Ho, ho, hoo-hah! Find the errant word, supplied by Judy Garland, in these lyrics from Mel Torme's evergreen classic, "The Christmas Song:" "They know that Santa's on his way. He's loaded lots of...
Ho, ho, hoo-hah! Find the errant word, supplied by Judy Garland, in these lyrics from Mel Torme’s evergreen classic, “The Christmas Song:”
“They know that Santa’s on his way.
He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother’s child is gonna spy
To see if rainbows really know how to fly.”
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Bravo cable’s cheeky “The Christmas Special Christmas Special” tells us that Garland subbed “rainbows” for “reindeer” to spite Torme on her otherwise gooey 1963 holiday show.
He supposedly had made it less than merry backstage by griping about not being paid enough to play his signature song on the piano while Garland vocalized. So Judy, Judy, Judy, perhaps fortified by a few belts, intentionally dropped some coal in his stocking. Now that’s the spirit!
Narrated by “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s” Carson Kressley, Bravo’s one-hour rehash of TV’s Christmas pasts is two parts degenerate “Bad Santa,” one part slushy “Frosty the Showman.” Acerbic columnist Simon Doonan happily looks at the dark side while holding forth on the underlying phoniness of many celebrity-hosted Christmas specials.
“It’s very codified,” he says. “Mom has to look very wholesome, very appropriate, very crisp. Dad’s in a cardigan, ’cause he’s a good person all in a desperate attempt to hide the liquor problems, the spousal abuse. The psychoses are completely swamped in this tsunami of kitsch.”
OK, no spiced pecans for him this year.
Bing Crosby’s daughter, Mary, says the kids knew they had to suck it up for the family’s annual Christmas extravaganza.
“My little brother, you had to drag him by the ear,” she recalls. “He hated it. He didn’t want to sing, he didn’t want to be in front of the camera. But he didn’t really have a choice.”
As evidence, we see the poor kid mouthing his ultra off-key contribution to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” But Dad’s most famously bizarre collaboration, a “Little Drummer Boy” duet with David Bowie, came on his last holiday TV special, 1977’s “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas Show.”
“I certainly don’t think my dad knew who he was,” Mary Crosby says. Obviously not. But that didn’t stop “American Idol’s” Clay Aiken from re-enacting the duet on last year’s Nick at Nite Christmas special. Ugh, we see that, too.
Somehow, though, the Bravo show’s producers fail to mention NBC’s towering monument to the holiday season, 1981’s “Dean Martin’s Christmas at Sea World.” That’s where the host got in the spirit, and into the spirits, by singing timeless holiday standards such as “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” and “Big John Law.”
Bravo and Kressley do, however, genuflect at the secular altar of animated classics first telecast in the 1960s and still with us today. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “The Grinch That Stole Christmas” are re-appreciated with only a modicum of cynicism. Not as fortunate is Kathie Lee Gifford, whose latter-day Christmas specials made even the late, great Perry Como seem edgy.
“She’s gonna kill me for this. But I mean, those Kathie Lee Gifford Christmas specials scared me,” says Lorna Luft, who gutted her way through mom Judy Garland’s holiday shows as a kid. “Because everybody was s-o-o-o happy.”
Paul Reubens, whose 1988 “Pee-wee’s Christmas Special” featured Grace Jones singing “The Little Drummer Boy,” says the true meaning of the holiday season could be better captured by having “people you hate” as TV guests. But Tammy Faye Messner says she just couldn’t imagine inviting her ex-husband, Jim Bakker, to any televised approximation of Christmas joy.
The special also includes current-day reflections from Pat Boone, Toni Tenille, Loni Anderson, Dick Martin, three members of the King Family Singers, models Kyle and Lane Carlson (but why?) and a “drag comedienne” called The Lady Bunny (again, why?).
Snarky Doonan deserves the last words, if only because he works so hard to lace his eggnog with vinegar. The presence of snow (aka Ivory flakes) in so many TV Christmas specials is a “blanket of purity” suitable for “erasing the stink and squalor and tawdriness of the celebrity culture of L.A.,” he says.
Scrooge has met his match.