December 23, 2023

This week in TV Guide: December 24, 1955

If you couldn't already tell from the cover, Christmas is coming right at ya this week, with Christmas Eve on Saturday. With that in mind, I thought I'd do something a little different this week: rather than just tell you about the holiday programs, I'll show you as well!

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We start with this Saturday afternoon presentation on WNBQ, Chicago's NBC affiliate, starring Ned Locke as Santa. Locke was a Chicago television legend, "Ringmaster Ned" on WGN-TV's Bozo's Circus from 1961 to 1976. It also features John Conrad's Elmer the Elephant, the beloved Chicago children's character. It's notable for being the first all-live color program to originate from Chicago.

This program remains a much-loved Christmas memory for many, as it was shown not just in Chicago but all around the country, sponsored by local Bell Telephone companies throughout the 1950s and 1960s; it's this kind of tradition that means so much to people and precisely what we seem to be missing today. You can see it here.

"Babes in Toyland," loosely based on the Victor Herbert operetta, was first shown to great acclaim in 1954; this is a repeat performance on Max Liebman Presents. But in 1955, a repeat performance means that it's being done all over again, live, and on Christmas Eve to boot. It's not the Laurel & Hardy version, but stars Dave Garroway as a Macy's Santa taking care of a lost girl until her mother can show up; in the meantime, he reads her the story of "Babes in Toyland." The performances, particularly by Garroway, are charming. Both the 1954 and 1955 broadcasts were preserved on kinescope and issued on DVD a few years ago; you can see the 1954 broadcast (the better of the two) here.

Moving now from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, "No Room at the Inn" is the inaugural presentation of NBC's His Way, His Word program, a series of four religious dramas, to be shown monthly on Sunday afternoons. There's nothing I was able to find on who stars in this special, but I'm sure there's one of you out there who can tell us more about it.

Why, oh why, did the networks do this to us? On Sunday night, it's NBC's annual presentation of Gian-Carlo Menotti's modern classic "Amahl and the Night Visitors," on The Alcoa Hour, versus The General Electric Theater's presentation of Bernard Hermann's "A Child is Born," based on the play by Stephen Vincent Benét. Fortunately for us (though it didn't do much good for viewers back then), they're both available; you can see "A Child is Born" here, while "Amahl," in addition to being commercially issued on DVD, can be seen here.

Finally, here's an early television appearance of It's a Wonderful Life (its Chicago TV debut, and on Christmas night to boot), being marketed not as a Christmas movie, but as a romantic drama.

There's more, of course; specials and Christmas episodes of regular series are on throughout Christmas Day, and you'll be able to read more about them in the listings for December 25. In the meantime, though, let's see what's on for the rest of the week.

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There's plenty of Christmas programming on Saturday besides what we've already looked at. 

It's the time for regular series to offer their Christmas episodes, starting with Paul Winchell's Saturday morning show, joined by Carol Burnett singing "All I Want for Christmas," and Milton Delugg as Santa (10:30 a.m., NBC). Locally, Chicagoland legend Ray Raymer hosts a Christmas party for all of the children of WBBM employees (1:00 p.m.), and at 1:30 p.m., WBKB's Curtain Up has a double-feature of half-hour made-for-TV stories: "Joe Santa Claus" and "Christmas for Sweeney," the latter with a script by Rod Serling. I've included links to both.

Moving on to primetime, we've got The Honeymooners, as Alice tells Ralph that the gift one of their neighbors received is "pretty sad," not knowing that Ralph has bought the same gift for her. (7:30 p.m., CBS; see it here) And on Damon Runyon Theater, Broderick Crawford stars in "Dancing Dan's Christmas," the story of a big-time gangster moving in on a previously happy couple. My bet is that love triumphs over all. (9:30 p.m., CBS)

If you're in the mood for some Christmas Eve music, there's plenty of that as well. Ozark Jubilee (6:30 p.m., ABC), The Perry Como Show (7:00 p.m., NBC), Stage Show (7:00 p.m., CBS), and The Lawrence Welk Show (8:00 p.m., ABC) all offering Christmas shows; Your Hit Parade (9:30 p.m., NBC) broadcasts from the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, and you can see it here. On WGN, the Fifth Army Show, with music and variety from the Fifth Army Chorus and other military members. (7:00 p.m.)

Did someone mention movies? We've got them! The Cheaters (2:00 p.m., WBBM) was a familiar feature on Christmas throughout the 1960s and 1970s, while Escape into Dreams (2:30 p.m., WBKB) deals with Italian POWs in a WWII American POW camp at Christmastime, looking back at their past romances. 

The king of Christmas movies is A Christmas Carol, and we get it twice on Saturday, first in a half-hour version narrated by Vincent Price (6:00 p.m., WBKB)—well, let's face it, it's mostly told by Price, with a minimum of action accompanying his narration, but when you've got Vincent Price telling your story, you're still in pretty good shape. See it for yourself here. And at 9:30 p.m. on WTMJ, it's the famed 1951 version starring Alastair Sim in the title role of Scrooge. Until George C. Scott's version came out in 1984, this was pretty much considered the definitive movie, although the versions with Reginald Owen and Sir Seymour Hicks have their fans. Today, it still holds up as a great adaptation. (It's also on Sunday on WGN.)

Christmas, as Andy Williams once dryly remarked, is a very religious time of the year, and that's reflected in the Christmas Eve church services on network and local television. Prior to NBC's yearly telecast of Midnight Mass from the Vatican (which started in the late 1970s), the network's tradition was to carry the Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City (11:00 p.m. CT), and so it is this year. Over on CBS, the Midnight Mass comes to us from the chapel at the famous Boys' Town, Nebraska. (12:00 a.m.) Locally, WBKB telecasts the Mass from Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, beginning with a musical prelude at 11:30 p.m.; the celebrant is Samuel Cardinal Stritch, after whom the well-known college is named. And in Milwaukee, it's WTMJ with a religious program from the Milwaukee Council of Churches at 11:30 p.m., followed at midnight by the Mass at St. Roberts Church in Milwaukee.

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Here's a show that doesn't seem to have anything to do with Christmas, but is worth mentioning: The Children's Corner (Saturday, 9:00 a.m., NBC) returns for a second season, with hosts Fred Rogers and Josie Carey and their puppets, "Daniel S. Tiger, King Friday 13th, X-Scape the Owl. Henrietta the Cat, and Grandpere." Sound familiar? It's that Fred Rogers.

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Monday afternoon football? Well, why not? Sports has not yet intruded on Christmas Day itself, which means that the NFL Championship game between the defending champion Cleveland Browns (yes, you read that right) and the Los Angeles Rams. (2:45 p.m., NBC) It's the first time the championship game has been telecast on NBC; the four prior title games had been shown on DuMont. Playing before a championship-record crowd of nearly 90,000, the Browns repeat as champs, defeating the Rams 38-14. It was the third NFL championship won by the Browns in the decade of the 1950s; they'd win again in 1964, and haven't won since. The Rams, for their part, would not return to the title game until 1980, and didn't win it until 2000. 

The NFL would again move the championship game from Sunday to Monday because of Christmas in 1960; shortly after that, the title games started being played in January. Although there are three games on Christmas this year, for the most part the league still avoids scheduling a full slate of games on Christmas Day itself.

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A last word on Christmas: nowadays, it seems that, as soon as December 25 is over, everyone is on to the next holiday. But, of course, the twelve days of Christmas start on December 25, and it used to be a given that the festivities would continue on through New Year's Day. So it is with TV as well; on Monday, WTTW, the educational station, presents "The Juggler of Notre Dame," performed by students from the Barton elementary school (4:15 p.m.), and The Star of Bethlehem (6:45 p.m.). Meantime, Robert Montgomery Presents has "The Second Day of Christmas" (8:30 p.m., NBC), a story of Hans Christian Anderson and Jenny Lind. Looking back, Tony Martin presents the hits of 1955 (6:30 p.m., NBC); looking ahead, both Topper (6:30 p.m., WBKB) and Caesar's Hour (7:00 p.m., NBC) have New Year's-themed stories. I say, let the good times last as long as possible!

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Anything else on this week? Well, NBC's Project 20 documentary series premieres on Tuesday with "Nightmare in Red," a newsreel history of Russia from the 1905 revolution to the death of Stalin (8:30 p.m.). Project 20, which also goes by the name of Project XX, will air on an occasional basis until 1970. 

I thought I knew about most of the Titanic television stories, but here's one I wasn't aware of: "Titanic Incident," an episode of Screen Director's Playhouse (Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., NBC). It tells the fictional story of a cardsharp and his wife who've targeted a wealthy Britisher during the voyage; after meeting up with the iceberg, only two of the three can be saved. I'm not sure how they arrive at this considering there were roughly 400 spaces available on the Titanic's lifeboats as they left the ship, but I suspect the story will explain how they waited until the last minute to leave, when the last boats were full. Incidentally, while several episodes of the series exist on YouTube, this is apparently not one of them.

Thursday's episode of Climax, "Bail Out at 43,000" (7:30 p.m., CBS) has a well-known cast: Charlton Heston, Richard Boone, and future First Lady Nancy Davis, who in 1952 married Ronald Reagan. At 8:00 p.m., Dragnet has a New Year's episode; Joe Friday, attending a New Year's Eve party at the home of his partner Frank Smith, looks back about some of the most memorable cases of the past year. Mary Dean appears as Frank's oft-mentioned but seldom-seen wife, Fay. And Edward G. Robinson makes a rare television appearance in Ford Theatre as a former gangster trying to dissuade his son from following in his footsteps. (8:30 p.m., NBC)

One of the things you might have noticed this week is that, aside from the NFL Championship on Monday, there's been very little sports, and in particular no bowl games. That's because all the bowl action comes next Monday, when six of the season's seven bowl games are played. Here's something on Friday, though: the final of the ECAC Holiday Festival college basketball tournament, live from Madison Square Garden in New York (9:00 p.m., NBC). For years, some of the best college teams from the East Coast Athletic Conference would take on powerhouse teams from the rest of the country in an eight-team tournament, with the winner sure to be a major contender for the national title. The Holiday Festival still exists, in a muted form, with two games played on one day and no overall champion, but in its day it was a game worthy of national television coverage. In the 1955-56 season, the great Bill Russell will lead undefeated San Francisco to the second of two consecutive national championships (and 55 consecutive victories); one of their wins comes in the Holiday Festival championship game, where they defeat UCLA 70-53.

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There's a pictorial story near the end of this issue on the offspring of famous stars trying for their own careers in show biz. Looking through them, it's clear that some succeeded more than others.

Most successful, I think it's safe to say, was Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of Robert Montgomery and future star of Bewitched. Although her dad was a movie star and television pioneer, many of you will think of him as Liz's father, rather than the other way around. She got her start as part of her dad's summer repertory company, but now she's setting out on her own. I wonder if anyone anticipated the success she'd attain?

Another big success story is James MacArthur, adopted son of Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur. He's gotten plaudits for a recent performance on Climax (in an episode directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Macdonald Carey and Phyllis Thaxter), but his lasting fame will come from eleven years as Danno on Hawaii Five-O.

David and Ricky Nelson were already stars at this point, having played fictionalized versions of themselves in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Both of them had entertainment careers; of the two, I suppose Ricky's is the better-known, as well as the more tragic, but David did work as a producer and director as well as an actor through 1990. A better career than mine, at least.

Gary Crosby, son of Bing, had a pretty good career on television, and did some singing. It's possible, however, that he's best known for the abuse allegations he'd later make against his father—allegations for which, Crosby biographer Gary Giddins has said, there is no substantive proof,  Bing's brother, bandleader Bob Crosby, has an offspring of his own; despite frequent appearances as a vocalist on Bob's afternoon show, however, her career never really takes off except for appearances in a half-dozen movies. Ronnie Burns, son of George and Gracie, appeared on his parents' show and a few others, but leaves show business early. And Arthur Godfrey's son, Dick, is currently working as a newscaster for a San Francisco radio station, but doesn't make the big time. 

Still, as I said at the top, it's always hard to say what the future will bring.

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Pretty good issue this week, I'd say. Next week we'll be ringing out the old year by looking at an issue that celebrates a new year. In the meantime, though, here are my wishes for a happy, safe, and blessed Christmas one and all! Let's close with this week's two-page ad from WBKB.



  1. Just So You Know:
    Mill Creek has recently issued a complete, restored set of Screen Directors Playhouse on DVD, which as it happens, I've got.
    I'm just back from the Olde DVD Wall, having just watched "The Titanic Incident", written by William Cox and directed by Ted Tetzlaff.
    This episode was notable as the first American TV appearance of British actor Leo Genn, who plays the cardsharp here.
    As often seems to happen when you haven't seen the show, you've got the details askew; should you by some chance actually see it somewhere down the line, there's a twist ending here, which my ethics won't permit me to reveal ...
    Anyhoo, just thought you'd like to know ...
    The DVD includes a trailer for the next Screen Directors Playhouse, which as it happens stars Peter Lorre and William Talman, and was directed by Ida Lupino - but that's another story (so to speak) ...

    1. Thanks for the info, Mike - I'd very much like to see that some day. The descriptions in the issue often don't do the shows themselves justice.

  2. Ray Rayner and Ned Locke - two names I fondly remember from my childhood.

    1. It's hard to form those kinds of attachment to local TV personalities nowadays, isn't it?

  3. A little more on the Vincent Price Christmas Carol. It had actually been produced in 1949 by Jerry Fairbanks, who did a lot of early TV Films. Price at the time was more well known on Radio, in particular as "Simon Templar" in The Saint. His Horror Movie career took off a few years later. 9-year old actress Jill Oppenheim played "Missie Cratchit." She was later known as "Jill St. John." and had a long acting career as an adult. She is still with us at age 83.

    1. That info about Jill St. John is brilliant - thanks! I always liked Vincent Price, even though I still prefer Roger Moore as The Saint.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!