Did a Typo Accidentally Make Rudolph’s TV Special Public Domain?

TV URBAN LEGEND: A typo accidentally made Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Special public domain.

Everyone knows the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Special that has been airing yearly on CBS for over FIFTY years now…

The story of Rudolph, mocked for his shiny red nose, who heads off with a depressed elf named Hermey (who wants to be a dentist instead of work for Santa Claus) and end up on an island of Misfit Toys before everything works out for everyone involved, is a total classic.

However, did you ever notice that there is a major error in the opening of the special?

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Were Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie Named After It’s a Wonderful Life?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie were named after George Bailey’s two best friends in It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s two best friends are Bedford Falls’ town cop, Bert (played by Ward Bond) and the town cabbie, Ernie (Frank Faylen)….

As you all know by now, two of the most popular Muppets on Sesame Street are the two best friends, Bert and Ernie…

Naturally, over the years, people have assumed that the Sesame Street characters were named after the It’s a Wonderful Life characters. You see this all the time, even from Sesame Street produces.

But is it true?
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Was Frosty the Snowman Originally Not a Christmas Story?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: “Frosty the Snowman” was not originally a Christmas story.

One of the most famous Christmas animated TV specials is “Frosty the Snowman,” which debuted in 1969. It was by Rankin/Bass Productions, the same company that produced the classic Christmas animated special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which debuted five years earlier. Narrated by Jimmy Durante, the special involves a magic hat that transforms a snowman, Frosty, into a living being. The magician who owned the hat wants it back now that he knows it contained actual magic, so the kids had to get together and find a way to bring Frosty to the North Pole to keep him from melting. However, once there, Frosty sacrifices himself to warm up the little girl, Karen, who took him to the North Pole. He melts, but Santa Claus explains that Frosty is made out of special Christmas snow and thus can never truly melt. Frosty then comes back to life and everyone has a Merry Christmas.

Again, as noted, the special is a Christmas classic and the soundtrack is beloved, as well, including not just the title track, but a great version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” However, did you know that originally, “Frosty the Snowman” wasn’t about Christmas, at all?
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Was ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ Almost Too Depressing to Exist?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to see all the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” nearly never existed because it was too depressing.

It comes as little surprise to any moviegoer out there that the soundtrack to a film musical plays a major role in how the story of the film is presented. We’ve discussed in the past how the song “Let it Go” literally changed the whole focus of Disney’s hit film, Frozen, turning Elsa from a villain to a hero. Similarly, though, if you don’t want to change the story of your film, then you will have problems if the songs you are given don’t fit the story of the film. This was the key conflict that very nearly led to the classic Christmas song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” never being released.

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Did A Charlie Brown Christmas Drive Aluminum Christmas Trees Out of Business?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: The success of A Charlie Brown Christmas drove aluminum Christmas trees out of business.

Over the years, we’ve pointed out some of the interesting commercial connections to Charles Schulz’ famous anti-commercialism TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas (like how the special came about due to ads for Ford and how there was originally an ad for Coca-Cola in the actual story of the special). Today, we look at an often-repeated legend about how A Charlie Brown Christmas was responsible for driving those symbols of mid-20th Century commercialism, the aluminum Christmas trees, out of business.

Famously, in the special, Linus and Charlie Brown are sent to pick out a Christmas tree for the school pageant. Lucy wants Charlie Brown to “get the biggest aluminum tree you can find — maybe paint it pink.” Charlie Brown, instead, buys a puny half dead tree. The other kids mock him for his choice, but after Linus reads to them from the Bible, the kids change their tune and in the end, through care and attention, they spruce his tree up into a beautiful little Christmas tree. Linus famously notes, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

Well, according to a number of articles about A Charlie Brown Christmas, but let’s just pick one of the first results that popped up when I searched for this story. From Smosh.com:

It may only have twelve needles and collapse under the weight of a single ornament before the curative properties of Linus’s blanket rescue it, but Charlie Brown’s twig of a tree single-handedly put an end to a horrible new holiday tradition. Starting in the early 60’s—a period not known for the best decorating trends—people were forgoing real Christmas trees for brightly colorful aluminum ones (think a cheerier Festivus with spray paint), as seen in the tree lot in the TV special. But when viewers saw Charlie Brown stand by his little wooden wonder in the face of ridicule and tree’s own fast-impending mortality, they tossed aside their metallic pink decorations and returned to a more natural choice that also involved sweeping up dead needles from the floor every six seconds.

Is that true?
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Was Flash Gordon Nearly in A Christmas Story?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Flash Gordon was nearly in A Christmas Story.

A Christmas Story, has had an interesting trajectory since it was released in 1983. Written and directed by Bob Clark (based on radio personality/writer Jean Shepard’s stories about his childhood growing up during the 1930s), the film was a modest success upon its initial release but over time developed into first a cult classic and now one of the most mainstream Christmas movies around, with TBS airing a 24-hour marathon of the film every year on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

The film is about a young boy named Ralphie who spends the weeks leading up to Christmas trying to come up with a way to convince his parents to get him a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle for Christmas. Everywhere he turns, he is deterred from desiring the gun through the warning, “you’ll shoot your eye out”. While the driving plot of the film is Ralphie’s quest for the air rifle, the rest of the film is filled with snippets of what life was like during the Great Depression, including Ralphie’s other interests, like the Little Orphan Annie radio show (I did a legend a while back about the truth behind the secret decoder used in the film). Interestingly enough, originally the film was set to reference another one of Ralphie’s interests, the comic strip hero Flash Gordon! Yes, there was nearly a Flash Gordon/Ralphie team-up!
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Was the Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer TV Special Written Without Access to the Original Rudolph Picture Book?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special would have been a lot different if the screenwriter had had access to the original Rudolph picture book.

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the popular animated special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which is the longest running Christmas special in television history (just a year ahead of 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer made his debut as a Montgomery Ward picture book giveaway written by Robert May. As I’ve featured in a past legend, Montgomery Ward remarkably just gave May the copyright to the book. That proved to be particularly significant when May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, adapted the story into a song that became one of the most popular Christmas songs of all-time upon its release in 1949. In 1964, Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass (at the time their company was called Videocraft International – they soon became known as their more familiar name, Rankin/Bass Productions) turned the story into an animated TV special that remains a hit program to this day. They enlisted screenwriter Romeo Muller to write the story for the special (and Johnny Marks contributed a bunch of new songs). The special introduced a pile of brand new characters, including Sam the Snowman, Yukon Cornelius, Hermey the Elf (who wants to be a dentis), the Abominable Snowmonster, Clarice (Rudolph’s reindeer love interest) and, of course, the Island of Misfit Toys (who proved so popular that the special had to be re-written a year later to change the ending because viewers were outraged that the Misfit Toys didn’t find new homes at the end of the original special). All of these new characters have led to a popular legend out there about how Muller wrote the show. From Mental Floss (among many other places, who all seem to be repeating the same story, so it is anyone’s guess who shared the story first):

Muller, the screenwriter for the TV special, stated in an interview that the reason his script deviated so much from the original story is that he was unable to find a copy of May’s book at the time. Several of the characters, including Hermey the wannabe dentist, were named after Muller’s real-life friends.

Is that true? Is that why Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is so different from the original book?
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Is There Really a Secret Decoder Ring in A Christmas Story?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: There was no secret decoder ring in A Christmas Story.

A Christmas Story was a 1983 film by director Bob Clark based on radio personality/writer Jean Shepard’s stories about his childhood growing up during the 1930s.

The film follows nine-year-old Ralphie Parker in the weeks leading up to Christmas in some unnamed year in the late 1930s/early 1940s (Shepard was born in 1921 and Clark was born in 1939, so Clark wanted the film to be set at some point in time between their respective childhoods) as Ralphie tries to convince his parents to get him his dream present, the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, despite everyone warning him that “you’ll shoot your eye out”. While Ralphie’s quest for the air rifle is the driving narrative of the film, the movie contains many short general stories about life during the Great Depression, including a famous sequence where young Ralphie finally becomes a member of the Radio Orphan Annie’s Secret Society, a fan club of the Little Orphan Annie radio program. At the end of the latest episode of the show, he decodes the secret message from Annie to her fans. He is disappointed when he learns that the important “secret message” is “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” Ovaltine, the malted milk powder, was the sponsor of the program and Ralphie had to drink so much Ovaltine to collect enough labels to join Annie’s secret circle that he had grown sick of the product, so he was particularly disappointed to learn about the commercialization of his favorite show (sort of like the Movie Legend about how Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was produced as an elaborate way to sell candy) ” Here are a few descriptions of the scene on the web:

“In order to get the coveted Little Orphan Annie decoder ring — which is required to decode the show’s secret message — Ralphie must send in an ungodly number of Ovaltine labels.”

“Over the holidays I watched “A Christmas Story” for the gazillionth time. One of the scenes in the movie is Ralphie getting his secret decoder ring to unlock the mysteries of the universe.”

“There’s also Ralphie’s seemingly endless wait for the Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring he sent away for.”

“Ralphie felt understandably ripped off when, after weeks of waiting for his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, the first message he decoded was simply an advertisement for Ovaltine.”

The interesting thing is that Ralphie never actually receives a secret decoder ring, mostly because secret decoder rings did not exist!
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How Did Charles Schulz Owning a Ford Indirectly Lead to A Charlie Brown Christmas?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Charles Schulz owning a Ford indirectly led to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

In an earlier edition of TV Urban Legends Revealed, I have written about how the original airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was a commentary on how Christmas had become too commercialized, had a Coca-Cola ad interwoven into the special itself. However, even more interestingly, A Charlie Brown Christmas (and in fact, all Peanuts animated specials since) owe their origins to the world of commercials, as the very first appearance by Peanuts characters in the world of animation came in the form of television commercials. How the creator of Peanuts, Charles Schulz, came to agree to do these commercials is an interesting story in its own right and as it turns out, it likely came down to Schulz’s own personal connection to the Ford Motor Company.
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Did 20th Century Fox Try to Hide the Fact That Miracle on 34th Street Was a Christmas Film?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: 20th Century Fox tried to hide the fact that Miracle on 34th Street was a Christmas film when the film was first released.

Christmas films have an odd place in popular culture. The math on Christmas songs is a lot more straightforward. A Christmas album is relatively easy to produce (most of the songs are already written) and if it is popular it will sell a lot in the short term but also will do well for the artist in the long term since so many radio stations spend all of December playing Christmas music. So for a recording artist, it makes a lot of sense to eventually do a Christmas album. Producing a film, though, is a lot more expensive and studios are much more interested in short term results. It does not do a studio head much good if a film becomes a holiday classic eventually if the film does not excel at the box office right away. There is definitely a Christmas niche where a modestly funded film can make good money for a studio (1983’s A Christmas Story cost $4 million and took in $16 million, this year’s Best Man Holiday cost $17 million and has already taken in $67 million), but films rarely break out of that niche to become blockbusters (The Santa Clause, Holiday Inn and White Christmas are some notable exceptions). So if you are a studio executive and you have a really good film that happens to have a Christmas theme, you might be tempted to try to downplay the Christmas theme to have it break out of the Christmas niche. However, when the entire film is about Santa Claus, it would appear to be a difficult feat to do so. And yet that’s exactly what 20th Century Fox’s Daryl Zanuck did with the release of the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street. Read on to see how Zanuck tried to hide the nature of the film upon its release in 1947!
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