GetTV kicked off the holiday season earlier this month with “Happy Holidays from Bing and Frank,” the 1957 Christmas episode from the “Frank Sinatra Show”—airing again tonight in celebration of Sinatra’s 99th birthday. It’s a charming, if slightly bizarre, holiday special… as I think many classic holiday specials are. The boys certainly encourage—and partake in—some holiday libations throughout the show, so I think that’s the best mindset to approach it from.
So perhaps take a moment to prepare some traditional wassail before watching and reading on!
The timeline of the show is really impressive, and very clearly under the direction of one-take-wonder Sinatra—in just 26 minutes, we’re treated to 13 songs from two of the greatest singers in history. In fact, in less than a minute from the show’s start (including the opening titles), Frank’s already singing one of his new Christmas songs: “Mistletoe and Holly.” Like most of the numbers that follow in the show, the song is indeed filmed in one, long take, with no edits and very few camera movements. These episodes weren’t filmed live, but certainly have that feel. Frank even drops an ornament at one point during his song—gamely picking it up without a pause—which suggests that there maybe weren’t too many takes to choose from. But it lends a certain imperfect charm to the special, like Sinatra could be your uncle casually singing a little ditty for the family after supper.
Bing soon arrives bearing gifts—including, what a surprise, his new record! By total coincidence, Frank also has a copy of his new record to give to Bing. They spend a few moments discussing the new albums (if this were an informercial, the toll-free number would be flashing at the bottom of the screen right now), then Frank offers Bing a toddy, and they’re already breaking into the wassail punch within the first four minutes of the show.
I’ve been laughing about this moment for about two weeks straight now, because Frank Sinatra has clearly committed to realism for this scene and foregone the use of non-alcoholic prop punch, as Bing must have been expecting. Bing doesn’t look too displeased, I’d say, but it’s another funny moment of imperfection that makes for a more human moment—especially as Frank seems to chuckle at Bing’s surprise.
Frank describes the history of the wassail as they drink, when they hear some carolers at the door and go outside to join them. Here’s where the special starts to get a little more strange—as they exit the door and follow the carolers to the next house, they’ve suddenly time-traveled into the Ye Olde England Frank had described in the history lesson, complete with a costume change. They join the chorus for a few classic Christmas songs—”God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful”—and receive food, drink, and coins in exchange for the tunes.
They return back to the apartment with their loot, back in their modern clothes, and Frank declares himself treasurer of their winnings, which amount to two shillings and a tuppence. They croon a few more songs at the piano: Frank solos “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” Bing solos “Away in a Manger,” and they join together for “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Bing notices that there’s a beautifully set dinner table, and inquires if Frank might be expecting another (perhaps female) visitor later—in which case he would leave and let them be. “Me, have a date, did you think? Heavens to Betsy, no!” replies Frank coyly. The dinner is all for Bing, positively. Bing’s flattered to be entertained so lavishly, but Frank says he always goes “all the way” for his friends.
Drawing from their respective albums, they do another set of songs, this time delivering on some of the heavyhitters: Bing sings “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Frank does “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and then they both take a swing at “The Christmas Song” in front of the fireplace. Like the whole set, the fireplace is an impeccably mid-century modern design, though it’s one of the few items of set dressing that is not in the SO ’50s color combination of teal and red.
For the big finale, Bing walks to the window and begins to sing the one we’ve all been waiting for: “White Christmas.” Frank stands alongside him (with refills on their toddies, of course) for a moment, then at Bing’s prompting—”Well, don’t just stand there!”—Frank joins in for a duet. When they wrap it up, Frank wishes Bing a merry Christmas, Bing wishes Frank a merry Christmas, and they both wish us a merry Christmas. It, of course, begins to snow at this exact moment, and they sit down to enjoy their dinner as a chorus swells the final verse of the song and we fade away.
The special is a real treat for fans of Frank, Bing, or traditional Christmas songs—as I mentioned before, they pack a really impressive number of songs into a short show. In this case, I thought Frank’s dislike of multiple takes actually really worked for making it feel homey and casual—I loved the little moments of imperfections, mistakes, and real human reactions. Though it might not have, you know, a plot, it’s a charming collection of classic Christmas songs from two of the greats, which is hard to turn down, especially at this time of year.
Catch Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank on GetTV on December 12 at 10pm EST/7pm PST, December 21 at 1pm EST/10am PST, December 22 at 8pm EST/5pm PST, and December 24 at 11:30pm EST/8:30pm PST. Check the full schedule here.