*In case you're wondering, the other one is from January 1964, the JFK memorial issue, which my mother had saved for me knowing that one day I'd be interested in the history.
Where to start? How about the cover? The traditional logo appearing in festive gold rather than red (itself a festive color, but there wouldn’t be anything special about that). The words “Merry Christmas,” which disappeared from the Christmas edition sometime in the 80s. There’s that poinsettia – is it supposed to be real, or a representation of the plastic ones so in-vogue and representative of the 50s and early 60s? Who knows? Who cares?
And look at the wonderful graphics on Christmas day itself. There's just something fun about it, don't you think?
As for the shows themselves - well, I've mentioned in the past that Christmas specials aired early in December primarily for advertisers to get their Christmas shopping ideas out there. So by December 22, unless you're really into last-minute shopping, most of the specials are going to have an explicitly Christmas message.
Take this add for the annual Christmas edition of NBC's Bell Telephone Hour. Jane Wyatt hosts, as she often did for the Christmas show, and reads the story of the Nativity from the Gospel of Luke. Try getting away with that today. Her other guests on this live broadcast include singers Florence Henderson and Earl Wrightson, the Roger Wagoner Chorale, ballet dancers Roberta Lubell and Michael Maule, and the Buffalo Bills singing group.* I believe this episode is available on the underground DVD market if you're willing to spend the time looking for it.
*Not to be confused with the Buffalo Bills football team, although the later often performs in a manner befitting the former.
Up against Bell is ABC's Voice of Firestone, also in fine Christmas form, with the great mezzo Rise Stevens, tenor Brian Sullivan, and the famous Columbus Boychoir, in a half-hour of traditional Christmas music.
An interesting footnote about this program: although much is made of this being ABC's first color special, the clip from it appearing in a documentary made the year after Crosby's death (hosted by Gene Kelly and Bing's widow Kathryn) was shown in black and white. This clip, in fact:
On Christmas morning, NBC offers its traditional coverage of the Episcopal service from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I always enjoyed watching this (although perhaps not as much as I did opening presents), because the music was always lovely and well-done. NBC continued to show this well into the 80s, as I recall, when it went into syndication. I'm told that it's still broadcast to this day, although I haven't seen it for many years.
Most Christmas Day specials are like that, devoted to music and mood. In fact, a cynic could suggest that most people weren't watching TV on Christmas, at least during the daytime, so why not put your Christmas-themed shows there, where they won't hurt the ratings too much. Of course, I'd never suggest that, because I'm not a cynic. Channel 4 has a pair of such concerts, at 1:30pm with the Mora High School choir, and at 4pm with the very good Gustavus Aldophus College choir. NBC's children's show Exploring has Christmas stories and music by Skitch Henderson, who at this point still conducts the Tonight show orchestra. At 9:30pm, Channel 5 presents a local broadcast of the 8th Annual Christmas on Ice, a skating show put on by the Minneapolis Figure Skating Club. This was on local TV for many years, moving to Channel 11 in the late 60s.
And then there's one of my personal favorites - Christmas in Tyrol, a program of traditional Tyrolian Christmas music. It was originally shown at 6pm on Christmas Eve on Channel 11, and it's being rebroadcast on Christmas Day at 8:30pm on Channel 2. The narrator was Father Richard Schuler, profession of music at the College of St. Thomas. I knew him better as Monsignor Richard Schuler, pastor of St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, where my wife and I went to church when we lived in Minnesota. Msgr. Schuler was an internationally renowned expert on church music, and did much to preserve the Catholic Church's liturgical history and heritage after Vatican II. I had the chance to ask him once about this show; he remembered well the atmosphere in the tiny studio, the Bavarian costumes, and the heat from the television lights. He was a good and holy man.
One of the seminal Christmas programs of early television, Amahl and the Night Visitors, has its 12th annual broadcast on Sunday afternoon; longtime readers of mine know the deep interest I've had in Amahl over the years. This is the last broadcast of Amahl using the original production*; in 1963 it would be replaced by an all-new production, made without the participation or approval of the composer, Gian-Carlo Menotti, who was so outraged that in 1966, as soon as the broadcast rights reverted to him, he withdrew permission for NBC to show it.
This was the third AFL championship; the Oilers had won the first two behind veteran NFL quarterback George Blanda (who, despite being thought too old for the NFL, would play another dozen years after this game). Their cross-state rivals, the Texans, were led by coach Hank Stram and quarterback Len Dawson.
The Texans burst out to a 17-0 halftime lead, the Oilers would rally in the second half to tie the game at 17 and send it to overtime, only the second pro game ever to go to an extra session. The team captains gathered at midfield for the coin toss to start the overtime and there, in front of ABC's cameras, announcer Jack Buck and a nationwide television audience, Dallas running back Abner Haynes made one of the great blunders in sports history:
Haynes had been instructed that if he won the toss, he was to choose to have the wind at his back; i.e. to go in the direction of the Jeppesen Stadium scoreboard. He did indeed win the toss, but in his confusion he said, "We'll kick to the clock." He had the direction right enough, but by starting out with the words "We'll kick", he forfeited the right to say anything more. Houston chose the wind advantage, and so the Texans got neither the ball nor the wind.
Fortunately for Haynes, the Oilers failed to capitalize on their early advantage. The two teams traded possessions throughout the first overtime and into a second, before Dallas converted a Blanda interception (his fifth of the game) into a game-winning 25-yard field goal by Tommy Brooker. It was the longest pro football game ever played, at 77:54, a record that would stand until 1971.*
*In addition to highlights on YouTube, most of the original broadcast is available on DVD from various sources. Just check eBay and you'll probably find it. As far as anyone knows, this is the only AFL game broadcast available in its entirety.
As for the rest of the story: this was the last game for the Dallas Texans; unable to compete with the NFL's Cowboys, the team would move to Kansas City the next season and become the Chiefs. And it would be the Chiefs who would play the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Day in 1971 in that game that broke the record for longest ever played. (The Chiefs would lose this time.) And as for Jeppesen Stadium, it would be renamed Robertson Stadium and would be the home to the University of Houston Cougars until last month, when the stadium hosted its final game before being torn down in favor of a new stadium.
Care for a little more sports? On Saturday there were two college football games: the North-South Shrine Game from Miami (not to be confused with the East-West Shrine Game in San Francisco), and the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston. The North-South Shrine game was played for 26 years, often on or around Christmas Day itself; in this year's edition the most notable player (of those named in TV Guide) was probably Bobby Bell, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career with none other than the Kansas City Chiefs, and played in that Christmas Day longest game.
The Bluebonnet Bowl was played at Rice Stadium, except for the years when it took place in the Astrodome, during which time it was known as the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl. I have fond memories of this game, which was often played on New Year's Eve, and featured good teams, such as the 1962 matchup between Missouri (7-1-2) and Georgia Tech (7-2-1). (Missouri would win, 14-10.) Like the North-South Shrine game, the Bluebonnet Bowl no longer exists; it folded in 1987, and should not be confused with Houston's current bowl game, the Meineke Car Care Bowl. (No, I'm not making that up.)
That night, ABC's Saturday Night Fights features a scheduled middleweight bout between Gomeo Brennan and Reuben Carter. Brennan has to cancel from the fight and is replaced at the last minute by Holly Mims, but it's the other fighter we're more interested in. You might know Reuben "Hurricane" Carter less from his boxing career than from his years as a cause célèbre after being convicted in 1967 for triple homicide. After key witnesses recanted their testimony, Carter and a co-defendant were retried in 1975 and again convicted; this conviction was overturned in 1985 and the state of New Jersey declined to try him a third time. Denzel Washington played Carter in 1999's didactic The Hurricane. But all this was far away on December 22, 1962.
By the way, Carter won the fight against Holly Mims. You can see a clip here; the entire fight was shown on ESPN Classic once upon a time, when the network actually did show classic sports.
No particular reason for this, just another ad to put you in the mood for the season. Ads for booze are always popular at this time of the year. Why do you think they call it "Holiday Cheer"?
One of the striking things about TV Guides of this era is the amount of detail included in the programming listings. In these days - before 24-hour programming, before 150 cable channels - there was plenty of room to give viewers all kinds of information; not only the title of the episode, but often the writer of the script as well. The description of the program itself frequently ran to two or three sentences. If such a description made someone more likely to watch the show back then, the impact now is to increase one's curiosity, to instill a desire to find out as much information as possible.
This attention to detail is apparent in the church services on Christmas Eve. On CBS, for example, we know that Dr. Harold A. Bosley will deliver the sermon at the Methodist service from Christ Church in New York. We know that Dr. Austin C. Lovelace directs the church choir, and that they will sing "Break Forth, O Beauteous, Heaven Light," "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," and "The Inn at Bethlehem," along with three other pieces. On ABC, we learn that Bishop Fulton Sheen will be the celebrant of the Midnight Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and that the Marist College Seminary choir, under the direction of Eugene Stewart, will perform Palestrina's "Missa Aeterna Christi Munera" for the Proper of the Mass. Meanwhile, Channel 11, the independent station in Minneapolis-St. Paul, covers the Solemn High Christmas Mass from the St. Paul Seminary. The celebrant is the Right Rev. Msgr. Louis J. McCarthy, and the 200-voice seminary choir, conducted by Rev. John Sweeney, will perform Christmas Carols prior to the start of the Mass, including an arrangement of "The First Noel" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Rev. William Baumgaerther offers commentary on the Mass, which would be necessary since the Mass is eentirely in Latin.
For me, these descriptions did more than tell me what was on; they whisked me back in time, as if I'd been placed in front of the TV on that Christmas Eve myself. It was because of these descriptions that I became interested in the great Palestrina and his music, bought a recording of the "Aeterna Christa Munera", and came to a deep appreciation of sacred polyphony. I'd already heard of Vaughan Williams, perhaps the most renowned composer of 20th Century church music, who had died only four years before*; I'd never heard his "First Nowell" (the correct spelling), which turned out to be not just the familiar carol, but an entire Nativity Play, and I embarked on a search to find it - which was harder than you might think.
To some (most?) this might seem like the ultimate nerd trip; but to me it was magical; in the last years before the end of the Latin Mass and the turning upside-down of the Catholic Church, these listings represented more than old television shows; they were a window to a lost world. The idea that you'd find this much detail in a programming listing today is unthinkable. (Not to mention this amount of religious programming on network TV, which truly is staggering.)
But here's a listing that could have used a little more detail: at 10:30 Saturday morning, the independent Channel 11 presented a syndicated one-hour variety special, From This Moment On, hosted by Jerry Lewis, on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. This is pre-telethon stuff, and a quick look through the archives suggests that this show aired in different areas during November and December. The listing includes the names of ten stars appearing on the show - alphabetically, from Steve Allen to Rose Marie, and reads to me suspiciously like a truncated listing. Which begs the question: just how long was this show? The listings from other stations give it as an hour, so in the absence of further information I'd have to go along with that. But one wonders - how many other stars were on the show, and unless they were just one to add their endorsements to the cause*, how did they fit them all into one hour? Anybody know anything more?
But in 1962, as was the case during most of my childhood, the Christmas season extended all the way to New Year's. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the famous Andre commercial that featured "Carol of the Bells" wasn't shown until after Christmas; after all, you bought Andre for New Year's Eve. And the ads for the New Year's Day bowl games invariably included boughs of holly or other seasonal decorations. (We may well see some of those next week.) Back then Christmas was more than December 25; it lasted a whole week.
So to end on a charming note, I'll mention how WCCO ended its broadcasting day with charming notes - musical notes, to be precise. From Sunday, December 23 through to the end of the week, the final program listing for Channel 4 was simply "Christmas Carols". I don't know how long the program would last, whether the music was live or recorded, if it was a formal presentation or simply some music over a montage of pictures. But it's such a nice way to end the day, don't you think? And to keep going even after Christmas Day had passed - well, it may have been a simple touch, but it truly was a gift that kept on giving.