Thursday, December 20, 2012

Episode 14 - The Christmas Show with Jimmy Stewart


The Julie Andrews Hour Christmas Show is a work of art. It also has as a very special guest, Jimmy Stewart. Stewart is perhaps best known for his work in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a film, which over time, became a beloved Christmas classic. Each year, it inspires people to remember what truly matters. In light of these facts, it is rather amazing that this beautiful episode of The Julie Andrews Hour, which first aired December 20th, 1972, has not become a seasonal tradition, but remains hidden in a vault somewhere.

The Christmas show opens with Julie Andrews standing on a bare stage. Dressed for winter in an elegant fur hat and long, white coat, she begins singing “We Need A Little Christmas.” Dancers appear, carrying and pushing large and small evergreen trees onto the stage. A gentle snow begins to fall and soon the stage is transformed to a winter wonderland.

With Christmas in the air, Julie’s numerous guest stars ‘Wish us a Merry Christmas.” Rich Little and Alice Ghostley also appear. Then, Julie announces her very special guest, Jimmy Stewart, and the pair reveal their plan. Julie is going to take us back to Jolly Old England for “an old fashioned English Christmas” with all the fixings we Americans know nothing of. After that, Jimmy is going to take us to small town America for an old fashioned American Christmas.

In the next scene, two finely dressed gentlemen open a set of doors and we enter another world –Dickens’ England. There, ladies and gentlemen wander the streets of an old English town singing carols, and old friends appear as well. Sergio Franchi sings “O Come All Ye Faithful” with a glorious voice. Carl Reiner sings “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” with a vibrato and vocal quality that reminiscent of the past. Dan Daily renders his solo, “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” with fine feeling.

Julie with Jimmy Stewart and Cass Elliot
The beautiful music and enchanting sets make us feel that we have stepped into an old painting or old film. The set is the work of award winning designer, Brian Bartholomew. Praise is due director Bill Davis as well for the fine staging and camera work. The cast move through the scenes beautifully; no one seems out of place on this period set.

As the scene progresses, we follow Julie Andrews and Jimmy Stewart around the square with a sense of wonder. Carolers are singing, and the atmosphere—the holiness of Christ’s birth bringing love to the world-- pervades the set. Some of the loveliest tones ever sung by Miss Andrews live in these sweet moments. One special moment is the one in which she and Jimmy look through a window at the statue of Baby Jesus lying in the manger. Here, Julie sings a song called “Rocking.” (This song may be found on the album, Christmas with Julie Andrews). Even Stewart, who is not much of a singer (and at this age has lost much of his ability to sustain a note), sings a touching version of “Away in the Manger.”

From the square, Julie takes Jimmy into an old English home where the room filled with friends and long table filled with food await. The room is list by candlelight, a fireplace and Christmas tree. The guests include Alice Ghostley, Rich Little, Dan Daily, Sergio Franchi, Carl Reiner, Steve Lawrence, Cass Elliott and Joel Grey. Joel has a lovely little solo, but for some reason (perhaps editing) Cass Elliot is never introduced and does not sing a solo.

After a very lively scene where everyone skips around the table singing “Consider Yourself” from Oliver, Julie stands at the head of the table and, lit only by candle light, gives a short speech about love and peace.

Of course, along with these sacred and sentimental moments, there are comic moments. One of these is when Julie tries to explain to Jimmy what they are going to have for their English Christmas dinner. Their conversation is really quite funny. Another is comic segment occurs when Rich Little, as Jack Benny, plays Scrooge, and Alice Ghostley, ably plays Bob Crachitt.

Later, during the American Christmas segment, Jimmy Stewart introduces Julie to his nephew, Rich Stewart, played, of course, by Rich Little. It’s an interesting site to watch Stewart watching Little playing him. One gets the sense he wants to laugh but is not quite sure how to react. At one point, Rich says that he’s always wanted to go to England but he just doesn’t speak the language. Jimmy tells him,
“Rich, they speak the same way we do.”
Rich turns to him and says,
“Uncle Jimmy, nobody speaks the way we do.”

In a fun interim break between the old English Christmas and the American one, Julie takes a flying sleigh ride and sings “Jingle Bells.” It’s lovely. There’s also a fun dance with Julie and eight Santas, choreographed by Tony Charmoli. It’s such a delightful piece; you can’t help but laugh for the joy of it.
In small town America, many of the 20th century Christmas songs, with which we celebrate the season every year, are sung: “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “The Christmas Song,” “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Chistmas.” This time the pair visit an American home and Stewart says a beautiful prayer for peace over the meal. It should not be forgotten that at the time this program was taped, America was in the midst of the Viet Nam War, which did not end until April of 1975.

Also of note on this program is a poem written by Julie’s daughter, ten year old Emma Walton. In 1972, one might assume that Ms. Andrews was merely a proud mother wishing to share her daughter’s work. In 2012, we can see that this poem by a ten year-old school girl is quite a remarkable work. Of course, Julie reads it beautifully.

For the final segment of the show, Julie Andrews, standing before three large stained glass windows, sings traditional carols, both English and American. Her beaded maroon gown matches the set and adds to the sense of quiet celebration. “Silent Night” concludes this lovely show which seems to embody a feeling of the true meaning of Christmas.

On the break and final screen, we see written,

Merry Christmas,

    With love,

              Julie

That is the final statement. The credits follow over Ms. Andrews and chorus rendition of “Sing a Christmas Carol.”

For questions and comments, please e-mail catsong2@netzero.net

A list of blogs and links may be found at http://www.JulieAndrewsHour1972.com

Merry Christmas!

Jimmy Stewart was born May 20, 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He enrolled in Princeton University in 1928, where he became interested in the school’s drama club. He was invited to join the University Players, an intercollegiate theater company. While working with the University Players of Cape Cod, Jimmy became friends with another young actor, Henry Fonda. Eventually, the pair decided to move to Hollywood. He began his film career in 1934 and, as they said, the rest is history.

Jimmy Stewart was 64 when he appeared on The Julie Andrews Hour. He passed away in 1997 at the age of 89.

For further information, please visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Stewart


If you would like to see The Julie Andrews Hour back on television and released on DVD, along with music releases of Julie and her guests, please e-mail a polite request: dan.gopal@itv.com
If you prefer, you may look up ITV in London or Los Angeles, and send a letter there. 

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