My Grandma Made Christmas Special

My Grandma made Christmas special-because she was special. When December comes it seems that every day is a reminder of how much I love and miss her.

I miss the special day weeks before Christmas when I would go over my Grandma’s house and we would spend the whole day covering things in chocolate. Apricots, potato chips, fudge, oreos, pretzels, and ritz crackers with peanut butter filling were just a few of our standards. Dark chocolate raisins, milk chocolate peanuts, and white chocolate rice krispies were all poured into small red and green paper cups. There wasn’t anything that couldn’t be dipped, drizzled, or mixed into the pounds of chocolate wafers she would buy.

I miss her traditional Christmas Eve Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. Squid, Eel, Shark, and Octopus, were all normal entrees on the menu that day. If you didn’t like to eat food with tentacles it wasn’t your night. Whatever you wore to Christmas Eve dinner was destined to smell like fried smelts and baccala until mid-March.

I miss her beautiful decorations. There were oversized multicolor Christmas lights on her magnificently trimmed front hedges, and garland around her entryway railing with gold bells that chimed Christmas carols. The real evergreen tree in the upstairs living room was always decorated with white lace ornaments, and the tree downstairs was adorned with handmade sequined ornaments from all seven of her children.

I miss how my Grandma’s house was always a bit chilly on Christmas morning from more and more family coming through the downstairs glass door. She would give everyone her knitted booties to wear to stay warm. It was commonplace to be wearing a lovely velvet dress, black tights, and bright blue knitted booties.

I miss her homemade stockings with all of our names hand sewn on the tops, which were filled with oranges, tick tacks, silver dollars, and a tooth brush. I miss how she would wrap her presents for everyone. Always nice wrapping paper, but never any bows.

I miss the Christmas breakfast roll she would make with a pineapple and ricotta cheese filling. The homemade Italian wedding soup on her rolling silver cart next to the telephone. The ham she would have roasting in the oven. And the pizzelle, biscotti, and apricot kolacky cookies in large tins and tuperware’s on a folding table in the corning of her dining room.

I miss looking across her living room and seeing her sitting in her comfy white chair sipping a cup of coffee out of her nice china, and smiling loving at everyone through her thick rimmed glasses – which got thinner frames but thicker lenses through the years. She is wearing a white turtleneck with shimmering poinsettias on it, black sweatpants, a Santa hat, and knitted bright blue booties of her own.

I miss her. I still miss her. I will always miss her.

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Fred and Ginger: A match made in ballroom heaven

When you think of Fred Astaire, you think of Ginger Rogers. And when you think of Ginger Rogers, you think of Fred Astaire. Even though the two made over 100 films without the other, the movies that will always be in the forefront of their careers are the 10 magical pictures they made together. Whether it was the foxtrot, the waltz, the quickstep, or the polka, Fred and Ginger always delivered with elegance, grace, style, class, poise, and superior talent. Ginger’s gowns in all the pictures are breathtaking, and Fred always looks the part of an elegant gentleman. Choosing a favorite dance from each film is far from an easy task, and so instead of saying these are my favorites, I’ll simply say they are ones you won’t want to miss.

“Flying Down to Rio”                                                                                                                             Here we see Fred and Ginger’s first dance to the tune of “La Carioca.” While they were not the stars of the film, the duos potential was immediately recognized by audiences and studio executives alike.

“The Gay Divorcee”                                                                                                                                       It is hard to choose a favorite between the “The Continental” and “Night and Day.” However since “The Continental” went on to win the first even Academy Award for Best Original Song, I’ll choose the later as the better dance to make it even.

“Roberta”                                                                                                                                             Dancing to the classic song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” This dance is a reprise of the song which is sung earlier in the film by Irene Dunn.

“Top Hat”                                                                                                                                              “Cheek to Cheek” is one of my favorite Astaire and Rogers dances. “Top Hat” is filled with top dances, top costumes, top singing, and top acting. It’s hard to pick one dance from the bunch that is the best. For me it’s Ginger’s dress made of shimmering white satin, adorned with ostrich feathers, and finished with a diamond encrusted neckline that makes this particular number one I will never forget.

“Follow the Fleet”                                                                                                                               During the first take of this number titled “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” Fred was hit in the face by Ginger’s weighted gown. Even though they shot the scene multiple times after, Fred chose the original take for the final film cut.

“Swing Time”                                                                                                                                                 By far my favorite Fred and Ginger film. Here they dance to the song “Never Gonna Dance.” It is said that this scene took 47 takes to perfect, and by the end Ginger Rogers feet were bleeding.

“Shall We Dance”                                                                                                                           Although this number is not as ritzy as the finale of the film in which Fred dances with a chorus of women all wearing Ginger masks, I find this number “They All Danced” to be more magical and memorable.

“Carefree”                                                                                                                                        “Carefree” was the first Astaire-Rogers film to lose money for RKO and sadly signaled the end the duos partnership. This is the final dance scene in the movie titled “Change Partners.”

“The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle”                                                                                               In their last film for RKO Fred and Ginger deviate from their usual musical comedies and take on a biography.

“The Barkley’s of Broadway”                                                                                                              After 10 years of being apart, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire reunited in their first and only Technicolor film for MGM. Here they dance to Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” which Fred had sung in their previous film “Shall We Dance,” but had not danced to it in that picture.

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Classic Screen Tests: What could have been

Can you imagine anyone besides Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable as the iconic Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind?” Would “Singing in Rain” be one of the best musicals of all time if Gene Kelly had not replaced the originally cast Howard Keel? Would Maureen O’Hara have given a better performance than Deborah Kerr in “The King and I”? If Claudette Colbert had portrayed Margo Channing in “All about Eve” instead of Bette Davis would the film have still garnered 14 Oscar nominations? Imagine the sharp contrast of Marilyn’s Monroe’s Holly Golightly, to the actual performance given by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Can you believe that all these questions are facts? Paulette Goddard and Gary Cooper were the top choices for “Gone with the Wind,” Claudette Colbert was pulled from “All about Eve” due to a back injury right before filming began, and Maureen O’Hara was released from “The King and I” because Richard Rogers said  “No pirate queen is going to play my Anna!”  These instances are just a small example of something that happened in Hollywood all the time. Someone would be offered the part of a lifetime, and they would turn it down to make a flop (Rock Hudson turned down “Ben-Hur” to make “A Farewell to Arms”). Or it would be the studio that had the flop on their hands when they would pass on an actor who could have turned a dud into box office gold (What films would Ingrid Bergman have starred in if she had not been shunned by US studios for almost a decade). Whatever the case, I find it quite enjoyable to watch old screen tests of classic films with cast’s that could have been. Let me share some of these gems I’ve found with you…

“Gone with the Wind” Screen Tests

Judy Garland was supposed to play the lead in “Annie Get Your Gun”

Marilyn Monroe was fired from “Something’s Gotta Give” which was later changed to the title “Move Over Darling” with Doris Day in the starring role

Vivien Leigh tested for Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” but lost to Joan Fontaine

Walter Matthau tested for “The Seven Year Itch” but 20th Century Fox was unwilling to take a risk on a newcomer (Screen test @5:15)

Andy Williams tested for the part of Jerry Dundee in “State Fair” but lost to Bobby Darin 

Judy Garland was cast in “Valley of the Dolls” but was fired and replaced by Susan Hayward when she came to the set drunk  

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Nostalgic Toys

My grandma had the best toys. From her Fisher Price record player to the amazing Suzy Homemaker oven, there was always fun to be had in grandma’s basement. So you can imagine my joy when I ran into some of my favorite childhood toys at Barnes and Noble this morning! Apparently, many of the Fisher Price classics such as the music box clock, the chatter phone, and the record player (my personal favorite) have been rereleased. My daughter’s favorite was the Music Box TV which brings “two classic children’s songs to life!” My heart was touched at the site of my daughter’s enjoyment as she watched the moving picture change from scenes of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Why? Because at that very moment a movie played in my own mind of when I would sit in my grandma’s lap and watch those same pictures go by 25 years ago. 

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Top Ten Doris Day Comedies

10. It Happened to Jane

Even at number 10, “It Happened to Jane” is a bright and breezy comedy starring Doris as “Jane from Maine” who becomes a national heroine when she sues evil Ernie Kovacs’s railroad for putting her lobster farm at risk. Jack Lemmon is on hand as Day’s feeble lawyer who goes to battle against Kovacs. Of course, Doris and Jack come out on top at the end. And while I’m not sure I buy the romance between the two of them, you defiantly will find yourself rooting for them as a team in this feel good comedy.

9. With Six You Get Eggroll

Doris Day is charming in her final motion picture “With Six You Get Eggroll.” Although not a new story (basically the Brady Bunch but a year earlier), the chaos and antics that ensue when two families attempt to blend lives and homes are original and will keep you laughing. Day is an absolute natural in the film, and provides exceptional slapstick humor on multiple occasions.

8. That Touch of Mink

I would have rated this film higher on the list if perhaps Rock Hudson or James Gardner would have been playing Doris’s love interest. Don’t get me wrong, Cary Grant is one of the biggest and best movie stars of all time, but I just don’t feel their acting styles match. So why am I even including it on the list? Because Doris is superb, the settings are lush and picturesque, and the writing is sharp and often hilarious. Basically, it’s a battle of the sexes film, with Cary in hot pursuit of a tight buttoned Doris. Rounding out the cast are Gig Young, Audrey Meadows, and John Astin who all give hilarious supporting performances that won’t be forgotten.  Oh yes, and of course there’s lots of mink…although I’m not sure Doris would like that nowadays…

7. Please Don’t Eat the Daises

This film is much funnier than its title would suggest. Doris plays Kate Mackay, the mother of four young boys, whose husband, David Niven, has just received the honor of becoming one of the “Holy Seven” NY film critics. The story in a nut shell is David’s struggle between his career and home life and the breakdown of their marriage because of it. He becomes consumed with his new power, while Doris throws herself into fixing up an old mansion in the country that they recently purchased. Deborah Vaughn, played by Janis Paige, tries to seduce Niven , the children prove troublesome, the house is a wreck, and David’s reputation is put on the line when an old, terrible play he wrote is about to be produced by the local school with Day in the starring role. Needless to say their marriage is temporarily torn apart until Doris’s mother steps in and saves the day and their marriage with her motherly advice. Doris’s costumes in the film are beautiful (I’d love to get my hands on the blue floral number), and she gives one of her most believable performances.  When I watch this film I chuckle, settle back and watch some great acting, and then chuckle some more. It’s definitely worth a watch or two.

6. Send Me No Flowers

The final Day/Hudson/Randall pairing does not disappoint. Some label this film a “dark” comedy due to the fact that it centers around a hypochondriac husband, Rock Hudson, who mistakenly thinks he is dying and tries the find his wife, Doris Day, a suitable husband for her after he passes. Meanwhile, Doris mistakes her husband’s planning for an attempt to cover up an affair and throws him out. Tony Randall plays the couples friend and neighbor who assists Rock throughout and provides non-stop laughs. Eventually Paul Lyde, as a funeral director who really, really, really loves his job, saves the day when he informs Doris that Rock had purchased three funeral plots together for herself, Rock, and her second husband. In my opinion this film is not dark – it’s delightful.

5. The Glass Bottom Boat

In Doris’s first of two spy spoofs she wins the comedy case. Day plays Jennifer Nelson, a widow and tour guide for NASA. She also occasionally dons a mermaid’s costume for her father’s glass bottom boat tour, and swims underneath it for the passengers’ amusement. One day, Jennifer accidentally meets Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor) when his fishing hook snags her costume. He reels in her mermaid tail, leaving the infuriated Jennifer floating in the water without pants. Jennifer later discovers that Bruce is the big boss at NASA. Mr. Templeton later sees Jennifer again at work, and with a hidden purpose of winning her affections, he hires her for a new full-time assignment: to be his “biographer” and to write his life story. The plot thickens when Doris is suspected of being a Soviet spy and is put under surveillance by the CIA, who turns out to be the actual bad guys. Even though this story is quite a stretch, you’ll find yourself forgiving the outlandish plot because it provides so many great physical comedy situations. Not only that but it’s worth a watch just to see all the amazing gadgets that Bruce Templton has around his house. There’s a push-button self-cleaning eggbeater, an oven that cooks cakes in seconds, and a mess-hating robot that is activated when anything touches the floor.

4. The Thrill of It All

Brilliant writing and great direction make this film a winner. The story centers around suburban housewife Beverly Boyer (Doris Day) and her husband Dr. Gerald Boyer (James Garner), a successful gynecologist and devoted family man. Beverly is offered the opportunity to star in a television commercial advertising Happy soap, and even though she is horrendous on air she receives a contract for $80,000 per year to appear in weekly TV commercials. Gerald becomes jealous of the fact that she is now out-earning him and is upset that she is never home to be with him or the children. The best scene in the film is when Dr.  Boyer drives his car into a swimming pool which has been installed in his backyard by Happy Soap without his knowledge. Immediately, an all-out shouting match between Beverly and Gerald transpires which is both serious and hilarious – thanks to great acting by Garner and Day.

3. Move Over Darling

If I could mesh numbers 3 and 4 together I would. Honestly, I’m not sure which Gardner/Day picture I prefer – I think it just depends what mood I’m in! A remake of “My Favorite Wife,” originally starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunn, “Move Over Darling” is the story of Ellen Wagstaff Arden (Doris Day), a mother of two young children, who was believed to be lost at sea following an airplane accident. Her husband, Nick Arden (James Garner), was one of the survivors. After five years of searching for her, he decides to move on with his life by having her declared legally dead so he can marry Bianca (Polly Bergen), all on the same day. However, Ellen is alive; she is rescued and returns home that particular day. When she gets to her house she is relieved to discover from her mother-in-law Grace (Thelma Ritter) that her husband’s honeymoon has not started yet. When Nick is confronted by Ellen, he eventually clears things up with Bianca, but he then learns that the entire time Ellen was stranded on the island she was there with another man, the handsome, athletic Stephen Burkett. Scenes not to be missed in this film are Doris shopping for shoes sold by Don Knotts, Doris posing as a Swedish nurse and having brawl with Bianca, and the famous “Doris trapped in a car wash” scene. This film is big laughs with a big payoff at the end.

2. Lover Come Back

Doris Day and Rock Hudson are truly a match made in heaven. One of the most beloved screen couples of all time they don’t disappoint in their second pairing “Lover Come Back.” Doris and Rock play competing advertising agents. She’s professional and dedicated; he’s corrupt and deceitful. When Rock steals a big account from Doris by using “sex to land an account,” Doris is hot on his heals to land the next big account before he snags it up. While Doris is boiling, Rock is busy cooling off Rebel Davis, a dancer he often uses to reel clients in, and ends up promising to make her the “VIP” girl. The problem is VIP doesn’t exist. Doris is suspicion of the new product and pays a visit to the scientist, Linus Tyler, who supposedly created VIP. The plot thickens when Rock happens to be in Linus’s laboratory when Doris arrives and she mistakes Rock for the scientist. Of course, Rock is smitten upon meeting his rival and he continues to pose as the innocent virtuous scientist. Love ensues, romance blossoms, but soon enough Doris discovers the truth. You’ll have to watch the film to see how they undoubtedly end up together forever.

1. Pillow Talk

“Pillow Talk” is indisputably Doris’s greatest comedy. The film garnered Day her first Oscar nomination, and won her a Golden Globe among numerous other accolades. The setup is that interior designer Jan Morrow (Doris Day) and composer Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) share a party line. Jan can never get a call through because Brad spends all day romancing a flock of women via their shared telephone line. Anger turns to love when the two accidentally meet in person at a nightclub. Brad sees what Jan looks like and he makes a quick decision to disguise himself as shy Texan “Rex Stenson” in order to try and win her over. The rest of the plot is filled with glorious dates, split screen “pillow talk” conversations, Doris finding out who Rex really is, and Doris getting her revenge on Rock by given his apartment a horrific make-over . I have loved this film for many years, have seen it at least 50 times, and cannot recommend it highly enough. Doris’s gowns by Jean Louis are breathtaking, and her hairstyles by Larry Germain display a new glamorous Doris Day. New York City in the 1950’s plays the perfect backdrop for the film shot in Cinemascope. Rock Hudson is flawless in his first comedy ever and has paid tribute to Doris over the years saying that she “taught me how to do comedy.” Tony Randall was also superb in the film as the backer for Brad’s new musical composition, while also playing the man hoping to make Jan his third wife. If you’ve never seen a Doris Day film start with this one, and I’d be willing to bet that you’ll fall in love with her!

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Some things really are black and white

When I first heard that “It’s a Wonderful Life” had been altered from its magnificent, glossy, black and black and white finish, to a drab one dimensional colorized version, I had to have a moment of silence.

What is this need, this desire, this necessity to have everything in color? Personally, I can’t get enough of the beautifully lit, elegant, and stylized black and white films. There is something more dreamlike and multidimensional about black and white movies that I don’t feel translates when converted to color. Maybe it’s all about light, or maybe it’s because color supplies additional, unnecessary information. Either way, black and white is simply – better.

The controversy surrounding film colorization has been brewing for decades. In the 1980s, there was so much dispute over colorization that Congressional hearings were conducted to determine the fate of the pictures. Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and many others voiced their plea to the courts to keep their art in the format in which it was originally created. I believe Roger Ebert said it best when he stated, “They lock up people who attack paintings and sculptures in museums, and adding color to black and white films, even if it’s only to the tape shown on TV or shown in stores, is vandalism nonetheless.”

After 3 long years of legal battles, the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 was finally enacted, which prohibited any person from knowingly distributing or exhibiting to the public a film that had been materially altered or colorized. Despite the act, classic black and white films such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Some Like it Hot,” “Holiday Inn,” and “Casablanca” among many others are still available in their colorized counterparts.

Even though we cannot stop the production of classics becoming Crayola’s, we can encourage others to watch and enjoy the originals in their unaltered black and white glory. And so, to do my part, here is a short list of some of my all-time favorite black and white classics…

Sabrina, Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Sunset Boulevard, Rebecca, All about Eve, The Philadelphia Story, Bringing up Baby, The Country Girl, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Swing Time, Grand Hotel

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From Tree to Table

The minute I pulled into Cherry Hill Orchard I knew my daughter and I were in for a treat. We walked hand in hand through the orchard taking in the glory of the Glo-Haven, Sunhigh, and Carolina Belle peach trees with our baskets readied and our tummies rumbling. My daughter stopped at a tree whose branches hung low, and I watched as her tiny hands reached up and plucked the yellow peach with its glorious velvet skin from the stem. Her face lit up in anticipation of her first bite, and she quickly sank her baby teeth into its tangy, sweet, and juicy flesh. As the peach juice ran down her chin and dribbled onto her ruffled blouse I was overcome with thankfulness. I looked up to the heavens and silently thanked the Lord not only for his creation, but also for beautiful orchards such as this that are accessible to my family. In a time when peaches from your “local” grocery store are shipped in from Chile, California, Texas, and Georgia and covered in pesticides such as chlorpyfiros -which is proven to impair cognition – I’m thankful for a farm that uses pest traps and mating disruption for insect control, therefore reducing or altogether eliminating the need for pesticides. When we had filled our baskets and boxes to the brim with nature’s goodness we headed home to put on our aprons and get cooking. We peeled and pitted, sliced and diced, sugared and floured until our arms were soar. In thirty minutes our house smelled of spicy cinnamon and brown sugared peaches – Peach Cobbler of course! As we sat down on our porch to enjoy the treat with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream a smile crossed my sweet girls face. I asked her, “So, what would you like to do tomorrow?” “Peach Picking!” she exclaimed. Now a big grim crossed my own face and I promised we would venture to the orchard again soon. It had truly had been a glorious day.

  

  

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