Sunday, December 21, 2014

Is There Really a Santa Claus, Part 13

Don't give up yet, friends, because we're now in the home stretch for sure. Counting the two tracks discussed in today's post, we've completed our look at 35 of the 39 tracks on my latest holiday mix, which leaves only four left to review. So let's get on with it!

Track 35
That's What I Want for Christmas, by Shirley Temple (1936)
I was slightly taken aback this past February when I learned that Shirley Temple Black had just died. Frankly, I was surprised she was still among us, as she’d been a well-known celebrity for far longer than nearly any of us can remember. She was fortunate to have lived a long life (85 years), but more importantly, she seems to have lived it to the fullest, from worldwide stardom as a young film actress to her distinguished diplomatic service more recently, including appointments as our nation’s ambassador to Ghana and, during its inspiring Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia.

Born in Santa Monica, California in 1928, Temple played her first film role when she was only three. Her mother apparently had dreams of making her daughter a star, and she worked to encourage Shirley's acting, singing and dancing talents. Temple's first roles came in a series of horrific exploitation films in which young children portrayed adults for humorous effect, but in 1933, Fox signed her to appear in Stand Up and Cheer, which was a big hit — and she was off. The nation was still deep in the grips of the Great Depression when Temple first became a star, and she quickly captured the hearts of millions of frightened and weary moviegoers who looked to her for a little relief from the grim news of the day. In the eight years from 1934-42, Temple made 27 films, most of which were box office smash hits and many of which are widely considered to be classics today.

By the 1940s, however, Temple's star had begun to lose at least some of its lustre, and she reduced her work schedule substantially to focus on making a family for herself. Her first marriage to John Agar produced a child but lasted only five years. Her second, to Charles Alden Black, a wealthy and distinguished war hero and business executive, lasted until his death in 2006.

In the late 1960s, Temple, known then as Shirley Temple Black, became increasingly active in politics. She ran for Congress as a Republican but was defeated in the primary by Pete McCloskey, a law professor and staunch opponent of American involvement in Vietnam. Gerald Ford appointed Black as the U.S. ambassador to Ghana in 1974, and under George H.W. Bush, she served as our nation's ambassador to Czechoslovakia. In that position, she played a key role in supporting the overthrow of Soviet control and provided support and assistance with the creation of the new Czech Republic.

"That's What I Want for Christmas" was featured in the 1936 film Stowaway, which also starred Robert Young, Alice Faye and Arthur Treacher.Temple plays a young schoolgirl who's orphaned in China and then becomes in inadvertent stowaway on a ship returning to the United States. You can watch the entire film below:

Finally, you can watch Shirley enjoying Christmas in the following collection of scenes from four different films: BrightEyes (1934), Stowaway (1936), Heidi (1937) and The Bluebird (1940):

Track 34
Sweeney Sisters Holiday Medley, Cast of Saturday Night Live, featuring Jan Hooks (1986)
I've been watching Saturday Night Live (SNL) for as far back as I can remember, so I've probably seen hundreds if not thousands of the show's iconic sketches over the years — good, bad and ugly. If I had to name my single favorite recurring SNL sketch ever, it would have to be the irrepressible if somewhat tacky big-haired lounge act known as the Sweeney Sisters, starring Nora Dunn and the late Jan Hooks as singers Liz and Candy Sweeney. The Sweeneys made their first appearance on SNL in October 1986, and they returned seven more times to charm us with their bubbly personalities, vapid smiles and charming medleys. I don't know what it was about those two, but I could watch them a hundred times and not grow tired of them.

According to Dunn,
[i]t was Jan Hooks who came up with the idea for the Sweeney Sisters. On the spot while we were shooting a commercial parody for Saturday Night Live. It came like a minor explosion, as most of her ideas did, and she delivered the concept and our names in a matter of seconds. Then she started belting out medleys of classic swing songs. There was no way I could keep up with her. She was a seasoned improvisor who never credited herself as a writer and at the heart of her matter she was a genuine actress.

Candy and Liz Sweeney in their milieu
A Georgia native, Hooks broke into show business as a member of the Los Angeles comedy troupe called The Groundlings. She first auditioned for SNL in 1985, but was passed over for the show. When the show tanked during its 1985-86 season, however, NBC brought back former producer Lorne Michaels who set about to rebuild the cast practically from scratch. Hooks was among the group of new additions Michaels recruited to help rebuild the show, including Dunn, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz and Dennis Miller. Many consider that group to be the strongest cast in the show's history, and Hooks certainly added some incredible firepower to the team. In addition to Candy Sweeney, Hooks also played such characters as Nancy Reagan, Sinéad O'Connor, Tammy Faye Bakker, Kitty Dukakis, and Diane Sawyer, among others. Hooks left SNL in 1991 to join the cast of Designing Women, and she appeared on NBC's Third Rock from the Sun and in a number of films.

Hooks was a wonderful comedic actress, and she always made me laugh. She'll be missed.

Watch the Famous Sweeney Sisters' Holiday Medley with William Shatner

Hear an Audio Version of the Sweeney Sisters' SNL Debut

Only four tracks left to go, so we'll be back soon with more. Hope your preparations for the big day are proceeding apace!

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