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Radio programs to start the Christmas season

Wednesday 11/30/22

I guess the Christmas season has started, though we're in November, albeit the final day of the year's penultimate month. It starts early, doesn't it? For me, Christmas is something I think about throughout the year. I wouldn't even say that I think about Christmas more in December. I am fighting for a future and a life, among other things, and Christmas is a big factor in both. When I do not wish to run stairs on a June morning, or as the wind howls and the snow falls before dawn on some random February day, or when I want to end my life end this struggle, I will think about Rockport, my house, Christmases there. What I would do on the day. What I'd listen to. Read. What I'd watch. What I'd write, or think about writing, or reflect on having written the day before. Or the next ten books to come. The person whom I might be with, allowing that a person who would have the qualities I need even exists. She may not, but I hope she does. Makes herself known to me at some point, though I don't know if there's anyone who could go through what I'm going through now with me. I'm unsure that anyone exists who is that strong, even though they'd not be the person really going through it.


I truly do keep Christmas in my heart all the year round. But for most people, one day it's Halloween, the next it's November, and the stores are decked out in Christmas decorations. The day after Thanksgiving, holiday programming kicks into high gear. The Snow Miser is soon spotted quarreling as always with his hot-blooded brother, and we're fully away. Frosty and Rudolph now have their first airings in November, which is not how it used to be. I would never complain about an overabundance of anything Christmas-related; the idea borders on the oxymoronic for me. I'm relieved when it's January 26 and I have the TV on and it's a sitcom in syndication and a Christmas episode airs. It's just the rotation of the episodes through the seasons that the station trots out again and again. The number has come up. But I will increase the volume for that episode as I do other things (it has been more than ten years since I just sat there and watched anything). I'm glad that a form of Christmas is officially back already, once people have put away their decorations, moved on, and resumed grumbling about the winter.


Christmas is a carrot for me, you might say, though I am no reindeer. The Christmases I intend to have once I am out of this hell will be very special and sacred indeed. I will not speak for my ghost and limit his freedoms, especially before his official advent, but all the same, I remember and remind myself that I will not have those Christmases if I am dead. There will be no walk from the Rockport house to the headlands overlooking the harbor and the open ocean, knowing that the story that was published days before was read by millions of people, knowing what I have in my head for what is next, cherishing the peace of that moment. Hearing the waves break, breathing in the cold air in the lungs so well-conditioned by millions and millions of stairs that were ran, are still run, with each and every last one playing its role in a story of endurance and triumph unlike any other that has been or will be.


I want to stand there on a Christmas morning, before anyone else is up--save the most earnest of children--and have that moment. Year in, year out. For decades. I think it would be very hard indeed for someone to comprehend how much I think about that. When people wonder about my strength and how much of it there is, what they often don't realize is that it comes entirely from within, because there is just me, and almost all and everyone against me, but it also draws on much, which I've gathered within me. This is but one example.


I am off my line, though. I came here to cite and provide three old time radio broadcasts that are worth one's time during the season and which I'm likely to discuss on the radio myself in the next few weeks.


James Stewart was the star of The Six Shooter, which ran from September 1953 to June 1954. He played Britt Poncett, a cowboy who drifted from here to there. William Conrad showed up a bunch, despite being deep in his run as Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke, and was billed as Julius Krelboyne for this reason. Pretty funny--as if someone could hear William Conrad's voice and not know it was him. Vertigo is still a few years away, with Rear Window being released later on that summer in 1954. Goes to show the pull radio still had, though casting Stewart in The Six Shooter was also an attempt to stave off the advances of television. Stewart has a perfect voice for radio dramas. The Six Shooter wasn't groundbreaking, but it's very...amenable. For Christmas 1953, listeners got a Western twist on A Christmas Carol, which works quite well. Howard McNear--who was Doc on Gunsmoke--is the Scrooge figure. McNear had an excellent miser voice--could sound like it was picking at you. Pick, pick, pick. The opening musical theme is called "Highland Lament."



You will have to listen past some static with this late December 1947 broadcast of Quiet, Please, called "Rain on New Year's Eve," but don't be deterred! Embrace, I would say, that static--it adds to the eeriness. Or, listen at night, under the covers, and pretend that you are just barely able to pick up the required radio signal to hear this program, beamed in from somewhere far away. The voice of Ernest Chappell is a highpoint in radio history--how that voice is wielded in performance. Quiet, Please was groundbreaking--it's one of our five or so best radio programs, in my view. Here's some fun as well: a recent "cover" of the Quiet, Please episode, by an entity called Project Audion.


This is a favorite of mine: Orson Welles and his Mercury troupe doing A Christmas Carol in 1938. The year is important, because that was the time Welles stood in as Scrooge for Lionel Barrymore, who couldn't make it. The better known Mercury version is with Barrymore from 1939, but I prefer this one. It's homier, cozier. Welles thrived when he had to adapt on the fly--got his juices flowing. He'd rally and rise to the occasion. Many of us put on little plays as children in the home, especially at the holidays, or during some Christmas party at a friend or relative's house. That ad hoc theatrical spirit permeates this radio adaptation. Is Welles an amazing Scrooge? No. But he does not need to be. (He is an amazing narrator, though--the best.) His Scrooge is adenoidal and querulous, not, intriguingly, unlike his George Amberson Minafer from the Mercury's 1939 adaptation of Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, which predates Welles' RKO film (and aired almost a year to the day after The War of the Worlds broadcast.)


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