Tuesday, December 16, 2008

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Casting Coup: Miracle on 34th Street


Casting Coup Tuesday again! And have I got a treat for you.

Everybody knows my favorite Christmas movie of all time is Miracle on 34th Street. This 1947 release dared to tell us to believe in Santa and miracles and goodness and love and all those other intangibles. It won three Oscars -- Story (Valentine Davies), Screenplay (George Seaton) and Supporting Actor (Edmund Gwenn) -- and was nominated for Best Picture of the Year, losing out to social drama Gentleman's Agreement (though what a year for Christmas films, as one of the other nominees in that category was holiday favorite The Bishop's Wife).

Miracle is a beautiful tale. A drunk Santa is replaced at the Macy's parade by a passerby who happens to be named Kris Kringle. As Macy's official Santa Claus, he soon becomes a nationwide sensation when he sends shoppers to other stores to purchase items Macy's may not carry. In the meantime, he also tries to bring some Christmas magic into the life of young Susie Walker, daughter of the Macy's executive who got Kris his job -- Doris. Doris is a single mother, a divorcee who does not allow fairy tales or stories of Santa into her home. While Kris tries to convince Susie to use her imagination, Doris gets romanced by Fred Gailey, an attorney who is also her neighbor. The drama comes when Kris tells people he is the real thing, and an unhappy psychologist working for Macy's convinces others he has latent, violent tendencies. Kris is soon put on trial, with Fred as his lawyer, but instead of just proving his sanity, Fred intends to prove Kris is the real thing! Whoa!

It's so magical. There's the scene where Kris and Susie pretend to be monkeys. And when Fred gives the greatest speech of all time. And when Doris delivers her Joan of Arc line. And when the judge discusses the trial with his friend and advisor. And when the heads of the rival department stores shakes hands. And when Thelma Ritter gives the best cameo ever. And THE ENDING. Oh my, that ending.

Why, after all this, would I risk a remake? Well, there are several versions of this timeless tale. There are TV movie version, from 1955, 1959, and 1973 (with Roddy McDowall!). There was a radio adaptation featuring the cast of the original film. There's a Broadway musical from 1963. And there's the popular 1994 remake with Sir Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Mara Wilson, and a cameo by Allison Janney. I think I'm justified in offering another version.

So I will.

Who is She: a geriatrics physician at the Brooks Memorial Home for the Aged, where Kris lives. Pierce believes Kri to be harmless, and wants an x-ray for Christmas.

Quote: "Kris, all I can say is the State Supreme Court declared you to be Santa Claus. And personally and professionally...I agree with them."

Originally played by: James Seay (not pictured)

My Choice: Though the role was originated by a man, I think one should go with whoever is best for the job. And the best person for this role nowadays is a woman.

Anna Deavere Smith (Rachel Getting Married, Rent)
Smith is an award-winning actress and playwright. She has appeared in several politically-themed productions, including The Kingdom and Dave. In adddition, she has worked twice with fellow writer Aaron Sorkin, in The American President and on television's The West Wing.

Who is She: A woman toting her son around, exhausted from the Black Friday ritual. Becomes a regular Macy's shopper after Kris recommends she go to another store to get her son the gift he wants.
Quote: "Listen. I want to congratulate you and Macy's on this wonderful new stunt you're pulling. Imagine, sending people to other stores. I don't get it...Imagine a big outfit like Macy's putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial. It's wonderful. I never done much shopping here before, but from now on, I'm going to be a regular Macy customer."

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (All About Eve, The Mating Season, With a Song in My Heart, Pickup on South Street, Pillow Talk, Birdman of Alcatraz)

Thelma Ritter (Rear Window, How the West Was Won)

My Choice: The only woman worthy of filling the shoes of Thelma Ritter and Allison Janney.
Maureen O'Hara (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Miracle on 34th Street)
Yes, you read that last film right. Maureen O'Hara is the original leading lady of the original Miracle on 34th Street. In this version, of course, she would be the child's grandmother. Currently in retirement, I'm sure I could convince the Irish actress to relive her most famous film one more time.

Who is He: An alcoholic who was the original Macy's Santa. When he becomes too intoxicated to function, Doris soon replaces him with Kris.

Quote: "Well, it's cold. A man's got to do something to keep warm."

Originally played by: Percy Helton (not pictured)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, To Be Or Not To Be)
Charles Durning (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Dick Tracy)
Durning is an actor, a boxer, and a dancer, which is all pretty bad-ass. Though known to youths today for his portrayal of Peter's father on TV's Family Guy. He has played a non-drunk Santa Claus in five television films: It Nearly Wasn't Christmas, Elmo Saves Christmas, Mr. St. Nick, A Boyfriend for Christmas, and, of course, Mrs. Santa Claus with Angela Lansbury. He's also played a drunk on numerous occasions. See, all it takes is a combination of his favorite things.

Who are They: One of them is Kris Kringle's employer, R.H. Macy. Of Macy's. The other is Mr. Gimble, who runs Gimbel's, a rival department store.
Originally played by: Herbert Heyes was Gimble (not pictured), and as Macy....
Harry Antrim (The Heiress, Sex Madness)
My Choices: Well, Macy's hasn't been owned by a Macy since 1898, and they refused to allow their name to be used last time the film was remade. Also, Gimbel's hasn't existed since 1994. I think I'm going to have to use my department store characters from the Christmas musical I wrote. One is a SAG Nominee for Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture (Titanic) and an Emmy Nominee for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Alias -- 4 times), Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Frasier) and Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie (Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows). The other is a SAG Nominee for Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The two Towers)
L: Victor Garber (Titanic, Milk) as Harold Darling, of Darling's Department Store
R: Christopher Lee (The Golden Compass, Corpse Bride) as Alexander Knighton, of Knighton's
Darling's would be the store that gets Santa. In my musical, Harold is the more successful of the two, so it would make sense that he could afford a parade. Also, Knighton gets his own hit Santa in my musical, so suddenly my original film becomes a sequel to my favorite Christmas movie! Whee!

Who is He: Alfred is a young man who works as a janitor for Darling's/Macy's. He despises commercialism and adores Santa even volunteering to be the fat man himself at the YMCA.

Quote: "A lot of bad 'isms'floating around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck. Make a buck. Even in Brooklyn, it's the same. Don't care what Christmas stands for. Just make a buck."

Originally played by: Alvin Greenman (not pictured), who also had a cameo in the 1994 remake

My Choice:
John Cho (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, American Dreamz)
Now, technically, he's way too old for this part. I mean, John Cho's 36 years old. He's an old guy. However, he still has the youthful look of a twenty-five-year-old, so he gets the part. I mean, really, age is the only thing that would stand in his way with this role. He'd be great in it.

Who is He: The head of Macy's toy department. Shellhammer seems to be constantly befuddled by everything around him. He works with Doris, and is constantly being taken by surprise by Kris's behavior. He answers to her, though there are hints that he is her superior.

Quote: "I'll call soon as my wife's plastered... feeling gay."

Originally played by:
Philip Tonge (Witness for the Prosecution, House of Wax)
My Choice: One of the great dancers of his generation.

Alfonso Ribeiro (TV's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, TV's In the House)
One of those actors that I wish still got huge parts. I understand he's busy dancing professionally -- and, sometimes, judging other stars who dance-- but I think he has some of the best comic timing. And he's masterful at the befuddled gaze.

Who is He: The man the state puts in charge of prosecuting -- and thereby persecuting -- Kris Kringle. But he's thrown for a loop when Gailey calls his own son to the stand! Wa-hoo!

Quote: "I've got to get that football helmet!"

Originally played by:

Jerome Crowan (The Maltese Falcon, The Song of Bernadette)
My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Drama Series (Lost), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble in a Dramatic Series (Lost)

Matthew Fox (Speed Racer, Smokin' Aces)
Though blessed with leading man looks, Fox is actually a character actor. Just check out his performance as a security guard in Smokin' Aces. Sure, this part is not as large as an actor as high in demand as he is would be used to getting, but the fact is, he's the best guy for the job. Besides, this would give me ample opportunity to put him in a fake mustache and spectacle. Awesome.

Who is He: He's coming up for reelection, yet he also has to decide in the most controversial case of his career! Will he disappoint his grandchildren by condemning Santa to an insane asylum? Or will he risk his reputation and declare the department store mascot the real thing?

Quote: "Fine way to treat their grandfather! No hug, no kiss, no anything."

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Algiers)

Gene Lockhart (His Girl Friday, Carousel)
My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Network), Emmy Award Nominee for Best Actor in a Limited Series/Special (Friendly Fire) and Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries/Special (Last Train Home), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Hear My Song)

Ned Beatty (Charlie Wilson's War, Nashville)
Ah, Ned Beatty. One of the greatest good ol' boys to ever grace the Silver Screen. I mean, sure, he's definitely no New Yorker, but we can bend a few conventions to get a great actor on board.

Who is He: The guy that got the judge elected. Tries to convince Harper to fake an illness so as not to jeopardize his prospects for reelection.

Quote: "All right, you go back and tell them that the New York State Supreme Court rules there's no Santa Claus. It's all over the papers. The kids read it and they don't hang up their stockings. Now what happens to all the toys that are supposed to be in those stockings? Nobody buys them. The toy manufacturers are going to like that; so they have to lay off a lot of their employees, union employees. Now you got the CIO and the AF of L against you and they're going to adore you for it and they're going to say it with votes. Oh, and the department stores are going to love you too and the Christmas card makers and the candy companies. Ho ho. Henry, you're going to be an awful popular fella. And what about the Salvation Army? Why, they got a Santa Claus on every corner, and they're taking a fortune. But you go ahead Henry, you do it your way. You go on back in there and tell them that you rule there is no Santy Claus. Go on. But if you do, remember this: you can count on getting just two votes, your own and that district attorney's out there."

Originally played by: Five-time Emmy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor in a Series (I Love Lucy)

William Frawley (Monsieur Verdoux, Mother Wore Tights)
My Choice: Emmy Award Nominee for Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Fallen Angels), Best Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie (Mandela) and Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie (Lonesome Dove, Freedom Song), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture (Dreamgirls) and Best Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie (Freedom Song)

Danny Glover (Angels in the Outfield, The Royal Tenenbaums)
Glover is like Morgan Freeman, if Morgan Freeman was a little more bitter. I can easily see him running elections, fixing elections, controlling judges, but still being awesome enough to save Santa. Yeah, that's Danny Glover for me.

Who is He: Works as the company psychologist. Kris visits him to get evaluated, but makes an enemy of Sawyer when he tries to psychoanalyze the doctor himself! It is Sawyer who causes the media circus that it kris Kringle's sanity hearing.

Quote: " He kept changing the subject. Even questioned me. I don't think there's any doubt about it. He should be placed in a mental institution."
Originally played by:
Porter Hall (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Double Indemnity)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Fargo), Emmy Award Winner for Best Actor in a Miniseries/Movie (Door to Door) and Best Writing for a Miniseries/Movie (Door to Door), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Seabiscuit) and Best Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie (Door to Door, The Wool Cap), SAG Award Winner for Best Actor in a Miniseries/Movie (Door to Door)
William H. Macy (The Tale of Despereaux, Radio Days)

He'd make a believable professional doctor. But he's also a pretty capable villain (see Thank You for Smoking, Fargo). This role fulfills both. Also, it'd get him into a Christmas movie, and that would just be too awesome for words.

Who is She: Doris's daughter, who belives Santa is a fiction and does not play games with the other children. Kris tries to help her find her childish joy.

Quote: "Sometimes people grow very large, but that's abnormal."

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (Splendor in the Grass, Love with the Proper Stranger) and Best Supporting Actress (Rebel without a Cause), BAFTA Nominee for Best Foreign Actress (Splendor in the Grass), Golden Globe Winner for Best TV Actress in a Drama (From Here to Eternity)
Natalie Wood (West Side Story, The Searchers)
My Choice: She will be the next big sensation. I decree it.
Rhiannon Leigh Wryn (Hulk, The Last Mimzy)

Who is He: The lawyer who defends Santa. He lives in the same apartment complex as the Walkers. A good friend of the girl's, he tries to convince both her and her mother that fairy tales are good, and Santa Claus is real. He is, of course, in love with Doris, and BFF with Kris.

Quote: "Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to. It's not just Kris that's on trial. It's everything he stands for. It's kindness, joy, love, and all other intangibles...Someday, you're going to find out that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work. And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover they're the only things that are worthwhile."

Originally played by:
John Payne (Wake Up and Dream, The Razor's Edge)
My Choice: SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture (No Country for Old Men)
Josh Brolin (W., Flirting with Disaster)
Brolin is one of the more charismatic actors working today. Can you imagine him telling fairy tales to a little kid? Can you imagine him being BFF with Santa? And wait until you see who I have for Santa. Then the picture will be complete.

Who is She: The most capable woman at Darling's/Macy's/Whatev. Doris organizes the parade, runs the toy department, has the best penthouse in the city. She's also tres beautiful. But cynical, disillusioned, bitter, and incapable of crying.

Quote: "Susan, I speak French, but that doesn't make me Joan of Arc."

Originally played by:
Maureen O'Hara (The Parent Trap, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation)
My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Junebug), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (Enchanted) and Best Supporting Actress (Doubt), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Junebug)
Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day)
Playing against type, Adams would have to be professional, straight-laced, and a little cold. Kind of like her character from Charlie Wilson's War, but with more of an undercurrent of anger. And since I just referenced a film in which she does this kind of thing, I think I've proven my case.

Who is He: A department store Santa who may be the real thing.


"You see, Mrs. Walker, this is quite an opportunity for me. For the past 50 years or so I've been getting more and more worried about Christmas. Seems we're all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle."

"Oh, Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind... and that's what's been changing. That's why I'm glad I'm here, maybe I can do something about it."

"If that's normal, I don't want it!"

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Miracle on 34th Street), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Miracle on 34th Street, Mister 880)
Edmund Gwenn (Foreign Correspondent, The Trouble with Harry)

My Choice: One of My Personal Heroes, who has garnered many awards and nominations. If you don't believe me, let's see what he looks like with a beard.
Oh, yes.

Right there.

Celebrate, Peter O'Toole. It's all yours.

My love, the days are colder.
So, let me take your hand
And lead you through a snow white land.
Oh, oh.
Oh, oh.

My love, the year is older.
So, let me hold you tight
And wile away this winter night.
Oh, oh.

I see the firelight in your eyes.
Come kiss me now, before it dies.
We'll find a winter world of love,
'Cause love is warmer in December.
My darlin', stay here in my arms
Till summer comes along
And in our winter world of love,
You see, we always will remember
That as the snow lay on the ground,
We found our winter world of love.

Because the nights are longer,
We'll have the time to say such tender things
Before each day.
Oh, oh.
Oh, oh.

And then, when love is stronger,
Perhaps, you'll give your heart
And promise that we'll never part, oh, no.

And at the end of every year,
I'll be so glad to have you near.
We'll find a winter world of love,
'Cause love is warmer in December.
My darlin', stay here in my arms
Till summer comes along
And in our winter world of love,
You see, we always will remember
That as the snow lay on the ground,
We found our winter world of love.

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