PlayNotes: Every Christmas Story Ever Told

by Jim Bailey

“Old Marley was dead as a doornail.”

Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley

Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley

The expression “dead as a door-nail” appears in English as early as the 14th century in a poem by William Langland; Shakespeare uses it in Henry VI. Theories abound as to its origin–one is that the nails used in attaching hardware to doors were especially long and the ends were clenched and could not be re-used if pulled and so were “dead.”

Film versions (and other adaptations) of A Christmas Carol.

Alastair Sim in the 1951 version

Alastair Sim as Scrooge

It’s a long list (more than 40 items) when you look at IMDb. The Alastair Sim film mentioned in the play is from 1951. There was a 1938 film with Reginald Owen as Scrooge; Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit; his wife Kathleen Lockhart as Mrs. Cratchit and their daughter June (who grew up to be Lassie’s Mom on TV) as Belinda Cratchit.
During the heyday of radio drama, A Christmas Carol was dramatized with Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge. A Christmas Carol was broadcast annually from 1934 through 1953, usually with Lionel but also with his brother John and at least once with Orson Welles. Interesting that Lionel Barrymore also played the Scrooge-like Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. (The radio broadcasts of Scrooge were my introduction to the character when I was a child. I didn’t know it as a novel until later.)

Santa and Norelco electric razor ads

The Norelco Santa

The Norelco Santa

I don’t really recall these ads but you can find them on (where else??) YouTube here. Awfully cute!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Hermie, the would-be dentist elf, and Rudolph in the classic television adaptation

Hermie, the would-be dentist elf, and Rudolph in the classic television adaptation

Rudolph started out as a picture book, created by Robert L. May, who worked for Montgomery Ward. The song was written by Johnny Marks (1949) and recorded by Gene Autry. In the TV version, which adds many characters (the girlfriend fawn Clarice, the misfit elf Hermy, the prospector Yukon Cornelius), Burl Ives voices the narration and sings the title song. A link from Wikipedia will take you to the original picture book here.

“Years from now …”

In Every Christmas Story, Yukon Cornelius turns on his way to fight the Bumble and says “Years from now when you talk about this — and you will — be kind . . .” This is a quote from the movie (and drama) Tea and Sympathy, spoken by Deborah Kerr to John Kerr. She’s the older woman helping the young student sort out his sexual identity; over the years the line has taken on a camp quality — an older man speaking to a young male lover–and both having a giggle about it.


If you’ve missed the re-broadcast of Rudolph and want to refresh your memories of the Island of Misfits, you can watch this segment on YouTube here.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

MacysThe first parade was in 1924 and has continued annually, although suspended from 1942-44 because of WWII. First televised in 1952 by NBC.

Frosty the Snowman

The song is by Walter Rollins and Steve Nelson; first recorded by Gene Autry (1950) soon after his success with “Rudolph.” The Rankin/Bass TV special premiered in 1969. People sometimes notice that the tune of the song resembles the tune of “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee.”

“You’ll put your eye out!”

A reference to A Christmas Story, a movie filmed partly in Cleveland that has now become so much a part of holiday viewing, written and narrated by Jean Shepherd. The basis for the film is “Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,'” one of the stories in Shepherd’s In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.
Red Ryder was the hunky cowboy-hero of the comic strip drawn by Fred Harman. Red and his Native American sidekick Little Beaver had typical Western adventures with cattle thieves and other outlaws. The comics led to several franchises — a radio serial, movies, and of course attaching the cowboy’s name to the Daisy air rifle.

“A Child’s Christmas with Whales”

Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953) – Welsh poet, known for his lyricism and for his drinking. He encouraged his reputation as a “roistering, drunken and doomed poet.” He did manage to record his holiday story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

O. Henry

O. Henry

O. Henry

William Sydney Porter, known by his pen name O. Henry. Also one of the more famous inmates of the old Ohio Penitentiary (located in what is now the Arena District). Convicted of embezzlement while working at a bank, Porter was sentenced to five years and served three with time off for good behavior. Known for short stories with an ironic twist – as in “The Gift of the Magi.”

It’s a Wonderful Life

Mary and George Bailey with daughter Zuzu in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Mary and George Bailey with daughter Zuzu in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

The film is based on “The Greatest Gift,” a story by Philip Van Doren Stein, which he wrote in 1939 but didn’t get published. He had the story made as a Christmas card and mailed 2000 copies. The story found its way to RKO and then to Frank Capra’s production company. The Capra film debuted in 1946 and initially did not do especially well at the box office. It was nominated for Academy Awards and won one. It has been named as one of the 100 best American films by the American Film Institute.
Radio drama again – There were several theatre programs but the premier one was Lux Radio Theatre (yes, brought to you by Lux soap!). It was an hour program which often aired adaptations of Hollywood movies, frequently with leads from the movies. It presented It’s a Wonderful Life in March 1947 with James Stewart and Donna Reed. Clarence was Victor Moore, not Henry Travers from the film. Apparently I heard this broadcast as a child since for years I was sure Victor Moore was Clarence in the film. Being on the Lux Radio Theatre was a big deal — in its early days, its host was Cecil B. DeMille.

Christmas Carols

“Good King Wen-CES-las . . . ”
I can’t see this without thinking of the Carols as parodied in Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strips.
To whit:
Good King Sourkraut looked out on his feets uneven. . .
Deck us all with Boston Charlie/Walla Walla Wash. and Kalamazoo/Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley. . . and so on.
Blame it on my youth and spending too much of it with Albert, Pogo, Churchy La Femme, et al.