Friday, December 23, 2016

25 More Days of Old Time Radio Christmas - Day 23: Big Little Jesus from Dragnet

I have certainly been trying to mix things up on this series, with mostly new episodes in this third year of running this blog for Christmas Old Time Radio.  But last night, my wife asked if I was going to feature this episode - which is my favorite of all time.  Going back to 1953 and the show that Jack Webb made famous - or the show that made Jack Webb famous - Dragnet.  They have two great Christmas episodes - that were often repeated during the holidays.  For the purposes of this blog - I will focus on the more upbeat one - "Big Little Jesus" and share the true story that became this episode.

 Here is a link to all the previous OTR Christmas entries.  If you have Sirius/XM, you can listen to Greg Bell's Old time radio channel (#148) this week as he does a great job of showcasing great holiday themed episodes, especially as we get close to Christmas.

Nativity Scene at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (Saline, Michigan)
Nativity Scene - Saline, Michigan - 2013
I was not a huge fan of Dragnet from the start - even though it was one of the most famous radio and early television programs out there. But over the past year, I have enjoyed the great series and I have become definitely a fan.  They have two stories related to Christmas that among the sweetest and saddest stories I can remember.  I would like to focus on the sweet side today!

Visit to Mission San Buenaventura (Ventura, California) - Friday November 1, 2013
Visit to Mission San Buenaventura (Ventura, California) - Friday November 1, 2013
First broadcast on December 22, 1953, "Big Little Jesus," shows how a much nicer side of Christmas. Sergeant Joe Friday and his partner Frank Smith receive a called about a missing religious statue of the baby Jesus from the Mission church in Los Angeles. While it is not a huge crime, they move forward looking at every lead and pawn shop to find this item before Christmas. Eventually, it turns up in the sweetest way possible.  It can be kinda corny, but is one of those radio episodes that really hits home with the true meaning of Christmas. I invite everyone to take 30 minutes, go back in time, and recapture the meaning of the holidays.

Jack Webb is Joe Friday and Ben Alexander plays Frank Smith, his partner.  The program also became part of the television series.  According to an article in the Atlanta Constitution on December 22, 1955 (p20), the story was based on a true incident that too place in the 1930s in San Francisco.  The New York Times published an article in 1933 about this 'theft" (thanks ProQuest Historical Newspapers):

Thief-Hunting Priest Bows to Boy's Faith
Christmas Bargain Explains San Francisco Church's Loss of Christ Child Figure
New York Times December 27, 1933 (page 14)
Special to the New York Times
San Francisco, Dec. 26. - This is a story of Christmas time, of a missing figure of the Christ Child and of a boy and his coaster.
It happened today at the Church of Our Lady of Victory.  The Christ Child had been stolen from the manger-crib in the nativity scene in the church.  The discovery caused consternation.  Priests, sextons and sacristans joined in a frantic search of the premises with no results.  The little figure could not be found.
A thief was blamed and the priests were about to call police headquarters, when one of them saw the missing figure in a coaster wagon which a small boy was towing up the hill behind him.  For a moment the priest was speechless.  He looked down in amazement at Master Georgie Potter, aged 7.  
"Why, my son!" the priest exclaimed.  "Do you realize that you have the Christ Child there'"
"Yes. Father," said Georgie, quite blandly.
"Did you take the figure from the church?"
"Yes, father." answered Georgie.  The lad's face fell as the priest sought further explanation.  Yes, he had taken it, but he really had not meant to steal it.
"I-I wanted a wagon for Christmas," he explained.
The priest could not quite understand.
"A wagon for Christmas, my boy-yes-but why did you take the statue of Jesus?"
"You see, Father," was the reply, "I told he Christ Child that if he'd let me have a red wagon for Christmas I'd give him a ride in it twice around the block.  He did his part, so now I'm just doing mine."
So as Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.  I love how the story grew as a Dragnet episode.  Maybe that was their trick - develop something small that happened into a whole story.  And such a great one this is.  I hope you enjoy it.

Big Little Jesus (Deccember 22, 1953)

Script from the Generic Radio Workshop Library

Here are some links to programs relating to Dragnet:
Another 25 Days of Old Time Radio Christmas (from 2016) & Other Links

25 Days of Old Time Radio Christmas (from 2015) & Other Links

25 Days of Old Time Radio Christmas (from 2014)

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