Once upon a time, there was a phenomenon called the Christmas TV special. The biggest stars on television would host other TV stars in an hourlong holiday variety show.
The biggest was probably Bob Hope, who often sang a duet of “Silver Bells” with a female guest stars such as Olivia Newton-John, Barbara Eden and Brooke Shields. The song, incidentally, was made famous in Hope’s 1951 film, “The Lemon Drop Kid.”
Hope would ham it up with other guest stars in skits often featuring Hope as a wise-cracking Santa. For two years, 1970 and 1971, Hope’s Christmas specials were filmed in Vietnam in front of military audiences during the Vietnam War. They remain among the most watched TV shows of all time.
Hope also introduced the Associated Press All-American Football Team and made humorous comments about the muscular players who towered over him.
Other entertainers, including Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Perry Como, had season holiday shows that were TV staples for years. We seldom missed Andy Williams Christmas specials, which featured a group of lads known as the Osmond Brothers. Little Donny was too young for the first appearance, which took place in December 1962.
The shows had their perennial features, such as Williams in a festive Christmas sweater singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which was specially written for the broadcast. The song remains one of the most played Christmas songs on radio each year.
Other favorites included the “Lawrence Welk Christmas Special,” which included his singers and their children. The Irish tenor, Joe Feeney, had about a dozen kids and it took a while to introduce them all.
I guess the thing that made these specials really special was these entertainers seemed like old friends. We saw them on TV and in the movies and they were good people who presented quality entertainment.
I can remember hurrying home to be there in time for the special. It ran only once and the VCR was a few years from introduction. The shows were clean and the only mildly tawdry reference usually centered around Christmas stockings.
They ran their course.
At the end, Hope suffered from eyesight problems and couldn’t see his cue cards. The others could not find a place of popularity among an increasingly younger audience and the Christmas variety shows faded to black.
In doing a little research for this piece, I found many of them, including Williams, Crosby, Hope and Martin, are available on DVD. There are also many clips from these great shows on YouTube.
The thought of those great, old shows bring back memories of a simpler time, when we gathered as a family around the one TV in the house and spent time together. For those who came after this era, I must seem like an old fuddy-duddy. But for those who lived through the days of the classic TV shows, I hope there is a rekindling of good memories of time well spent in the midst of wholesome laughter.
It was a nice walk down memory lane for me.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.