Niece Leslie Sodaro: "Here's a stunning shot of my Aunt Shirley from 1944!"


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Gerry Orlando, coordinator of Cinefest (Syracuse, NY): "...That cover photo is the most beautiful picture of Shirley Booth I've ever seen! I did a MASSIVE double-take to make sure that it was her! WOW!"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

By My Crackling Fireplace In My Cozy Connecticut Farmhouse...

Some of December's Anniversaries: 

Nat Dorfman’s press release from around December 1940 indicated that the name Shirley came from "one of the wispy ingénues she played in stock called ‘Shirley Rossmore.’"

December of 1932 - Shirley Booth appeared on stage in Death Takes a Holiday with the Nashville Civic Repertoire Comedy in Nashville, Tennessee. A reviewer explained, "Lovely Shirley Booth played the part of Grazia with perfection . . . "

December 1, 1928 - Broadway show The War Song closed after 80 performances.

December 2, 1951 - Shirley Booth was heard on radio in Celebrity Time (CBS) as herself.

Saturday, December 5, 1953 - After completing the filming of About Mrs. Leslie, Booth returned to New York by train on the 20th Century Limited, compartment "H," car 2601, due at 9:30 a.m. at Grand Central in New York. She scheduled the return to begin rehearsals for her next Broadway show. According to reports, a doctor would be present in the theater while Shirley Booth appeared.

December 8, 1966 - Shirley Booth appeared as Amanda Wingfield in the CBS Playhouse adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. This two-hour television special, filmed at Rediffusion Television Ltd. in London, starred Hal Holbrook (Amanda’s son Tom), Barbara Loden (Amanda’s crippled laughter), and Pat Hingle (the gentleman caller).

December 8, 1951 - The Broadway musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn closed after a moderately successful 267 performances.  It seems it should have played much longer, especially given the superb Schwartz-Fields score.

December 9, 1945 - Shirley Booth was heard on radio in Theater Guild on the Air. The episode called "Ned McCobb's Daughter" co-starred Alfred Lunt, Richard Conte and Diana Lynn.

December 10, 1974 - Shirley offered her voice to play Mrs. Santa Claus in The Year Without a Santa Claus.  This was her final project.  Shirley sang and told the story in this Rankin-Bass stop-motion puppet special that appeared on ABC. Mickey Rooney reprised the voice of Santa Claus, which he did originally in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (1970).

December 11, 1949 - Shirley Booth was heard on radio in The Theatre Guild on the Air (a.k.a. The U.S. Steel Hour). "Street Scene" with Karl Malden and Thelma Ritter (CBS).

December 11, 1946 - Shirley Booth appeared on Broadway in the drama Land’s End.  It was based on a romance novel, Dawn in Lyonesse, by Mary Ellen Chase (produced by Paul Feigay in association with George Somnes).  Land’s End shut its doors at the Playhouse Theatre after a measly five performances, closing on December 14, 1946.

December 11, 1942 - Shirley Booth was heard on radio on The Kate Smith Show in this episode called "The Waltz." 

December 12, 1893: Actor Edward G. Robinson was born today (died
January 26, 1973). See below for more...

December 13, 1943. Shirley Booth was heard on radio on NBC’s Cavalcade of America. The show was entitled "Check Your Heart at Home."

December 14, 1945 - Shirley Booth was heard on radio in Pabst Blue Ribbon Town, starring Danny Kaye (CBS). 

December 14, 1992 - Nearly two months after she died and was cremated, Shirley Booth's remains were returned to New Jersey and buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. 

December 17 (Tuesday), 1974: The broadcast of a Christmas Happy Days episode - one of my favorite Christmas episodes, called "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas."

December 17, 1936 - One of the earliest credited appearances of Shirley Booth was on radio with The Royal Gelatin Hour starring Rudy Vallee and the Connecticut Yankees.  Shirley and Douglass Montgomery appear in a sketch called Three Diamond Bid, possibly a parody of Three Men on a Horse.

December 20, 1908: Dennis Morgan was born  (he died September 7, 1994).  He contributed to making Christmas in Connecticut a success.

December 24, 1968 - Shirley Booth appeared on NBC in Tuesday Night at the Movies: The Smugglers as Mrs. Hudson.

December 24, 1949 - Broadway show Goodbye, My Fancy closed on Broadway. This is the show in which Shirley Booth won her first Tony Award for Supporting Actress.

December 26, 1957 - Shirley Booth starred in the Broadway show Miss Isobel at the Royale TheatreIt first opened in Philadelphia at the Forrest Theatre.

December 26, 1940 - Shirley Booth starred in the Broadway show My Sister Eileen opened at the Biltmore Theatre.

December 27, 1879: Actor Sydney Greenstreet was born on this day (he died January 18, 1954).  Although he's been gone for nearly sixty years, he's charming  and likable - even when being villainous.  In short, he enlivens the films he's appeared in.  Just love Greenstreet's presence in Christmas in Connecticut as well so many other films, including those with Peter Lorre...such as The Maltese Falcon.  Also, there's The Mask of Demetrious. Anyone remember that one?  He was a great character actor!  More on him in a future post. 

December 28, 1947 - Shirley Booth was heard on radio in The Fred Allen Show. The show was sponsored by Tenderleaf Tea (NBC).  Shirley Booth appeared in a number of episodes during this time as herself. 

December 29, 1946 - Shirley Booth was heard on radio in "Broadway," a production of Theater Guild on the Air, with James Dunn co-starring. 


By My Crackling Fireplace...

Last night by my crackling fireplace, I enjoyed watching that truly charming 1945 gem, Christmas in Connecticut.  My cozy Connecticut farmhouse living room looks like the set from of Holiday Inn.   All that's missing is Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds.  My chestnuts are cooking slowly in the cast-iron skillet.  Anyone that knows me, knows that I just love the nutty sweet aroma and  taste of chestnuts.  

Christmas in Connecticut is one of the few films that gets better each passing year. I have written a post about the basics, such as the plot. Here’s some more thoughts…

Christmas in Connecticut, produced by William Jacobs and directed by Peter Godfrey, comes from an original story by Aileen Hamilton (the screenplay by Lionel Houser and Adele Commandini).  The film has many superb moments. For instance, there is the scene where Liz (Barbara Stanwyck) decorates the tree with the large glass balls.  She drops one after Dennis Morgan solemnly sings the traditional “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  Morgan also delivers in fine tenor the lovely “The Wish That I Wish Tonight,” a song written especially for the film by Jack Scholl and M. K. Jerome.

There are a number of romantic and visually exquisite scenes, albeit brief but memorable, such as when the smitten Liz sits down and rocks in her rocking chair.  The music adds to the mood by contributing to the film’s funny and romantic moments.  So much more can be said about those wonderfully composed scenes…Great Black & White cinematography!

Pictured above is Elizabeth Lane’s menu that Mr. Yardley sees in his publication. I tried to locate a recipe for Roast Goose Bernoise – it is apparently a fictitious food. Everyone online keeps offering Roast Goose Garbure Bearnaise as the film’s menu – however, that is not what is depicted in the magazine nor spoken of in the film.

Christmas in Connecticut best gives us the flavor of 1940’s Christmas - at least the way filmmakers saw America.  In short, I just love the whole production from start to finish!  

Sydney Greenstreet said it best in the film’s last lines: “What A CHRISTMAS! What A CHRISTMAS!”
I must admit I was so absorbed by this film that I started writing this piece as if I was Elizabeth Lane.  If you've seen the film, you will know what I am talking about.  No, I do not have a crackling fireplace, nor a Connecticut farmhouse, nor an open fire where I can roast chestnuts.  But like Liz I wish I had more of those niceties of life - but cannot afford them!  I have little materially, but find joy in the true and non-commercial spirit of the season!  


A Few of My Holiday Favorites:

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) - Barbara Stanwyck, Sydney Greenstreet and Dennis Morgan (and other talents) bring that warm, indescribable Christmas feeling to this silly farce.  Perhaps overlooked by most viewers, this film has an endearing 1940's charm that makes it worth watching anytime.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

A Christmas Carol (1951) - Actually this film was first released as Scrooge.  Nobody has ever topped Alastair Sim's portrayal.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

The Bishop's Wife (1947) - Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven star in this fantasy about an angel helping a bishop.  This film offers some fine performances - if you can ignore the usual Hollywood misunderstanding of humans as heavenly angels - which is erroneous (but quite commonplace in our culture).

March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934) - Toyland will always be connected to Laurel & Hardy after you see this chestnut that keeps getting better each passing year.   Despite some continuity problems, there's some superb singing by Felix Knight (well-known at that time), good acting/makeup by Henry Brandon (billed as Henry Kleinbach), and a most delightful mouse played by a Capuchin monkey!

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1995) - Tim Burton's wonderful stop-motion tale is an amazing idea executed to perfection by Rankin-Bass productions.  Wish I had thought of it!

Holiday Inn (1942) - This film is saturated with 13 Irvin Berlin tunes, with a comical scenario based upon an idea of Berlin, and is heavily-laden with the star charms of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  Holiday Inn is a musical that succeeds in entertaining even the most discerning film-goers.   One of my favorite moments comes early on as the amazing Fred Astaire & Virginia Dale dance "You're Easy to Dance With."   It is absolutely fantastic - one of the best dances ever filmed!  This full number is shot in almost one continuous take (with I think only two cuts in the whole sequence).  Just love it! 

It's A Wonderful Life (1947) - This optimistic slice-of-life reminds us of the meaningfulness of living despite the many trials and tribulations that it entails.

More good Christmas programs include the 1982 animated The Snowman, adapted from Raymond Briggs' children's story. Also, there's the 1972 The House Without A Christmas Tree.  It offers good acting by Jason Robards.  See the review from last year by Donna.  A blog reader (dcolp) reminded me of that other perennial holiday classic - Miracle on 34th Street.  That 1947 film excels in all areas, including a superb cast/story/score and very memorable dialogue.  It is definitely on my favorite list as well! 


Edward G. Robinson & Larceny Inc.

I particularly like Edward G. Robinson's of my favorites Larceny, Inc. is a fine spoof of the Warner Brothers' gangster films. The stellar cast includes Broderick Crawford, Anthony Quinn, Edward Brophy, Jane Wyman, and Jack Carson. Anyone remember this film? I have always enjoyed this quite funny and well-written 1940 comedy. 

Larceny, Inc. tells the story of a recently released convict J. Chalmers 'Pressure' Maxwell (Robinson), who along with Crawford and Brophy, buys a luggage store in order to tunnel into the next-door bank.  They hit water and oil pipes while business upstairs booms quite annoyingly.  Eventually they abandon their heist plans at mid-point when they realize their future is best served by staying honest.  Just when Robinson has a change of heart, Leo Dexter (Quinn in one of his earliest roles) breaks out of jail and wants to settle an old score by forcing them to finish the bank job because he needs some loot. Robinson and Quinn are particularly superb - and they have some great lines. Interestingly, it all comes to a climax on Christmas Eve.  Don't miss this one, particularly the scene with Robinson as a cigar chomping Santa Claus! 

Quinn delivers a memorable line: "You guys couldn't steal a towel out of a hotel without my help!"

There’s a very young Jackie Gleason mugging it up as a soda jerk. The film has a wonderful Christmas scene of Robinson outrageously dressed as Santa Claus, smoking a cigar, and being a lookout on Christmas Eve while tunneling continues underneath the bank.

What makes Larceny, Inc. so funny is that the actors played it really straight and serious!

Speaking of Anthony Quinn, Shirley Booth starred in one film with him. That film, Hot Spell, opened on September 17, 1958 - according to Shirley's scrapbook.  The film offered Shirley the opportunity to be nominated for The New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress.  Hot Spell is a tragic tearjerker with a screenplay adapted by James Poe, based on the play and novel by Lonnie Coleman named Beulah Land.

I didn't like Hot Spell - it's just too melodramatic.   It seems the problem lies in the writing.  The film doesn't satisfy me - even though Booth has some shining moments.

Shirley Booth only starred in four films and made an appearance in a fifth.  Just two films are on DVD (Come Back, Little Sheba and The Matchmaker). 


 Hazel Christmas:

One of my favorite Christmas episodes is found in that season!

There are two episodes of Hazel that are Christmas-themed, and both are available on  DVD. The first one Shirley Booth did ("Hazel's Christmas Shopping") is part of the first season. The second Christmas episode of Hazel is from the fourth season, entitled "Just 86 Shopping Minutes To Christmas" (December 24, 1964).

The latter color episode was released on videotape with the previous in the mid-1990's.  What's particularly special about this color episode is that after the Baxters go to bed on Christmas Eve, Hazel walks over to the tree and beautifully sings several verses of "O, Evergreen" (aka "O Christmas Tree").  Yes, it just doesn't get any better than that!

I must tell you that I treasure this videotape and have watched it a couple of dozen times since it first came out. Shirley Booth singing "O Evergreen, O Evergreen" will always warm my every CHRISTMAS! 

What's remarkable about all of the Hazel episodes I've seen is the fact that they were well-written and hold up as comedies some 40 years later. So much of the early television shows are disappointing when watched again now through contemporary adult sensibilities. But Hazel is unusual in that it's still quite fresh and funny.  Shirley Booth's timing and demeanor are perfect throughout these episodes.  Also, do not overlook Don DeFore's natural and convincing acting, Whitney Blake's charm which makes it all so is all so amazing to watch!

 Ted Key's Christmas Card: 

This card was addressed to Don DeFore and his wife Marion.  It was sent in 2002 from Bonnie & Ted Key.  Of course, Don portrayed George Baxter on the 1960's Hazel television show, and Ted was the creator of the Hazel strip.

Special thanks again to Ron DeFore, son of Don DeFore, for providing us with so many wonderful cards from his collection.

 Permission for publication granted by The Ron DeFore Collection.  
All Rights Reserved.


"Silver Bells"

This is my reflection on the Christmas song “Silver Bells,” by Jay Livingston & Ray Evans.....
"Silver Bells" is a beautiful, well-written Christmas standard full of evocative images and the sounds of what Christmas in the city means. The song effectively and quite concisely captures Christmas time in the city.

The rich and direct imagery is unmatched by any other Christmas song. For this reason, it tops my list of favorite songs for the holiday season.

Just listen to the imagery from the lyrics, and you'll see what I mean. The song works on many levels in stimulating the perception of Christmas time in the city.  The celebratory spirit is well-expressed by the lyrics.  Christmas time is undoubtedly about children and being together with other people, Santa, people smiling, the lights, the colors (red, green,and silver), the shopping, the treasures (presents), the bustle, and the sound of crunching snow.  In addition, the inevitable approach of Christmas day is declared in the chorus and the final two lines of the song.

Christmas time in the city offers us a distinct energy unmatched by any other time or place. You know that something’s up if you visited a typical city at Christmastime. “Silver Bells” captures that “Christmas time in the city” essence.  It’s almost like you can touch and breathe Christmas in the air, thus the song’s phrase: “In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.”

There is the omnipresent sound of bells, as provided by the Salvation Army in front of busy stores or on corners.

The song “Silver Bells” best captures the communal spirit and feelings of celebration that Christmas time entails.  The visual sights of colored lights, decorations and presents are connected with the sounds of Christmas time – the silver bells.

I think that "Silver Bells" best captures the whole mood and feeling of Christmas time in little over one hundred words. It is certainly a holiday masterpiece!  Indeed it is far superior to the much-beloved "White Christmas."

The best rendition of "Silver Bells" that I found among the hundreds that were made is the one from the 1993 Bob Hope show (Bob Hope's Bag Full of Christmas Memories) when his wife Dolores joined him in singing it.  I love the huskier sound of Dolores along with Bob's genuine attempt to carry the tune with his own singing limitations, as well as a good orchestration, including plenty of bells, makes this version quite endearing. 

In addition, the segment displayed some archival footage of Bob singing with various female guest stars who sung this song with him over his years on television (Gale Storm, Kathryn Crosby, Shirley Jones, Marie Osmond, Loretta Swit, Gloria Loring, Olivia Newton-John, Dyan Cannon, Barbara Eden, Donna Mills, Dixie Carter, Phylicia Rashad, Reba McEntire, and Loni Anderson).  However, the soundtrack features just Bob & Dolores - and probably from an earlier year since the sound dubbing of Bob's voice appears to be slightly off-sync with the picture.

It ends with wonderful picturesque footage of their horse-drawn sleigh being pulled across a snowy landscape.  It captures a certain energy about Christmas in those three minutes that makes it a timeless piece of Christmas nostalgia that will reminds me of pleasant memories of bygone years! 

I believe it is available as part of a DVD set (Bob Hope: The Ultimate Collection).
I am fortunate to have taped Bob's show that year.   Besides some of the people that are no longer alive, there's one thing I miss about Christmas time: it  is seeing those silly Bob Hope holiday specials.  All of them should be available on DVD!

Holiday Inn:

Here's my review of a film that first opened during the beginning of August, in a month lacking any holidays....Holiday Inn. This movie has a production number devoted to almost every holiday....however, it's missing St. Patrick's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Labor Day & Halloween! I would have loved to see Marjorie Reynolds & Bing Crosby do a Halloween number!  This is an excerpt of an article I wrote for The Big Reel, December 1983.

by Jim Manago

One of my favorite films to view during holiday times is the Paramount 1942 film Holiday Inn. It was directed and produced by Mark Sandrich, one of those studio directors pretty forgotten today—perhaps his best films included the Astaire-Rogers vehicles The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), and Holiday Inn. Saturated with 13 tunes of Irving Berlin, with a comical scenario based upon the idea of Berlin, and heavily laden with Bing Crosby’s and Fred Astaire’s star charm, Holiday Inn is a musical that succeeds in entertaining even the most difficult filmgoers. First opening during the beginning of August, in a month lacking any holidays, Holiday Inn "offers a reason for celebration not printed in red ink” concludes the reviewer for The New York Times.

‘Lazybones’ Crosby leaves the difficult life of nightclub performer (the 365-day grind) to become a farmer. Realizing the physical routine is harsher than what he left, Crosby conceives of Holiday Inn while resting up in a sanitarium: a place of home cooking, relaxation, and entertainment—open holidays only. Thus, Crosby has some 350 days to “kick around in” as he says. Astaire, unsatisfied with his dance partner (actually she left him), tries to steal Crosby’s girl throughout the film’s remainder, but eventually fails.

The most notable song from the film, “White Christmas” is introduced by Crosby to co-star Marjorie Reynolds in a cozy New England farmhouse living room with a fireplace burning and snow falling outside. The song’s lyrics are “impressionistic” since they suggest a mood by sensory impressions of things happening at Christmas time. A “White Christmas,” “glistening treetops,” the sound of “sleighbells in the snow” and the writing of Christmas cards are elements evocative of that warm atmosphere of Christmas. Holiday Inn will hold your interest even after this lovely tune is performed early in the film. The numbers for the other holidays are equally outstanding (they include “Let’s Start the New Year Right,” "Be Careful, It’s My Heart," "Abraham," "I Can’t Tell a Lie," "Easter Parade," "Say it With Firecrackers”).

Undoubtedly, Holiday Inn has to be examined as another example of Hollywood’s escapist films. This musical is among the Paramount Studio’s best accomplishments at the time. A film dealing with the holidays, particularly with songs for each holiday, was new to film musicals. Yes the cliched triangular love story does weaken the film somewhat. Nevertheless, the excellent songs by Irving Berlin along with the original talents of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire have been ignored too long by serious film scholars of Hollywood films. Why is this so when Holiday Inn, among other forgotten films like Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), is an entertainment vehicle fait bien? This type of film certainly entertained millions and kept the film industry alive even during a major war.

It’s really fascinating that such a light-hearted song-and-dance routine film could be made at this horrible time in world history with only a one-minute reference to the pressing problems of the real world. In the middle of the number “Song of Freedom” with Crosby singing, the stage curtains open to a screen showing a montage sequence of war preparations, factory operations, the President speaking, etc.

Though none of the war’s evils are shown, this brief sequence reminds the viewer that even though they are experiencing a fictional story, there exists a real responsibility of each viewer to our beloved nation to protect his freedom so that “all God’s people shall be free” (lyrics to song). Though some may consider the sequence an obvious propaganda intrusion, I believe it functions beyond that on a more legitimate level of instilling an intense pride for American values and acts as an exhortation for us to be sure to continue defending those values.

Holiday Inn, really a forgotten film, has been criticized for being episodic in narrative structure. But despite any such alleged flaws, it is an enjoyable experience. A relaxing spirit pervades the film—no doubt, this is due to the angelic charm of Bing Crosby. The romantic conflict is even played for its comic possibilities, and never is it to be taken seriously. 
Holiday Inn (1942) is available on videotape from: Famous Films, Inc., 8030 Crespi Boulevard, Miami Beach, Florida 33141, phone (305) 866-2114. Service is highly recommended. 


Don DeFore's Christmas Card:
Last year on my December 14th posting:

In response to a reader's question about the Christmas card (that it seemed to be upside down), Ron DeFore responded as follows:


Thanks for writing and pointing these things out to me. First,the card is a single-strip and I obviously had pasted the cover on upside down. 

Attached is a corrected one and a couple more of interest that I’m not sure I ever shared with you.
 Merry Christmas,

 Ron DeFore


Here's that card as it should have appeared:

 Permission granted from the Ron DeFore Collection. 
All Rights Reserved.


The Smugglers:

It was on December 24, 1968 that Shirley Booth starred on NBC's Tuesday Night at the Movies: The Smugglers.
The television movie The Smugglers, directed by Norman Lloyd, had Shirley Booth playing Mrs. Hudson, an American tourist traveling in Austria and Italy. Mrs. Hudson, with her stepdaughter/companion (Carol Lynley), becomes unintentionally mixed up with an international smuggling ring when they try to get through customs with some souvenirs.

Strangely broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1968, The Smugglers never played to its completion due to the interruption by a news broadcast of the historic Apollo 8 space mission.

It has been suggested that NBC intentionally scheduled this inferior and violent movie when they did, knowing that it probably would be pre-empted by the news coverage. Who knows?

A check of the TV Listings from The New York Times confirms that NBC planned this film knowing it would be interrupted. It reads:

8:00 (4) World Premiere Movie: "The Smugglers," Shirley Booth, Carol Lynley, Gayle Hunnicut, Michael J. Pollard, Kurt Kasnar. Mother and daughter are pawns in plot to deliver a "religious statue to a smuggler's friend in Italy. (C) (movie scheduled to be interrupted for reports on Apollo 8)

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much chance that The Smugglers will ever be available on DVD.

Also broadcast on New York television for December 24, 1968 was my favorite rendering of Charles Dickens' immortal tale...

1:15 (2) Late Late Show: "A Christmas Carol" (1951). Alastair Sim...

And of course, as was the routine on Christmas Eve, this film was repeated again at 2:55 a.m.

In 1971, CBS TV's Late Late Show broadcast (Ch. 2 at 1:10 a.m.) of A Christmas Carol was pitted against my other favorite, Christmas in Connecticut on WNBC TV's Great Great Show broadcast (Ch. 4 at 1:15 a.m.). The New York Times noted quite aptly that the latter film is "Pleasant and amusing. Nice, cozy holiday fare."

Going back a year earlier to 1970, the Alastair Sim version was not played - instead the MGM Edward L. Marin production starring Reginald Owen (1938) ran as usual at that time, opposite the superb Christmas in Connecticut. Despite some interesting touches that MGM added to the classic, this version pales in comparison to Sim's portrayal. I think Owen was miscast and not particularly convincing.


Christmas Music:

Whatever religion or spirituality you follow, Christmas-time offers some truly unforgettable and enjoyable music. A few of the many songs that continue to uplift me in these days include the following….

One of the most overlooked, but quite inspiring songs well worth hearing during the holiday season (and anytime), is Franz Shubert’s “Ave Maria,” composed nearly 200 years ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog months back, James Whale’s 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein offers a rendition of “Ave Maria” in the famous scene of the Frankenstein monster meeting the blind hermit.

The often-played song “Silent Night” likewise has an amazing power to pull your heartstrings. Countless times it has been played as background to climactic scenes of radio or other productions, creating an intensity when played on a violin. It engenders feelings of compassion and spiritually positive thoughts.

Victor Herbert’s operetta “Babes in Toyland,” composed over one hundred years ago, gave us with another catchy melody with “Toyland” (with lyrics written by Glen MacDonough).

“Silver Bells,” by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans captures the communal energy omnipresent at Christmas-time, and it sounds particularly good when played with arrangements using bells.

The list of melodious Christmas songs includes “Joy to the World,” “It Can Upon A Midnight Clear,” “What Child is This,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and so on.

The one thing I miss most about the end of the Christmas season is that we put such beautiful songs away for another whole year. So much of the music is too good to banish it during the rest of the year.  Yes, I am sickened by the rampant materialism, and it should be over for good by now - but the spirit of Christmas should dwell year-round.

I see Christmas as NOTjust a day, but a frame of mind,” as Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwen) observed in Miracle on 34th Street (1947).

Finally, there’s a song that best expresses this: “Keep Christmas With You All Through The Year.”  It is heard on Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.

At least let’s stop locking Christmas music away until eleven months from now. It would be especially wonderful if radio stations and people would occasionally play some “Christmas music” throughout the year!


Shirley Booth: 39 Years Ago, December 10, 1974:

I recall the wonder of hearing Shirley Booth's voice as Mrs. Santa Claus in the memorable holiday classic The Year Without a Santa Claus. This was her final project. Shirley sang and told the story in this Rankin-Bass stop-motion puppet special that appeared on ABC.

The Year Without a Santa Claus is one of the best programs Shirley Booth did. The show celebrated its 37th broadcast anniversary in 2011. The classic also had Mickey Rooney reprising the voice of Santa Claus, which he did originally in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (1970).

The animated classic tells the story of the year when Santa Claus is sick with a cold. Thanks to the dire advice from Santa’s physician that nobody cares anymore about Christmas, Santa Claus decides he will not deliver presents. However, his elves, Jingle Bells and Jangle Bells, think that if they could convince Santa otherwise, he might change his mind.

In order to accomplish this, the elves have to get to Southtown, U.S.A. to find children who care. However, there is Heat Miser and Snow Miser to contend with who have a problem deciding on whether it should snow or not in Southtown. Mrs. Claus intervenes by going to Heat Miser and Snow Miser’s mother. By the conclusion, Santa realizes the error of his thinking and decides to deliver presents after all.

This television program could have been more aptly titled, "Almost the Year Without a Santa Claus." Shirley sings the title track and "I Could Be Santa Claus."

Interestingly, "I Could Be Santa Claus" is Mrs. Claus' wishful transgender desire that anyone could be Santa Claus. Mrs. Claus notes how she has "fantasized it a lot," and that no one would know the difference. She questions, "why can't a lady like me?" be Santa Claus.

Unfortunately our culture gets too stuck up in this gender binary world, with males dominating everything. So Santa Claus is defined and always seen as male-gendered. Apparently society ridiculously and staunchly insists on such rigid male and female gendered roles that if we trangress those "norms" somehow we are toppling our civilization. It's unusual to see something, if ever so slightly, challenge those "norms" back in the 1970's.

The music includes Rooney singing "I Believe in Santa Claus." The mayor and townspeople offer "It’s Gonna Snow in Dixie." The Snow Miser and Heat Miser both sing a song. In addition, the best number is when the little girl sings "I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You." The children all joined in the finale with "Here Comes Santa Claus."

Guess Who's Coming to Christmas?

Three years ago we lost  actor Tom Bosley (October 1, 1927 – October 19, 2010).  His death reminded me that he gave us one of television's best portrayals of an understanding, agreeable father (Howard Cunningham). Much like my own father, who shared the same exact birthday (October 1, 1927), Bosley superbly played Howard with a kindness and an easygoing nature that's unforgettable (although at times he could lose his cool).

In this second season episode (#11) from December 17, 1974, Howard wants a quiet family Christmas. His son Richie learns that mechanic Fonzie will be spending the holiday all alone, even though Fonzie (Henry Winkler) insists that will have a great Christmas in Waukesha (Wisconsin).

Yes, like most situation comedies, it's quite predictable that Fonzie will
join them by the finale...but the episode rings true on an emotional level. In fact it's on that level that we derive so much of the pleasures and enjoyment of the holiday season. So many of the festivities, rituals, and myths that people celebrate at this time are unconnected to the actual reality that it's simply a special birthday.

Among some of the best moments in this episode of Happy Days include when lonesome Fonzie is seen eating his dinner out of a can, and at the finale when Fonzie offers a simple and refreshing grace: "Hey God, thanks."
It's a lesson to those who like pompous prayers...


Christmas Film Reviews from 2000 & 2001:

Here's several of my Christmas film reviews that I did as a columnist back in 2000 and 2001. The column was called "Video Reviewer by Jim Manago," published in a New York weekly.
Christmas in Connecticut
Superb acting combined with witty dialogue make this 1945 movie an interesting seasonal comedy from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Warner Home Video. 
A Martha Stewart-type of homemaker columnist, Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), has only one problem for Christmas. How does she explain to her portly publisher Mr. Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) and a homestarved WWll veteran (Dennis Morgan) that she’s a phony? She doesn’t have a husband, a baby, nor a country home as she’s claimed in her magazine articles. Even more disturbing is the fact that she can’t cook. Of course, her publisher invited himself to what he believes will be a good old-fashioned country Christmas in Connecticut. The only way to save her job and her reputation is to act out the lies she’s been writing. If things couldn’t’ get any worse, the “married” Elizabeth falls in love with the visiting vet. 

Christmas in Connecticut is a well-scripted farce that seemingly has very little to do with Christmas. It does take place at Christmas. And it does make the point that phoniness is more evident at Christmas. The most obvious and entertaining message from this movie is that truth always becomes known: The Christmas spirit and deception don't blend very well! If you love discovering an enjoyable classic, then rent Christmas in Connecticut this Christmas!

Scrooge (also released as A Christmas Carol)

This 1951 classic is no doubt the best version of Charles Dickens’ immortal story “A Christmas Carol.” It stands the test of time. Available in b&w and colorized versions.

Most portrayals of Charles Dickens’ miser Scrooge make him into an overly mean one-dimensional, cardboard character to the point that he’s not fully human anymore.

I recently sat through nearly a dozen versions of Dickens’ perennial holiday favorite. Most productions are fairly acceptable: Reginald Owen from the 1930’s, Mr. Magoo from the 1960’s, Albert Finney’s musical version from the 1970’s, George C. Scott in the 1980’s and so on. Other versions suffer from over-acting or some weakness.

But along comes the remarkable 1951 British production. The actor playing Scrooge is Alastair Sim, accompanied by a superb supporting cast. Sim truly shines. No one has surpassed the actor’s brilliant interpretation of Scrooge. His portrayal makes Scrooge a very real and sympathetic person. You could feel for his frailties, and appreciate how unhappy he is, as a result of his hardened heart.

He’s played as a three-dimensional, suffering human being, struggling with his greed, forced to find peace and serenity. When he awakes on Christmas morning after being visited by the spirits, you have a truly remarkable and believable exhilaration.

What really matters most from Sim’s multi-layered dynamic portrayal is that Scrooge realizes that life is only meaningful when you live with faith, tolerance, and kindness. What is truly remarkable about these qualities is that the more you give of them, the more you have!
Merry Christmas!

Classic Movies:
Animated Programs:


It's A Wonderful Life

The 1947 slice of life classic looks better with each passing year. This inspirational chestnut makes it known once and for all time that life, despite its trials, disappointments and sadness, is indeed worth living! Republic Pictures Home Video. Distributed by Artisan.

It’s that time again to dust off your copy of this holiday masterpiece. And if you don’t own it, then purchase a copy today. During the hectic holiday season, this is the one movie you must see. No other movie better captures the spirit of Christmas and the joy of living.

In this endearing 132-minute comedy/fantasy, George Bailey is on the verge of killing himself. However, his guardian angel shows him what a mistake that would be to give up living. The powerful but simple message that the movie so beautifully offers is that each person, like George Bailey, has a very special unique gift. Our very own life. And we must share that gift of our life with others.

Throughout his films, the Italian-American director and producer Frank Capra (1897-1991) presented us with a profoundly optimistic view of life. Capra once said that although he had a very humble peasant origin in Sicily with plenty of hardships, he vowed not to die a peasant. And with It’s A Wonderful Life, Capra indeed achieved a royalty with his superb cinematic storytelling. The last five minutes is cinema at its best! And even though it was a box-office disappointment when first released, television has made it more and more popular each year. Over fifty years later movie lovers everywhere still truly enjoy Capra’s moving expression of his belief in and love of humanity.

Fifteen years ago, I contributed a video review of this movie to a local paper. And as I looked back over all those years, re-read my review and watched this movie once again, I discovered that many things have changed in my life. But It’s A Wonderful Life still remains the same. James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers and the rest act their parts just as convincingly as before. The dialogue and the scenes are still very memorable. Even after a lifetime of viewing this movie forty or fifty times, I find it has become more relevant and enjoyable. And although the movie’s positive influence on millions of people present and past is incalculable, I know undoubtedly that It’s A Wonderful Life will remain a brilliant life-affirming movie. Its uplifting message is much needed in a world darkened by pessimism and cynicism.

It truly is a wonderful life! Happy Holidays!!!

Annabelle's Wish
This 1997 animated barnyard tale about Christmas wishes is sure to become a classic in the ranks with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Hallmark Home Entertainment. The tender 54 minute fantasy is about Billy, a boy who cannot talk, and Annabelle, a calf with a wish to fly. But Annabelle has a much more special wish, which makes this an encouraging Christmas program for all ages.

Unlike dozens of other animated Christmas-themed productions, Annabelle's Wish captivates you with that old-fashioned feeling. It features the voices of Randy Travis, Cloris Leachman, Jerry Van Dyke, and Jim Varney. The original songs are performed by Travis, Alison Krauss, and Beth Neilsen Chapman. Young and old will enjoy this sentimental tale about how Christmas wishes can and do come true!!

More importantly, the program offers the poignant conclusion that “wishes are worth waiting for – no matter how long it takes or what gets in your way.”


Meet Me in St. Louis:

There is at least one song that provides a dose of pathos at Christmas time. That is, it offers a balance to the saccharine and sickeningly overplayed holly-jolly songs everywhere you go (in part due to corporate greed). 

"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" musically reminds us of the bittersweet experience of Christmas-time for many people. Look around you and you will see the desolate, the stigmatized, the lonely, the grieving, the unemployed, the homeless, the sick, the dying, and so on.  One cannot celebrate Christmas  without acknowledging this reality - and doing something about it.

Judy Garland effectively introduced this song composed by Hugh Martin (born August 11, 1914) in 1944 in the film Meet Me in St. Louis.

Meet Me in St. Louis is another musical that I would recommend as part of your collection if you enjoy classic films. I am repeating this article I intended for publication in a scholarly journal back in early 1990''s about one of my favorite musicals...



MGM. 1944. Running Time: 113 minutes.

Produced by Arthur Freed
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay by Irving Brecher and Fred Finklehoffe, 

based on The New Yorker stories and novel by Sally Benson
Music Adapted by Roger Edens
Dances by Paul Jones
Photography by George Folsey
Dance Director: Charles Walters
Art Directors: Cedric Gibbons and Lemuel Ayers
Songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane

Musical Numbers: “The Boy Next Door”
“The Trolley Song”
“Meet Me in St. Louis” (by Andrew Sterling & Kerry Mills
“Skip to My Lou”
“Have Yourself a Merry Christmas”

Awards: National Board of Review Awards – Ten Best Films of the Year List
National Board of Review Awards – Best Acting – Margaret O’Brien
Cast includes: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Leon Ames, Mary Astor and Harry Davenport

“This is a musical even the deaf should enjoy….”
James Agee on Meet Me in St. Louis

Joseph Hurley said it best in 1971 when he stated that Meet Me in St. Louis is “the American past through unashamedly rose-colored filters. It’s American as she wishes she had been, and perhaps even was, for a little while.”(N) Later on in 1977 Bosley Crowther noted: “Being concerned with a period, in styles and social attitudes, its fantasies are now as arbitrary and imperishable as though they were captured under glass. And this is the way we should now view it, as a happy celebration of an age, accurate or not as a generality, like the glitter of the St. Louis Fair.” (N)

James Agee, Joseph Hurley and Bosley Crowther, among other critics have certainly revered Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis as one of those rare Hollywood films that’s so well-crafted in all aspects; light-hearted, nostalgic, and overflowing with warmth and love that repeated viewings are unavoidable.

Even though the film was a critical and commercial success, there’s still a surprising sparsity of serious comment available. Film Literature Index, the leading periodical to film literature, indicates only seven articles in the English language in the past fifteen years. Most of these articles give only passing reference to the cinematic (or non-narrative to the production; instead, they deal specifically with the film’s literary (or narrative) aspects. Not only do periodicals ignore treatment of Meet Me in St. Louis as a musical, but many history books and textbooks have failed to even give a passing reference to this classic period musical. Some references note that it’s a film of value, but they have never gone as far as to say that it is a “break-through” musical which moved the musical form to a height not achieved earlier.

Plenty of positive responses are scattered throughout film books and periodicals, but they are usually so superficial and inane. For instance, Leslie Halliwell in the Filmgoer’s Companion diminishes the film when he states it’s “A somewhat overrated but enjoyable period musical…”

In addition to the type of articles that simply expose and extol the narrative merits of particular film (or lack thereof), there are those nauseating oral ego trips; namely, interviews with people connected with a specific aspect of a film production. It’s quite unfortunate that much of film criticism incorporates or involves these two limited perspectives. Meet Me in St. Louis is an example of the inadequacy of much film criticism written by those that fail to see cinema as a form requiring it’s own analytical perspective. Film is not merely narrative material. And it can not be done justice by the retelling of anecdotes connected with a production, as the interview approach has glorified.

It’s interesting and intellectually jarring to see a critic no longer studying the film as period musical fait bien. Most odd is Robin Wood’s proposition that "Meet Me in St. Louis is a comedy with intermittent Horror film overtones….Meet Me in St. Louis was a comedy of containment: we laugh at it’s accumulating horrors of family life in order to find them acceptable and to feel affectionate towards them.”(1) Wood reflects more of his own attitude and the critical climate of the seventies than an objective rendering of the film’s importance as a musical. He captures this attitude best when he states that: “In it’s time (1944) it was widely acclaimed as celebratory film; in retrospect from the seventies, it can be more convincingly be read as relentless study of psychopathology of the Family.” (2)

J.P. Telotte’s analysis is perhaps the only one in recent critical literature that is stimulating – yet reasonable in it assertions. He notes that the concluding scene at the fair "demonstrates the great strength of the musical in an almost self-reflexive or metacinematic way, that union of sights and sound fulfilling the film’s fundamental promise: it has created a society of spectator/participants, whose individual hopes – the expectations each member of the Smith family brought to the fair – have been satisfied within a comforting social context.” (3)

As edifying as Wood’s alternative view of Meet in St. Louis as a comedy might be, or as Telotte’s analysis of that tension between self and society, these and the other critics writing about Meet Me in St. Louis have missed the mark about why this film is worth critical evaluation. And they have neglected to study it as a musical.

Is there any need really to give the film more critical attention than it has received? Yes, for Meet Me in St. Louis take the musical form a step forward from where it was before its release in 1944. Minnelli came along, and seeing the simplistic, uneven reality of musical film, made a film that permanently changed films.

Through expert art direction, fine musical number integration into the narrative, and good overall acting and direction, Meet Me in St. Louis is a film with a limited narrative brought to life and given a boost by these ingredients. By utilizing what he knew about art and life Minnelli combined cinematic and narrative elements into one charming film so that a biography of another director of that period said of this film: “Minnelli plunges us into total unreality, we are in another world and we see this world with the eyes of Minnelli. We are immersed in fantasy, in an hallucinatory delirium…In this sense, the script is of no importance whatsoever. Whether it is a question of a drama, a psychological comedy or musical comedy, the result is the same; we leave the real world to find ourselves in a fantastic universe.” (4)

Meet Me in St. Louis is a musical film that has advanced the musical form. The blend of elements is so appropriate and well-done that the film never makes one aware of any transition from performance of a musical number to the plot. Earlier musicals, such as the Busby Berkeley backstage musicals, and even some of the Astaire-Rogers films of the 1930’s, are vehicles whereby the narrative is only an excuse to present a musical number.

The noticeable transition from musical number back to narrative and verse-versa is non-existent in Meet Me in St. Louis. Certainly the Minnelli musicals have in common a singular degree of success in integrating their expressive or musical elements with their narrative lines.”(5) There’s a very natural flow of narrative and number in Meet Me in St. Louis to such a extent that previous musicals which attempted it did not succeed in the integration and blending to the degree that Minnelli’s tour de force Meet Me in St. Louis.

Here in Meet Me in St. Louis we find that the narrative is not subservient to the numbers or something to “put-up with” in order to experience a musical performance. Instead, the musical numbers are the means whereby the characters express or convey their prevailing feelings and thoughts. The numbers are not redundant; they add or further develop information about the characters and the world they live in. The performance mentality is not predominant in Meet Me in St. Louis as it is in other musicals. Therefore, the musical numbers flow naturally from the characters; it’s not disjunctive in nature or a shifting of gears.

As regards the narrative, little happens in this 113-minute film, but what does happen is handled so deftly and expertly that the viewer is touched and moved. The limited narrative does not undermine the true power of the film in affecting the emotions, not the intellect, of the viewers. It’s the selection of detail, the décor, the photography, the acting, overall design and direction, as well as the real warmth conveyed in the musical numbers and narrative that makes Meet Me in St. Louis an achievement of the musical form that merits special attention, even though the narration is simple and not much to ponder.

The musical form was raised from its naïve, primitive, escapist, and dichotomous nature of performance vs. plot to a higher level of maturity which comes close to achieving what John Russell Taylor and Arthur Jackson ideally define the musical film as a “film which, in whole or in part, has its shape, its movement, its whole feeling dictated by music.”(6)

Meet Me in St. Louis is the type of film that is totally integrated (musical numbers becoming one with the narrative) and one of the few musicals that achieves better than other films of the era that definition of the ideal musical.

This neglected film deserves a critical approach (and generally speaking, all films do too) that does more than explore the narrative, provides information on the making of the film, or analyzes the film’ ideology or sociological implications. So much criticism emphasizes these aspects.

There’s nothing wrong with approaching a film from any of these perspectives. However, they are limited and so overused to the point of neglecting coverage of cinema as cinema. The approach that would do Meet Me in St. Louis justice as a “break-through” musical is not evident in any of the published critical literature yet.

Meet Me in St. Louis does not require critical studies to justify viewing it repeatedly. The film with its highly integrated structure and outstanding production values defies full understanding. Meet Me in St. Louis is a film achievement that altered permanently what was expected of a musical film. Though it has not been extensively covered in film books and literature, the film remains one of the best musicals ever made from a cinematic point of view; that is studying the film as a film, not studying it as literature, nor studying it as an ideological or sociological artifact.


1 Robin Wood, “The American Family Comedy: From Meet Me in St. Louis to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.Wide Angle, 3.2 (1979), p. 11.

2 Robin Wood, p. 9.

3 J.P. Telotte, “Self and Society: Vincente Minnelli and Musical Formula.” Journal of Popular Film, 9.4 (1982), p. 186.

4 Joseph Hurley, Notes for the East-West Center Summer film Festival, Honolulu, 1971. [Reprinted in Alan Seeger’s Class Notes, St. John’s University, p. 197).

5 Telotte, p. 182.

6 John Russell Taylor and Arthur Jackson, The Hollywood Musical. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971.

N The quotes of James Agee, Joseph Hurley, and Bosley Crowther are derived from Alan Seeger’s Class Notes (see additional sources for further details), p. 194-197.


Bathrick, Serafina. “The Past as the Future: Family and the American Home in Meet Me in St. Louis.” The Minnesota Review, New Series 6 (spring 1976), 132-9.

Britton, Andrew. “Meet Me in St. Louis: Smith, or the Ambiguities.” Australian Journal of Screen Theory, No. 3 (1977), 7-25.

Casper, J. A. Vincente Minnelli and the Film Musical. New York: A.S. Barnes, 1977.

Elsaesser, Thomas. “Vincente Minnelli.” Brighton Film Review, No. 15 (December 1969), 11-13 and No. 18 (March 1970), 20-2.

Galling, Dennis Lee. “Vincente Minnelli” Films in Review, 15 (1964), 129-40.

Harcourt-Smith, Simon. “Vincente Minnelli.” Sight and Sound, 21.3 (January-March 1952), 115-119.

Hemming, Roy. The Melody Lingers On: The Great SongWriters and Their Musical Numbers. New York: Newmarket Press, 1986.

Hoberman, J. “Scanners: Oh, You Kid.” Village Voice, 30, December 10, 1985, 49

Johnson, Albert. “The Films of Vincente Minnelli: Part I.” Film Quarterly, 12.2 (Winter 1958), 21-35.

Johnson, Albert. “The Films of Vincente Minnelli: Part ll.” Film Quarterly, 12.3 (Spring 1958), 32-42.

Lehman, P. and others. “Two Weeks in Another Town”: An Interview with Vincente Minnelli.” Wide Angle, 3.1 (1979), 54-71.

McVay, Douglas. “The Magic of Minnelli.” Films and Filming, 5.9 (June 1959), 11+

Minnelli, Vincente. “The Rise and Fall of the Musical,” Films and Filming, 8.4 (January 1962), 9.

Minnelli, Vincente and H. Arce. I Remember it Well. New York: Doubleday, 1974.

Telotte, J.P. “Self and Society: Vincente Minnelli and Musical Formula.” Journal of Popular Film, 9.4 (1982), 181-93.

Wood, Robin. “The American Family Comedy: From Meet Me in St. Louis to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Wide Angle, 3.2 (1979): 5-12.


Thornton Wilder's Death:

My favorite author/playwright Thornton Wilder was born on April 17, 1897 (he died on December 7, 1975).

Two of the four films that Shirley Booth starred in are available for home viewing on DVD.  One of those is the 1957 film version of one of Thornton Wilder's 1954 play The Matchmaker (a revision of his Merchant of Yonkers).

One of my all-time personal favorite is Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1927 short novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.  Wilder gave us a superb story full of extraordinary meaning!  The story tells of the fascinating exploration by a Franciscan Brother Juniper into why five people died on a Peruvian bridge.

Last year I re-read this story with much greater appreciation now (thirty years after first reading it). I found the story quite worthy of intensive study and I highly recommend it to you as one of the best short novels ever written.  Briefly, Wilder movingly reveals how the meaning of life and death is really centered around love, and how we all need to overcome our isolation and become "bridges of love."  He effectively uses the rich metaphors of the bridge, letter writing, and the theater in order to convey his themes.

The story has been made into a movie three times - but none of them have been entirely satisfactory...Of course, the first two movie versions changed Wilder's story to a happier ending to satisfy the censors (1929 and 1944). The 1929 version is not available on DVD. The 1944 version is available, and it features the legendary stars Nazimova and Lynn Bari.

The most recent version of Wilder's story from 2004 is available on DVD - and it is quite faithful to the original story. Somehow it lost the spirit of the story due to several things, such as some miscasting and story development problems - though the film is appealing anyway.

The latter version has Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie) playing the Abbess. This finale shows the burning at the stake of Brother Juniper as well as his heretical book (that came from his study of the accident - even though his conclusions were "orthodox").
These lines from the finale are often quoted:
"We ourselves shall be loved for awhile and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."




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For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010

Further details at:

1 comment:

dcolp said...

This is an excellent list. My all-time favorite is "Miracle on 34th Street."