"The earth has grown old with its burden of care, but at Christmas it always is young, the heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair, and its soul full of music breaks the air, when the song of angels is sung." -Phillips Brooks
The following clip is from a rather unlikely Christmas film: 3 Godfathers, the 1948 John Ford movie starring John Wayne, Harry Carey Jr., and Pedro Armendariz. In it, the three star as rustlers/robbers who, while on the run, come across a woman in an abandoned wagon who is about to give birth. They help her, but she dies soon after having a little boy whom she names after the three men. Her final request is that they will promise to care for the child, and the criminals give her their word. It's close to Christmas, and Harry Carey's character- William- who, despite his way of life, has a certain belief in God's will, compares their situation to the three wise men finding the baby Jesus. He convinces the other two that they need to make a dangerous trek across the desert to the town of New Jerusalem.
Nick continues to live at Gaston Carew's house in London throughout the winter, continuing to perform with the St Paul's choir and the theater. He is give no further opportunity to escape, being always closely watched by Carew or his assistant, Gregory Goole. Then, one night in April, Carew decides to go out to a pub and he takes Nick with him. Once there Gaston gets involved in throwing dice with a very unsavoury character. They gamble for about an hour and the game becomes so intense that those around them pause their own gambling to watch. Unfortunately, the game starts to go badly for Carew. While this is happening, a man- an actor by his dress- strides into the pub; it is Ben Jonson, playwright and friend of William Shakespeare. Nick's sharp ears hear him say that he's going to meet up with Will. Jonson leaves and Nick, realizing that Carew is completely egrossed in his game, takes the opportunity to slip out of the pub and follow Ben Jonson.
Nick follows Jonson to a place where a group of men are enjoying a meal, in company with Will Shakespeare. Nick asks if he can speak to him and Shakespeare invites hm in. Nick tells his tale to the sympathetic audience and the upshot is that William Shakespeare agrees to take him back to Stratford. Later that night, another player who had been at the pub comes running with news for Shakespeare, and looking for Nick Skylark. It turns out that Gaston Carew accused the man he was dicing with of cheating; they fought and Carew stabbed the fellow, who then dies. Carew has been taken to jail by the watch.
Nick is staying with Shakespeare, who will soon travel to Stratford for the summer. In the meantime, he is working on The Merchant of Venice. An actor from Carew's troupe arrives to say that Carew, who is in Newgate prison, is asking to see Nick. Nick is reluctant to go, but the player urges him to honour the request of a doomed man. Nick agrees and they go to the prison which is a dark and terrible place. Carew, usually so elegant and put together, is disheveled and haggard. He has been condemned to hang, and he pleads with Nick not to hate him. The reason for this is that he wants Nick to promise to take care of Cecily. He tries to tell Nick something about money, but the prisoner in the next cell- who seems crazy- is making such a clamour that Nick can't hear what he's saying. Eventually Carew just asks Nick to get Shakespeare to come and see him. Gaston also tells Nick that he dreamed of him singing as he did when they first met and mourns that he will never hear him again. Moved with pity, Nick tells him that he'll sing for him now and does so, his clear, pure voice ringing through the dark, miserable passages of Newgate. As he leaves, Carew is still pleading for his forgiveness and his promise that he'll see to Cecily.
This image is from the 1942 musical film Holiday Inn. The movie stars Bing Crosby as Jim Hardy, a singer who is part of a popular New York night club act which includes dancers Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale). Jim is engaged to marry Lila and is planning to retire from show business after their marriage and move to a farm in Connecticut. On the night of his final performance- Christmas Eve- Lila breaks the news to Jim that, not only is she not ready to give up show business, she has also fallen in love with Ted. She breaks their engagement and Jim, heartbroken, retires alone to his farm in the country. Exactly one year later, Jim returns to New York slightly disenchanted with farm life, which is harder than he thought it would be. He's come up with a new plan to make a living on the farm: he wants to turn it into an inn which is only open on major holidays. He will put on a show built around the theme of the holiday in question. That way he will only have to open fifteen times a year but will make enough money to support the farm for the rest of the year. Jim hires Linda Mason, an aspiring singer/actress to help out with these shows and they open for the first time on New Year's Eve. Meanwhile, back in New York Lila has told Ted that she's fallen for an oil magnate and is leaving the act. He gets completely plastered and drunkenly decides to visit his old pal Jim. He arrives at Holiday Inn during the show and ends up reeling through a dance with Linda before Jim hustles him off to sober up. Afterwards, Ted hazily remembers dancing with a superb partner but can't remember who she was. He's determined to find her, however, because he thinks she'll be a perfect replacement for Lila. Jim is falling in love with Linda and doesn't want Ted anywhere near her, so pretends that he doesn't know with whom he was dancing. Jim manages to keep Ted away from Linda through the Lincoln's Birthday show, but Ted finds her at the Valentine's Day show. He demands that Jim write a number for the two of them to dance to in the next show- Washington's birthday. This is what is occurring in the above picture. Jealous and angry, Jim tries to sabotage their performance by changing the tempo of the dance numerous times.
The incomparable Irving Berlin wrote all the songs for the film, the most famous being, of course, White Christmas. Holiday Inn is a precursor to the 1954 movie White Christmas, which also involves a Christmas show being performed at an inn, but with a completely new plot.
I attended Christmas concert #2 yesterday; it was less elaborate than the one I went to last Sunday, but the message was just as great.
Last night we watched White Christmas, the 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen.
In it, Crosby and Kaye star as two entertainers who meet in the army during World War II and afterwards form a successful showbusiness partnership- Wallace & Davis. They meet the two singing/dancing Haynes sisters (played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen); Phil Davis (Kaye) and V-E's character- Judy- get the bright idea to play matchmaker for Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Judy's older sister Betty. They all wind up at an inn in Vermont where the girls are booked to appear over Christmas, which turns out to be owned by Wallace & Davis' former army commander, General Waverly. The inn is in financial straits because there has been no snow all season, which means no skiing or other winter sports which generally bring tourists to the area. To help Waverly, Wallace decides to move their entire show there from New York in the hopes this will bring guests to the inn. Shenanigans ensue, misunderstandings abound, and romances blossom as Phil and Judy scheme to bring Bob and Betty together while putting on a slam-bang show.
On Christmas Eve, the St. Paul's boys travel to the Queen's palace, Greenwich House, and spend the night so they'll be there to sing for Elizabeth and her guests in the morning. Two of these guests are the ambassadors from Venice and France. Nick is astonished and intimidated by the opulence of the palace, both excited and nervous about singing before the Queen's court. On Christmas morning, the boys' singing is greeted with great enthusiasm. The piece which brings the house down, however, is a duet sung by Nick and Colley (one of the other choirboys). And when Nick sings his solo part, it is so beautiful that Queen Elizabeth's fan falls from her grasp, forgotten. When the song ends, the Queen turns to the ambassadors: "Chi tace confessa--it is so! There are no songs like English songs--there is no spring like an English spring--there is no land like England, my England!" Afterwards, the delighted monarch calls to have Nick and Colley brought to her. Praising them for their song, she asks the two boys what they would like her to give them. Colley shyly says that he would like to stay at the palace and sing always for Her Majesty. Elizabeth, pleased by this flattering request, decrees that he will become a singing page in her court. She then turns to Nick and asks him what he would have her grant him. Nick tells her that he wants to go home. Finding this answer less flattering, Elizabeth at first mocks the boy, saying that he must think her extremely stingey, or his home must be a very famous place. The court titters at her words but Nick, stung by this mockery of his home, meets the Queen's eyes and tells her that, "I would rather be there than here." The Queen is displeased by Nick's answers and ends up dismissing him, turning back to Colley and saying "Thy comrade hath more wit." Nick answers quietly that Colley has no mother: "I would rather have my mother than his wit." This response brings Elizabeth around sharply:
"Thou art no fool," said she. A little murmur ran through the room. She sat a moment, silent, studying his face. "Or if thou art, upon my word I like the breed. It is a stubborn, froward dog; but Hold-fast is his name. Ay, sirs," she said, and sat up very straight, looking into the faces of her court, "Brag is a good dog, but Hold-fast is better. A lad who loves his mother thus makes a man who loveth his native land--and it's no bad streak in the blood. Master Skylark, thou shalt have thy wish; to London thou shalt go this very night."
Unfortunately for Nick, since everyone thinks that Gaston Carew's house is where he lives, he finds himself returned there which makes Cecily, who is genuinely fond of him, very happy. It also is a relief for Carew, though he suffers another bout of guilt over keeping the boy there when Nick so desperately wants to go home. He manages to overcome this spasm of conscience.
Master Skylark is the 1897 children's book by John Bennett which tells the story of Nick Attwood, a young boy growing up in Stratford in Shakespearean times. Nick lives with his mother, a gentle soul whom he adores, and his father, the town tanner, who treats Nick harshly. Nick is a dutiful son but, after his father forces him to work through a town holiday, he rebelliously decides to skip school and go to a nearby town to watch a troupe of travelling actors. While there, he meets the leader of the actors- Gaston Carew- who, having heard the boy sing, realizes Nick has a voice that can make him a fortune. Carew talks Nick into singing during one of their performances, and he is a smash hit. At first pleased with the praise and attention being heaped upon him, Nick suspects nothing when Carew urges him to spend the night with the troupe, promising to drop him off in Stratford when the actors take to the road the next day. It takes him a while to realize that, on the road, the actors have turned away from the direction of Stratford and are headed for London. Nick protests to Carew who shows another, darker side to his character, frightening the boy into silence as he is essentially kidnapped.
Once in London, Nick finds himself locked in Carew's house as the man tries alternately to cajole and bully him into cooperating with his plans. Also living at the house is Gaston Carew's young daughter, Cecily. She is a sweet girl who worships her dashing father and can't understand why Nick doesn't. Nick tells her that he wants to go home to his mother. Cecily trustingly asks her father if he'll take Nick back to Stratford and Carew lies, telling her that of course he will... soon. Carew dresses Nick in fine clothes and starts taking him to work at the theater he's affiliated with. This theater is struggling because crowds are flocking to William Shakespeare's plays, at the brilliant playwright's theater across town. This is one reason why Carew is so desperate to keep Nick; he knows that they need a new draw or soon they'll have no audience. He also changes Nick's name from Attwood to Skylark.
Carew arranges an audition for Nick with the St. Paul's boy choir. The gruff old choir director is sceptical of the abilities of an untrained country boy, but is blown away by Nick's voice and immediately offers him a spot in the choir. This is a paid position but Nick sees none of his salary, which is pocketed by Carew who, more flush with money than he's been in a while, spends recklessly. He is sometimes stricken with guilt over what he's done to Nick and thinks of sending him home, but always talks himself out of it, reasoning that he needs the extra money to assure Cecily is taken care of, if something should ever happen to him.
Nick is now living in comfort and luxury that he has never before known, and he loves his training at St. Paul's and the camaraderie with the other choir boys. He also likes Cecily quite a bit. But he misses his mother constantly and yearns to return home. All of London is talking of William Shakespeare, whom Nick knows slightly as they are both from Stratford and Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway, is a cousin to Nick's mother. Nick thinks that, if he can get to see Shakespeare, he'll help him get back to his home. Watching for an opportunity, one day at the theater when Carew is occupied, Nick slips out of a window and heads for the Thames, hoping to cross and get to the Globe theater. He almost makes it, but is unfortunately caught by Carew's assistant and returned to Gaston, who locks him up again as punishment and afterwards keeps an even closer watch on him. Soon after this, the St. Paul's choir gets news which causes great excitement: they've been commissioned to sing before Queen Elizabeth I and her court on Christmas Day!