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FIRST PERSON

The ghost of Christmas unscripted

Just try to imagine the holiday, its bah humbug too, without the scribe's sugar-plummed spin.

December 23, 2007|Chris Erskine | Times Staff Writer

SOON enough, Santa will be loading his sleigh, checking the wipers and piloting his little chariot -- the ultimate hybrid -- through the relatively balmy skies of Southern California. But before he goes, he'll probably put on his WGA lapel pin in support of the striking writers.

Santa's always had a deep appreciation for folks who work with their hands. But with writers, it's more than that. Santa knows that without the writers there would be virtually no Christmas. The season's traditions sprang from their stubby little fingers.

Without writers, there certainly would be no holiday classics to savor late in the night. No "Holiday Inn." No "Christmas in Connecticut." No "Miracle on 34th Street."

"Look, Doris, someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work," John Payne tells Maureen O'Hara. "And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile."

Without writers, all the lovely intangibles never would have existed. Leave the engineers to engineer and the builders to build. But one little tradition at a time, writers crafted Christmas.

Without them, there would be no George Bailey cursing at that wobbly newel post and giving Clarence a hard time -- "Figures I'd get a guardian angel like you." There would be no Bedford Falls. The world would be more like Pottersville -- bad subdivisions with hollow doors. Think northern New Jersey.

Can you imagine what Christmas would be like had writers not gotten hold of the concept -- burnished it, embellished it, wrapped it in metaphor?

Without writers, there would be no Charlie Brown Christmas tree. No figgy pudding. No Frosty.

Without writers, there would've been no Clark Griswold ("Save the neck for me, Clark") in "Christmas Vacation," the funniest holiday movie ever made. And Rudolph would've been a brown-nose reindeer, just like every other reindeer I've ever met. Suck-ups.

Without writers, there would've been no "Elf." No "Home Alone."

Could the world have survived without "Home Alone"? Probably. But wouldn't life be a little less rich without Cary Grant in "The Bishop's Wife" or Judy Garland in "Meet Me in St. Louis"?

Rose Smith

Nice girls don't let men kiss them until after they're engaged. Men don't want the bloom rubbed off.

Esther Smith (Garland)

Personally, I think I have too much bloom. Maybe that's the trouble with me.

Indeed, almost every holiday touchstone we have can be linked to some sort of scribe, Writers Guild or otherwise. Nutcrackers and sugarplums. Silver bells. Frosted window panes. For hundreds of years, writers have been a sort of a literary clergy when it comes to Christmas. Make that thousands of years.

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

You can warm your hands on those words. You can roast chestnuts on those chestnuts. Believe what you want, but Luke 2:11-13 is tremendous writing. A passage that changed the world. If you've ever written anything half as profound, call me. We'll do lunch.

Closer to home, there is Jean Shepherd's wonderful "Christmas Story," which Time magazine recently insisted has eclipsed "It's a Wonderful Life" as a holiday favorite. It hasn't and never will. But this tale of a boy's obsession with a Red Ryder BB gun has grown better over time. Like Christmas cognac.

"My father worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium, a master," the narrator explains.

Finally, there was this dude Dickens, who could write a little. For those of you under 25, Charles Dickens was a British author who wrote troubling tales about the economic disparities between the rich and the poor. Back then, the rich often exploited the working man, hard as that is to believe today.

Anyway, Dickens penned a fine little story about a greedy guy named Scrooge, who ignored the plight of the people who helped him make his fortune. It was called "A Christmas Carol." For many of us, it instilled many of the holiday values still in place today.

Charity worker

At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.

Scrooge

Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

Charity worker

Many can't go there; and many would rather die.

Scrooge

If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

Hey, Santa, look how far we've come.

--

Erskine, a WGA member, writes the "Man of the House" column in Thursday's Home section. He can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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