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Vol. 1, No. 5    December 2020
HOLIDAY HOOPTEDOODLE
WHITE CHRISTMAS has long been not only one of my favorite holiday films; it's also been lodged for years in my personal all-time Top Three. (The other two: FREAKS and GRAPES OF WRATH.)  Yes, it's sappy and cornball and probably getting more so with each passing year. Also, some of the tunes in it (i.e., the oft-cited “What Do You Do with A General”) are not, shall we say, out of Irving Berlin's top drawer.
            But the thing I love about the picture is that doing for others is the axis on which the whole thing spins. Time and again, characters go out of their way to do something good for someone else. Even when their intentions are misunderstood and get them in trouble, they keep plugging away, until the whole thing spins into a cotton-candy ending that piles joy upon joy, all played out with the help of an extended version of the most popular secular Christmas song of them all. (And if you can keep a lump from forming in your throat when Dean Jagger's old general, wearing his WW II uniform, hears the first “ten-HUT” from the troops who've come to honor him, you're a stronger person than I am.)
            At its best, the Christmas season is a celebration of just that, of doing for others. It's the time we acknowledge the birth of a child whose life on earth was all about helping others, even those who didn't appreciate it, or him. It's a time when we permit ourselves to think that there's kindness in all people, even when we're pretty sure that's not actually the case – or, if it is, that some have it buried so deep in their souls you couldn't blow it out with an M-80. Still, if there's a season when sentimentality rules, it's this one, and even those of us who've been taught that sentiment is one of the cheapest of the emotions let ourselves be diverted from the world's harshness by thoughts of goodness and mercy for all.
            Which brings us to a little two-reeler I recently discovered on YouTube. Called STAR IN THE NIGHT, it's a theatrical short subject released by Warner Bros. in 1945. It was the directorial debut of one of the great ones – Don Siegel, who'd go on to stuff his resume with the likes of DIRTY HARRY, THE SHOOTIST, and the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (released in 1956). In his long and impressive career, Siegel would win exactly one Academy Award, and that was for this, his very first picture, which runs not quite 22 minutes.
            Essentially, it's the story of the Nativity transposed to a motor court in the southwestern United States. J. Carrol Naish, playing the Greek-immigrant type that was one of his specialties, is top-billed. Second is Donald Woods, the light leading man in tons of B-pictures and, later on, a ubiquitous television presence, in the role of a down-at-the-heels hitchhiker who functions as a kind of solo Greek chorus. You'll spot other familiar faces in the cast as well, including that of Dick Elliott, the instantly recognizable character actor that baby-boomers know best as Mayor Pike on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW.  Together, these players bring life to the time-tested Yuletide formula about the cranky curmudgeon whose attitude is turned around by the unexpected kindnesses of people around him.  While it doesn't plow any particularly new ground, it's a sweet little picture that does not overstay its welcome, and I think it's certainly worth devoting less than a half-hour of your life to watching.
****
 Like many of us these days, I've been doing some Zooming, and one of my regular visits is with a group of Canadian and American pulp-magazine fans and writers. We call ourselves the Sinister Six.  During our last virtual get-together, a couple of the Sixers brought up two other off-trail holiday films that might interest you more adventurous viewers. Don Hutchison, of THE GREAT PULP HEROES and CANADIAN FRIGHTS fame, suggested the John Ford picture 3 GODFATHERS from 1948, in which a trio of thieves – led by John Wayne – takes on the responsibility of hauling a newborn baby to the desert town of New Jerusalem.  Peter McGarvey, author of the Molly Parsons Mysteries, came up with 1944's CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE – one of those great old films done under the supervision of producer Val Lewton, who felt that SUGGESTING horror was far better than actually SHOWING it. There's not a lot of horror in CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, despite its being a sequel to one of Lewton's best scary films, THE CAT PEOPLE (1942)  – but there's a deliciously creepy aura about the picture, which involves a young girl and her adult friend who may or may not be imaginary – and it's visually stunning to boot.
 
GUEST COMMENTARY
In the last issue, I mentioned my teenage crush on Nancy Sinatra, and how one of the first albums – if not THE first – I ever bought was her BOOTS disc from '66, which included that wonderfully weird endorsement of aggressive female empowerment, “These Boots Are Made for Walking” (written, by the way, by Mannford, Oklahoma's Lee Hazlewood.)
            That prompted an email from RANDY FULPS, who remembered meeting Ms. Sinatra around 1985, while he was working in a furniture store on L.A.' s famous Melrose Avenue. He had no clue about her identity until she pulled out her credit card to pay him and he read her name.
            “I would have never guessed who she was,” he reflects. “She looked like a typical suburban housewife. Very nice lady. Only then did I understand why she would pay 5K for me to build her teenage daughter's furniture.”

 
BOOKS
Since it's been going well since we began it a couple of months ago, we're extending the big autographed-book sale through December. Once again, it's for newsletter subscribers only. 
            When you order any book featured on my website, www.johnwooley.com  (SEVENTH SENSE, SATAN'S SWINE, SINISTER SERPENT, TWENTIETH-CENTURY HONKY-TONK, RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE), I'll include – absolutely free! – a copy of either GHOST BAND, my 2006 ghosts-and-big-band-music novel from HAWK Publishing Group, or HOT SCHLOCK HORROR, my 1992 survey of low-budget fright flicks that the legendary producer David F. Friedman called “the best genre-movie book I've ever read.”  Both are original printings, and I'll sign and personalize them if you'd like, just as I'll be happy to do with the other books you order.
            If you're one of the first few to order a SEVENTH SENSE, you can get one that's also autographed by its co-author, Robert A. Brown. Also, both the signed and numbered deluxe hardcover editions and the paperback copies of RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE bear the autograph of the great Ralph Terry, 1962 World Series MVP, who's the subject of the book.
            There's no extra postage or other charge for either of the free books. Just let us know which one you want with your order, and we'll take care of it. Maybe an extra tome or two might take care of someone on your holiday list as well.
            This offer is good throughout the rest of 2020. If you order pretty soon, I'll do my best to see that it gets out of here quickly, so that you'll have it for Christmas.
            Once again, that's www.johnwooley.com. Big thanks.

 
FINAL HOLIDAY HOOPTEDOODLE
There aren't many holiday songs better known than “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” written by the team of Ralph Blane (a Broken Arrow, Oklahoma native) and Hugh Martin for the 1944 movie musical MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, which starred Judy Garland. What's not quite as well known is the fact that a line in the tune was replaced in 1957, on the request of Frank Sinatra, who wanted to record it but thought a particular lyric was too downbeat for an album that was going to be called A JOLLY CHRISTMAS FROM FRANK SINATRA.
            So Martin, according to the story, changed the words in the section that now goes:
            “Through the years, we all will be together, if the fates allow.
            “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
            “And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
            The “shining star” line replaced the old lyric, which was, “Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow.”
             The latter verse seems particularly apt for the end of the exceedingly strange year of 2020. I have no doubt, however, that we'll indeed muddle through somehow, all of us together.
            And that's my wish for everyone, myself and my family included, this holiday season.
            – JW

 
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