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Christmas - just like the ones we used to know!
on November 20, 2010
If you're a baby boomer you likely grew up watching Bing Crosby on television at least once a year, in his annual and much anticipated Christmas specials. They may have even been the only things you knew him for, if you were too young to remember the astonishing career that preceded those festive end-of-year broadcasts. Bing's holiday shows with his family, which began in the 1960s when he hosted the Hollywood Palace's (ABC's answer to the Ed Sullivan Show) Christmas programs, and continued into the 1970s when he and his family starred in their own Christmas specials, were practically an institution back in the 3-channel, pre-cable days. If you were born prior to the Second World War you likely remember Bing as the most beloved entertainer of the 20th century, with the TV Christmas shows serving as an endearing coda to a legendary performer's long career. In either case, this set of four vintage Crosby specials (plus a bonus show, outtakes and TV spots), not seen in more than three decades, should be a warm and welcome sight to your world weary eyes. This is "comfort television" of the highest order.
Bing's first two holiday TV specials--which weren't entirely devoted to a Christmas theme--comprise the first of the two discs. 1961's "Bing Crosby Show," which was filmed in England and aired on December 11th, features Terry-Thomas and Shirley Bassey, with a surprise appearance by one of Bing's old buddies. "The Bing Crosby Show for Clairol," from December 24th, 1962, was Bing's first color special, and his guests are broadway star (and two-time movie co-star with Bing) Mary Martin and pianist-conductor-composer André Previn. Filling out disc 1 are outtakes from the Clairol Special and the half-hour "Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank" (Dec. 20, 1957), in which Frank Sinatra shares a "toddy for the body" with guest Bing, in Frank's faux late-`50s swingin' bachelor pad.
Disc two features a pair of the best of Bing's 1970s Christmas shows with his wife Kathryn and children Harry, Mary Frances and Nathaniel. The first, "Bing Crosby and the Sounds of Christmas" (December 14, 1971), is truly a feast for the eyes and ears, and a rare example of just how appealing that oft-denigrated genre, the variety show, could be, with bravura comedy and musical performances by Robert Goulet and Mary Costa, and sublime caroling by the Mitchell Singing Boys choir. Finally, perhaps the best-remembered and most beloved Christmas special of them all, "Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas," taped just weeks before Bing's death and aired posthumously on November 30, 1977, closes out this delightful set. Shot in England, it of course features Bing's now legendary--but at the time surprising and anomalous--duet with David Bowie, "Little Drummer Boy"/"Peace on Earth," as well as engaging performances by supermodel pioneer Twiggy, Brit comedians Stanley Baxter and Ron Moody, and The Trinity Boys Choir.
Produced by veteran DVD maven Robert S. Bader ("The Dick Cavett Show - Hollywood Greats," "Groucho Marx: You Bet Your Life - The Best Episodes"), the visual and audio quality of these 33- to 53-year-old shows has been beautifully restored. In fact, they look and sound better than they did when they first aired--whether your television set had rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna!