Monday, 5 December 2016

Every Who Down in Whoville

"Every Who Down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot.  But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville did not...He stood there on Christmas hating the Who's.  Staring down from his cave, with a sour grinchy frown at the warm lighted windows below in their town." (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss)

Rumor has it that Theodor Geisel was turned down not once but three times at the University of Virginia, a school founded by Thomas Jefferson.  Dr. Seuss vowed one day to look down on that university.

In 1937, Theodor Geisel struck gold when he signed a contract with Vangard Press for his first book And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street (see post "From Mulberry St. to Madison Ave" at ).  He went on to fame and fortune with Horton Hatches the EggIf I Ran the Circus and other picture books.

Before writing How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Theodor Geisel, now Dr. Seuss, bought a stately home in the mountains overlooking Virginia (just as Thomas Jefferson purchased Monticello).  Just as Dr. Seuss lived on a mountain overlooking Virginia, the Grinch lived on Mount Crumpit overlooking Whoville.  The University of Virginia mascot was called a Wahoo or a Hoo for short.  Some say that Dr. Seuss' inspiration for the Who's was the Hoo's.

Regardless of the book's inspiration, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which first appeared on the shelves in 1957, became an instant hit.  It wasn't long before Americans were familiar with phrases like "a heart two sizes too small" and "little Cindy Lou Hoo" and "carve the roast beast" and "the last can of who hash".  According to some websites, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the fifth most popular book Dr. Seuss ever wrote.

In 1966, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas premiered on television. Boris Karloff played the role of the narrator.  Albert Hague and Eugene Poddany brought the story to life with their musical score.  I so looked forward to watching that story on TV each year.  I can just imagine the trumpet sounding on Christmas morning...the Who's playing with their wind up toys...little Cindy Lou Hoo asking Santy Claus why he is taking their tree in a peep peep voice...and the voices of the Who's singing Christmas carols which waft up Mount Crumpit and melt the Grinch's heart.  Yes, "every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot."

The Who stands on Mount Crumpit looking down on the Who's courtesy

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Bells of St. Mary's

"The Bells of St. Mary's" premiered in December of 1945 and starred Bing Crosby as Father O'Malley and Ingrid Bergman as Sister Benedict, two teachers trying to save their run-down parochial school from the wrecking ball.  Father O'Malley is new to the school and believes in liberal theories of teaching; Sister Benedict, on the other hand, has been instructing at the school for years and believes in firm discipline. One early scene involves the priest introducing himself to the sisters and as he speaks, he's puzzled at why everyone is laughing; a kitten has jumped into his hat sitting on the piano behind him.

Another funny scene involves Sister Benedict, in her habit, training student Eddie in the art of "pugilism", after he was tripped by the school bully.  Father Benedict helps a weaker student named Patsy with her essay, and after some prodding, discovers that her mother and father are estranged; the priest relocates Patsy's dad and brings the couple back together again.

The cutest scene of "The Bells of St. Mary's" occurs at Christmas time.  The Grade 1 class prepares a pageant in which they sing Happy Birthday to baby Jesus, played by the younger sibling of one of the students.  Rather than remaining in the manger, "toddler" Jesus keeps jumping out.

In the meantime, their neighbour, Mr. Bogardus, has built an office building next door and dreams of St. Mary's being torn down so he can build a parking lot.  However, Sister Benedict has been praying that Mr. Bogardus will donate the building to the parish to use as their new school.  The crotchety businessman goes to the doctor who diagnoses him with a bad heart.  What is the prescription?  Give with your heart and it will be full (and healthy).

"The Bells of St. Mary's" received eight Academy Award nominations and became a staple in American cinematography.

Photo courtesy

Saturday, 3 December 2016

White Christmas

"Snow!  It won't be long before we'll all be there with snow.
Snow!  I want to wash my hands and face in snow."

I'll never forget the first time my husband Rob watched the movie "White Christmas"; he would crack up everytime Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen broke into song.  Yes, the movie is corny, but it's the corniness that makes it so endearing:  the corny songs, the corny sets, the corny plots.  The opening scene takes place during Christmas of 1944 in battle-torn Europe when a building is about to fall on Bing Crosby's character, Bob Wallace, and Danny Kaye's character, Phil Davis, saves him at the last second.  Forever after, the former is beholden to the latter and he never lets him forget it.

After the war, Wallace & Davis start a song and dance act and become famous on the radio and on Broadway.  They meet a female act in Florida, the sisters of an army buddy named Freckle-Faced Haynes, and listen to their floor show ("Sisters").  After an impromptu dance to "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" between Phil and Vera-Ellen's character, Judy, the sisters are charged with damaging their hotel room rug and make a hasty exit, with help from the men.

Matchmaker Phil learns that the women are travelling to Vermont to do a stage show for Christmas and he talks his friend into going along.  Boarding the train, the foursome gets to know each other better in the dining car, as they cozy up in a booth and sing "Snow".  Arriving in Pine Tree, Vermont, the entertainers are surprised to see greenery everywhere:  it has not snowed for weeks.  At the inn, Phil and Bob discover that the owner is their old commanding general from the army.  General Waverly is sinking into debt after investing all of his money into an inn that has no customers due to the lack of snow.  Bob and Phil wrack their brains to find a way to bring patrons into the inn.

Meanwhile, Bob and Betty grow closer by the fire munching a midnight snack, singing "Count Your Blessings".  Nosy housekeeper Emma eavesdrops on a conversation between Bob and Ed Harrison, a variety show host, who suggests that they invite all of the soldiers formerly under General Waverly's command to the inn and film the evening, giving Bob and Phil free advertising for their act.  Emma fails to hear the rest of the conversation (Bob rejects the host's angle) and blabs to Judy who assumes Bob is just an opportunist.

At a rehearsal party that night, Bob and Betty argue, prompting Phil and Judy to announce a phony engagement, hoping that the news will make Betty realize her baby sister is taken care of and now she is free to settle down.  The move backfires and Betty accepts a job offer in New York City.  Bob follows her there and sits in the audience listening to a black-velvet gowned Betty sing "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me".  Later, he reveals to her that Phil and Judy's engagement is phony.

In the meantime, Bob asks Ed Harrison to announce on his show that night that all of the soldiers formerly under General Waverly's command should go to the Vermont Inn on Christmas Eve as a show of support to the general and his failing business.  Phil fakes an injured ankle to prevent General Waverly from watching "The Ed Harrison Show" that evening.  Meanwhile, Betty realizes the real reason that Bob is getting Ed Harrison in on the act and races back to Pine Tree just in time for the show.

Back at the ski lodge, columns of soldiers fall into line as they sing a rousing rendition of "The Old Man" for General Waverly, bringing a tear to his eye.  After the song, he gives them an inspection for old times' sake, criticizing them in one breath and then saying what a beautiful sight they are in the next breath.  The movie closes with snow falling outside the inn.  The two couples, dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, declare their love for each other as they sing:  "May your days be merry and bright.  And may all your Christmases be white."

Friday, 2 December 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

Premiering in December of 1946 in theatres and starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, "It's a Wonderful Life" received five Academy Award nominations and later became a staple on American television each Christmas season.  Sleepy Bedford Falls resident, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is a struggling businessman whose savings and loans company is about to go bankrupt, leading George to contemplate jumping off a bridge.  However, an angel sent from heaven named Clarence intervenes, showing George what life would really be like if he had never been born.

Director Frank Capra flashes back to George's childhood:  how he was in a sledding accident and almost drown, how he was mistreated by his employer at the local drugstore, and how he dreamed about travelling the globe.  In the meantime, though, he met his future wife, Mary, played by Donna Reed, at a dance where they lindyhopped until their feet were sore.  As they meandered home that evening, they stopped at an abandonned house, threw a rock at the window, and made a wish.

Sadly, George's father ,who ran a savings and loans business, succumbed to a stroke in the next scene.  Though grief-stricken, George finds joy when he marries his sweetheart Mary, fulfilling the wish she had made in front of the abandonned house.  On a rainy night, the newlyweds are about to depart for their honeymoon in Europe, when the savings and loans employees beg him to take over his late father's business.  Begrudgingly, he agrees and foregoes his honeymoon.

Although he starts off slowly, and despite his immoral nemesis Mr. Potter, George is able to build his business back up using honest methods.  In the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. Bailey purchase the decrepit house that they once strolled past on that fateful evening, discovering its hidden charms.    They start a family which eventually totals four children.  As the business heads south, the once charming house becomes a liability:  every time George walks up the staircase, he shakes his head in disgust at the knob which comes lose from the bannister post.  The once adorable children become an annoyance:  his daughter's piano playing grates on his last nerve.

What's the source of his distress?  Uncle Billy has lost $8000 of the company's money.  George runs to Martini's bar where he hits rock bottom and then cries out to God for help.  When the struggling businessman meets the angel, he then realizes that he is not poor, but rich.  He runs home to his family on Christmas Eve, his wife waiting for him with open arms.  They sing together under the Christmas tree.  The community bands together to raise funds to replace the missing money.  It's a wonderful life!

Photo courtesy

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Most Famous Christmas Movie

Last night, we watched the 1947 classic, "Miracle on 34th Street", the most famous New York City Christmas movie.  In the summer of 2012, when Rob and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, we visited New York City.  I'll never forget our walk to the Empire State Building.  We spotted Macy's and realized we were on 34th Street -- it was a surreal moment for us -- all the memories of the movie came flooding back.  Here are fifteen facts you may not know about the movie.

1.  "Dear Santa" letters were up by 25% in 1947 after movie-goers saw the 21 sacs of mail sent to Santa in the 1946 movie.

2.  Edmund Gwenn, who played Kris Kringle in the movie, also played Santa Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade of 1946.

3.  Edmund Gwenn's character replaced the drunk Santa in the parade.  In 1948, the New York Times magazine reported a "Santa who grabbed a trim young mother, set her on his knee and suggested they both go out and have a drink".

4.  In the opening scene of "Miracle on 34th Street", Edmund Gwenn's character walks down a New York City street and notices Santa's reindeer in a store window.  Rudolph, however, is missing. While Rudolph had already been invented in 1939 in the Gene Autry song, he did not become popular until the 1964 TV special "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer".

5.  Edmund Gwenn's character was given a psychological test in which he had to answer a series of questions including "Who was the Vice President of the United States under John Quincy Adams?"  He answered it incorrectly by saying "Daniel D. Tompkins."  The correct response should have been John C. Calhoun.

6.  The headline "'Kris Kringle Krazy!  Kourt Kase Koming Kalamity!' Kry Kiddes" was probably inspired by the absurd headlines run by the Daily Variety in the 1940's and 1950's including "Sticks Nix Hick Pix".

7.  The Santa suit that Edmund Gwenn wore was auctioned for $22,500 in 2011.

8.  A little Dutch girl meets Santa at Macy's and sings the traditional Dutch song "Sinterklaas Kapoentje".  Edmund Gwenn's character, who happens to speak Dutch, sings along with her.

9.  A real life rivalry did exist between the two departments stores, Macy's and Gimbel's, from 1910 until 1987, when the latter when out of the business.

10.  Every year at Christmas time, U.S. courts re-enact the trial of Kris Kringle for children.

11.  Screen writer Valentine Davies was inspired to write "Miracle on 34th Street" after Christmas shopping in 1944.

12.  Edmund Gwenn grew a white beard and gained 30 pounds for the role of Kris Kringle.  He won an Oscar for his performance.

13.  Three hundred thousand children each year sit on Santa Claus's knee at Macy's.

14.  "Miracle on 34th Street" could have been called "It's Only Human", Mr. Kringle of 'The Big Heart;".

15.  Seven-year-old Actress Natalie Wood, who played the little girl who didn't believe in Santa Claus, actually thought Edmund Gwenn was the real McCoy.

Note:  For more information on the movie, read my post "Rickety Wooden Escalators & Cracked Marble Floors" at

Source: AND

Edmund Gwenn in "Miracle on 34th Street" courtesy

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Wait for Me, Daddy!

"From what I understood from the photographer, he was trying to get a picture of how many soldiers there were, but then this kid made the getaway." (Jack Bernard)

It's the most famous photo ever to be taken in Canada during World War II.  It appeared in Life, Time and Newsweek.  It hung in every school in British Columbia during the war.  And it was used to sell Canadian war bonds.  It's called "Wait for Me, Daddy!".

On October 1, 1940, a column of Canadian soldiers marched down Vancouver's Columbia Ave. to the train station.  Their uniforms freshly pressed, their hats tilted on their head at just the right angle, their boots freshly shined, the new recruits were ready for battle.  But one little boy wasn't ready for them to leave.  The white-blond haired boy broke away from his mother's grasp and ran after his father who was part of the column, reaching out his little hand as if to say "Wait for me, Daddy!".  His father responded by reaching out his own hand. His elegantly dressed mother reached out for her son's hand, trying to keep up.  

All the while, photographer Claude Dettloff was snapping photographs of the column of soldiers on Columbia Ave.  Unprepared for the scene to follow, he captured a once in a lifetime moment on film.  His photograph would be published in The Province newspaper,  later to be picked up by several magazines including Reader's Digest.  Dettloff would become famous over the heart-grabbing image of the white-blond haired boy chasing his war-bound father down the street.


The little boy, Warren Bernard, returned to his Vancouver home that autumn day with his mother, Bernice.  His father, Jack, along with the rest of the British Columbia Regiment, boarded a train for Nanaimo where he underwent military training.

Later Jack fought on the battlefields of France and Belgium.  On the home front, Bernice and Warren lived out the war on a modest income in a rented apartment.  Since money was scarce, Bernice agreed to let Warren participate in a war bonds tour in 1943.  Dressed in a smart blue blazer and short grey pants, Warren toured the province with war bonds that featured the famous Dettloff photo.  The young boy, who had to take time off from his schooling at General Wolfe Elementary, delivered the same speech every time, ending with the line:  "Help bring my Daddy home!"  The teary-eyed audience usually responded generously to his plea.  When Jack Bernard returned home in October of 1945, Bernice and Warren were there to meet him, as was Claude Dettloff, ready to photograph the happy reunion.  

The white-haired boy grew up, married in 1964 and in the 1980's, became mayor of Tofino, British Columbia.  A sculpture honouring the moment the Bernard family said goodbye, was recently erected at the corner of 8th Street and Columbia Avenue, the spot where the original photo was taken.  Canada Post has issued a two dollar coin with the famous image.

The reunion between father and son courtesy

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Capa's Camera Captures Conflict

"The desire for any war photographer is to be put out of business." 
(Robert Capa)

Robert Capa courtesy

Andre Friedmann was born in Austria-Hungary in 1913 to Jewish parents.  Capa fled political repression in Hungary as a teenager and settled in Berlin.  He always wanted to be a writer, but with the invention of the 35 mm camera, he seized the opportunity to become a photographer when it presented itself. Combining his love for writing and his eye for photography, he embraced the relatively new occupation of photojournalist, specializing in war photography.  In 1933, with the rise of Hitler and the persecution of Jews, Friedmann fled Germany to France.  He changed his name to the more Christian sounding Robert Capa to avoid religious discrimination common in France at the time, ensuring that he was not turned down for jobs.  While visiting his mother and brother who had fled to New York City in 1937, Capa signed a contract with Life magazine as a war photographer.  He covered five conflicts:  the Spanish Civil War, the second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the 1948 Arab Israeli War and the First Indochina War.  Capa was always where the action was:  at the American invasion of Sicily in 1943: at Omaha Beach on D-Day 1944; and at the site of the last fatality of the Second World War's European Theatre in 1945.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Capa the Medal of Freedom in 1947 for his contribution to the war effort.  Robert Capa was killed by a landmine while covering the Indochina War in 1954.  Here are some of his haunting photographs from World War II.

1.  D-Day Landings (1944)

2.  Chartres, 1944

3.  Boy on Tank, Chartres, 1944

4.  Allied Entry Into Paris

5.  Sicilian Peasant

6.  Frenchman Crying

7.  London Bombed

8.  Nazi Train (1938)

9.  D-Day

10.  Last Man to Die, Leipzig, Germany, 1945