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Herbert: Babes In Toyland / Cook, Sullivan, Cox, Day

Babes In Toyland / O.b.c.
Release Date: 12/04/2012 
Label:  Video Artists International   Catalog #: 4557  
Composer:  Victor Herbert
Performer:  Edward BrianEllen BarrieJack E. LeonardDave Garroway,   ... 
Conductor:  Charles Sanford
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This special-edition DVD presents two complete productions of Victor Herbert’s beloved operetta Babes In Toyland, both produced for television by Max Liebman. Barbara Cook stars in the 1955 version, and Jo Sullivan in the 1954. Both telecasts feature TV favorites Wally Cox as Grumio the Toymaker, Dennis Day as Tommy Tucker, Dave Garroway as Santa Claus, and Jack E. Leonard as Silas Barnaby. The production is enriched by the presence of the Bil and Cora Baird Marionettes, which The New York Times called “the complete embodiment of delightful fantasy... humorous, imaginative and beguiling[ly] lifelike.”

B&W, 152 minutes, 4:3, All regions

Music by Victor Herbert
Book and Lyrics
Read more by Glen MacDonough
Adaptation by William Friedberg, Neil Simon, Will Glickman, Fred Saidy, Bill Jacobson
Book Staged by Milton Lyon
Musical Adaptation by Clay Warnick and Mel Pahl
Arrangements by Irwin Kostal
Musical Conductor: Charles Sanford
Dances and Musical Numbers staged by Rod Alexander
Produced and Directed by Max Liebman

Santa Claus: Dave Garroway
Tommy Tucker: Dennis Day
Jane Piper: Jo Sullivan (1954) / Barbara Cook (1955)
Grumio: Wally Cox
Silas Barnaby: Jack E. Leonard
Ann Piper: Karin Wolfe
Peter Piper: Edward Brian (1954) / Dickie Belton (1955)
Joan: Ellen Barrie
Widow Piper: Mary Mace
Featured Dancers: Bambi Linn and Rod Alexander
Clowns: A. Robbins and Charlie Cairoli & Paul (1954) / Jack Powell (1955)

with Bil & Cora Baird and their Marionettes

Live telecasts of December 18, 1954 and December 24, 1955


Max Liebman was one of the giants of early television, a highly respected producer who believed that “quality entertainment” was not an oxymoron. His many ventures included a series of what were called “Spectaculars:” nearly two dozen 90-minute productions telecast from 1954 to 1956, including operettas, Broadway musicals, original made-for-TV musicals, and variety shows. Just one of these was presented more than once: Liebman’s adaptation of Victor Herbert’s Babes in Toyland, which enlivened the Christmas seasons of 1954 and 1955. (In the first decade of television, before the introduction of videotape, the vast majority of programming was carried live, without the option for re-runs.)

Babes in Toyland, which premiered in Chicago in June 1903 and reached Broadway by October of that year, was specifically conceived as a Christmas-themed review. It followed closely on the heels of the success of the stage version of The Wizard of Oz (produced in New York in January 1903), and employed Wizard of Oz alumnus Glen MacDonough (who had helped with revisions to L. Frank Baum’s libretto) to write the book and lyrics. In the end, one could argue that Babes in Toyland surpassed its predecessor, for despite the towering success of the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Toyland has enjoyed many more successful film and stage adaptations. These include at least three additional television productions (the first dating back to 1950, the most recent in 1986), at least three major film versions (1934, featuring Laurel and Hardy; 1961, produced by Walt Disney; and an animated version produced by MGM in 1997), and frequent stage productions, which have continued unabated since 1903. (New York’s The Little Orchestra Society presented what they called “an updated production” of Babes in Toyland in December 2012.)

The casts of Liebman’s 1954 and 1955 telecasts of Babes in Toyland are nearly identical, with the significant exception of the actress playing the ingénue Jane Piper. In 1954, Jane was played by Jo Sullivan, who had already established her Broadway credentials as Polly in the legendary revival of Threepenny Opera earlier that year. Sullivan would go on to more Broadway triumphs, including The Most Happy Fella (whose author, Frank Loesser, Sullivan would marry in 1959). For the 1955 production, another up-and-coming stage star was chosen: Barbara Cook, who was at the time playing in Plain and Fancy, her fourth Broadway show. A year later, Cook would dazzle audiences in Candide, and then melt them with her rendition of “Till There Was You” in The Music Man in 1957. Both Sullivan and Cook have remained artistically active; Cook celebrated her 85th birthday with an acclaimed solo concert in Carnegie Hall in October 2012.

The rest of the starry cast is made up of popular television personalities of the era. Dave Garroway (1913-1982) was the founding host and anchor of NBC’s Today. Dennis Day (1916-1988) was the beloved “Irish tenor” of Jack Benny’s long-running show (on both radio and television); and Day hosted his own TV variety show from 1952 to 1954. Wally Cox (1924-1973) attained stardom as the title character in the TV series Mister Peepers (1952-1953) and would continue to be a fixture on television for many years to come, in many guises (including the voice of “Underdog,” no doubt the role for which he is best remembered by the general population). Despite his meek persona, Cox was reputed to be quite athletic, as evidenced by his effortless jump up on to the work table in the Toy Factory scene.

Jack E. Leonard (1911-1973), who plays the sinister Silas Barnaby, was at the peak of popularity at the time of Babes in Toyland. One of the first insult comics (anticipating the genre Don Rickles would later come to personify), Leonard got his start on The Tonight Show, hosted by Jack Paar, and went on to make many appearances on television variety shows and game shows. Playing the role of Jane Piper’s younger sister Ann in both productions is Karin Wolfe, who was a busy and successful television and stage actress starting from childhood. A month before the 1954 Babes in Toyland, Wolfe appeared in a television production of the musical Panama Hattie, starring Ethel Merman (Jack E. Leonard was also in the cast), and the year following the 1955 telecast, Wolfe was in the cast of another Christmas-themed television production, The Stingiest Man in Town (also available on VAI). Among her later roles was “Mary Anderson” on the soap opera Days of our Lives.

Nearly stealing the show from their human counterparts were the puppets designed by Bil Baird (1904-1987) and Cora Baird (1912-1967), which The New York Times called “the complete embodiment of delightful fantasy... humorous, imaginative and beguiling[ly] lifelike.” Among the Bairds’ many distinguished credits is the puppetry sequence for “The Lonely Goatherd” in the film version of The Sound of Music; they also designed marionettes who played roles in the 1951 musical Flahooley (incidentally, the show in which Barbara Cook made her Broadway debut).

Although live programs prior to videotape could not be re-run, they were nearly always preserved in the form of kinescopes. Though of variable quality (and nearly always black & white, even when the telecast was in color), these precious documents provide us with a window into a world long gone, a chance not only to re-visit illustrious stars of the past, but to witness novelty acts, like the various clowns in Babes in Toyland, that evoke the even earlier era of vaudeville.

Notes by Allan Altman [2012] Read less

Works on This Recording

Babes in Toyland by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Edward Brian (Voice), Ellen Barrie (Voice), Jack E. Leonard (Voice),
Dave Garroway (Voice), Wally Cox (Voice), Karin Wolfe (Voice),
Mary Mace (Voice), Jo Sullivan (Voice)
Conductor:  Charles Sanford
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903; USA 
Date of Recording: 1954 
Babes in Toyland by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Dickie Belton (Voice), Ellen Barrie (Voice), Jack E. Leonard (Voice),
Dave Garroway (Voice), Wally Cox (Voice), Karin Wolfe (Voice),
Mary Mace (Voice), Barbara Cook (Voice)
Conductor:  Charles Sanford
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903; USA 
Date of Recording: 1955 

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