Charlie Harris from the best-selling Cat in the Stacks series by Miranda JamesMost families have their own, special holiday traditions. When our children were young, my late wife and I used to take them to see the Houston Ballet's annual performance of The Nutcracker. Now, of course, Sean and Laura are adults, and we no longer live in Houston. Instead of going to see the ballet, we focus on another tradition we had -- watching our favorite holiday-themed movies together on Christmas Eve.
My favorite of them all is "The Bishop's Wife" (1947) starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. I can't remember just when I discovered this movie, but I do know that it made an immediate and lasting impact. It has a combination of whimsy, sweetness, and humor that I continue to find irresistible year after year. If you don't know the movie, here's a simple plot outline: Cary Grant is an angel who is sent in response to a plea from David Niven (the bishop of the title) for guidance. Loretta Young is the beautiful, somewhat neglected wife of the bishop. Cary does his duty although he is beguiled by his feelings for Loretta. It's a story about ambition, love, and understanding what is truly meaningful in life. Supporting players include Elsa Lanchester, Gladys Cooper, James Gleason, and Monty Woolley. Laura loves it as much as I do.
My second favorite -- and the one Sean loves -- is one we discovered thanks to TCM. "Christmas in Connecticut" stars Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan, with memorable supporting players Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, and S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall. Dennis Morgan is a war hero, one who starved himself to save a friend, and all he thinks about is being able to eat good food again. His nurse writes to the publisher of a magazine (Greenstreet) about him, and Greenstreet decides Morgan should spend Christmas with culinary expert and writer Barbara Stanwyck, her husband and child at their Connecticut farm. There are a few problems with this: Stanwyck isn't married, has no child or a farm in Connecticut, and she can't cook. The shenanigans that result from trying to keep the publisher from finding out his star writer is a fraud are amusing and sweet.
Other favorites include "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (with Monty Woolley, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Ann Sheridan, Reginald Gardiner, and the always wonderful Mary Wicks) and "A Christmas Carol" (the 1938 version with Reginald Owen, Leo G. Carroll, and Gene Lockhart). We gather at my house on Christmas Eve and watch a couple of them, and on Christmas Day we watch others. Diesel stares at the screen like he is watching them, too. And, who knows, maybe he understands the stories too. The holidays just wouldn't seem complete without these touches of nostalgia of Christmas past.
Our Season's Readings Contest has begun! I am giving away a signed copy of Dead With the Wind. Leave a comment today through Saturday. I will pick a random winner on Sunday. Sorry! U.S. entries only.