Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Movie, Oh Christmas Movie!

It’s that time of year again and as a movie lover, I have my favorite must-see Christmas films!  I tend to prefer the classics so here goes:

A Christmas Carol (1938)
Reginald Owen and his ghosts of Christmas past, present and future scared the bejesus out of me—especially that spooky doorknocker!  As a kid, I shook with fear, but never missed a chance to watch this black and white classic.  Owen was the ultimate Scrooge and the fact that he was redeemed in the end did not convince me that even Tiny Tim could truly and forever reform him.  He probably returned to his old ways as soon as the camera stopped rolling!

Holiday Inn (1942)
This film starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby is best-remembered for the classic holiday song, ‘White Christmas’ as sung by Crosby.  The tune went on to win an Academy Award for Best Song and remained the top-selling single ever recorded until 1997 when Elton John’s ‘Goodbye, England’s Rose’ surpassed it.  Oh, and one more thing…it’s said that the founder of the real Holiday Inn chain, named his hotels after this film. 

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Imagine what the world would have been like if you had not been born.  Well, George Bailey got a glimpse of what Bedford Falls would have become without him—and it wasn’t pretty.  Clarence the angel showed him around town in hopes of getting his wings.  And did you know that ‘Zuzu’ was the name of a cookie made by Nabisco?  And that was why George called his daughter ‘my little ginger snap’.  It was that same Zuzu who let us know that every time a bell rings, an angel gets their wings!

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Ah, Cary Grant as Dudly the angel!  Heavenly bliss!  But did you know that originally David Niven was to play the angel and Cary Grant the bishop?  What were they thinking?  Thank heaven director Harry Koster saw the error in this casting and switched things up!  I especially liked the way Dudley dictated the Christmas sermon and the typewriter clacked away.  Oh how I wanted a typewriter like that when I was a kid!  And of course, the little girl named ‘Debbie’ made it even more appealing to this little girl!

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
This film was originally released in the summer of ’47 because the powers-that-be thought no one would go to the movies at Christmas time.  The Thanksgiving Day parade scene was actually filmed on November 28, 1946 at the real parade in New York City.  Edmund Gwenn played Santa Clause that day and even addressed the crowd.  Legend says that eight-year-old Natalie Wood truly believed that Gwenn was Santa Claus and was devastated when she saw him at the wrap party without his costume.

Of course, there are others, but these remain my favorites!  Now by all means, leave a comment and tell us about your favorite holiday films…


Monday, August 31, 2015

The Barbershop

Visiting a barbershop was not something most girls did in the waning hours of the afternoon when school let out.  I’m not even sure how it all started, but when I was a kid, one of my besties, Carol, and I used to walk along Jefferson Avenue in Detroit on our way home from school.  It was just part of our daily routine in the late sixties.  One of the businesses we passed was a barbershop with its red, white and blue pole swirling near the door.  All of the local gents got haircuts at Andy’s including Carol’s dad and my grandpa.  Andy was hardly a stranger, but not normally someone we’d hang out with.  I remember his thick accent that to my young ears sounded Scottish, but may have been Irish or English.  I’m not even sure his first name was ‘Andy’, but that was what everyone called him.

Andy always had a smile and for some reason took a liking to Carol and me.  He’d see us walking by and wave.  We’d wave back.  Before long, and only if he wasn’t busy, we’d step inside the shop just to say hello.  That’s when we learned that Andy had a son named David and. let it be known to all, Andy was one proud Poppa!  David was an actor currently working in England in a Peter Ustinov production of ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’.  David played Charlie.  Whenever Andy received a letter from his son, he’d wave us in with such excitement you would have thought he’d heard from the Queen herself.  Carol and I would each settle in one of his chairs and he would read David’s letter out loud. 
One particular afternoon, we were walking by and Andy waved us in.  He had a letter in his hand that he wanted to share, but there were customers waiting.  We looked at each other and made an executive decision—we didn’t stop.  We simply waved and kept on going.  The next afternoon, Andy was waiting for us.  His arms folded and a frown on his normally happy face.  “You girls saw me waving at you yesterday, but you didn’t come in.”

“You had a lot of customers,” we tried to explain.  “We didn’t want to be a bother.”
“I don’t care if my customers are hanging off the ceiling,” he shook his head.  “If I wave you girls in, you come inside.”  And just like that he was smiling again.  “I got a letter from David.” 

So in we went and this time Andy was very pleased.  David had mentioned his sister.  Andy’s daughter had died some time ago.  I believe she had cancer and she left a husband and small children.  David apparently was devastated and never talked about her—until now.  Andy just couldn’t wait to share that bit of news with us.  One afternoon, he waved us in not because he had heard from David, but because he had gotten a handwritten note from Dame Judith Anderson singing his son’s praises.  She was impressed not only with his talent, but also his work ethic and gentlemanly ways.  She wanted Andy to know what a fine son he'd raised.  I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The barbershop is long gone and I’m sure Andy is no longer with us.  I don’t know what happened to David, but I will always remember our visits with Andy and the way his face lit up whenever he received a letter from his son.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

It Happened in Hoboken...

Long before the seventh inning stretch and the glory of the grand slam, the original boys of summer took a road trip.  They left New York and crossed the Hudson River into New Jersey following their fearless leader, Alexander Joy Cartwright, a member of the New York Knickerbockers Fire Fighting Brigade, who also happened to organize baseball in his spare time. 

Cartwright and his pals regularly played ‘town ball’, an early version of baseball, on a vacant lot in Manhattan.  Forced off their makeshift playground, the loosely formed group had to get creative so in 1845, they traveled to Elysian Fields in Hoboken—a picturesque park in what was then the New Jersey countryside.  It was also conveniently located near several well-known watering holes where, after a spirited game, the men could gather to commiserate or celebrate, whichever the case may be.  For an annual fee of $75, they rented the place.  Cartwright formally organized the team he called ‘The Knickerbockers’ so he could charge dues and cover the cost.   

The official boys of summer now needed official rules to play by.  Cartwright, and his committee of four, came up with twenty.  Among them, members had to be punctual; bases were to be 42 paces apart; balls knocked outside of first and third base were considered foul and out of play; umpires made the final decisions—no appeals allowed.  He also thought that the game should be played until one team earned 21 aces, or runs, with both sides always having an equal number of batters.  These new rules also put a stop to ‘soaking’—making an out by hitting a runner with the ball.  Ouch! 

Not all of the Knickerbockers were happy campers, however.  Some of them didn’t like the idea of traveling all the way to New Jersey for practice so these homebodies stayed behind and called themselves ‘The New York Club’ or ‘The New York Nine’.  It was just as well because you need two official teams to play an official game of baseball anyway.   

The first formal baseball game played at Elysian Fields was scheduled for June 19, 1846.  The Knickerbockers even wore uniforms—white flannel shirts, blue woolen pants and straw hats.  Players that day included Wall Street clerk Henry Anthony and commercial merchant Daniel Tryon, but Cartwright himself didn’t play.  He took on the role of umpire instead.  With Cartwright calling the shots, the New York Nine soundly trounced his Knickerbockers, 23-1, in just four innings.  In all fairness, the Knickerbockers kept their best hitters on the bench. They thought it would better balance the game.   

The afternoon wasn’t without incident, however.  Cartwright fined one player, six cents for swearing.  Luckily, no one argued with the ump (25 cent fine) or disobeyed the team captain (50 cent fine).  There were obviously no hard feelings because afterward both sides shared a gala dinner and the New York Nine all eventually returned to the Knickerbockers team.   

Over the next ten years, as other cities formed their own baseball teams and competition increased, the Knickerbockers ruled the roost.  By the 1870s, however, when the National League took shape, those first boys of summer had since faded into baseball history. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Punxsutawney Phil

So Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow—another six weeks of winter!  Sheesh! 

Groundhog Day can be traced back to Candlemas Day, which was celebrated by early European Christians on February 2nd when clergy members blessed and handed out candles.  Since February is right in the middle of the winter solstice and the spring equinox, the weather that day was of great importance.  If the sun were shining, winter would continue, but if the day brought clouds and rain, winter was over.  The Germans added their own twist to Candlemas Day when they used a hedgehog.  As they settled in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, the migrating Germans brought their Candlemas tradition with them.  The only problem was a lack of hedgehogs.  Undetterred, they improvised with groundhogs.
The first official Groundhog Day was celebrated on February 2, 1886 when Punxsutawney townsfolk gathered together for a groundhog hunt.  Even the local newspaper proclaimed it Groundhog Day and reported that the animal had not seen its shadow.  The following year, The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club gathered at Gobbler’s Knob, where they still meet today, and christened Punxsutawney ‘the weather capitol of the world’.  The group also officially named their soon to be famous groundhog: “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. 

Punxsutawney folklore claims that there has never been more than one official weather-forecasting groundhog.  Unlike most groundhogs who live a mere six to eight years, Punxsutawney Phil is over 120.  He stays fit by sipping Groundhog Punch, which adds seven years to his life every time he swigs it.  When he’s not predicting weather, Phil and his wife, Phyllis, live in a climate controlled area known as The Groundhog Zoo, which is conveniently connected to the Punxsutawney Library.  The couple is cared for by the Inner Circle—those fellows who crowd around Phil wearing top hats and tuxedos as he looks for his shadow.  Once Phil decides if spring will come early or not, he announces his prediction to the Club President in Groundhogese.  In turn, the president translates Phil’s words to the rest of the world.
Sometimes, Phil dishes about more than just the weather.  During Prohibition, he demanded a drink and in 1981, he donned a yellow ribbon to remind everyone of the American hostages in Iran.  In 1993, Phil was immortalized over and over in the hit movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.

With his flair for predicting the weather, Punxsutawney Phil and his celebrated shadow will continue their annual tradition at Gobbler’s Knob—unless the Groundhog Punch runs out.