Remember The John Denver Rocky Mountain Christmas Special?
The 1975 yuletide extravaganza known as Rocky Mountain Christmas seems like it would be straightforward: host John Denver singing Christmas songs with Valerie Harper, Olivia Newton-John and Steve Martin. But from the beginning, it's clear that this isn't going to be the typical Christmas retread. It begins with a butterfly and the song “Aspenglow.” It appears a bit disjointed, but does follow a pattern, intermixing nature scenes with skits and music. Even though it definitely seems dated, the special did draw an audience of sixty-five million viewers, which was the largest audience to that date for ABC music specials and was nominated for Primetime Emmys.
An Unusual Setting For A Somewhat Unusual Special
After that opening butterfly scene, it shifts to John Denver’s performance on a small stage on the grass, with what appears to be a painted backdrop of the snow-covered landscape behind him. With “Aspenglow” continuing to play in the background, the video zooms out to show a glass bubble in the midst of a snow-covered field, and then it shifts to a montage of images from the snow covered Rocky Mountains. At the end of the song, John Denver welcomes the audience, explaining that they built a glass bubble and filled it with “flowers and growies and little greenies and little butterflies floating around.” When a butterfly lands on him, he says “far out! How you doing, little guy.” At the end of the monologue, he mentions his guests, including his skiing buddy, “weird old Steve,” who is none other than Steve Martin, who, incidentally, was credited as one of the writers. It seems that his friends also include various animals as well.
An Awkward Display Of Skiing, Skating, And A Butterfly
The filming goes outdoors again, gradually shifting from warmer weather scenery into the cold and snow of winter. Denver skis into the scene, talking about his “friend” the sun and begins skiing after displaying over-the-top enthusiasm that seems genuine. As he shows off his skills as a skier, “Calypso” plays in the background. After wiping out, the scene cuts back to the bubble, where he performs a duet with Valerie Harper.
After the duet, he begins to talk about his friend Joe Henry, a cowboy, launching into scenes of horses riding in the snow. This is followed by a visit to a school which he describes a freeform, a description that at times seems to apply to the disjointed nature of the special. With the kids at the school, he makes sleds and then joins them in sledding chaotically down the hill. More chaos follows after the commercial break, when he awkwardly ice skates, but this seems appropriate as it is followed by one of the stranger scenes in the special: Steve Martin playing the banjo while singing with a butterfly on his nose. The song begins with syrupy words of advice, progressing to lines we would expect from Steve Martin such as “put a live chicken in your underwear.”
He Sings For Bears As Well
This humor is followed by the introduction of the third guest: Olivia Newton John, who is riding a horse in the snow, while her song “Let it Shine” plays. Keeping with the element of talking to the animals, after “Let it Shine,” Denver introduces a grizzly bear, telling her to listen because he is going to play a song for her. After more nature scenes, Valerie Harper returns in a skiing skit with John Denver. It is a sappy love story told as a voice over that seems to be a forerunner for the proliferation of sappy Christmas love movies, but without the anticipated happy ending.
Another Denver Song
The special does not include abundant Christmas carols, and as the special is coming to its close, John Denver and his guests begin to perform Christmas music, starting with Denver in a tux, leading to Christmas carolers singing rather off-key. As is part of the pattern, Denver ends up outside, this time talking about brook trout and their cycle of life before the scene cuts back to the final duet, Denver’s “Fly Away” sung with Olivia Newton John. In the final outdoor scene, sled dogs pull a sled with “Jingle Bells” as a backdrop.
Bringing In A Little Christmas At The End
Denver is joined by his guests around the Christmas tree as they all sing “What A Gift We Have in Time,” followed by a bluegrass version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The final song before the last commercial break is “Silent Night,” which the audience joins in on as the camera pans around, even capturing a child resting on his mother’s lap, sucking on a bottle. The special ends with another monologue by Denver where he meditates on the meaning of Christmas, his son Zachary, and the final song for the special, which he wrote with Joe Henry.
Other Shows Followed
The show was nominated for several Primetime Emmys, including Outstanding Special - Comedy-Variety or Music. It was also recognized for its art direction. Denver went on to be featured in several other Christmas specials, including John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. The Simpsons have acknowledged Denver’s work in a mention on Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning, when Mr. Burns mentions that it was where he says that the house was the setting of “five John Denver Christmas specials.” The special may be dated, but it possesses an earnest spirit.
Tags: Christmas | John Denver | Olivia Newton John | Rocky Mountain Christmas | Steve Martin | Valerie Harper
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