22 December: A Christmas surprise


Jack Webb (left) and Ben Alexander, from the television version of Dragnet's "The Big Little Jesus." (Photo: NBC.)

Jack Webb (left) and Ben Alexander, from the television version of Dragnet‘s “The Big Little Jesus.” (Photo: NBC.)

If The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas proves Dragnet wholly (and perhaps uncharacteristically) capable of a tragic tear-jerker, then tonight’s episode—aired a year later—proves the customarily no-nonsense crime drama could deliver a tear-jerker that may well leave you with gentle admiration for a holiday thief.

This, too, would be taken to the show’s original television version and to its mid-to-late 1960s television remake. And, neither will feel quite as embracing as the radio original that lets your mind’s and your heart’s eyes operate.


Dragnet: The Big Little Jesus (NBC, 1953)

Friday (Jack Webb) and Smith (Ben Alexander) are rather baffled on Christmas Eve day when the oldest church in Los Angeles reports a theft—an old, slightly battered, but still valuable statue of the infant Jesus Christ from its equally old Christmas nativity scene.

They come to concentrate on an unlikely, down-and-out suspect (James Griffith) and to face their possible forced return to another investigation before they can recover the missing statue in time for Christmas morning’s first mass—when the statue returns to the church under a very surprising escort who tells an equally surprising—and touching—story of its disappearance.

If you can think of any other crime drama in which you stand an excellent chance of wanting to give the culprit a hug instead of the hoosegow, you’re better than I am.

Father Rojas: Harry Bartell. Capt. Bernard: Walter Sande. Shopkeeper: Ralph Moody. Hotel clerk: Herbert Vigran. Paco: Joe Carioca, Jr. Additional cast: . Announcers: George Fenneman, Hal Gibney. Music: Walter Schumann. Director: Jack Webb. Writer: Jim Moser.


Further Channel Surfing; or, It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

The Eddie Cantor Show: Christmas Program (comedy; CBS, 1935)

Cantor gets lassoed into helping a woman plug a leak; a little runaway boy tries to adopt him; and, he ponders a new car. Pretty typical Cantor fare, which means it’s all a matter of personal taste. If you adore him, it’s for you; if you despise him, you might be surprised here and there.

Parkyakarkus: Harry Einstein. Annoucer: Jimmy Wallington. Music: Louis Glass Orchestra. Writers: Possibly David Freedman, Carrol Carroll, Philip Rapp.


Town Hall Tonight: Santa Claus Sits Down (comedy; NBC, 1937)

Considering how few they are among the cache of surviving Fred Allen programs, his Christmas survivors are precious enough. Precious more: Guest Jack Benny, with Allen performing live from Hollywood while in town to make a film, and the pair swapping rapiers in the slot where Allen would normally begin the show in earnest.

Meanwhile, the Mighty Allen Art Players (John Brown, Charles Cantor, Minerva Pious, Walter Tetley, Harry Von Zell) perform for the first time Allen’s classic routine about weary Santa finally throwing in the towel and going on a sit-down strike, in its original form. (Allen will remake the sketch, with a slightly different gathering of players who become the embryonic “Allen’s Alley,” during his Texaco Star Theater years of the early 1940s.)

Also: a cleverly low-key “Town Hall News” zap against the cold spell of the day; an interview with a Warner Brothers backlot lunch cart operator; a jivey musical number about a riveter, a segment with Radio Guide photographer Eugene Lester; a segment with second bananette Portland Hoffa; and a few more break-ins from Benny. (“I didn’t expect to get paid for this, I haven’t any more right to take money for working on this program than you have.”)

Announcer: Harry Von Zell. Music: Peter van Steeden Orchestra. Writers: Fred Allen, Arnold Auerbach, Herman Wouk.


The Burns & Allen Show: Santa and the Wicked Pirate (comedy; CBS, 1942)

Two days before Christmas, while trimming the tree, Gracie fears her favourite duck, Herman, is missing—but when he turns up safe and sound, the duck just might quack up listening to Gracie telling him a Christmas story.


Additional cast: Elvia Allman, Jimmy Cash, Lawrence Nash. Announcer: Bill Goodwin. Music: Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. Writers: Paul Henning, Keith Fowler, George Burns.


Fibber McGee & Molly: Listening to Christmas Carols (comedy; NBC, 1942)

The none-too-secret Santa of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) tries playing the grinch because he can’t bear anyone from Molly (Marian Jordan) to Teeny (also Marian Jordan) and her caroling friends catching on how sentimental he really happens to be about Christmas music.

Special holiday treat: Teeny and the King’s Men performing “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Extra bonus: Molly getting stuck on the phone with Myrt the operator, for a change.

Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills, the King’s Men, Ken Darby. Writer: Don Quinn.


Duffy’s Tavern: Miracle in Manhattan (comedy; NBC, 1948)

There’s two kinds of guys go to church,” says manager Archie (Ed Gardner). “Them that doesn’t, and them that don’t.”

One measly egg nog atop some bad nutmeg, and one snide Christmas card from his boss, put Archie in a slightly sour mood . . . until guest Jeff Chandler tries to convince the cynical barkeep a spell in church might lift his spirit, leading Archie to an unexpected moment of true faith . . . and a miracle before his weary eyes.

This is one of the best of the legendary comedy, even if it isn’t yet Christmas on the Lower East Side.

Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Eddie: Eddie Green. Miss Duffy: Sandra Gould. Music: Marty Malneck Orchestra. Writers: Ed Gardner, Vinnie Bogert, Robert Schiller.


The Couple Next Door: The Christmas Economy (comedy; CBS, 1959)

Shoving out of bed early under threat of a bucket of cold water is the least of their problems compared to trying to live up to their vow to cut down on frivolous Christmas spending. The Couple: Peg Lynch, Alan Bunce. Aunt Effie: Margaret Hamilton. Writer/direcrtor: Peg Lynch.


Fibber McGee & Molly: Haggling over a Christmas Tree (comedy; NBC, 1953)

The Scrooge of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) wants his Christmas tree at his price, dad rat it! Good luck with that . . .

Salesman: Bill Thompson. Herman: Jack Moyles. Tex: Natalie Masters. Announcer: John Wald. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.


Rocky Fortune: The Plot to Murder Santa Claus (crime drama; NBC, 1953)

Assigned to work as a department store detective, Rocky (Frank Sinatra) lands smack into the middle of trouble intended for the store’s Santa.

Some might come to think Sinatra sounds bored doing this series. (He’s still in a kind of limbo, awaiting the early returns on his newly-revived recording career and whether From Here to Eternity will really cement his comeback.) But even if he isn’t really sure how good this material is, Sinatra makes it work, and everyone with him work it beyond its competence—which isn’t exactly terrible.

Additional cast: Ted Borneo, Mary McGovern, Kay Stewart, Frank Bristol, Barney Phillips. Announcer: Ed King. Director: Andrew C. Love. Writer: George Lefferts.


Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber’s Late Shopping (comedy; NBC, 1954)

Naturally, McGee (Jim Jordan) does his Christmas shopping last minute. Naturally, too, Molly (Marian Jordan) can’t get a hint of what he plans for her. Even more, he gets an idea when he finds a bargain on a portrait deal.

Photographer: Parley Baer. The Old-Time: Bill Thompson. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Announcer: John Wald. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.


The CBS Radio Workshop: All is Bright (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1956)

The story of Franz Gruber’s (Herm Dinkin) “Silent Night,” its Austrian origins and development into perhaps the world’s most familiar Christmas carol, begins tonight among travelers and musicians aboard the Queen Mary—including a fabled orchestra conductor (Rudolph Weiss), urged to conduct “Silent Night,” who can’t resist remembering his own Austrian childhood and experience with the carol . . . which was born as “a peasant song” for one guitar and two voices.

Humility in the face of its mystery,” the conductor calls it. You’d be hard pressed to disagree.

Father Moore: Joseph Julian. Announcer: Bob Pheiffer. Music: Franz Gruber. Writer: Henry E. Thrift.


Further Channel Surfing, period . . .

It Pays to Be Ignorant: What is a Blotter? (quiz comedy; CBS, 1944)
Escape: Wild Jack Rhett (adventure; CBS, 1950)
Broadway is My Beat: Buddy Malpaugh and the Jeweled Scimitar (crime drama; CBS, 1951)
Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate, Awaits the Invasion of the Little People (improvisational comedy; don’t prompt us, we’ll get it, 1959)

This entry was posted in classic radio, crime drama, old-time radio and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.