lizhand (lizhand) wrote in theinferior4,

Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol: Intro

For me, as well as my brothers and sisters and several thousand Hand cousins, the Christmas season always began on Thanksgiving Day, not with the Macy’s parade (though we did watch that) but with the annual WPIX screening of Laurel & Hardy's 1934 classic “The March of the Wooden Soldiers.”

The film is an adaptation of “Babes in Toyland;" this clip shows the finale, but you can watch it all on Youtube if you're looking for something other than the Rose Bowl tomorrow. Lou Reed gave the movie a shout-out in “Sweet Jane,” and it remains one of the most powerful memories of my childhood. The other Thanksgiving film traditionally shown in the Metromedia NYC area was “King Kong,” but because of our extensive clan’s dining schedule, I only ever got to see King Kong topple from the Empire State Buiding.

Today I found myself indulging in my customary pre-holiday nostalgia, as always tinged with melancholy, and decided I’d serialize “Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol,” my 2001 homage to the season and two of its (for me) guardian spirits, the late Sandy Becker and Joey Ramone.   When I was a kid, the Yonkers Herald Statesman used to run a Christmas serial every year,  written by a fifth grade class at one of the city's public schools.  So this will be in that tradition.  Only, you know, grownup (sort of). Sandy was an iconic NYC-area kiddie show host in the late 1950s/early 1960s, a brilliant precursor of folks like Pee Wee Herman; a performer who was more Ernie Kovacs or Sid Cesar than Captain Kangaoo. Sandy made his own puppets and did completely off-the-wall routines featuring both puppets and his own (human) characters, notably the demented Hambone, The Big Professor, and loveable boneheaded simpleton Norton Nork. Tragically, almost nothing of the Sandy Becker Show remains — a few poor quality video clips and that’s all. The original kinescopes and videotapes were all destroyed, including the legendary Sandy Becker’s Christmas Carol, which aired on December 23, 1961, when I was four years old. I watched it, along with millions of other kids, and to this day can recall grouchy puppet Geeba Geeba’s unforgettable portrayal of Scrooge.

I started writing “Chip Crockett” when I learned of Sandy’s death in April 1997 — I put aside my then work-in-progress, Mortal Love, to do so — after I woke, laughing, from a dream about Sandy and found myself channeling Tony Maroni, a fictional analog of Joey Ramone. Joey was alive then, but he was gone by the time the story finally found its way into the world, so “Chip Crockett” became a bittersweet, double memento mori for two icons of my childhood. One of the loveliest experiences of my life came when I sent a copy of the story to Sandy’s widow, Cherie Becker, and began a correspondence. She told me the story made her cry, and that Sandy would have loved it.

“Chip Crockett” was penned in relatively early days for the internet.  Sadly, there’s no more of The Sandy Becker Show now than there was then, but with the magic of Youtube and Christopher Gross’s Sandy Becker website, I’ve put together a sort-of interactive accompaniment to the story, with some links to video, music, and images that will accompany each installment, beginning tomorrow. Ten years ago, I would have killed to find the Yule Log — Tony Maroni had to resort to magic to make it appear on TV. Now it’s here for everyone to enjoy!  And I’m willing to bet my leather jacket that Joey and Johnny watched Sandy Becker, especially considering their friendship with Newark TV’s “Uncle Floyd” Vivino, a Sandy Becker acolyte. More trivia: Sandy voiced Mr. Wizard on the old King Leonardo cartoons, intoning the signature line "Drizzle, drazzle, drozzle, drone / Time for this one to come home" that’s referenced in the Replacements' "Hold My Life."

Stay tuned, and God help us, everyone!

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