Hollywood’s got claus to celebrate

Christmas comes but once a year, unfortunately. Fortunately, it comes every year.

For the entertainment industry, the yule season is an industry unto itself, generating an endless series of films, TV shows, videos and music seeking to capitalize on the feelings of warmth and good cheer that are supposed to emanate from the holidays–or at least from Christmas office parties.

As of the first week in December, 1992, four of the top-10 best-selling albums were Christmas ditties from the likes of Amy Grant, Neil Diamond and Garth Brooks as well as A&M’s sequel to its popular “A Very Special Christmas”–with contributions from a myriad of talent.

Moreover, a strong holiday-themed project is not just a one-shot deal. It can become an annuity, selling briskly throughout November and December– basically a four-week period total.

Carols and holiday music fill entire racks in music stores these days, the sections getting larger and more diverse with each passing year. The same is true for designated areas in video stores that are set aside to hawk Christmas-themed or related titles.

The darndest performers have recorded popular Christmas singles and albums. The best-selling Christmas album of all time is, curiously, Barbra Streisand’s Christmas album, which has spun 3 million platters since its original 1967 release. It has performed comparable to or better than some of the diva’s better performing pop albums.

Even more impressively, New Kids on the Block’s “Merry, Merry Christmas” has racked up 2 million in certified sales since its introduction in 1989, three years ago.

Other perennials include efforts from C&W superstars like Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Amy Grant, as well as from mellow sounders such as Ray Coniff, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams.

And, of course, there’s The King, Elvis Presley.

Presley has three platinum Christmas long-players: “Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas,””Elvis’ Christmas Album” and “Elvis Sings Christmas Songs.”

Phil Spector’s classic Christmas album, however, doesn’t make the list.

Every year since 1955, Bing Crosby’s ba-ba-ba-boom of “White Christmas” has had a presence, being a best-selling single in 21 of those years (the movie version of “White Christmas” was popular too as was “Holiday Inn,” the film in which Bing first crooned the best-selling tune). Crosby’s rendition of “Silent Night” also makes the list as does Mahalia Jackson’s cover.

Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” has also been a golden royalty check since its 1957 debut as has The Harry Simeone Chorale’s “Little Drummer Boy.”

The other distinctive long-distance runners include Nat King Cole’s classic “The Christmas Song” (aka “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”), Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” and The Drifters’ cover of “White Christmas.”

Novelty songs from The Chipmunks (“The Chipmunk Song” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”) and The Singing Dogs’ version of “Jingle Bells” continue to tickle holiday shoppers’ fancy. And for the ’60s-will-never-be-over crowd there’s John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

Der Bingel may be the Christmas champ in the singles arena, but on the airwaves he is bested byhis former movie partner, Bob Hope.

With seven slots (and the first six) among the 10 most-watched Christmas specials of all time, Hope has this niche almost entirely to himself. He’s joined by “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special” (rated seventh and ninth) and “Christmas With the Bing Crosbys” (in eighth).

But it’s interesting to note that of all the top-rated Christmas specials, the most recent one was the Crosby effort, released a way back in 1972. That probably says less about TV viewers than the deteroriation of the musical variety format in the medium.

Christmas as the central theme for a movie has provided for a number of consistent moneymakers throughout the years. The biggest hit is not, as one might suppose, Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And only one true Dickens “Christmas Carol” adaptation, “Scrooge,” makes it to the list with $ 3 million in rentals.

As most film buffs know, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was not successful in its initial release, throwing off only $ 3.3 million in film rentals (for this and other arcane marvels, there’s a whole book devoted to “Life” trivia co-written by co-star Donna Reed’s TV son, Paul Petersen).

Since its initial release, though, “Wonderful Life” has been a gold mine–especially after its copywright expired and it entered the public domain. That’s why the film is everywhere on the airwaves and video shelves–from several different labels–throughout the holiday season.

Two silly holiday movies lead the list of Christmas-themed films. Warners’ “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” starring Chevy Chase, is the rental Yule champ with $ 34.8 million. Paramount’s “Scrooged,” an updated yuppie-ized version of Dickens starring Bill Murray, is a not-too-distant second with $ 31.8 million in rentals.

After that, there’s a sharp fall-off to such entries as”Santa Claus, The Movie” and “Ernest Saves Christmas.” In fact, other than “It’s a Wonderful Life, ” only “Miracle on 34th Street” and possibly “Christmas in Connecticutt” or “The Bishop’s Wife” are anything more than bearable. The rest are treacly or worse.

But those who like their holiday greetings leavened with more general entertainment values prefer “Home Alone,” the blockbuster $ 140 million rental champ. It will undoubtedly soon be joined by its successor “Home Alone 2,” which has already grossed in excess of $ 100 million.

Christmas makes for a heck of a back-drop in movies as far ranging and popular as “Die Hard” (Parts 1 and 2), “Lethal Weapon,” (Part 1 only), “Gremlins ,””The Lion in Winter,””The Thin Man,””Meet Me in St. Louis” and, most mystifyingly, “The Shining.”

“Home Alone” is also the biggest Christmas-themed video seller of all time, with 10.3 million units. Second is 1991’s Steven Spielberg extravaganza, “Hook,” with 6 million units.

And here’s where the perennial nature of Christmas titles comes into play. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” has sold 3.2 million copies–combining the Republic Home Video release and that of several other video labels. That means the film has made millions more in video than it ever did in theaters.

Whereas one would expect Disney to have this holiday-family market cornered, Family Home Entertainment actually has more big-selling titles on the list. They include several of the more popular Christmas videos, including “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (2 million), “Frosty the Snowman” (1.75 million), “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (1.3 million) and “Little Drummer Boy” (1.05 million), among others.

Disney’s no slouch, however, with five bestsellers, led by “Mickey’s Chrsitmas Carol” (1.35 million units) and “Sing Along Merry Christmas” (1.07 million). The rest of the titles are below 1 million units, but probably not for long.

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