Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Eleventh Day of our second annual The Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration. Now that I've burned my clothes, fumigated my home and taken a long, scalding shower to banish the lingering miasma of our previous special, I'm ready to tackle today's offering, which I will of necessity be writing about in the least until that Amazon order with my new shirt and trousers arrives. Shitmas has been a wild ride so far this year, with specials ranging from the patently absurd to the wistfully nostalgic, from the strange and exotic to the painful and rage-inducing. For this penultimate review I thought we should feature something that'll go down smooth and easy like a delicious hot cocoa on a snowy winter's night, delicately seasoned with some old-fashioned vaudeville fun. It's certainly not perfect, but it's got a few chuckles, some familiar faces and an authentically generous heart. Hopefully it'll get you all warmed up and rejuvenated for when the Shitmas levee breaks on Christmas Day.

Put a little Shitmas in your fart.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas Special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. There's no need to thank us. CEO/Grand Poo-Bah Pam, Receptionist Whilhelmina Shlockenhausen, our various Feline Interns and I are all just doing our part to keep your pandemic-tainted holidays cheerful and your Shitmas spirits bright. We wouldn't say no if you wanted to slip a little cash our way, though, because cat litter is fucking expensive.

Red Skelton was a well-known, well-loved comedian and self-styled clown whose charming pantomimes, parody sketches and cheeky characters delighted several generations of vaudeville audiences, radio listeners and film viewers during a remarkable career spanning over seven decades, but he's most famous for his pioneering work in television, having eagerly embraced the developing medium at a time when technological advances and increased production were making sets and programming more readily available to the general public.

The Red Skelton Show ran in various incarnations from 1951 to 1970, and placed in the top ten most watched programs for seventeen of its nineteen seasons. Its cancellation wasn't due to declining ratings but because of an ongoing purge of older programs by studio executives eager to attract a younger demographic and the premium advertising rates they commanded. Skelton felt he could still be as vibrant and popular as ever and set back out doing live stage performances, often to sell-out crowds on college campuses to audiences made up of the very demographic he'd been told he could not draw.

Although some of Skelton's output is certainly quaint by today's standards there's still a timeless quality to many of his routines. He had a particular gift for creating relatable characters you wanted to spend your evening with, including Junior, the Mean Widdle Kid (whose catch phrase "Should I dood it? I dood it!" had entered the popular vernacular during the Skelton's radio years), wiseacre seagulls "Gertrude and Heathcliffe," punch-drunk lummox "Cauliflower McPugg" and his two most popular and enduring alter egos, the hapless country hick "Klem Kadiddlehopper" and the tender-hearted tramp "Freddy the Freeloader."

Red Skelton's Christmas Dinner, sometimes referred to as Freddy the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner, was the first of three specials he made for HBO's Standing Room Only (1976-82) variety program, which collectively comprise his final work in Television.

We open our festive tale on a stage-bound neighborhood street somewhere in New York, sometime in the olden days, when men were men, women were housewives and minorities were low-wage servants largely hidden from public view. We see an ostentatiously dressed doorman standing outside a swanky apartment building, rubbing his hands together to keep them warm on a snowy Christmas morning. A fancy car drives up and he walks over to open the door for wealthy resident of the building, whose feisty little pup Duffy is in need of a brief walk. The Doorman says he's happy to oblige and he takes the leash from the society dame's kid-gloved hands with an obsequious grin.

"Of course I'll take the little shit...I mean the little darling for his daily constitutional, ma'am!"

As soon as the lady is out of earshot the two-faced Doorman harshly shouts at the pup not to give him any trouble. He yanks the leash harshly and tries to pull the unwilling dog along behind him, but the little guy is smart enough to know that this is not someone he wants to be part of his pack.

"Stand just like that, buddy. It'll give me a clear shot at your balls."

As the doorman reaches down to wag a finger at him Duffy slips his collar, bolting off down the street at a brisk and bracing clip, seemingly ecstatic with his newfound freedom. We follow the dog's eager journey through town as the opening credits roll.

Eventually Duffy reaches a snowy junkyard at the edge of the city, and in the center of it there's an old shack with a hand-painted sign on the front that reads "Freddy the Freeloader." There's a frayed bit of rope hanging down next to the door with another sign that says "for service pull rope," and the precocious little pup hops up on a barrel, takes it in his maw and gives it a tug.

Inside the shack we see an elaborate pulley system linking the rope to a bundle of old cans, pipes and kettles that clatter and clang when the rope is pulled. Freddy is trying to sleep in an old claw-foot bathtub he uses as a bed. He shouts "Were closed! It's a holiday!" then fluffs a brick like a pillow and sets his head back down to try to catch a few more z's, but his doorbell rings again and he hops up out of bed muttering "It must be the Professor!"

Apparently he lives on Gilligan's Island (1964-67).

So Freddy quick-time hops up and rolls his bathtub bed into a cubby in the wall, then changes out of his "pajamas" into his regular clothes, which involves taking off the pajama top he's wearing, turning it inside out and putting it back on to reveal a tattered, old-fashioned tailcoat. He runs over to the door excitedly and starts unlocking the various slides and latches, saying "You can't be too careful with all this crime around. Last week they stole all my silver...two dimes and a quarter!"

No sooner has he opened the door than the little pup scurries in and hops up on a dusty chair by a rickety table. Freddy asks why this little rich dog who lives way uptown keeps coming all the way down to this dirty junkyard just to visit him.

"It's the smell...B.O. and bacon!"

Freddy tells his furry pal that as soon as he washes up he'll have to take him back uptown. He walks over to a sink with a disconnected drain and a bucket set beneath it. He takes the bucket and empties it into a cistern on a cabinet above, replaces it and turns on a faucet on the side of the tank so the water goes right through the sink and back into the bucket.

As the dog watches intently Freddy brushes his teeth without taking his cigar out of his mouth, daintily easing around it and deftly pointing it away from wherever he's scrubbing with the brush.

Everything in this sequence bears the unmistakable influence of Charlie Chaplin, as does most of Freddy's physical shtick throughout the special. That's not a complaint or criticism, but a simple fact. They both emerged from the same traditions, and although Red Skelton was a gifted pantomime artist in his own right, Chaplin was a giant on whose shoulders he could not help but stand--and for me that's part of the appeal.

I've been a rabid Charlie Chaplin fanatic since I first saw The Rink (1916) on our local PBS affiliate in Philadelphia when I was six years old. It was such a seminal moment in my young life I can still recall it forty-four years later with absolute clarity: the whirling-dervish wonder of this tiny, raggedy man, bouncing off of giant Eric Campbell's rotund belly on his roller skates only to drift back and bounce off of him again and again. I remember my awe at the grace of his movements, the wistful tilt of his head and the mischievous glint of his eye. I have all of Chaplin's films, several biographies and scholarly studies, a couple of documentary films and even a bunch of memorabilia strewn about my house. For me he is the ultimate.

My wife thinks I have a problem, but I tell her I can quit any time. I'm lying, of course.

Even today I watch Chaplin's early works with a sense of astonishment for their unmatched wit, inventiveness and profound humanity. I would even surmise that Chaplin's compassionate but uncompromising depictions of poverty and homelessness helped to shape my own views on the intrinsic value of human life, eventually leading me to my current career in social services.

The character of Freddy the Freeloader exudes much the same kind of pathos, wit and decency as Chaplin's tramp, but without the crudity, contradictions and slapstick mischief that made The Tramp such a believable and fully rounded human being. Skelton isn't quite as inventive, sharp or impish, but there's something warm, comfortable and authentic about Freddy the Freeloader that makes him a pleasure to behold.

"I want some crack!"

Freddy gets himself about as cleaned up as he gets, which isn't very, and he looks at the pup and says "Boy I'm sure glad you stopped by, because there's nothing worse than loneliness at Christmastime," which as it happens is the title of a song written by Skelton that he performed on his TV show back in the 1950's and that he's going to reprise for us now. It's a simple and appealing tune, and I love that the producers didn't feel the need to make a big fantasy production number out of it. It's just Freddy singing it directly to Duffy the dog, and that makes it all the more sweet.

When Freddy finishes his song he opens his present to himself, which is a red scarf with the tag hanging off of it. He quips "It's not exactly what I wanted but when they're watching you, you have to grab whatever you can." He sticks it in his pocket and tells Duffy it's time to get him home. As they head towards the door he grabs a large wrapped gift, saying he's got to take The Professor his present.

It's a collapsible bicycle made entirely out of bamboo shoots and coconuts.

Back at the swanky apartment building the smarmy doorman is still standing out on the curb looking down the street for Duffy to return. The Lady comes out with her husband, a bald, frowning, dyspeptic-looking fellow, and she asks Doorman what happened to the dog. He holds up the leash and stammers a bit, then he catches sight of Freddy and Duffy across the street, points at them and says "It was a dog-napper!"

When Freddy ears the word "dog-napper" he instinctively scoops up Duffy to protect him and makes a hasty bee-line across the street to the Doorman and the rich couple. The Dyspeptic Husband starts shouting at him about how he should have him arrested for taking the dog, and Freddy tries in vain to explain that he was just returning the poor pup who had run away.

The clever Wife calms her husband down with a few judiciously chosen words and convinces him that they needn't have anyone arrested. It is Christmas, after all, she says, and there's been no harm done. The wry, probing looks she gives Freddy and the Doorman indicate that she has sussed out exactly what happened and which of them is telling the truth.

Dyspeptic backs down, but he tells Freddy he'd better make himself scarce or he'll end up in Sing Sing. Freddy is only too happy to get out while the getting is good.

That guy's egg is just about hard boiled.

We cut to later that evening and it seems that Freddy has been walking around all day searching fruitlessly for The Professor. As he walks beneath a brighty-lit theater marquee he runs into an old lady scavenging through a trash can. This is Molly, another homeless tramp and an old friend of Freddy's. They greet each other warmly with a big hug and a "Merry Christmas," and Freddy can't help but notice that Molly's hands have gone straight into his pockets to fish around for change, seemingly of their own volition. He's not too put out about it, though, and for her part she doesn't mind being called out on her shit by an old friend.

"I never picked a pocket in my life...I took 'em as they came along!"

Molly is played by Imogene Coca, a commedienne from one of the very best and most influential sketch comedy programs in the history of television, Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows (1950-54).

The "Big Business" sketch from 1954 is one of the greatest slow burn routines ever written.

The program also featured Carl Reiner, who would later use his experiences as a performer and writer on it to create The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66), and a young Mel Brooks, whose antics behind the scenes would inspire the classic Peter O'Toole comedy My Favorite Year (1982), which is one of my favorite films.

So Molly and Freddy have a friendly chat about their Christmas plans. Freddy explains that he's been looking all over town for The Professor because they're supposed to be having their Christmas dinner together, after which they'll be building a hang glider out of palm fronds and seaweed.

Freddy says he's been saving up his money so they can go to a really fine restaurant called "The Shakespeare Gardens," and Molly says she'll be having dinner with her son, whom she claims is a doctor, a medical surgeon, an apothecary and a general medical practitioner. Freddy asks where they'll be going to eat and she says "the mission house, of course!"

Just about every town has a homeless mission, and sadly just about every town needs one.

Molly admits now that she doesn't really have a son, but she says that as long as everybody pretends there's a Santa Claus she can pretend she has a son. It's another very Chaplinesque moment where playful comedy takes a sudden left turn into pathos, and both Skelton and Coca play the changing tones as perfectly as they can be played.

Molly suddenly remembers that she saw an ambulance down by the Professor's digs that morning, and Freddy is fearful that his friend might be in the hospital. Before he heads off to call the ER and check he gives Molly the scarf he'd earlier given to himself, and he pulls out an old sock he's made into a change purse to give her five of his hard-saved dollars so she can buy herself something nice to eat.

As soon as he's gone she pulls out a huge wad of cash and stuffs the five into the middle of it.

Oh, brother. That joke's older than she is.

There's a rather long, tedious silent comedy-style bit now involving a phone booth, which for all of you young whippersnappers out there is sort of a cell phone with a bi-fold door. As Freddy is about to go in and call the hospital he sees a sign that says "Beware of purse snatchers and thieves." He realizes he can't leave The Professor's present sitting outside while he calls or it might get stolen, so he decides he'd better take it in the booth with him. He tries this way and that to get through the door with it, but he can't quite manage it, and when he puts it in the booth ahead of himself there's no room for his legs.

Eventually he gives up and just tears open the huge box only to reveal that it contains a single pair of gloves, which he first puts on, then he realizes he can't dial a phone in them, then takes off and shoves in his pocket. He reaches around in his pants pocket for a dime for an uncomfortably long time, and once he finally finds one and gets inside the booth he notices a sign above the phone that reads "Out of Order."

That joke is even older.

This bit goes on for almost two and a half minutes and is frankly a bit tedious. I think it's healthy to maintain some degree of objectivity even about the things you love the most, so I will admit that this, too reminds me of Chaplin, but only when he's at his most self-indulgent, as during some of the interminably dull flashback performance scenes that drag down the otherwise poignant and moving Limelight (1952).

We cut to the local hospital where a young nurse is stepping out of the children's ward and into the main hallway to ask an older Nurse if she's seen a "caloon" anywhere--which she explains is alternate universe kid talk for a "clown."

It seems one of her young patients has only one wish while he's stuck in the hospital over Christmas, and that's to see a real live clown. One of the doctors had promised to send one over, but either he couldn't book anybody and never bothered to tell the nurse or he went home, drank too much egg-nog and forgot. Either way the promised merry-maker is long past due and visiting hours are almost over.

"Doctors! What a bunch of fucking clowns. Hey I made a funny!"

As she stews outside the ward she sees Freddy shuffling in from the street entrance, and I can't help but notice two things: firstly that Freddy is pretty passably dressed as a clown, and secondly that back in the olden days they were pretty lax about hospital security.

The Nurse rushes up to him and asks what took him so long and did Dr. Katz finally send him over. He's naturally a bit confused by all of this and says he only came in looking for The Professor, but she she assures him there's no Professor there.

She ask him if he's a clown, and at first he's a bit offended, but then she explains about the sick little boy and his wish, and how sad it is to see a child disappointed at Christmas. Freddy finally introduces himself and says that although he's very sorry he isn't a clown, he did do some theater when he was younger, "mostly the classics...I was in 'Ivan the Terrible.'"

"You were Ivan?" she asks.

"I was terrible."

She kind of hints around a bit before just coming right out and asking him, since it would mean so much to poor little Billy, if he might just
pretend he's a clown for a few minutes, being as he has theatrical experience and all. Of course kindly old Freddy just can't say no.

He follows her into the ward where Billy and the other children are waiting. He stands at the side of Billy's bed and does a few little sleight of hand magic tricks, and the kid stares at him disturbingly and says "You're all mine."

I'm just gonna comd out and say it...there's a serious Grady Twins vibe going on with this kid.

"Play with me Freddy...forever and ever and ever."

Freddy doesn't seem to notice how fucking creepy the kid is, though and instead of defenestrating himswlf out the nearest open window he cheerfully explains that "clowns belong to the whole world so they can share their fun with everyone," which is as close to a mission statement for Red Skelton's career as I think you're ever likely to hear.

He tells the little glassy-eyed demon child how happy he should be that he's inside here where it's warm instead of outside in the cold snow, and the kid replies "Well, you can't judge the day by the weather!"

Freddy seems to find this sweet and charming, but I'm half expecting the kid's head to start twisting around or for him to projectile vomit pea soup. I'm not a big fan of "precocious," especially when it's paired with "I'm going to gut you like a pig and use your skin for a blanket."

Freddy says he'd better get going, being as he likes his skin and his guts exactly where they are, thank you very much. He tells him he's got to button up his coat then realizes he has no button. He says he'll go sew one on.

All the kids sit in a circle while he performs a pantomime routine where he measures out thread, pulls out a needle and struggles to get the end of the thread though the eye, then pokes himself with it and finally gets the button sewn on. When he tries to button the coat however, he realizes he's actually sewn the button onto the end of his thumb.

This routine is older than those other two jokes combined.

It's hokey but it's cute, and the performance is intercut with the spontaneously joyful reactions of the children who were obviously seeing it for the first time as the camera rolled.

Skelton had begun his career as a pantomime artist in a traveling medicine show at the age of ten and it remained a regular part of his act throughout his career, with each live show and television episode including a "silent" section featuring various mime routines.

Mime gets a bad rap these days and is considered more of a punchline than a legitimate performance art, but I can attest personally to the qskill and training it takes to do it convincingly. My high school had a nationally recognized theater program, including a mime troupe that performed at local hospitals and nursing homes. I wasn't officially part of the troupe but I took several mime classes as part of the program and occasionally appeared as an alternate. It's much harder than it looks.

So Freddy finishes up his routine and leaves the children in the pediatric ward much happier than when he found them. Before he exits the hospital he takes out his little sock and gives the Nurse five bucks as a donation for the kids, and as he's about to turn to go she gives him a grateful little kiss on the cheek. He puts his hand up to the spot and she chuckles "Don't rub it off!" to which he replies "I'm not! I'm rubbing it in!"

Most folks don't want to get that near to him, for obvious reasons.

She says "You know Freddy, I wish every day was like Christmas." Freddy insists that every day like Christmas if you look at it the right way, and he sings another of his old TV songs called "It's Christmas Each Day of the Year."

Again it's a pretty darn good song and he sings it with joy and warmth. Once again they didn't try to make a big, grand thing of it, but instead kept it on an intimate scale that suits the special's homespun feel.

He does have some kind of allergic reaction halfway through, though and his head swells up real big.

So Freddy goes back out into the cold night to continue his quest to find The Professor, and as he walks towards an underpass he finds a lanky guy in a Santa suit passed out amongst a bunch of Christmas trees. He wakes the guy up to make sure he's okay and discovers that Santa has been on a serious bender. The possibly-literally shit-faced sot kinda wobbles and weaves his way up into to a standing position and they do a comic drunk/straight man routine right out of a burlesque revue.

Comic drunks used to be a dime a dozen, but they're a tricky act to pull off. There's a fine line between a funny drunk and an annoying one. This guy crosses to the wrong side of that line repeatedly. There's verisimilitude then there's just plain unpleasantness: the way he accentuates his alcoholic dragon breath you can almost smell the booze vapor coming off of him, and they made him so god-awful filthy that he looks like he took a dump in the snow then passed out in it.

That's why he breathes through his mouth.

Freddy asks how the tree business has been treating the guy and we get a few jokes about it being pretty lousy, and they're only maybe halfway decent if you compare them side by side with the tired old gags about alcohol abuse.

Freddy decides to help the guy out by buying a small tree, but after a few attempts at negotiation the fellow gives up and says he needs to go score more liquor. Freddy gives him a little pep talk trying to convince him to give up drinking, and the guy claims he's going to do it, gosh darnit, that he'll go straight home and empty every bottle. Freddy says "Great! Then tomorrow you can turn over a new leaf!" The guy replies "Tomorrow? It'll take me two weeks to get rid of all the booze!"

I really could've done without this scene. It's uncomfortably seedy and the guy just comes off as a sad, desperate derelict. Drunkeness can be funny, but debilitating alcoholism absolutely cannot.

As Drunk Santa wanders off to find a bottle of "Old Crow" he left stashed someplace Freddy heads over to the police station in a last ditch attempt to find his missing friend. The front desk cop greets him warmly, and it's apparent that Freddy has spent more than a few nights, and possibly even a few Christmasses in this very hoosegow. The cop's name is Kelly, by the way and he has one of the worst Irish accents I have ever heard.

An Irish cop in New York? Well now I've seen everything.

The two chit chat a bit about Freddy's intention to eat at "The Shakespeare Gardens," and Cop Kelly lets us know that it's the swankiest, most expensive restaurant in town. Freddy assures him he's been saving up his money, but of course we've seen him handing it out like candy to everyone he meets throughout the special, so who knows how much of it he has left.

Freddy asks if The Professor is upstairs in the pokey, and upon looking it up in the blotter Kelly answers in the affirmative. Freddy explains that the two were supposed to share their festive holiday repast together, and could Kelly possibly do him the favor of releasing the old fellow into his custody. Kelly says of course he can, if only Freddy will pony up fifteen dollars for bail money.

"The doctors who delivered him didn't chage that much!"

Freddy complains bitterly but opens up his money sock again and hands over the cash.

Next we see Freddy and his long-sought-after pal walking out of the station together, and I'm absolutely tickled to see that The Professor is played by legendary b-movie icon Vincent Price.

Is there anyone out there who does not love this man? Seriously? I'll fight ya!

The Professor is the archetypical "Gentleman Tramp" whose profligacy and propensity for drink has reduced him to his current itinerant and threadbare state. This is the English Music Hall stock character Chaplin made his own by testing its limits, reshaping out its contours and refining it into something more fulsome, contradictory, expansive and humane, elevating it through his unique genius to the level of high art, but the character type has antecedents stretching back throughout the entire history of theater.

Fragmentary comedies from Aristophanes and Meander include early examples in the form of drunken philosophers performing pompous, parodic symposia. Shakespeare gave us the self-important and dissipated libertine Falstaff, a character Orson Wells called "Shakespeares greatest creation," and whom he played masterfully in his 1965 directorial opus The Chimes at Midnight. Even Matt Groening's Futurama has a pair of them named Dandy Jim and Gus who appear in a handful of episodes to deliver lines adapted from old vaudeville routines.

Vincent Price only very occasionally dabbled in comedy, usually with less-than-stellar results (I'm looking at you, Dr. Goldfoot), but he absolutely sparkles here, capturing perfectly the grandiose airs and affable absurdity of The Professor's willful delusions...and it's obvious he's having a grand time doing it. He and Skelton play off of each other so beautifully I sincerely wish they'd done more work together than just this one special.

So The Professor asks Freddy why he maybe couldn't have waited until they'd served the evening meal before he sprung him from the calaboose. The trope here is that the police always lay out a pretty nice spread for anyone unfortunate enough to be spending Christmas night in jail, but that repeat petty offenders like Freddy and The Professor will sometimes get themselves arrested on purpose just so they can get the free meal. One of Skelton's early TV episodes centered on Freddy trying--and failing repeatedly--to be taken into custody on Christmas.

Freddy reminds The Professor that they were supposed to dine together this evening, but it seems the scatterbrained and frequently soused old fellow forgot.

He was absorbed in his work, building a water filtration system out of some driftwood, bark and a pumice stone.

They walk over to the front of "The Shakespeare Gardens" restaurant and Freddy suddenly realizes he's given all of his money away, which if you do the math means the grand total of his savings amounted to twenty-five dollars. That checks out if the special is supposed to be taking place in the 1940's, when $25 would buy you a feast fit for a potentate.

There's a scene in The Life of Reilly (1949) where William Bendix's title character must pay for a meal for his family and his boss at a fancy restaurant. The boss wants a full lobster dinner and it costs only a few dollars, which Reilly just barely covers by counting out pennies from his kid's piggy bank.

Quite a good film, by the way, and co-written by Groucho Marx.

So they're standing out in front of the restaurant, completely broke, and Freddy, ever the optimist, says he believes that if he walks into that restaurant and explains himself the people there will just go ahead and give them a Christmas dinner out of the kindness of their hearts. The Professor is justifiably skeptical, and gently admonishes Freddy for always giving away what little he has for the sake of others. He says it's a cruel, canine eats canine world out there and you have to learn to take care of yourself. Freddy says he doesn't see things that way, and proclaims that he believes in the Golden Rule.

"Do unto others before they do unto you!"

Freddy says "You know what's wrong with you, Professor? You don't know how to believe. You've got to say 'I believe,'"

Wouldn't ya know it, that's the title of our third and final song of the evening! It's a fun little patter song duet where Freddy slowly brings the Professor about two-thirds towards his way of thinking, which is that if you begin every quest by believing in it sincerely you'll eventually find success.

It's bullshit, of course, but we won't let that spoil a nice tune.

So they finish their song and Freddy marches confidently into the restaurant, only to be literally thrown back out onto the street by a couple of waiters a few seconds later.

He's got holes in his soles and bats in his belfrey.

Freddy is angry at first, but he and The Professor have suffered much worse indignities, including, I'm sure many dubious and displeasing things that would make this a far less heartwarming kind of special, and in a trice they're both back to their cheerful selves with their come-easy, go-easy attitude and playfully fatalistic banter.

As they trade japes, a Rolls Royce pulls up to the restaurant and a couple of dandies step out. As they stand on the sidewalk dithering about whether to go in, a pretentious berk of an impresario comes walking up with a couple of lady companions and greets them both by name.

It seems these gentlemen are a pair of shy eccentrics, and two of the wealthiest men in the world. They couldn't make up their minds about whether to dine at home for Christmas or go out, and because they took so long to decide they failed to make a reservation anywhere. They're about to just hop right back in the Rolls and go home, not wanting to cause a stir, but The Berk says he'd be happy to have a quick word with the Maitre D' who would doubtless be thrilled to find them a suitable table as soon as he knows just how freaking rich they are.

"You're welcome to my women, as well. I don't care for them myself."

The two Gentlemen say they'd be awfully grateful, so the mercenary Berk heads into the restaurant, whispering to his lady friends what great bit of luck it is that he could do a favor for these two and of course be owed a favor by them in return. Once he's inside, however the Gentlemen decide they've made too much of an imposition upon their acquaintance, and they discreetly get back in their Rolls and go home.

So The Berk tells the Maitre D' about the two fabulously wealthy but shy and eccentric gentlemen outside and when he looks out he only sees Freddy and The Professor standing there. His face turns grim, as he now believes he's just had one of the two richest men in the world forcibly ejected from his establishment.

He burned the toast...screwed the pooch...shit the bed. He done fucked up.

Just as Freddy and The Professor are about to leave the Maitre D' comes out to personally apologize and offer them the finest table in the house. He leads them inside and their appearance causes a bit of a sensation amongst the various guests, including the Berk, who discreetly asks his own waiter why this riff-raff is being allowed in his exalted presence.

The waiter tells him about how rich and eccentric these two gentlemen are, and he must be pretty damn thick because it doesn't even enter his mind that there might have been a mix-up between these two shabby hobos and his own rich and eccentric acquaintances. He goes over and introduces himself to Freddy and The Professor, giving them his card and attempting to flatter and ingratiate himself with them.

"That's Berk with a 'k,' rather than the traditional 'q-u-e.'"

Freddy and the Professor know an ass-licking toady when they see one and they're looking at one now. They brush him off with a few well-timed insults and wave him away, and he slinks back to his own table bowing and lock-tugging like the brown-nosed, boot-polishing taint-washer he is.

Freddy notices an elegant lady in a tiara sitting alone at one of the tables, staring vacantly somewhat in their general direction, and he assumes that she's got her eye on The Professor, since he's such an obvious catch. The Professor notices, too, and goes table-hopping over to introduce himself to the clearly befuddled belle.

He looks down at her foot and says "What a lovely, trim ankle! May I?" and without waiting for a response he bends down, removes her shoe and pours some of her champagne into it, claiming "It's an old British custom, my dear, drinking a bit of the bubbly out of a lady's slipper!" When he goes to take a sip, however he tips the shoe forward and pours the champagne directly into the woman's lap.

Go get her, Professor. I think you're in.

You're already making her wet.

So The Professor does his little spiel and exits, leaving the woman stunned speechless and probably traumatized in ways it will take her years to fully understand. He arrives back at his own table just as the soup arrives.

As soon as he sits down he sees two ragged and hungry-looking street children standing outside the window, gazing longingly at all the rich folks eating their fancy cuisine.

Captain and Tennille, The Early Years.

He tries to ignore them, even going so far as to ask Freddy to change seats with him, but now Freddy's seen them, too, and both of these gentle hobos are just so gosh-darn kindly and soft-hearted that they can't help but ask the Maitre D' to set a couple of extra places at the table so the children can join them.

The Professor brings the kids in and they walk diffidently through the middle of the restaurant then sit with the two tramps. Some of the wealthy patrons react with amusement, while others are disgusted, and who else should be dining in the establishment but the Dyspeptic Husband with the hard-boiled egg for a noggin and his Clever Wife.

I hope she's got a hot Hispanic gardener on the side because that guy is as cold a fish as I've ever seen.

When Dyspeptic sees the kids sitting down at the table with Freddy and the Professor he just about has a conniption, leaping up and announcing loudly that he's leaving. The Maitre D' tries to explain that the two "gentlemen" are actually wealthy recluses, but Dyspeptic knows better and denounces them to the whole restaurant as a couple of bums, explaining that he even caught Freddy trying to steal his dog that very morning.

So now the jig is up. The Maitre D' has Freddy and The Professor's check brought over to them and the two pass it back and forth like a hot potato as Dyspeptic hovers over them demanding the Maitre D' bring his own. The waiter hands it to him and he pulls out his wallet, paying with a wad of cash and a bitter declaration that Freddy has just ruined his Christmas.

As he storms off he drops his wallet. The Professor picks it up and hands it to Freddy, whose eyes get as wide and glossy as a pair of jumbo pickled onions. Meanwhile Clever Wife has wandered over and Freddy quickly hands it to her, tipping his hat deferentially, and assuring her he meant no harm and was about to return it.

She gives them both another of her signature probing stares, then opens the wallet and hands Freddy the entire wad of cash it contains, saying "Merry Christmas. He'll never miss it...and I didn't see a thing."

"Now if you'll excuse me, Pedro awaits me in the tool shed.

The Maitre D' comes over to throw them out, but as soon as he sees the money he changes his tune. He snaps his fingers and a whole line of waiters enters with big plates of food for the four hungry vagrants. As soon as the platters are set down Freddy wishes the waiters, the children, The Professor and the viewers at home a Merry Christmas, and they tuck into the finest Christmas Dinner a couple of bums and a pair of street urchins ever had.

The End.

Perhaps surprisingly for a performer whose characters show such consistent compassion and humanity Red Skelton was something of an outlier in Hollywood due to his strong right wing conservative views, but this was a time when you could be a card-carrying, flag-waving Republican and still believe that poor people deserve to eat. Today he'd probably be drummed out of the party as a radical socialist and be relegated to the cold, barren wasteland of center-right political independency.

As is probably glaringly obvious to anyone who reads my stuff here at MMT I'm about as lefty liberal progressive as they come. I work at a non-profit mental health drop-in center, and since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic we've been serving a freshly-made take-away lunch in our parking lot, Monday through Friday, rain or shine, snow or sleet, punishing heat or bitter cold, to anyone who is experiencing need in our community, including a significant number of homeless folks. This service is joyfully judgment-free and no uncomfortable questions are ever asked of any of our guests.

Over the course of nine months our tiny, seven-person organization has provided over 13,500 meals, and being that I'm the guy who's usually handing them out I've gotten to know a lot of these people pretty well. Like so many of our friends and neighbors all over the country they're struggling to make it through to the end of this crisis, whether because of reduced income, housing displacement or because they were already homeless and the resources available before the pandemic have worn extra thin now that more and more people are in need of help.

While I've been writing this particular review I've been on quarantine due to a Covid exposure at work. Our program has been shut down for just over a week and a half and it seems increasingly unlikely we will reopen before Christmas. The central theme of Red Skelton's Christmas Dinner therefore feels particularly poignant to me right now.

I miss my coworkers, some of whom are sick, I miss the members of our program and I desperately miss all of the people I've been feeding since way back in mid-March when we served our very first community meal. These are good, decent, funny, friendly human beings who deserve care and respect and love. Their lives have meaning and value, and it's killing me that I can't be there to help remind them of that as the holiday approaches.

My plea to you this Christmas is to take care of yourselves, take care of those you love, and maybe even take care of a stranger or two if you see them in trouble or need. You never know when a little bit of kindness might make someone's day or maybe even save someone's life.

Be safe everyone. I'll see you all on Christmas Day!

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 25th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2020.

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