In the past decade or so, Hollywood has chucked out a few so-called holiday films, like Last Holiday and This Christmas. And while those films may satisfy the holiday film appetite of some, I’m still a sucker for that old-school; those holiday films from a more simple time– you know . . . the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. You’re probably saying, “That wasn’t that long ago.” But trust me when I tell you that they don’t make them like they used to. Take the 1969 TV movie J.T. for example . . .
The Robert M. Young-directed J.T. originally aired on CBS, and starred Ja’net Dubois, Helen Martin, and a young Kevin Hooks in the lead role as J.T. Gamble, “a shy, withdrawn Harlem youngster, who shows compassion and responsibility when he takes on the care of an old, one-eyed, badly injured alley cat days before Christmas and secretly nurses it back to health.”
For me (and many others, I’m sure), watching J.T. on filmstrip in elementary school was essential to kicking off the holiday season. I think I may have seen J.T. from 1st through 5th grade and, for me, it never got old. Hooks’ portrayal of J.T., the vulnerable boy who stole and lied his way to redemption, may not have been one that my peers and I could directly relate to. But he looked just like us; a rarity in a lot of those old filstrips. And back then, that was enough to draw us into his Christmas story, year after year. Plus, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those feel-good lessons on doing what’s right riubbed off on us, too.
Many consider J.T. a classic film, and it’s truly a shame that it hasn’t been made more readily available to the public. You can watch it in several parts on YouTube. And there are a few bootleg copies floating around the Internet. If you happen to have one, consider yourself the keeper of a true treasure. Hopefully, one day, we’ll get an official restored DVD release of this special film, to be enjoyed by generations after our own.
Here are a few more holiday films from the past (some available, some not) that deserved to be restored and preserved:
The Fat Albert Christmas Special (1977)/ Hal Sutherland
Featuring the voices of: Bill Cosby, Jan Crawford, Gerald Edwards, Eric Suter, Marshall Franklin
In another part of Philly, the Cosby Kids are rehearsing for a Christmas pageant at their junkyard clubhouse, which Tyrone, the mean old junkyard owner, is fixin’ to tear down. That’s when Marshall & his parents show up. With their car broken down, Marshall’s mom is about to have a baby and his dad, without health insurance, inspires the gang to invite them in the clubhouse for shelter. Tyrone agrees to let them stay until the baby is born, in exchange for Fat Albert working for him as a sidewalk Santa.
The Kid Who Loved Christmas (1990)/ Arthur Allan Seidelman
Starring: Sammy Davis, Jr., Cicely Tyson, Trent Cameron, Michael Warren, Della Reese, Esther Rolle, Ben Vereen, Vanessa Williams, Charlie Murphy
This made-for-TV drama–Sammy Davis, Jr.’s last–stars Trent Cameron as a young orphan who must fight against social workers in order to remain with his adoptive father, a widowed jazzman.
Harambee! (1996)/ Fracaswell Hyman
Starring: Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Carlton Beener, Novella Nelson, China Shavers, Merlin Santana, Brenda Pressley, Paula Newsome
Harambee! is a family drama set in the housing projects of Brooklyn during Kwanzaa, an African-American celebration. After a stray bullet enters his apartment, 11-year-old JoJo Barnes writes a composition about violence in his neighborhood that sparks adults in the community to take action. The seven nights of Kwanzaa become a spiritual journey in which the seven principles (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith) come to life.
Ms. Scrooge (1997)/ John Korty
Starring: Cicely Tyson, Michael Beach, Rae’Ven Larrymore Kelly, Katherine Helmond
A contemporary re-telling of Dickens’ classic tale, only this time centered around the character of Ebenita Scrooge (Tyson).