartoon, and of course the story of the horribly mean miser who sees the light and becomes a kind-hearted philanthropist is timeless.
These are movies that I have loved since childhood, and I try never to miss them each time Christmas comes around. But my holidays would not be complete if I didn’t watch my all-time favorite Christmas movie: “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, the animated classic that first aired on TV in 1965. The score by jazz composer Vince Guaraldi became an instant classic: “Linus and Lucy”, “Christmas Time Is Here” — I see the joy of the children dancing at the Christmas play rehearsal and I remember trying to dance like they did — imitating all the happy steps. And of course the ultimate memory from that cartoon is the image of the “Charlie Brown” tree. That sparse little stick-figure tree became the symbol of the meaning of Christmas to me. Linus said it best:
“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Peace on Earth.