We spent Friday evening among 21,000 other guests at the Conference Center on Temple Square as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, along with the Orchestra and the Bells on Temple Square, rang in the holidays in grand style with special guests baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell and actor Edward K. Herrmann. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the concert, it reminded me when animals were always an important part of Christmas specials (at least in my memories).
Edward K. Herrmann is probably best known for his portrayal of FDR in “Eleanor and Franklin,” but appeared more recently as Richard Gilmore on TV’s The Gilmore Girls. Against the background music “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day,” Herrmann related the story of how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow came to write his poem of hope and renewal of faith as inspired by the christmas bells he heard chiming on Christmas morning of 1864. Herrman’s voluminous story-telling voice was particularly inspiring as we are reminded of the current state of unrest in the world of 2008.
With his matinee-idol looks, baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell beguiled us with seemingly effortless renditions of several holiday favorites, as well as a couple not-so traditional, but no less memorable, songs (“New Words” about re-learning about life through your young children, and “Through Heaven’s Eyes” from the 1998 movie The Prince of Egypt). For lyrics, click here.
The selection I enjoyed most, the one sparking a special childhood memory however, came near the beginning of the program as Mitchell sang “The Friendly Beasts” in his engagingly versatile style. It took me way back to the early 1950s as I was reminded by the lyrics of the TV show “I Remember Mama.” Does anyone else besides me remember the beginning of the show, when Katrin leafs through an album of family photographs and speaks these memorable lines:
“I remember the big white house on Steiner Street, and my little sister Dagmar, and my big brother Nels, and Papa. But most of all, I remember Mama.”
These days you can get DVDs and VHS versions of almost any TV show or movie you can think of, but not this one. “I Remember Mama” was presented live each week before a studio audience–except for the last 13 episodes. Sadly, this is the reason I’ll never be able to re-view my favorite one that aired around Christmastime in perhaps 1950 or 1951. The youngest character, Dagmar, fervently believed that animals could talk once every year, at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Everyone remembers Mama as played by Peggy Wood. And Judson Laire was Papa Lars. My favorite, because she was around my age, was Dagmar Hansen who was played by Robin Morgan. In my research around this post, I learned that this former child actor is now a radical feminist activist, a prolific writer and poet, as well as stints as editor of Sisterhood is Powerful and Ms. Magazine.
I was still pretty young and new to TV so I can’t remember the whole plot line to this Christmas edition, but I vividly remember at the very end Dagmar slipped out of the house to the barn to join the animals at midnight so she could hear them herself even if no one else believed her. Of course the rest of the family are very amused but accepting of her innocence.
What could have been more thrilling in the very last scene as the animals began to stir. . . then slowly began to talk among themselves as the clock struck 12. It was absolutely thrilling for me, a country girl whose own best friends at various times were a pig named Buster, a cow named Betsey, and a stubborn cuss of a mule named Jack.