Let’s put it this way: You can have your standard Dickensian fare, perhaps unearthing one of about, oh, two dozen of Lionel Barrymore’s vintage Scrooge performances, and play it safe and sound. Or, you can indulge maybe the most unique twist old-time radio ever gave Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, in the hands of a man who isn’t exactly a stranger to a timeless holiday creation.
It begins when a bitter young runaway encounters Ponsett (James Stewart) along a brisk trail and staggers the laconic wanderer with his apparent rejection of the holiday cheer. It continues when Ponsett convinces the boy to sit, relax, and listen, as he spins a tale about another fellow who thought Christmas was a bunch of hooey—a miserly rancher (Howard McNear) who spurns his nephew’s invitation to Christmas dinner, bawls out one of his foremen for building a modest shack for his afflicted young family, and finally encounters three spirits, each of whom brings him one or another ominous warning and shows him one or another jarring doing.
Dickens probably had no clue that his tale could have been adapted into a Western yarn, never mind whether he would have chosen Stewart as his catalyst in such an instance. But if you can sense Stewart stifling a few snickers while telling this interpretation you can be forgiven. He probably means nothing disrespectful, even if there is a moment (or two) where the effort to contort the story into a Western tall tale is just a little obvious.
Which may be an occupational hazard when you’re continuing to forge a folksy adult Western, but it’s a hazard worth wrestling.
Additional cast: Unidentified. Announcer: Hal Gibney. Music: Basil Adlam. Director: Jack Johnstone. Writer: Frank Burt.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
Escape: Figure a Dame (CBS, 1949)—A dubious, slightly treacherous insurance detective (Frank Lovejoy) hired to guard a traveler’s (Sarah Selby) valuable emerald while moving about India en route a return to France fears the gem may be targeted by more than one thief. Loosely based on the short story by Richard Sale, and we do mean loosely, though effectively. Marian: Joan Banks. Rafferty: Ben Wright. Additional cast: Paul Frees, Harry Bartell, Gary Merrill. Music: Bernard Herrman. Director: William N. Robson. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.
The Great Gildersleeve: Christmas 1942 (NBC, 1942)—Rushed to get the annual state of the water department report done by Christmas Eve, an exhausted Gildy (Harold Peary) collapses asleep at his desk and sleeps there through the night . . . haunted into the holiday anti-spirit by rapid-fire dreams of gift demands and a romantic misunderstanding. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Floyd: Arthur Q. Bryan. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Hooker: Earle Ross. Leila: Shirley Mitchell. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Music: Claude Sweeten Orchestra. Director: Cecil Underwood. Writer: John Whedon.
Texaco Star Theater with Fred Allen: Santa Claus Sits Down (CBS, 1942)—Effective reprise of a classic sketch first performed in 1937. Also includes a performance by Metropolitan Opera star Rise Stevens. With Portland Hoffa. The Texaco Workshop Players: John Brown, Parker Fennelly, Minerva Pious, Charles Cantor, Alan Reed. Announcer: Jimmy Wallington. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra, the Merry Macs. Writers: Fred Allen, Harry Tugend, possibly Herman Wouk.
Fibber McGee & Molly: Best Christmas Decorations (NBC, 1949)—The Wistful Vista rivalries over the best-decorated Christmas house have gotten to the Squire of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan), who’s sparing no expense or item to do what he hasn’t done in two decades and win the friendly competition. Olie: Richard LeGrand. Customer: Herb Vigran. La Trivia: Gale Gordon. The Old-Timer: Bill Thompson. Marian Jordan (Molly) reprises her affecting lead (as Teeny) of “The Night Before Christmas.” Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men, Ken Darby. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.
Life with Luigi: Pasquale Takes Luigi’s Christmas Money (CBS, 1949)—Thinking Luigi (J. Carroll Naish) snubbed him on his Christmas list, Pasquale (Alan Reed) gets even by hiding Luigi’s money envelope—unaware that Luigi was saving it for his Christmas gift. Miss Spalding: Mary Shipp. Schultz: Hans Conreid. Rosa: Jody Gilbert. Horowitz: Joe Forte. Olsen: Ken Peters. Announcer: Bob Stevenson. Music: Lud Gluskin. Director: Mac Benoff. Writers: Mac Benoff, Lou Derman.
Our Miss Brooks: The Christmas Gift Mix-Up (CBS; Armed Forces Radio and Television Services Rebroadcast, 1953)—Connie (Eve Arden) reluctantly decides to spend what little money she has on Boynton (Robert Rockwell), discovers Mrs. Davis (Jane Morgan) broke their agreement not to exchange gifts with each other, can’t duck none-too-subtle hints for gifts from everyone else, and watches in horror as one after another gift—especially the negligee Mrs. Davis gave Connie—circulates wildly enough around Madison High. Walter: Richard Crenna. Conklin: Gale Gordon. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Director: Al Lewis. Writers: Al Lewis, Arthur Alsberg.
Rogue’s Gallery: Fortune in Furs (Mutual, 1945)—Rogue (Dick Powell) is hired to probe a fire that destroyed over $100,000 worth of furs . . . by the troubled warehouse manager who wants him to prove arson, wants $1,000 before agreeing to let him take the case, gets murdered before Rogue can launch the probe in earnest, and may have been haunted by a blonde (Gloria Blondell) pursuing him. If you accept this series as a pilot fish for Powell’s later success as Richard Diamond, Private Detective, which is exactly what this show turns out to have been, you’ll survive. Eugor: Peter Leeds. Miss Grant: Possibly Lurene Tuttle. Announcer: Jim Doyle. Music: Leith Stevens. Director: Dee Engelbach. Writer: Ray Buffum.
Broadway is My Beat: The Charles Ralston Murder Case (CBS, 1952)—Clover (Larry Thor) and Muggavan (Jack Kruschen) find 19-year-old Jimmy Barton (Sam Edwards) beaten unconscious in an alley, a month after he was injured severely in an automobile accident by Ralston, whose wife ( Paula Winslowe) is a little too anxious never to hear young Barton’s name again—until her husband is found shot to death himself, and despite her having taken care of the young man lavishly since the accident. Tartaglia: Charles Calvert. Ina: Alvina Temple. Additional cast: Steve Dunn, Tom Holland. Announcer: Bill Anders. Music: Alexander Courage. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.
Lux Radio Theater: Song of Songs (CBS, 1937)—This isn’t exactly a Christmas story, but it is what host Cecil B. DeMille calls a Christmas gift to the nation from one of its favourite and best-respected old-time radio dramatic anthologies: On the threshold of becoming an American citizen herself, Marlene Dietrich reprises her 1933 film role as the orphan who stays with her Parisian aunt and falls for a sculptor who wants her to marry a wealthy client. Richard: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (in the Brian Aherne film role). A little too terse in portions but don’t let that discourage you. Additional cast: Lionel Atwill (reprising his film role as Baron von Merzbach), Pedro DeCordoba; special guest: Walt Disney. Adapted from the screenplay by Edward Sheldon, Leo Birinsky, and Samuel Hoffenstein.
Lux Radio Theater: Miracle on 34th Street (CBS, 1948)—Edmund Gwenn’s arguable tour-de-force wasn’t exactly a bad vehicle for John Payne or Maureen O’Hara, either; all three prove just as effective as they were on film bringing to radio this timeless yarn, in which Gwenn reprises his virtuoso (and Oscar-winning) performance as what TV Guide would later (and inimitably) call “the department store Santa who goes on trial to prove he’s the real Kris Kringle,” challenging at once the law’s recalcitrance, a young lawyer’s (Payne) idealism, and an embittered mother’s (O’Hara) stubborn, cynical literalism. It speaks to only too much amiss in today’s Hollywood that an uplifting comedy such as this, performed with this kind of warm directness, wouldn’t stand (if you’ll pardon the expression) a prayer of an Oscar, even offered in jest. Additional cast: Unknown. Host: William Keighley. Adapted from the screenplay by Valentine Davies and George Seaton.
Suspense: Double Entry (CBS, 1945)—In a charmingly farcical turn, Eddie (Keenan Wynn) and Sam (Hume Cronyn) are two accountants and close friends who spin into a cover-up when Sam—facing an audit–admits to Eddie that he skimmed company funds over the previous decade, out of desperation to placate his materialistic, dissatisfied wife, and Eddie plays a hunch that pays off in more ways than one. Announcer: Truman Bradley. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: William Spier. Writer: Unidentified.
Suspense: The Cave (CBS, 1955)—Two boys (Richard Beals, Billy Chapin) eager to try out the sophisticated flashlight one received for Christmas want to test it in a seaside cave on a treasure hunt, following tracks until they realise they’re not exactly alone in the cave. This is a remake of a 1950 episode of Escape. Adult Dan: John Dehner (reprising his Escape role). Additional cast: Hans Conreid, Lawrence Dobkin, Ben Wright, Raymond Lawrence, Ellen Morgan. Writer/director: Antony Ellis.
Gunsmoke: Christmas Story (CBS, 1952)—Stranded after he has to put his injured horse out of his misery as Christmas Eve arrives, Matt (William Conrad) is offered a ride the rest of the way home by a drifting former sailor (Lawrence Dobkin)—who unburdens a terrible secret, and makes a major decision, after Matt tells him of last year’s Christmas in Dodge. This series never lacks for haunting stories, but this story could end up placing in a top ten polling to determine the most haunting of the run. Chester: Parley Baer. Kitty: Georgia Ellis. Doc: Howard McNear. Additional cast: John Dehner, Harry Bartell. Music: Rex Khoury. Director: Norman Macdonnell. Writer: Antony Ellis.