Back in the days of Caesar Augustus when there were only three television networks, families used to gather around the television on cold winter nights and watch Christmas “specials.” More often than not, these shows presented rather oddly-assembled casts of stars bent on giving us an hour of variety entertainment along with a measure of chatter; “just plain folks” dishing out family-friendly holiday cheer. Even with our spiked eggnog, we suspected it was too much to swallow. No matter how ingratiating the personalities involved, somehow we knew that in reality the shows were taped in the Hollywood heat of September and the stars’ families were often more dysfunctional than our own.
When David Church and I began to write Judy’s Scary Little Christmas, we were jazzed at the thought of populating our own Christmas special with a mix of celebrities – hopefully stars with a good measure of personal baggage to contrast with their on camera bonhomie and provide some backstage conflict during the commercial breaks. (The final roster included Bing Crosby, Liberace, Ethel Merman, Joan Crawford along with Lillian Hellman and then Vice President Richard Nixon.) Although we initially set out to write an outrageous parody, in the process of our research we found we couldn’t be true to our stars unless we somehow gave them their due. For unlike so many of today’s celebrities who are “famous for being famous,” these retro icons were – for all their flaws – true entertainers who could hold audiences spellbound…and without the technology. They deserved that acknowledgement.
So our outrageous parody became an affectionate tribute as well. Yet combining these very real, volatile, self-absorbed personalities with the idea of “Christmas” was a challenge. Until we realized that most people go home for the holidays with highly unrealistic expectations. Most people go home intending to “fix the past” and somehow straighten out what got screwed up along the way. It’s a Hallmark movie that never happens. Or a TV special.
In the latter part of her career, Judy Garland was a star considered washed up in the business time and time again. She eventually became known for her comebacks – on screen, at the Palace, even on television. Why not – we thought – have her make the ultimate comeback, and come back from death? At Christmas. With an all-star cast. Great! And Act Two? Have Death come back to retrieve Judy – and the stars who’ve come back for their own personal reasons. Frankly, the thought of Death grilling a company of terrified 50’s celebrities in fashionable evening wear was too much for three writers to resist: a Judy Garland special meets The Twilight Zone. A Christmas Carol in living color.
In Judy’s Scary Little Christmas, Judy’s holiday doesn’t turn out the way she’d hoped. The past remains the past. But with some music, some laughs and a little self-reflection, redemption becomes a distinct possibility. In creating the show with composer-lyricist Joe Patrick Ward, our own heavenly reward was to be able to spend some quality time in the company of our ghostly leading lady and her fabulous friends. We researched, we improvised, we “channeled” and worked (and reworked) to get their voices just right. It was enormous fun to put together and we hope you’ll find it enormously entertaining as well.