Christmas At St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
There’s never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, LA
But it’s December the 24th
And I’m longing to be up north…

That’s the rarely heard opening verse to Irving Berlin’s classic song White Christmas – originally released in 1942. The song popped into my head as I gathered these Christmastime photos of jockstrap-clad cadets in pre-flight training school at St. Mary’s College in California. Never mind that the school is actually several hundred miles north of Beverly Hills. It is still sunny California, where these strapping young men – many away from home for the first time – were training to go to war during the holidays.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I first became aware of these black and white 5″x7″ triptych photos through posts on the Vintage Workingmen Beefcake Facebook group.

Listings also turn up on auction sites, where the photos are often accompanied by the index card used to record the physical training progress of the cadet.

The earliest photos feature the men completely nude, but all subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fence to better detect posture misalignment and spinal curvature.

Fortunately for us, multiple photos of some cadets have surfaced, allowing for comparisons of their training progress:

Before / After 8 weeks of training: Fall, 1942

And while there is a lack of ethnic diversity, there is a variety of body types.

Before / After 3 weeks of training: December, 1942

My collection now includes over 300 jpegs of different cadets. Some did perish during WWII, but the largest majority that I have researched lived to ripe old ages. Any surviving cadets would now be in their late 90’s.

One thing these young men have in common, as they were documented in timeless photos of their physical prime: they were far from home during the holidays, training to fight for their country.

At this time of year, 75+ years later, cue up White Christmas as we again salute their fine forms and dedication.

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The Comfort of Repetition & The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

I am not alone in saying that I always take comfort in the annual repetition of the holidays – revisiting holiday-themed music, film, television… and now internet posts as well. This feeling is in overdrive this year, as I occupy myself at home and skip other annual holiday traditions that involve leaving my apartment. The Rockefeller Center tree looks very nice on my television – and that view will have to suffice this year, thank you very much.

I feel bad for this year’s Rockefeller Center tree – sacrificed to become the most famous Christmas shrub in the world at a time when nobody is allowed to actually go near it. It’s the Just Sam of Christmas trees, which makes the displaced owl Ryan Seacrest.

I find it interesting that we immerse ourselves in certain pop culture favorites for exactly 6 weeks of the year and then pack them up in mothballs with the ornaments until next year. I mean, Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee and Johnny Mathis are rock stars from Thanksgiving through New Years. Are any of them on your 4th of July playlist? They aren’t on mine.

The film A Christmas Story has an even shorter (Elf on the) shelf life. We binge-watch the repeated broadcast for exactly 24 hours each year. I own it on Blu-ray and I’m not sure why: I have never opened it. To pop it in at any other time feels like a betrayal.

In keeping with this revisiting, blog posts of Christmas past are back to haunt you like A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge:

This was my Canine Christmas Tail – a true story about my dog Sunshine and her appetite for tinsel.

Here is my take on the 1987 Motown Christmas Special – which featured few Motown acts.

Last year marked the 85th anniversary of March of The Wooden Soldiers – here are 10 things you may not know about the holiday classic.

Have you watched Christmas In Connecticut yet this year? How about that delivery woman?

Unfortunately, due to copyright issues all the links are broken on my 60 Degrees Girl Group Christmas piece. This also keeps me from posting other episodes of the radio show – hopefully only temporarily, as I find a work-around.

However… I have this to share:

Way back in 2002, when Limewire was a thing and people listened to music on silvery discs, I started creating Christmas CD mixes that I would mail out or give to people. These were received with a combination of feigned delight, veiled indifference and deafening silence. None of these CDs had a pressing of more than 20 copies. I’d like to call them “much sought after” – but no, that’s not really the case, although every once in a while, someone really got into them and would ask for copies of other volumes.

And so, I’m offering this simple playlist…. for kids from 1 to 92. Unfortunately many of the tracks on these dozen CDs are not on Spotify, but I keep adding songs that would be on the current CD volume… if there was one. And now the playlist is over 14 hours of holiday tunes. I recommend listening on shuffle – there’s something to irritate everyone. Enjoy!

Some Thanksgiving Treats For You

Ok – I admit it: I am one of those people who started playing Christmas music last week. Yesterday the Christmas lights went up. I don’t normally rush this, but 2020 has been the pits and I am comfortable enough in my middle-aged fruitiness to freely quote Auntie Mame at you: We need a little Christmas. Now.

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Baron von Munchausen is ready.

One of my favorite holiday CDs of recent years is Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel & Lights – a smart collection of originals and non-traditional holiday-themed songs perfectly suited to the Everything But The Girl singer’s melancholy voice.

The lead track, Joy (written by Thorn) has been on repeat in my home every December since its 2012 release. But when I dug it out of the mothballs this year, the song feels like it was tailor-made for the current climate as we navigate a pandemic holiday season while anxiously looking forward to a brighter 2021.

The opening lyric:
When someone very dear / calls you with the words “Everything’s all clear.” / That’s what you want to hear / but you know it might be different in the new year. / That’s why / That’s why / We hang the lights so high: Joy.

Here are some other Thanksgiving-themed goodies I originally posted in 2018:

When it comes to holiday music, unfortunately Thanksgiving is lost in the long shadow of Christmas. There’s a severe lack of Thanksgiving songs, aren’t there? All we’ve got is Let’s Turkey Trot by Little Eva, and even then it is not really about Thanksgiving at all. The song’s title refers to the Turkey Trot, a dance step popular back in the early 1900’s.

Dimension DollsLet’s Turkey Trot was Eva Boyd’s third single, released in 1963 with the hopes of recapturing the #1 success of her debut platter, The Loco-Motion. Let’s Turkey Trot gave Little Eva a respectable showing on the charts, peaking at #20, although it should have been billed as Little Eva & The Cookies, as the backing group is as much a part of the success of the record as the lead. Group member Earl-Jean McCrea delivers solo lines echoing their own hits Chains & Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby, which also featured Little Eva on background vocals.

Here’s an abbreviated performance by Little Eva on Shindig in 1965. Darlene Love and the Blossoms stand in for the Cookies in what must be one of the proudest moments of their career. Gobble Diddle It!

The Dollyrots also covered this track in 2014. Besides using footage of Little Eva’s Shindig performance throughout the video, they also namecheck “Little Eva back in ’63”:

Want some Mashed Potatoes with your Turkey Trot? Here’s Dee Dee Sharp with her own ode to a Thanksgiving staple / dance move:

Aaaaand some Gravy for your mashed potatoes:

On the darker side… one of the faux trailers from Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse is the hilariously spot-on Thanksgiving, directed by Eli Roth. It is entirely plausible that someone would have jumped on the bandwagon of grade-z holiday themed horror films that followed the success of Halloween. But this one is a fake. As of now. Who knows…. maybe Roth will film it one day.

During the Thanksgiving episode of SNL in 1997, Lilith Fair stand-up comic Cinder Calhoun (a recurring character played by Ana Gasteyer) & singer Sara McLachlan paid a visit to Norm MacDonald and the Weekend Update desk, singing the Thanksgiving classic Basted In Blood. It would not be nearly as funny if they didn’t sing it so well.

https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/weekend-update-segment—cinder-and-sarah/n12937

Unfortunately this segment seems to have fallen off the annual SNL Thanksgiving Eve prime time special. The whole segment can be seen at the link above – here’s the song:

In 2019, Ana Gasteyer released a holiday album: Sugar & Booze. Highly recommended!

Happy Thanksgiving!

giphy

The Christmas In Connecticut Delivery Woman

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“Have you ever seen Christmas In Connecticut?”
It has been many years since I was first asked this question, which always seemed to be posed by a gay friend or acquaintance. Each ensuing discussion regarding why this 1945 film is a Christmas classic inevitably includes a mention of The Delivery Woman. “Just wait for her;” they would say.
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The Delivery Woman appears 11 minutes into the film – just after we meet leading lady Barbara Stanwyck. She enters carrying a large box tied with a bow – it’s a mink coat. She has two lines – six words: “Miss Lane?” and “Same to you, Miss.” She smiles throughout her performance – she is beautiful. Stylish. She wears a hat, cape and gloves. Tasteful earrings. And she has a musical cue – a slinky clarinet riff. She seems to know things.

One friend described her as “sassy” although I think that assessment is a modern projection. She is on screen for just over 10 seconds. And then she is gone. She has other places to go. Other minks to deliver.

“Wouldn’t it be great if postal workers dressed like that?” is another comment I have heard more than once. I think she is actually a department store delivery person and not a postal worker. In any case, yes, I agree – capes and hats and leather gloves would be a welcome addition to any FedEx, UPS or Amazon Prime uniform.

Deliverywoman closeup

We do not know the actresses name. The IMDB does not list her. One day I expect to receive a blog comment that says “You uneducated fool! Everybody KNOWS it’s a young Rudy Dee / Hazel Scott / Dorothy Dandridge.” Until that time… the mystery remains. At least in my house.

Reginald Gardiner as John Sloan

In the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet about the history of homosexuality in Hollywood, writer Susie Bright says something along the lines of “A gay audience is so accustomed to crumbs that you will watch a whole film just to see a hint of a gay subtext.”

In Christmas In Connecticut, it’s pretty clear that Barbara Stanwyck’s sham fiancee – a disinterested interior designer – would be gay if 1940’s society and the movie code allowed. But that’s beside the point. The same statement can be applied to any minority in a classic Hollywood studio film – you wait for someone to show up, cross your fingers for a positive depiction, and then hold onto it when you find it.


The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website mentions The Delivery Woman in a 2016 post dissecting the film.  “PERSON OF COLOR. PERSON OF COLOR;” they scream upon her entrance. “This movie is already more inclusive than several films released this year.”

And this is why, 75 years after it’s release, I am writing about 10 seconds of this film.


I tip my stylish cap to that nameless actress. We salute you!


March of the Wooden Soldiers’ 85th Anniversary: 10 Things You May Not Know About The Classic Film

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This year marks the 85th anniversary of the Laurel & Hardy classic March of the Wooden Soldiers. Originally released as Babes In Toyland on Nov. 30, 1934, the holiday perennial was based on Victor Herbert’s popular 1903 operetta. The film came out of Hal Roach studios and was co-directed by Gus Meins and Charles Rogers.

 

Here’s the trailer:

 

To celebrate this occasion, I present to you….

10 Things You May Not Know About March of The Wooden Soldiers

 

1) In addition to Babes In Toyland, the film was also re-released under several different titles, including Laurel and Hardy in Toyland and Revenge Is Sweet.

 

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2) Although the 1934 film includes many of the characters in the original operetta,  the plot is almost completely different. Six musical numbers from the original stage score are featured: “Toyland”, “Never Mind Bo-Peep”, “Castle in Spain”, “Go to Sleep (Slumber Deep)” and the instrumental “March of the Toys”. Additionally, an instrumental version of “I Can’t Do The Sum” is used to underscore many scenes.

 

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3) The villainous Silas Barnaby was played by 22 year old Henry Kleinbach. He later changed his name to Henry Brandon and appeared in over 100 films throughout his 60 year career.

 

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Brandon played essentially the same character as an opera impresario who torments poor poor Alfalfa in Our Gang Follies of 1938.

3Acacious Page 1958

 

 

20 years later he was Acacious Page in Auntie Mame.

 

Another fun fact: Brandon’s partner for the last 25+ years of his life was Mark Herron, who was briefly married to Judy Garland.
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Bill Cassara and Richard S. Greene recently published a book about him.
You can also find out more about Henry Brandon here

 

 

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4) The Little Rascals (aka Our Gang) also filmed at Hal Roach studios. Several of the gang appear as schoolchildren in Toyland, although not dressed as they appear in this photo sitting atop Mother Peep’s Shoe-house.

 

4 Mamas Little Pirate
One of the most popular Our Gang / Little Rascals shorts, Mama’s Little Pirate was filmed the same year and has an extended sequence shot in the caves of Bogeyland. Gus Meins directed both films.

Another Our Gang connection: two graduates of the silent era, Johnny Downs and Jean Darling appear as Little Boy Blue and Curly Locks:

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Johnny Downs and Jean Darling as Little Boy Blue and Curly Locks

 

5) Felix Knight played romantic lead Tom Tom and fell in love with co-star Alice Moore, who played the Queen of Hearts. They were married the following year.

5 Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes, l-r: Alice Moore (Queen Of Hearts) Charley Rodgers (Simple Simon and the film’s co-director), Felix Knight (Tom Tom), Charlotte Henry (Bo-Peep) and Henry Brandon (Barnaby). Note the Three Little Pigs masks and padding hanging in the background.

Knight also appeared with Laurel and Hardy in their 1936 film – The Bohemian Girl:

6) Marie Wilson makes an early film appearance as Mary Quite Contrary. Her later work in film, radio and television (most notably My Friend Irma) garnered her three stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

6 Marie Wilson Mary Contrary
“NO I haven’t seen them!” Marie Wilson as Mary Quite Contrary

7) Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?  An instrumental version of this song is used to underscore scenes with the Three Little Pigs. However, the song is not from the original Babes In Toyland operetta – it was originally featured in the 1933 Disney short Three Little Pigs and (surprisingly) has been covered by everyone from Barbra Streisand to LL Cool J.

 

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8) About those pigs….  Elmer, the kidnapped pig was played by a little person – 2′ 11″ Angelo Rossito.

The two other pigs were played by child actors: 

8 Payne B Johnson Jiggs

 

Payne B. Johnson played Jiggs. As of 2019, he is the last living major player from the film.

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And THIS little piggy…. was a porn star! Willie was played by Edward Earle Marsh, later a Broadway performer known as Edward Earle. He then reinvented himself as Zebedy Colt, an out gay cabaret singer and porn star who appeared in both gay and straight movies through the 1970’s & 80’s.

Someone needs to write a book about this guy.

 

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9) The film became a broadcast television staple on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day in the early 1960’s. I grew up watching the film on NYC’s WPIX Channel 11, which continues to air the film to this day. In 1990 they switched to the colorized version, and in 2018, due to viewer requests, they began airing both the restored black and white and colorized versions at different times during the day.

 

Some may remember a shorter version of the film airing on television years ago. A 73 minute version was broadcast for a few years in the 1980’s, with the opening “Toyland” song sequence trimmed and the “Go to Sleep (Slumber Deep)” number cut completely. Any restored prints or colorized versions of the film run at the original 79 minute length.
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If it isn’t broadcast in your area, you can watch the full movie here:

10) Keeping in mind that the source material is the original operetta and not this film, there have been numerous other versions of Babes In Toyland:
Between 1950 and 1960, there were three television versions, all broadcast during the Christmas season, including one featuring Barbara Cook and Dennis Day in 1955.

Walt Disney’s Technicolor 1961 film version starred Annette Funicello and Ray Bolger.

A 1986 made for television version featured Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves, with only two songs from the Victor Herbert score, a new plot, and many new songs by Leslie Bricusse.

An 1997 animated film version, with a new plot and only one of the original songs, featured the voices of Christopher Plummer and Lacey Chabert.

These other versions come and go, but none feature Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee…. nightmare-inducing pig masks …. a monkey dressed as a Mickey Mouse knockoff…. or poorly costumed Bogeymen with visible zippers and padding.
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Join me in wishing a Happy 85th Birthday to a Hollywood Holiday Classic!

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December 21st – 30 Years Later

December 21st. I am never quite sure how to handle this day. Do I ignore it? If I acknowledge it, does it seem exploitative somehow? What level of grief is acceptable? We were the class behind them. We were their friends and co-workers, but we were not their BEST friends. We were the ones back in Syracuse. We did not go to London for that Fall semester – most of us had not seen them since the previous May. Of course, we were not family. But we did go through it. It happened to all of us. “We.” We all hung on to each other and we made our way through.

We sat a couple of rows back at the memorials. We were devastated, too, but how do you calibrate your grief? You feel what you feel. We were 19, 20 years old. And it has now been 30 years. There is still a scar on each of us somewhere. It does not matter how much you look at it or if you ignore it, talk about it or don’t talk about it. You still have it. All of us that went through it have them. Our own individual scars – each a little different. Some deeper than others. We have our reunions and little get-togethers but we do not discuss it. For the most part. There is no need to.

And I say to myself: I will address this one day. To explain to everyone else, really. All the people that have become a part of my life since then. 10 years goes by. 20 years. 25 years. One day I will address that scar. One day I will write about what it was like. What these people meant. How we found out who was and was not on the plane. The confusion. The anger. The unimaginable wave of sorrow. How we coped with it.

Ah, but then you get through the day… the week…. and you tell yourself, well… let’s just pack that away for another year. Focus on the holidays! I mean, really…. you were a few rows back. Your feelings are once-removed. What do you have to say that has not already been said so eloquently? What unique perspective do you think you are bringing to the table? Calibrate that. And then pack it away with the rest of the holiday baggage.

So I’ve cracked the door open just a bit on this 30th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. For Theo and Miriam and Nicole and Turhan and Tim. And for everyone that knew them.

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These memorial boards hung in the lobby of Syracuse Stage, honoring the drama students that were among the 270 people killed in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing.

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“Into The Morning” Silkscreen by Prof. Gerardine Clark to honor her lost students.

A 60 Degrees Girl Group Christmas

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I have always loved Christmas music. I tend to listen to older music all year round, but when it comes to sharing music with the general public, this is the only time of year when Brenda Lee is considered cool. To combat the 60’s holiday tracks that are over-covered and overplayed, I am always searching for more obscure holiday recordings by girl groups and female vocalists that are not on radio or Spotify playlists.

60DegreesWhen I began hosting my internet radio show 60 Degrees back in 2008, it started an annual tradition of putting together a holiday program full of female 60’s singers and girl groups, interspersed with vintage commercials and sound clips from classic holiday movies and television shows. You can listen to the Halloween show here.

East Village Radio was a pirate radio station that went legit and switched to the internet, broadcasting from a storefront in New York’s Lower East Side. This first 60 Degrees holiday show debuted on December 22, 2008 and was repeated annually throughout the shows 5 year run. By 2012, the holiday programs had gained such a following that 60 Degrees was given an uninterrupted 16 hour marathon on Christmas Day.

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At the beginning of Part 2, I read a Christmas poem that I wrote about an incident from my childhood involving our tinsel-eating dog Sunshine, which has previously been posted here and also on The Good Men Project website. You can’t say I don’t recycle!

Other than my speedy vocal delivery (someone tell that guy to slow down) and some minor sound level issues, the show holds up pretty well. There are a few mis-statements that I wish I could fix:

  • I said that Maya Rudolph’s mother, the late great Minnie Riperton was not singing lead on The Gems tracks when she is.
  • I mis-pronounce the Meditation Singers as “The Mediation Singers” and would add that soul singer Laura Lee was a member of the group, having replaced Della Reese in the 1950’s.
  • Janice Orenstein sang There’s Always Tomorrow from the Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer soundtrack.

Gems MinnieMeditation SingersJanice Orenstein

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Part 1 Flirtaitons

  1. Donde Esta Santa Claus – Toni Stante
  2. Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas  – Carla Thomas
  3. My Boyfriend’s Coming Home For Christmas  – Toni Wine
  4. Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day – Brenda Lee
  5. White Christmas – Baby Washington
  6. Snowfall – Doris Day
  7. I Want A Boy For Christmas – The Del-Vetts
  8. You Better Be Good, World – Shirley Ellis
  9. Peace For Christmas  – Gigi Parker
  10. Christmas Calling  – Valerie Masters
  11. Christmas Time – Jan Bradley
  12. All I Want For Christmas Is You – Carla Thomas
  13. Christmas Is The Time To Be With Your Baby – The Orchids
  14. Christmas Time Is Here Again – The Flirtations
  15. O Holy Child – Dusty Springfield
  16. Sleigh Ride – Darlene Love wi/ The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  17. Deep in the Heart of Christmas Darlene Love wi/ The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  18. Christmastime For The Jews – Darlene Love
  19. Xmas (Baby Please Come Home) Live 2005 – Darlene Love

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Part 2: Suprems xmasbboard

  1. Wish You A Merry Christmas – Kim Weston
  2. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – The Miracles (featuring Claudette Robinson)
  3. Oh Holy Night – The Supremes (featuring Florence Ballard)
  4. Won’t Be Long Before Christmas – The Supremes
  5. Blue Christmas – The Meditation Singers
  6. Blue Holiday – Aretha Franklin
  7. Love For Christmas  -The Gems
  8. Jing Jing A Ling – Honey & The Bees
  9. Silver Bells – Rachel Sweet
  10. Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas) – The Free Design
  11. The Christmas Song – Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
  12. I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You – Margo Guryan
  13. Happy New Year Baby – JoAnn Campbell
  14. Happy New Year Baby – The Sisters
  15. January First – Peggy March
  16. Happy New Year – Beverley
  17. Jingle Jingle Jingle – Burl Ives
  18. There’s Always Tomorrow – Janice Orenstein
  19. Auld Lang Syne – Honey & the Bees

I’ll be uploading other episodes of 60 Degrees in the future. I hope you enjoy them. Thanks for listening!Delvettes 45

giphy1YiE

A Christmas Without Miracles: The 1987 “Motown” Christmas Special

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I have this pet peeve… it’s a situation that usually occurs at a party or in a bar situation. Someplace with a jukebox or a DJ where the alcohol flows freely. An overplayed 60’s soul hit like Respect or Dock Of The Bay starts to play and some booze bag sloshes over and says “OH I LOVE MOTOWN! I love Aretha and James BROWN and the Shirelles and the Ronettes and OTIS and ALL the rest of the Motown acts.”

Honey. Sit down. Let me get you a glass of water. We need to talk.

While I appreciate your enthusiasm, let’s set the record straight: Sam Cooke. Otis Redding. James Brown. The Shirelles. The Ronettes. They are NOT Motown acts. Never were. And while Aretha Franklin is FROM Motown, aka Detroit, she was never ON Motown records.

Referring to every black artist who recorded soul music in the 60’s as a “Motown” singer is lazy, insulting and possibly a teensy bit racist. Kapeesh? With that said, perhaps I should cut people some slack. I know, we are all very busy and don’t pay a whole lot of attention to minutiae. And besides, sometimes the record labels themselves are a little guilty of causing confusion. Case in point: The 1987 Motown Merry Christmas special.

First, a little context: In 1984 the Motown 25 TV special was a blockbuster ratings success, Motown 25with all the former stars of the record label coming home to celebrate Motown’s 25th Anniversary and kiss the ring of founder Berry Gordy. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The 4 Tops, The Temptations, Martha Reeves, Mary Wells and many others made appearances. Lionel Richie reunited with the Commodores! Smokey Robinson reunited with the Miracles! Diana Ross reunited with the Supremes for a minute and half before Miss Ross allegedly pushed Mary Wilson out of her way! That last part was edited out of the broadcast…. but anyway… the real highlight of the show was the reunited Jackson 5, followed by Michael Jackson’s performance of Billie Jean, which introduced the moonwalk to the world and we were never the same again.

Fast forward three years – the Motown brand was still being milked for all it was worth, even if their current roster of artists were not exactly burning up the charts. I mean, even DeBarge had left the label by this point. But a nostalgic look back at Motown with a Christmas special seemed like a good idea, as most of the top Motown acts had released holiday LPs during the label’s heyday. In fact, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson & Miracles each released two Christmas LPs on the label. But… you do have to get the acts to come back and perform for a TV special, right?

Motown LP Supremes.jpegMotown LP swonderMotown LP MiraclesMotown LP TemptationsMotown LP jackson

For whatever reason (read: money) only the Temptations and Smokey Robinson are on hand for this star-studded Motown Merry Christmas, which was taped – not in Detroit – but at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood, California.

motown-merry-christmas-TV Guide 1987

The show aired December 14, 1987 on NBC, hosted by Philip Michael Thomas, the guy who wasn’t Don Johnson on the hit NBC-TV show Miami Vice. Interesting spot of trivia: Philip Michael ThomasThomas, notorious for his over-inflated ego, is credited with coining the acronym EGOT for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony wins, as he often crowed in interviews that he would win one of each. As of 2018, he has never been nominated for any of them.

The show opens with our humble host reading a version of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” that name-checks some Motown artists, including Stevie Wonder, who is not there.

This segues into a performance by the 1987 version of The Temptations (which means no Eddie Kendricks or David Ruffin). They are wearing nightshirts and slippers as they Temptations White Christmasperform a doo wop version of White Christmas. Although the group had recorded the song as a ballad on their 1970 Christmas album, that version is scrapped in favor of the Drifters uptempo arrangement, originally released on Atlantic records in 1954. In any case, it’s a fun showcase for the deep bass voice of original member Melvin Franklin.

Pointer Sisters MJNext, The Pointer Sisters sing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, a track from the very first A Very Special Christmas album, which had just been released and is now considered a classic. Their performance is spirited, but once again a reminder: The Pointer Sisters have nothing to do with Motown, although a kid imitating Michael Jackson does makes an appearance.

Redd Foxx Lola Falana

For the comedy portion of the program, Redd Foxx arrives onstage dressed as a pimped-out Santa Claus along with Marsha Warfield of NBC’s Night Court and Lola Falana of many a Las Vegas lounge. Redd performs a rap and the result is exactly what you would imagine a Redd Foxx rap might sound like. Then things get serious as they read a fake letter from an imaginary homeless child and Santa Foxx promises to find him on Christmas. So I guess the kid will have to fend for his imaginary self until then.

Side Note: Although Redd Foxx is best remembered today for Sanford and Son and his other sitcom work, he was also known as “The King of the Party Records” -with over 50 raunchy comedy LPs released on a dozen different record labels. None of these labels was Motown.

Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love deliver a medley of songs from the Phil Spector Darlene RonnieChristmas Album, which, of course, was not a Motown production. Darlene sings a generous portion of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Just the previous Christmas, she had performed the song on David Letterman’s show for the first time, launching a tradition that would continue for the next 28 years.

I forgot to mention: as this is the 1980’s, there is a large gaggle of dancers present throughout the entire show. During this segment they are dressed primarily in gold mylar, gyrating around Ronnie and Darlene as they herd from one end of the stage to the other. One of the more prominent dancers is Michael Perea, a staple of 80’s music videos for many artists including Michael Jackson, Cher and especially Madonna, having appeared in her videos as well as on the Virgin Tour and Live Aid performance. In the mid-80’s, I wanted to BE Michael Perea, shaking my tambourine to Dress You Up and Dancing On The Ceiling with Lionel Richie. I was sorry to learn recently that he died of AIDS complications in 1989.

michael-perea lionel Richiemichael-perea-1985michael Mykal Perea

Next up – another medley: Desiree Coleman, one of two artists appearing here (besides Smokey) that was actually signed to the Motown label at the time. Desiree sings Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Desiree ColemanShe is decked out in a tacky 80’s outfit full of sequins and linebacker shoulder pads. I mean… all the costumes in this show are hideously dated, but this one is at the top of the very flammable acrylic heap.

Philip Michael Thomas is onstage with her but thankfully does not sing. Apropos of nothing, Desiree hits a Mariah Carey dog-whistle note at the end of her segment and Thomas leads her away. I’m not a fan.

Smokey sings a portion of a forgettable ballad before Natalie Cole comes in with her soulful rendition of Donny Hathaway’s This Christmas (Side note: do yourself a favor and check out Dave Holmes dissection of Patti LaBelle’s disastrous version of this song from the 1996 National Christmas Tree lighting. Really.)Natalie Smokey2

I remembered This Christmas as a highlight of the program, thinking that Smokey and Natalie had some real chemistry. Re-watching it now, I see that it’s all Natalie’s doing. SHE has chemistry. All we see is the back of Smokey’s head as she sings her way towards him. Together they segue into Give A Little Love On Christmas Day, and it sure does seem like someone’s gonna get a little love before Christmas day even gets here. Oh – Philip Michael Thomas and Desiree Coleman are still onstage too. Thankfully, Philip Michael Thomas still does not sing.

The Temptations are back with a very nice version of Silent Night, featuring the tight Temptations Silent Nightsoulful harmonies that are their trademark. They end their performance with a declaration: “Merry Christmas from the Motown Family…” as if they are here to represent the rest of the “family” who had to go visit the in-laws and just couldn’t make it this year.

After some more Redd Foxx shenanigans, Run DMC (who were on Profile records) performs Christmas In Hollis, which was also on the A Very Special Christmas LP. Quick geography lesson: Hollis is in Queens, New York, which is about as far from Detroit, Michigan as the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Stephanie Mills sings the R&B ballad When You Love Someone (It’s Christmas Every Day), a song that they twice mention was written by our very own Redd Foxx. What they don’t mention is that the song was recorded by former Motown artists Gladys Knight and The Pips, who are not here.Stephanie Mills2

It’s ironic that Mills appears on a Motown special for a couple of reasons: Not only was she never a Motown artist, but her greatest success was playing 13 year old Dorothy in The Wiz on Broadway, but when Motown produced the movie adaption, 34 year old Diana Ross was given the role.

Smokey and the Temptations are back again to sing The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire). This is fine. But where are the Miracles? Where are the 4 Tops? Gimme some Pips! My kingdom for a Marvelette!

Marsha Warfield

Marsha Warfield reappears dressed as a glittery bag lady as we head into the closing 8+ minute medley. Carrie McDowell is introduced. She is the only caucasian on the bill and the only other artist besides Desiree and Smokey signed to Motown at the time. Carrie McDowellThat said, she was dropped shortly after her debut LP tanked that same year. McDowell has the featured spot here… and this girl can SANG, that’s for sure, but…. this also means that all the other great singers behind her: Natalie Cole, Darlene Love, Pointer Sisters, etc. are given much shorter solos – some are reduced to a single line of a song. Poor Ronnie Spector has one duet line with Stephanie Mills.

Lola finaleLola Falana has a very brief solo with some very odd stilted physical movements, which I always attributed to the severe multiple sclerosis flareup that plagued her at the time. But upon repeated viewing, she moves quite naturally when she steps back in line with the others. So I don’t know what that was about.

The cast sings approximately 15 seconds of every holiday song ever written. Phillip Michael Thomas is singing now but nobody gives him a mic. And then we’re done. Credits roll. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

In 2000, Diana Ross attempted to launch a Supremes reunion – the first time they would have performed together since the Motown 25 special. Unfortunately, very little money was offered to Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong and both declined to participate. In their place were installed Lynda Lawrence and Scherrie Payne (Freda’s sister), both members of the Supremes in the 1970’s – years after Ross had left. Fans didn’t buy it and the tour fizzled out quickly. As with this program, it was just another example of the Motown name being slapped on something and fans were expected to eat it up.

Of course, if we are talking about drunk people at a party, maybe they do fall for it. But some of us are bound to stand up and say… Honey, no. We need to talk.

Motown Merry Christmas TV guide

Sunshine and Tinsel: A Canine Christmas Tail

I wrote a story/poem back in 2006 recounting an incident with the family dog when I was 4 years old. I gave copies to my family in their Christmas stockings that year. A couple of years after that when I was hosting 60 Degrees on East Village radio, I read it as part of my Holiday episode. Now it has been posted on the GoodMenProject website for this holiday season. I hope you enjoy it!

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