In some early editions of yesterday's Style section, the late Geraldine Page, who stared in ABC's "A Christmas Memory," was misidentified. (Published 12/17/87)
Fast away the old year passes. Before you know it, the networks have rolled out their Christmas specials again. ABC has three hours of holiday programming tonight, all of it worthwhile, none of it cloying.
The best is saved for the middle. "Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas," at 9 on Channel 7, is an inescapably gorgeous production that sends Andrews back to Salzburg, Austria, where she filmed "The Sound of Music," one of the most popular movies of all time.
On this outing, the mountains are covered with snow and shot on tape, not film, which makes the scenery seem even more deliriously vivid and bold. The aerial photography, Alpscapes and street scenes are knockouts. Producer Nick Vanoff and director Dwight Hemion (the best in the business at this sort of thing) outdid themselves.
Andrews, who gets sexier as she gets older, has a liltingly good time, joined by guests John Denver and Placido Domingo. Every glistening Salzburg location is put to good use and beautifully shot -- a majestic castle called Leopoldskron, the interior of Salzburg Cathedral and blissfully snowy slopes down which Denver obligingly slooshes.
A good sport, that Denver fellow, perhaps too good; he should have said no to donning a white wig for a giggly "Amadeus"-like turn as Mozart during the show's low spot, a musical skit near the opening. Otherwise, all is calm, all is bright, particularly a sumptuously staged waltz medley and the cathedral carol finale.
Even on the small screen, the scenery has grandeur. It serves as a reminder: This is why we have a Europe.
ABC supplied a stereophonic preview copy of the special, which served to demonstrate why we need stereo TV. Channel 7 does not transmit in stereo yet, but Channel 13, the Baltimore ABC affiliate available to most area viewers, does.
Perry Como, who can usually be counted on for some low-key, low-voltage holiday cheer, neglected to do one of his annual holiday specials in 1987; perhaps one show a year is just too tiring for him. The Andrews hour meets all the happier requirements, has a much higher energy level than one of Perry's potpourris and is pleasingly light on cutes.
For many people, however, the cuteness threshold skyrockets during the holidays, and "A Muppet Family Christmas," at 8 on Channel 7, supplies cutes in droves. And Muppets in hordes -- not only Kermit T. Frog and the gang from "The Muppet Show," but also Big Bird and a delegation from "Sesame Street" and even Doc, Sprocket and a frantic gaggle from "Fraggle Rock."
All are part of a cut-cloth empire presided over by Jim Henson, who does a Hitchcockian cameo at the end of the hour. A disarming rampage by those versatile and persistent Muppetolitans, the program includes a tree-trimming, a caroling session, the occasional seasonal ditty and still further adventures of Miss Piggy, who is certainly aging more gracefully than Joan Collins.
Not to give too much away, but the nominal plot has Fozzie Bear inviting all the Muppets away from their closet at the William Morris Agency (or wherever it is they live) and over to his mother Emily Bear's house in the woods. Little does he realize. Period. But more specifically, little does he realize Mom was hoping to spend the holidays soaking up rays at Malibu.
The Swedish chef pursues a hip turkey ("not to worry, I'm a survivor," the turkey tells Gonzo), penguins and a snowman chime in on the choruses, and gooey home movies of the Muppet babies are unreeled. Written by Jerry Juhl and directed by Peter Harris, "A Muppet Family Christmas" boasts all the comforts of home.
And a partridge in a pear tree.
At 10 on Channel 7, to complete the evening, ABC offers a rare rerun of "A Christmas Memory," Frank Perry's 1966 TV-movie based on Truman Capote's autobiographical short story. Capote narrates the script he wrote with Eleanor Perry, and Geraldine Page stars.
This is the first time the film has aired on a network since the deaths of Capote, Page and Eleanor Perry; thus it is now as much memorial as memoir and more delicately poignant than ever.
'God and Politics' Much has been written and broadcast about the concurrent ascents of religious fundamentalism and political conservatism, but no one has told the story quite so succinctly and frighteningly as Bill Moyers tells it tonight in "The Battle for the Bible," second of three PBS "God and Politics" specials at 9 on Channel 26.
Moyers looks at the ideological rift within the Southern Baptist Church from the perspective of a lifelong Baptist. He remembers the lessons he was taught as a youth at the Central Baptist Church in Marshall, Tex.: that by Baptist precepts, every believer is equal before God, that the church imposes no rigid, standard dogma on the faithful.
That has all changed in the wake of a calculated takeover engineered by fundamentalists with a right-wing political agenda. Moyers says they are mixing church and state in new and unnerving ways. In a clip from the invocation given at one session of the 1984 Republican National Convention, fundamentalist preacher W.A. Criswell asks God to "bless us as we march to victory and a greater destiny."
Ronald Reagan, who made a conspicuous and embarrassing appearance at a political fundamentalist rally in 1980 ("I endorse you," he told them), gave them their victory. Now one must ponder the greater destinies. They are being engineered by a Texas appellate court judge who is also a prime fundamentalist power broker, Paul Pressler, who breaks off his interview with Moyers when the questioning turns from religious issues to his political alliances.
He claims the two are not related. Moyers makes the persuasive case otherwise.
"What began as a battle for the Bible is now clearly political," Moyers says, and those leading the movement demand blind compliance to their religious dogma and to their political itinerary. Says a moderate Baptist concerned about the takeover of his church, "The very meaning of freedom, in my opinion, is at stake."
Without stooping to showy confrontational tactics, Moyers seems to get the most from those he interviews. He states the problem clearly and discusses it enlighteningly. Joan Konner is the executive producer of these "God and Politics" reports, and Gail Pellett produced this one. The unmistakable Moyers stamp is gratifyingly in evidence.
Watching the program is easy. Getting through the opening obstacle course is more difficult. There is the producing station credit (WNET, New York), the funding credits ("Chevron -- Giving Thought to Television"), an animated Moyers logo (from the department of A Bit Much), a teaser consisting of sound bites from within the body of the show, and the opening credits.
Public television is becoming as cluttered as private television. But like most Moyers reports, "The Battle for the Bible" is worth waiting for.
'Movie Palaces' Already shown on Channel 32 here, the 1986 Smithsonian documentary "The Movie Palaces" airs on Channel 26 at 8:30 tonight, unusually if accidentally good timing for a film about the pleasures of movie-going. The sale of Washington's Circle Theatre chain to Cineplex Odeon Corp., front-page news today, makes an apt peg for this nostalgic half-hour.
Gene Kelly narrates a look at American movie palaces as they existed when movie-going was a once- or twice-a-week habit for millions of eager escapists. What the palaces promised was, as Kelly recalls, a lush environment for fantasy fulfillment, "an acre of seats in a garden of dreams."
Unfortunately, writer-director Lee R. Bobker and producer Karen Loveland let too much talking do the talking; the film cries out for some lyrical touches, and gets none. But a change of voice at least comes from Gaylord Carter, the eminent veteran theater organist. He reminisces colorfully and offers a few action-accompaniments on the mighty Wurlitzer.
Kitsch architecture, wanton opulence, staffs of uniformed ushers and, yes, mighty Wurlitzers made movie-going an event. Films and stars were larger than life and theaters were scaled to the same outlandish proportions. It's all gone now, but Kelly ends on a hopeful note; some of the theaters have been preserved, if not for movie showing, then in some kind of civic service.
The glory days may be over, and the starlit ceilings torn down, but "The Movie Palaces" proves them well worth recalling.