This week, I passed 1400 miles running for 2021. That’s a lot of hours out pounding the pavement in every type of weather condition from the heat of summer to the cold of winter. I tend to draw the line at thunderstorms and heavy rains to prevent a running workout (I find drivers seem to have a hard enough time seeing/acknowledging me in good conditions.
My running time provides me with the opportunity to catch up on podcasts, create a rocking playlist, or listen to an audiobook.
During the Christmas season, I find that I like to listen to festive things — whether it’s a playlist of various Christmas favorites and covers — or a holiday-themed audiobook. This year, I threw in a couple of old favorites from old-time radio as well and I had some thoughts.
Burns and Allen: Christmas in Santa’s Workshop
I find my preference for OTR shows leans more toward comedy — and Burns and Allen is one of my favorite shows. I just can’t say this particular episode is a favorite or necessarily a great example of what makes me such a fan of the show.
It comes from a season with George Burns and Gracie Allen adopting a duck. The duck has a voice a bit like Donald and reacts pretty much like you’d expect. The episode takes place on Christmas Eve and finds the duck and Gracie falling asleep while waiting for Santa. In a dream, they’re whisked off to the North Pole to battle the evil witch who has stolen all of Santa’s toys. Various regulars appear in other roles during the journey, including George as a prince.
I’d heard this one years ago when I checked it out on cassette from my local library and didn’t enjoy it much then. Time hasn’t improved my opinion of it. Part of it is that it lacks the George/Gracie dynamic that generally makes the show work so well. And part of it is that it feels overly silly at times. Again, the whole partially talking duck thing probably took me out of it. But I link it above in case you feel like it’s something you might want to hear.
Jack Benny: Christmas 1938, Christmas Shopping 1943
On the other hand, these Jack Benny episodes were right up my alley. It’s easy to forget that in the days of OTR, there weren’t repeats, so the writers could use variations on the same routine each year. In this case, it’s the various adventures of Jack shopping and/or buying gifts for his fellow cast members. Neither of these necessarily dig too deeply into the “Jack is cheap” laughs, but instead give Jack and his cast new ways to shine. Benny is fascinating to me because he invented the situation comedy with the recurring characteristics being mined for laughs. These two are solid examples of why Jack Benny was so good.
The Great Gildersleeve: Christmas Program (1942)
The Great Gildersleeve may be my all-time favorite OTR show and it’s one that keeps surprising me. This Christmas episode from 1942 is chock full of what I love about the show. Gildy is behind on his Christmas shopping due to the annual water report and is trying to catch up. Meanwhile, his rival Judge Hooker has proposed to Leila Ransom and Gildy is trying to get her to turn down his proposal before she heads to Savannah for the holidays.
Gildersleeve feels like one of the first shows to have a continuity of sorts (that wasn’t a serial like Superman or the Lone Ranger, mind you) in the forms of Gildy’s various romances. At this point, Leila is clearly the romantic foil of choice, though this time around I was struck by how manipulative she is to Gildy and the Judge. She plays the two off each other to get a ride to the airport, then proceeds to flirt with the pilot while in front of a man who has proposed to her and another suitor.
That said, this one hits the right spirit for the season and may be the favorite of the OTR I sampled during Christmas. And it’s amusing to hear a show come from a war time and discuss how war bonds are a better gift than a model airplane.
There’s Something about Merry by Codi Hall
Since the birth of his son Jace, Clark Griffin has been the most devoted of single dads. Working hard to earn his degree, he’s been nose to the grindstone at work to provide the security and loving home that he and his brother, Sam, grew up without. So, when he sees an ad to be the foreman at the Winters’ Christmas tree farm, Clark is quick to apply and move back to his hometown.
Merry Winters returned to town a year ago, smarting from the latest in a string of failed romances. She’s slowly getting herself back on track, though she wants to take a greater part in running the family business. When she’s roped into overseeing the local holiday event, Merry finds demands on her time are increasing — she’s also a devoted knitter, making stuffed creatures that look like male genitalia as voodoo dolls for scorned friends.
While Merry and Clark had a moment when they could have connected romantically in high school, Clark sees her as off-limits because she’s the daughter of his bosses and Merry sees Clark as off-limits because she sees him as competition to run the family business someday. So, when the two download a dating app and find a connection in the small town, they have little to no idea that they could be kindling a new holiday romance.
I spent time in the appropriately named Mistletoe last year, so a return visit this year with Codi Hall’s There’s Something About Merry was a pleasant holiday treat. As she did with her previous couple of Nick and Noel, Hall creates reasonable, believable obstacles to the budding romance of Merry and Clark. Clark has issues with trust — from his parents to the mother of his child abandoning them hours after their son was born — while Merry is stubborn, independent, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
The romance has its steps forward and backward, finally culminating in the pair getting together in a sweet, steamy way. I will admit there was a point about a third of the way in that it felt like Clark had truly blown his shot, but it’s nice to see that he could recover a bit and find his footing. Hall also wisely brings in Clark’s status as a single dad and the connection he’s building with the Winters family as potential consideration to the relationship.
Even when I had guessed that a certain someone from the past would show up to throw a monkey wrench in things, Hall was able to surprise me a bit with how this particular plot thread was utilized.
I know I’m probably not the target audience for romance novels. But they make for a nice, fun distraction while pounding the pavement and I’ve got to admit that Hall has kind of got me hooked on spending a bit of my holiday season in Mistletoe each year. She’s found romance for two of the three Winter siblings, so I can only hope that the seeds she’s sewing for the other sister might pay off in her next book.
An entirely satisfying holiday romance that is the right balance of sweet, sassy, and steamy.