A Very Perry Christmas on getTV
On Christmas Eve in 1948, NBC aired a live television simulcast of The Chesterfield Supper Club, a popular radio program hosted by singer Perry Como. That broadcast launched an American tradition, as Como went on to grace TV screens during the holidays for nearly half a century – first as the host of a long-running weekly variety series and later as the star (and producer) of periodic specials.
Como’s seasonal variety specials were remarkably ambitious productions. Many were filmed entirely on location in foreign countries, with Perry visiting and performing at historic landmarks, celebrating ethnic and religious customs, and honoring regional celebrities. All include elaborately staged production numbers, choreography, and guest stars who remain well known today. But the centerpiece of every show is the ageless, honey-voiced crooner who recorded more than 700 songs during his six-decade career, including just about every Christmas classic ever written.
Throughout the month of December, getTV will present five rare Perry Como specials from the 1970s and ‘80s - largely unseen since their original broadcasts. Whether you grew up watching classic Christmas specials with your family or are just discovering them today, December will truly be “The Most Wonderful Month of the Year” on getTV.
The Perry Como Christmas Show (1974)
There are no exotic locales in this 1974 studio-based special, but contemporary viewers can get a glimpse of Como in his natural habitat: as host of a traditional variety program, a role he played thousands of times between the 1940s and ‘70s. From his opening monologue, to goofy comedy routines with impressionist Rich Little, songs by Karen and Richard Carpenter, and a choreographed skating number by Olympic gold medalist Peggy Fleming (accompanied by animated penguins), Como is at his most joyful in this delightful hour. (Watch for the moment when he cracks up at an ad-lib by a child actor. It’s infectiously sweet.)
One of the secrets to Como’s longevity was his ability to reinterpret popular hits for his jazzy, understated style. And that talent is on display here, as Perry and Karen Carpenter alternate vocals on some of the Carpenters’ biggest hits, including “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Close to You.” Karen also performs a soulful rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “It’s Impossible,’ the 1971 single that marked Perry’s return to to the Billboard Top 10 at age 59.
Perry Como’s Christmas in Austria (1976)
This Peabody Award-winning special feels like a movie, in part because it’s the only one of the five Como specials airing this month to be shot entirely on film (rather than videotape). Perry shops in the Salzberg Christmas market, sings a medley of beloved songs from The Sound of Music in the Austrian Alps, and does a traditional rendition of “Silent Night” in the Central Bavarian church where Franz Gruber composed it in 1818.
In between, Perry welcomes actress Senta Berger, comedian Sid Caesar, Olympic skier Karl Schranz, the Vienna Boys Choir, the Salzburg Marionette Theater, and the Vienna Waltz Champions. There are also surprise cameos from Jose Ferrer, Lloyd Bridges, Alan Hale, Jr. and Cornel Wilde in costume for The Fifth Musketeer, which was filming in Austria at the time.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on here, there is. And that’s one of the joys of these specials: they’re both jam packed and leisurely paced, as segments routinely play out for 10-12 minutes. It’s a format that works perfectly for the always-relaxed Como, whom Bing Crosby once described as ''the man who invented casual.''
Perry Como’s Early American Christmas (1978)
John Wayne sings! What more do you need to know? In one of his final appearances, Wayne looks (and sounds) hearty as Perry brings his show to “the cradle of American democracy” in Williamsburg, Virginia. Also featured is classical violinist Eugene Fodor and actress Diana Canova (then starring on ABC’s Soap), who demonstrates a lovely voice in duets of “Try to Remember” from “The Fantasticks” and “It Couldn’t Please Me More” from Cabaret.
While Como and “special guest” Wayne remain their contemporary selves in blazers or tuxedos, the rest of the cast plays costumed colonial characters speaking in the parlance of the Revolutionary War era. This gives the show the odd, yet charming quality of a televised Christmas play (one that just happens to feature an iconic film star). Like in all his specials, Perry’s affable naturalism puts everyone at ease and makes the whole thing work. He even hugs Wayne as he sings, which may bring a tear to your eye.
Perry Como’s Christmas in the Holy Land (1980)
The religious traditions of Christmas often feature prominently in Como specials, but never more than in this production, shot on location in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee. Perry sings “Ave Maria” at the Church of the Visitation and “The Lord’s Prayer” on the spot where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Shogun star Richard Chamberlain recites from the Bible and explains the history of the region. And the program concludes with a reenactment of the Nativity story, narrated by Como and filmed in many of the locations where these events happened.
Como, a devout Roman Catholic, also pays tribute to the interfaith heritage of the Holy Land by visiting a kibbutz and attending a traditional Hanukkah celebration with Israeli singer Ilanit. This is an inspirational and deeply moving program and it airs five times this month, including Christmas morning – perfect for watching with family when kids or grandkids wake you up early.
Perry Como’s Christmas in Paris (1982)
Eating is a vital component of the holidays, and Perry does plenty of that in this delicious special, particularly in a French pastry-filled rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” He learns the history of the Can-can in Montmartre and performs in a traditional Paris music hall with French vocalist Line Renaud, Argentine musician Jairo, and American actress Angie Dickinson. And Angie joins him for a duet of carols as they float up the River Seine.
This is another thing to love about the Como shows. Whether you’re known as a singer or not, you sing. After all, it’s Christmas. And everybody sounds great when they’re singing Christmas songs!
Classic Christmas specials air all month on getTV. For more information, visit the Christmas page on the site.