What do the son of a man who once talked to God (not to be confused with the Son of God who talked to man), A Young Caine (with no discernable adversarial brothers) and the daughter of a WITCH have in common? They (in the form of Moosie Drier–John Denver’s son in “Oh God!”, Radamas Pera—Young Caine in “Kung Fu,” and Erin Murphy, daughter of Samantha in TV’s original “Bewitched”) were all present at this year’s first annual Black Friday Celebrity Ornament Signing and Decorating bash at the Hollywood Museum! Just a day after Thanksgiving, nostalgia fueled and presently promising personalities both big and bigger crossed the threshold of the marble-floored lobby of the old Max Factor Building. They would then be sent up to the carpeted second floor of the Hollywood Museum amidst the “Child Stars: Then and Now Exhibit” only to be put to work decorating several themed TV show Christmas trees all the while granting interviews to the likes of KTLA and none other than ABC’s George Pennacchio!
The ornamental bulbs, created by Cyndie Wade, were autographed, and in some cases adorned, by the likes of Tippi Hedren, to everyone from the full cast of Falcon Crest and former child stars galore and are part of a heartening charity movement in order to raise funds for A Minor Consideration. Said organization founded by Paul Peterson (aka Jeff of The Donna Reed Show) was established in order to provide support and assistance to current child stars and former child stars alike; pertaining to income and working hours, encompassing the much lauded Coogan Law, the namesake of actor Jackie Coogan, in order to ensure that any and all minors’ funds are held until they are of age!
The ornaments, set to be on display on the second floor of the Hollywood Museum until December 10th were then whisked off to bidding market via Ebay in order to honor the blackest of Fridays with the whitest of Christmas bulbs by way of the greenest of cash but only for the non-greediest of non-corporate causes!!!
Ornamental artistry encompassed everything from Tippi Hedren’s delightful or–considering the context– would that be disturbing(?)–drawing of Birds flying off into the sunset–or perhaps even coming to get YOU on a globe that is positively inescapable—AAAAHHH!!!, to that of Dawn Wells’ illustration of an unescapable island on a globe surrounded by any and all onlookers’ giddy faces, to that of everybody’s favorite broadcast-bad-girl Alison Arngrim aka Nellie Oleson of Little House on the Prairie fame, “I made a Nellie ornament. I was at the craft store and they had a sale on these ornaments. They were white and kinda fuzzy but I got one, and some googley eyes and some yellow metallic ribbon and a bunch of pens and little teeny black bows… I made the ribbons super curly…to make it blonde ringlets hanging down the side, held in place by two little bows…and then two big silly googley eyes right in the middle, and on the back I wrote ‘Nellie’ in blue ink… And I said if it’s a big seller, I can make like ten more! I have to run out for more googley eyes but I have enough ornaments and bows and enough ribbon I can totally make more!”
“There’s a My Three Sons ball on a My Three Sons tree and I signed it and my brother Stan who was Chip signed it too,” disclosed Barry Livingston aka everyone’s favorite bespectacled youngster in the form of Ernie Douglas!
Geri Jewell aka Geri on The Facts of Life couldn’t remember which tree her ornament had alighted but described it in the most good natured of ways: “I don’t know what tree they put it on. But it’s very authentic. My signature looked like I had Cerebral Palsy.” And um…she does. Which is why this is funny…
Rachel Greenbush, with the forever fabulously feathered 70s hair, described one of the most nostalgia inducing ornaments from her days as Baby Carrie on Little House on the Prairie: “My ornament is a replica of the star that I placed on the tree in A Christmas at Plumb Creek Episode [on Little House on the Prairie] when I say, ‘Happy Birthday Baby Jesus’! It looks just like it and Michael Landon held me up and Carrie puts the star on the tree and that’s what my ornament looks like!”
“Now she can actually say it, ‘Happy Birthday Baby Jesus’ but we still have to get her a ladder,” echoed Alison Arngrim. She then went on to describe some of the artistry of actors I couldn’t or didn’t get a chance to interview: “Radamas [Pera] made a John Jr. one for his character, and a Kung Fu one ‘cause he was on Kung Fu… And [basically] the gang from Minor Consideration got a bunch of plain white ornaments and ran all over town calling every celebrity anybody knew and their cousin and who their cousin knew going, ‘Wanna sign an ornament?’
“Some people were [immediately on board],” continued Arngrim. “And some people were like, ‘Oh my God, I’m terrible at this. I’m not crafty. I don’t decorate!’ You can write your name can’t you…? Okay sign it and, put some spray glue on it and roll it in a pile of glitter. ‘I can do that,’ they said. ‘Okay done!’ And I think Carole Channing did lip prints. She’s like, ’My eyesight…I can’t do that! That’s much too small! I need a magnifying glass. How can I do this?’ Do you do lip prints? She’s like, ‘I can do THAT!’ So apparently she’s got a big fabulous Carole Channing lip print Christmas ornament! Stunning! I just picked up Dawn Wells’ on the way over here…and it’s beautiful! It says ‘Dawn Wells’ and you turn it over and there’s a little island, and a palm tree and it says ‘S.O.S. Mary Ann’ perfect! So, everyone has been very creative and all these celebrities, both child actors and older folk, have decorated ornaments and donated them. And then there’s the individual trees: the Bewitched Tree, and the My Three Sons tree and the Lost in Space tree [along with the Happy Days tree and The Waltons tree and of course Little House on the Prairie]… Then there’ll be this big showing and there’ll be the auction online for A Minor Consideration and people can buy them. It’s great!”
“I haven’t signed an ornament yet. It’s gonna look round and it’s gonna have my horrible scribble on it…” confessed Moosie Drier i.e. Adam Landers in Oh God in the most comically undivinely inspired of ways. (In the end however it was all quite reminiscent of only the best Monty Python skits as the LA Beat could only muse, “It’s very ROUND isn’t it?!?”)
“I decorated well…um, ‘decorate’…we use that term loosely. I’m not that artistic especially with round things but… there it is: Dynasty, Lindsay Blaisdale was my character,” confessed Dynasty and Little House star Katy Kurtzman
And with masterfully inspired motifs like this, who WOULDN’T want said orbs festooning one’s tree? In addition to its numerous Christmas pines, fashioned annually by Bob Pranga, gilding every conceivable nook and cranny of the Old Max Factor Building, The Hollywood Museum also welcomed 6 new additional trees this year each commemoration a classic TV show! Moreover, cast members from My Three Sons, Bewitched, The Waltons, Happy Days, and Little House on the Prairie were all available via artistry or action to help trim them and/or contribute a portion of their creative talents!
One of the most fun to touching aspects of the afternoon however, would have to be the stars’ recollections of their favorite Christmas memories. From the silly to the sentimental, the harrowing to the hilarious, this group gifted me with quite the giddy to gush-filled gala!
“My dad was never one to celebrate Christmas much, and my mother was obsessed with Christmas,” confessed a subtly chuckling Barry Livingston. “She always wanted a mink stole or something surprising y’know… some beautiful thing…and then one year, thinking he would lighten her load at home, [my dad] gave her like the whole ‘Bissel Supermaid 2900’ kit!—And, it all flew out the window—literally—FLEW! And she said, ‘What do you think I am the f’ing maid?!?’ She’d been hinting many, many years. He never got the memo. I think that is my favorite Christmas memory!”
Dr. Jeannie Russell, chiropractor, aka Margaret from Dennis the Menace not only decorated an enchanted childlike orbed replica of her cartoon likeness but had an equally fun childhood holiday memory to share: “I always liked the season–and while it’s not a funny story like Barry’s–we had one of those color wheels y’know? And we had a sparkly acoustic ceiling so when the tree was lit, we’d turn the wheel on and the ceiling would go green and then it would go blue and then it would go yellow…”
Ooh what fun! Talk about Holiday ambiance!!!
One of the most arrestingly historical remembrances came from Geri Jewell, “1968: My brother showed up on the doorstep at 3 o’clock in the morning…surprising us returning from Vietnam! And he had a huge stuffed tiger on his shoulders for me and my sister! He said that if fell out of Santa’s sleigh! So he gave it to (my sister) Gloria and me!”
“You know when something’s wrapped and you can tell what it is,” rhetorically solicited Moosie Drier. “Okay there was a guitar—wrapped—and it was under the tree for–you know–a couple weeks before Christmas, and my mother fibbed and told me it was for my older sister Peggy. So I’m like AARGH–and I really wanted a guitar but I was really happy for my sister…or whatever…and on Christmas Morning they’re all like ‘Ahaha it’s really for YOU!’ And it was like the ultimate surprise and plus I was a kid so it was a much bigger deal at the time!”
“I played Anna Gilbert who was the little stuttering girl who Nellie was mean to and made say Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers [on Little House on the Prairie],” recapped multi-faceted Little House and Dynasty actress Katy Kurtzman. “[I couldn’t do it then, but] I can do it now. I also played Young Caroline: Caroline Ingels, the mom in a memory show. They had a whole episode where she and Charles met and Charles was played by Matthew Labyorteaux. That was before he was Albert so yeah, we had a whole episode to ourselves in flashbacks.”
All Photos Courtesy of Bill Dow Photography:
Of all the celebs I had the privilege of interviewing, Kurtzman’s tale was one of the most classic: “One of my favorite Christmas memories…this is gonna sound really hokey… I quit the business at 16. I just needed to go to school. And…we had a fire at the house… I think I was 17 or 18 and we were out of money… We had just enough money to bring my sister out from Florida. So, it was my mom, my little brother, my sister and me and we didn’t have enough money for anything but the Christmas dinner. So, we all made Christmas ornaments a la Little House on the Prairie style. The rule was you couldn’t buy anything. You had to find whatever was around the house; we were a pretty crafty family so there was a lot to choose from! …and it was the most special Christmas ever because it wasn’t about material stuff, it was about us just being together as a family and making each other something special.”
In light of the above, money saving techniques were the balance of subject banter divulged by Alison Arngrim on this particular afternoon. A certain Christmas account encapsulating a tree as an apartment for gingerbread men was most favorable: “[You don’t want an expensive tree], the cat’s just gonna eat it anyway! The year we made all the homemade ornaments, we did the popcorn/cranberry and we did gingerbread ornaments. The dog ate every one! He trashed the tree! He was going for the cookies and my father said ‘Okay, okay. I read this in a magazine. If you put Tabasco Sauce on the back of one of the cookies, the dog’ll eat that, it’ll put him off and he won’t touch the tree anymore.’
(“No, He’ll just get heartburn,” the LA Beat could only muse.)
“So we took one and just slathered it in Tabasco Sauce,” continued Arngrim, “and hung it really low on the tree. We said, ‘It’s cruel. But he’ll just eat part of it and it’ll freak him out and he won’t eat the tree.’ He ate the Tabasco Sauce…and went ‘Rowr’!, then went back, and jumped the tree ‘cause he thought they’d all taste like that!!!”
Aaaand Gustatory Failsafe: FAIL!
Another near equally authentic Christmas memory came from Little House’s Baby Carrie herself, Rachel Greenbush (but with nary a dog in sight thank God): “One of my favorite Christmas memories is my mom actually had us string popcorn and cranberries when I was young and we would put it on the tree… I look back at it now and think ‘Oh my gosh my mom trusted us with needles,’ I was like five years old! But it was fun!!!”
The least innocent, minimally classic, if not somewhat naughty (as opposed to nice), account of the afternoon however had to have come from one of the most gregarious and informative child stars and when you discover who she is, it will yield no surprise: Everybody’s favorite broadcast-bad-girl—Alison Arngrim aka Nellie Oleson!
“(laughing before she even begins talking) Well my favorite Christmas memory is…it’s terrible. I told a magazine this and they’re like, ‘We’re not running that!’ (Little does she know what kind of magazine the LA Beat is—or DOES she…?) My father and I used to go out and haggle for Christmas trees… We did this whole street theatre thing trying to get the cheapest tree where I was like the poor orphan child. It started when my parents were in New York and they didn’t have very much money when they first moved there as actors. My father discovered that if you wait until Christmas Eve the Christmas trees got cheaper and they were practically giving them away! So, when I was a kid, what we would do is we would go out like on the 22nd or 23rd. We’d wear our poor clothes…I would find the biggest tree I could find and stand in front of it. I was really small for my age: Long blonde hair and the blue eyes, I looked like a Keene painting. (And she does. She really, really does even to look at her now. Moreover, her eyes have not gotten the least bit smaller!) So I’d stand in front of the tree and pout and…and I’d be like, “I totally want the tree!” And then my father would come by and look at the price tag, [shake his head ‘no’] and lead me away. And the people on the lot would come running and go, ‘Can we help you?’ And I’d be practically crying and then we’d leave and then we’d go to this lot across the street and do it AGAIN. We would get in and out of the car and drive all over L.A. to every Christmas tree lot and pull this. And sometimes it would get really elaborate [i.e.] ‘If mommy gets out of the hospital in time could we have Christmas?’”
“We used to hustle the Christmas tree every year,” Arngrim continued. “And my mother was like, ‘I can’t believe you guys are still doing this, you really need to stop… This is disgraceful! It’s terrible. I don’t even know you!!!’”
“You can keep up on your acting chops with all that,” the LA Beat could only observe.
“Yeah, it was good training. We would come up with all these schemes. Then of course when [the show had been on awhile and I was] recognizable. So, we tried to come up with skits, and then when I got to be 18 it was kinda cute. I actually went to a couple of Christmas tree lots and wore a tight, low cut top and basically did the same thing, (In a whiney bimboey voice) ‘I need a Christmas tree…’ So, we tried working everything.”
“I attempted to get my father to do it again [in later years],” Arngrim continued. “He was about 80 and he had Parkinson’s… I said, ‘Okay do you want to get a tree?’ And he goes, ‘No, no, no. I have the artificial one now and you know your cousin comes over and he puts it up for me and it’s lovely and I have the neighbors come and help me decorate it, it’s fine.’ I’m like you know (sing songy) ‘We can do it!’ He’s like, ‘Oh no. no.’ I said. ‘We’ll go get a cheap wheelchair from the medical supply store. You put on your poor clothes…we’ll get you like a bib. We’ll put you in the chair. We’ll get you a blanket, and all you’ve gotta do…you don’t have to speak…is to sit in the wheelchair and look sad. We’ll leave your $20,000.00 Quantum 6000 Electric Wheelchair home for this bit because we can’t have them know you’re actually living the life of Riley and are totally fine. So we’ll get you a chair, and I’ll take you out, and I’ll get you a little sweater and some glasses—You know the spinster girl who takes care of her elderly father… So, he thinks and goes, ‘That is good.’ He said, ‘I admire your creativity… You’re really thinking along the right line. I’m glad you haven’t lost your touch.’ [But in the end], he’s like ‘Nah, I can’t do it!’ But I almost got him to do it. He was glad that I hadn’t lost the spirit of how to get a tree, (laughing) that we were still twisted as ever!”
(In the meantime, I—Jennifer K. Hugus—LA Beat author extraordinaire– am currently envisioning a Seinfeld Episode-like-scenario wherein a former tree vendor, finally divining the secret of his indefatigable hagglers from years past, reads this passage and simply mutters “Arngrim!” under his breath all the while lying in wait sporting a *cheaper-than-cheap* advert next to his lot only to heartily anticipate the big tell off should the opportunity ever arise!!!)
And on that touching note, all in all a fun and enlightening alternatively holidayish afternoon.
For more information on A Minor Consideration’s current fund drive and/or to procure and ornament of your own, please visit the following links: