item 1 >>> One of the things I really enjoy these days is finding out the “story behind the story” of things from my early days. And this one concerns my favorite Christmas ornament. Our family had a lot of older ones, my parents still use them, with only a few relatively “newer” ones thrown in. Most were a shiny metallic-like color,  or “silvered” as they were called, but the one I liked the best was an oddball…clear glass, with several transparent red and blue horizontal bands, and a hunk of silver tinsel hanging inside. Kind of gaudy actually, but what the heck? Turns out colorless balls date from WWII, when the metallic coating normally used was in short supply. Also, the older style balls (or “bulbs” as well called them, having nothing to do with lights) were often made in Germany, and many where thrown away in disgust, for obvious reasons, and replaced by clear ones.  Actually, mine were similar in design to these…

item 2 >>> An update on Zwieback crackers…altho no longer made by Nabisco, apparently Gerber still does, altho theirs never held a candle to Nabisco’s, IMHO, and stores around here don’t carry them. There are various recipes on the net that purport to duplicate the cracker, and on the question of flavoring, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla are used in various combinations. For some reason I had it in my head that the unique Nabisco Zwieback flavor came from arrowroot, but that’s incorrect. Arrowroot is a starch, used as a thickener for puddings, soups, and  sauces, and also in cakes and biscuits. But it’s contribution is neutral, with no discernible flavor. It used to be used as an easily digestible food for babies, but as it’s now understood to have virtually no nutritional value, that’s no longer done.

item 3 >>> I had remembered that on Three’s Company, Chrissy Snow’s full first name was Christmas…and if you believe Uncle Wiki, her middle name was Noelle…sounds like she was born you-know-when, but there were apparently at least 3 explanations for her name given over the run of the show. (1) Her father liked Bing Crosby…so why not Holiday Inn Snow? (2) He said “She was the best present he ever got.” (3) She was born “in December,” altho in another episode, Janet says Chrissy was born in January. Her father, played by Peter Mark Richman, was a minister from Fresno…her mom was played by Priscilla Morrill, who was also Lou Grant’s wife Edie on MTM.

item 4 >>> As both a given name and an alternate name for Christmas, Noel is derived from the Latin natalis meaning birth. A quick survey of famous Noels indicates no automatic connection to Christmas…Noel Redding, bass-player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience was born on Dec. 25, but Noel Coward, Noel Harrison, Mel’s son Noel Blanc, and half a dozen others I found were not. The older spelling includes a diaeresis over the “e”…Noël, to indicate the “oe” is not a diphthong pronounced as one sound “oh,” but as 2 sounds “oh-eh.”  The mark goes over the second vowel. In 1992, the Canadian Post Office had to destroy thousands of 42¢ and 84¢ Christmas  of stamps incorrectly printed “Nöel,”  altho as you might expect, a couple apparently survived. In older books you might see such spellings as coöperate, zoölogy, and naïve. And of course, as a man’s name, Noel is universally pronounced Nole.

item 5 >>> BTW, did you notice when I spelled “naïve,” the 2 dots of the diaeresis replaced the single dot above the “i”? That single dot is known as a “tittle”…there’s one for Final Jeopardy! It’s virtually unused today except in phrase “jot and tittle,” which has a Biblical origin, and means “an insignificant amount.” In English, the diaeresis is also used, but extremely rarely today, to indicate a single vowel, that might ordinarily be silent, is to be pronounced…as in the British literary sisters Charlotte ad Emily Brontë.  And the diaeresis should not be confused with the German Umlaut, which looks the same, but has a different function, that of “softening” a vowel…for example, Hermann Göring’s last name is pronounced Gher-ing, altho in English it’s usually spelled Goering, which completely confuses the whole deal.

item 6 >>> Before storming America and the world in early 1964, the Beatles had a good year’s worth of phenomenal success in England and Europe, especially Germany, in 1963. In fact, considering “Love Me Do” was released over there on Oct, 2, 1962, it seems surprising that what’s considered the first Beatles “novelty” or cash-in record didn’t arrive till Christmas 1963, but that’s the story so far. It’s called “All I Want For Christmas Is a Beatle” by Dora Bryan, a 40-year-old singer playing a teenager in the song. She was popular for comedy tunes, and the song was on the UK charts for 6 weeks in December and January, peaking ay only #20. Which makes sense…for all the Beatles-related records on both sides of the Atlantic, few really struck a chord with fans…in fact only one made it into the Top Forty over here…the Bye Bye Birdie take-off “We Love You Beatles” by the Carefrees in the first rush of Beatlemania in 1964, and that reached just #39. See today’s Wickey Ballsy.

item 7 >>> On a more serious Yuletide note…as much fun as that movie A Christmas Story is, with Ralphie and his pursuit of a Red Ryder BB gun, there is an sobering counterpart in the form of an early 1950s episode of Dragnet. This classic show began on radio in 1949, and on TV in 1952. Early episodes are quite eye-opening…Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday, for all his toughness, is extremely skinny. There’s a major “Hat Squad” thing going on (see item 8.)  No suspect ever called their lawyer, altho some threatened to. A half-hour show contained only 3 minutes of commercials, often featuring Webb as himself, an actor, not as his character. As I mentioned with Beverly Garland’s Decoy series a while back, police-women who are occasionally seen are just as tough as the men. But the one overriding feature of Dragnet was its unrelenting grimness. The seamy, hopeless, depraved side of “The City” can be overwhelming at times, and never so much as in the Christmas episode “The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas.” (All the episodes were titled “The Big Something.”) As the investigation unfolds, things get more and more unpleasant…no spoilers here…and the supposedly “happy” ending comes off as downright weird. Friday went thru a number of partners before Ben Alexander arrived as Frank Smith. I suspect Webb sensed the depressing mood of his show, and in Alexander found a suitable comic foil…once or twice an episode having those idiotic conversations, as he would with Harry Morgan’s Bill Gannon character a decade later. But the way those early 50s shows were written, man, they needed it!

item 8 >>> There really was a “Hat Squad.” It was a robbery detail of the Los Angeles Police Department in the late 50s and early 60s. Nothing planned really, it just happened…four detectives who favored taylor-made suits, expensive shoes, and fedoras with wide brims, when most of the other plainclothesmen were wearing porkpie hats, like Popeye Doyle in The French Connection. Membership changed over the years, but they were mostly big guys, generally at least 6-feet tall and well over 200 pounds each. In fact it was said a typical Hat Squad contingent came at you with close to half a ton of beef, and they weren’t afraid to throw it around, if you catch my drift and I think you do. An interesting sidelight is that Jack Webb hated guns, and members of the Hat Squad were called in as technical advisors, to school him in handling them. One other thing: while the original TV show lasted till 1959, the radio version persisted as well, signing off in 1957.

item 9 >>> Speaking of hats, the most famous “cowboy hat” was of course made by Stetson, which made other types too. The broad-brimmed ten-gallon version had its uses while riding the range, but most of the men in the Old West wore a Derby or Bowler…think Lou Costello. Lawmen and outlaws alike, including Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid. In fact, it was called the “Hat that Won the West.” The Bowler was especially popular with railroad workers and ranchers. And a ten-gallon hat would have held about 3 quarts…”gallon” was a corruption of the Spanish word galon, referring to the band around the crown.

item 10 >>> Christmas Myth #3…Plum pudding once contained plums. Sorry, no way José.  In Merrie Olde England, “plum” meant dried fruit in general, almost universally raisins. People who could afford it might use dried apricots, figs, dates, even prunes, but basically “plums” were raisins. Sugar-plums were candies made with dried fruit. Fruit-cake was also called plum-cake. Little Jack Horner’s Christmas pie was mince-meat, the plum on his thumb a raisin. Plumb interesting, wouldn’t you say?

Wicked Ballsy

This is an amusing little ditty, and she also did one on 007…check out good old YouTube if you don’t believe me…

shameless 9 days till plugmas…

Podcasts at http://stolfpod.podbean.com and   http://thewholething.podbean.com

Daily blogs at http://stolf.wordpress.com and  https://deepfriedhoodsiecups.wordpress.com

More bloggage at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com and  http://www.examiner.com/retro-pop-culture-in-watertown/mark-john-astolfi

Resume and audio samples at http://home.rr.com/mastolfi

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