December 21, 2016

Yes, Virginia can be seen on TV

This is one of those clips that I love running across - living history that transcends the years. It's from Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall oF December 21, 1960, and Perry's guest is Virginia Douglas, who was called Virginia O'Hanlon when, on September 21, 1897, the New York Sun printed her letter to the editor asking whether or not there was a Santa Claus.

Virginia Douglas on The Perry Como Show 12-21... by jim-allen-jr

Virginia Douglas was eight years old when she wrote that letter to the Sun, and 63 years later here she is on television, telling Perry Como about how that letter gave the editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, the opportunity to write one of the most famous editorials in the history of American journalism. The editorial ran on page seven of that day's issue, below an advertisement for "the newly invented 'chainless bicycle,'" i.e. the motorcycle. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, Church's editorial remains "the most reprinted editorial in any newspaper in the English language."

The story of "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" is a cherished part of American folklore, taking its place in history along with Paul Revere's Midnight Ride, the Gunfight at the OK Corral, Lindberg's flight across the Atlantic, and other events that they probably don't teach in school anymore. Despite the evidence to the contrary, some people might doubt there ever was a Virginia, but now you know better. After all, you couldn't show it on TV if it weren't true, right?


  1. "See How This All Ties Together" Dept.:

    There was A TV-movie about this letter made in 1991 - not the animated one where your screen grab came from, but a movie wit real actors and everything.

    The co-writer and executive producer was someone we've mentioned here before: Andrew J. Fenady, the creator-writer of The Rebel, Branded, numerous TV movies and novels, etc.

    The TV-movie starred Richard Thomas as Virginia O'Hanlon's father (O'Hanlon was the family name), Ed Asner as the editor of the New York Sun -
    - and as Frank P. Church, writer of the editorial -
    - Charles Bronson.
    Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus, the TV movie, aired once in '91 (ABC, I think), but to best of my knowledge, never again, at least at the network level (correction welcomed); it's also unavailable in any home video format that I'm aware of (correction welcomed here as well).

    Andrew Fenady obviously loved this project - so much so that in 1997, he converted his teleplay into a stage production.
    The play was produced by the Toledo Repertoire Theatre in 1997, with Andrew Fenady taking the onstage role of Edward Mitchell, the Sun editor/ narrator of the play (Ed Asner's role in the TV movie).
    Back when, I told you about the DVD collection of the complete Rebel series, which includes a lengthy interview with Fenady about his career. I recommended then that you see this (I still do.)
    You might also want to look up Fenady's "Yes, Virginia" play; I found a second-hand copy at Amazon or Alibris (forget which one), and with a little effort you can too.

    By the way, did you know that Virginia O'Hanlon's cousin was the comedy actor George O'Hanlon (aka Joe McDoakes and George Jetson)?
    ****Stranger Than Truth!****

    1. Sudden Add-on:

      Turns out that Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus the TV movie, is on YouTube.

      I was hoping that it would be like Andrew Fenady's play, with Mitchell the editor acting as narrator/ storyteller, but Fenady put that in when he turned it into a play.
      Oh well ...

  2. I remember the 1974 animated version that was co-produced by Bill (Peanuts) Melendez and narrated by Jim Backus. The song from that show still sticks in my head.

    1. I heard that theme song in my head as soon as I found this article.

      I'm pretty sure there's a relatively recent tv movie about this story, with Neil Patrick Harris appearing as Mr. Church.

  3. I recall a TV Christmas special that featured Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas and Senator Everett Dirksen. Mrs. Douglas read her famous letter, and Senator Dirksen read Editor Church's famous reply. I cannot find a record of this, but it very well could have been this particular Perry Como Christmas Show. At the same time, it seems as if Mrs. Douglas and Senator Dirksen died a couple years after their joint TV appearance which I viewed. If anyone can help me with this, I would appreciate it very much.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!