November 27, 2011

Holiday TV we love

Every year at about this time, these unsung heroes of holiday TV show up and remind us why.

By CHUCK BARNEY McClatchy Newspapers

Rudolph. Charlie Brown. The Grinch. They're longtime favorites who always grab top billing when the networks roll out their holiday programs.

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Dr. Seuss said it best when he described MAX THE DOG as an “Everydog – all love and limpness and loyalty,” in “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Courtesy photos

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“Even among misfits, you’re misfits.” – YUKON CORNELIUS to Rudolph and Hermey when they’re denied residence on the Island of Misfit Toys, in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

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You have to wonder, though, if they would have become big TV stars, or if their shows would have earned "classic" status, if not for the extraordinary contributions of solid supporting players. After all, to achieve lasting pop-cultural shelf life, it usually takes teamwork.

With that in mind, we salute some of the top holiday scene-stealers -- great characters who have the power to make us laugh, cry and sometimes wince, year after year after year: 

• "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (8 p.m. Monday, ABC)

Character: Max the dog

Scene-stealing credentials: We adore Cindy Lou Who, the sweet little tot who melts our heart. But no one tops the pitiful pooch who basically serves as slave to the abusive Grinch yet loves him unconditionally. The wild trek that has Max -- with makeshift reindeer headgear -- pulling an overloaded sleigh over treacherous mountain passes is pure slapstick brilliance.

Random trivia: Max was just a minor character in the Seuss book, but animator Chuck Jones wisely expanded his role for the TV adaptation. 

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (8 p.m. Tuesday, CBS)

Character: Yukon Cornelius (voiced by Larry D. Mann)

Scene-stealing credentials: Yes, the blustery prospector is full of himself, but he provides a jolt of comic relief. Not only does Yukon utter some of the show's funniest lines, he is pivotal to its final resolution -- outwitting the "Bumble" and paving the way for Rudolph's heroics. All that, plus he has a prodigious beard that Giants pitcher Brian Wilson would envy.

Random trivia: A scene in which Yukon discovers a tasty peppermint mine was part of the original special, but was deleted from subsequent airings before finally being restored in 1998. 


"A Charlie Brown Christmas" (8 p.m. Dec. 5, ABC)

Character: Linus van Pelt (Voiced by Christopher Shea)

Scene-stealing credentials: The levelheaded Linus is the show's voice of reason, helping to keep anxiety-ridden Charlie Brown from going berserk. His quietly eloquent reading from the Gospel of Luke packs an emotional wallop, and remains one of the most memorable moments in any holiday program.

Random trivia: Network executives argued against having Linus read from the Bible, but "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz was adamant that the scene remain. Shea was only 7 years old when he performed the part. Even younger was Kathy Steinberg, who did the voice of Sally Brown, Charlie Brown's younger sister. Steinberg had not yet learned to read at the time of production, so she had to be fed her lines, often a word or syllable at a time -- which may explain Sally's somewhat choppy dialogue. 

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (9 p.m. Dec. 7, ABC Family)

Character: Cousin Eddie (played by Randy Quaid)

Scene-stealing credentials: The blissfully ignorant, beer-swilling, mooching relative of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) makes Homer Simpson look refined. In one day alone, he sets the stage for a massive sewer explosion and commits a kidnapping that brings out the SWAT team. Few characters are as repulsive as they are amusing.

Random trivia: Quaid reprised the role in the highly forgettable TV film, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure." 

"It's a Wonderful Life" (8 p.m. Dec. 13 and 24, NBC)

Character: Clarence, Angel 2nd Class (Played by Henry Travers)

Scene-stealing credentials: He may seem cheerfully incompetent, but Clarence gets the job done -- saving George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) from suicide and finally earning his wings. (Listen for the bell). With the perfect blend of facial expressions, childlike wonder, voice and delivery, Clarence never fails to make us smile.

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"Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. … Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.” – LINUS to his friend, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

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“They had to replace my metal plate with a plastic one. Every time Catherine would rev up the microwave, I’d (pee) my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour.” – Randy Quaid as COUSIN EDDIE in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

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“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – CLARENCE, ANGEL 2ND CLASS (Henry Travers), to George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

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“The Polar Express”

Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, and Maureen O'Hara in a scene from MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, 1947.
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“Miracle on 34th Street”

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“Shrek the Halls”

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