Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Christmas Memory 1966

Geraldine Page won an Emmy as eccentric but loving Cousin Sook in Truman Capote's 'A Christmas Memory.'

Truman’s Capote's classic A Christmas Memory, based on his boyhood, was first a fondly remembered television special aired in December of 1966. Truman was at the height of his literary career with his crime classic, In Cold Blood. A Christmas Memory is the total opposite of that epic piece of work, and is a sweet remembrance inspired by Capote’s childhood time spent with poor relatives. 
Donnie Melvin is naturally appealing as "Buddy," so nicknamed by Page's Sook after a childhood friend.

The slight story, told with great feeling, shows the bond between the precocious little boy, Buddy, and his much older, eccentric cousin. Together, they prepare for their annual ritual of making fruitcakes, gifted to acquaintances and strangers that they admire. Cousin Sook, played by Geraldine Page in one of her greatest roles, has the memorable opening line: “Oh, my… it’s fruitcake weather.”
The unlikely pair head off with their dog, Queenie. They ignore the “No Trespassing” sign and pilfer pecans from a neighbor's farm, filling an old baby buggy. Later, with money earned throughout the year, they go to town to buy ingredients for their fruitcakes. Just listening to Geraldine Page recite her grocery list to the storekeeper alone is worth watching this story.
On the way home, they buy whiskey from Ha Ha Jones, an Indian who seems fearsome at first, but gives them the booze for free, in exchange for a fruitcake.
Sook and Buddy pay a visit to Ha Ha Jones to buy some hooch for their fruitcakes!

It's really a two character story, with Donnie Melvin quite appealing as little Buddy, but it is Geraldine Page's show all the way. Page was a born actress, no doubt, but she could also be an outrageous ham. As Sook, Geraldine gives one of her greatest and most subtle performances. Page is effortlessly believable as a child-like woman who has lived a small life, but with great heart. Amazingly, Page was only 42 when she played this heart-warming woman. She has a number of sweet moments, as when she refuses to sell the Christmas tree she and Buddy have cut down, to a snooty local. Or when Sook and Buddy finish off the bit of whiskey left over from baking. The lovely last scene, with Buddy and Sook flying their handmade kites on Christmas Day, with Capote’s narration and snippets of Page’s dialogue, offers a postscript to this last happy day together that is simple, yet still so touching.
The bittersweet ending to 'A Christmas Memory,' with Buddy and Sook carefree as they fly their handmade kites. 

A Christmas Memory was directed by Frank Perry, back when he made artistic films, like David and Lisa and Last Summer, before moving on to camp classics like Mommie Dearest and Monsignor. His wife Eleanor Perry helped write the teleplay with Capote. Conrad Hall (In Cold Blood) was one of the cinematographers and the score by Meyer Kupferman is both sweet and melancholy. This was filmed on location in Snowdoun, Alabama, a small town that passed for the Depression-era setting, was suggested by Truman's lifelong friend, Harper Lee.
Geraldine Page, at 42, playing a 60-something year-old spinster.

A Christmas Memory has been told in every way, from audio books to Broadway to opera. But the most memorable telling is still the Geraldine Page television version. You can find faded but watchable versions on YouTube, as well as an audio reading of A Christmas Memory by author Capote, where you can savor Truman’s way with words. Either way, enjoy.
Geraldine Page with Truman Capote.


  1. Hi Rick - thanks so much for covering this lovely telefilm that used to be an annual staple...I used to watch it every year. Now I need to seek it out again. Miss Page was a genius, and this is among Capote’s best work as well... love the story this is based on as well.
    Happy holiday season!

    1. The best I could find was a somewhat faded version on YouTube. I think the lack of restoration may be related to copyright issues. It was a classic in the day!
      Cheers and have a happy holiday season as well, Chris!

  2. I had not seen that tele-film in years and so I just now watched it on YouTube, faded but still glorious. I loved every second of it and I appreciate the reminder of this wondrous classic. Lovely, poignant and extremely well acted were the words that came to my mind while watching it. I last saw this a very long time ago and had forgotten about it. Thank you.

    1. I enjoyed seeing it after all these years, too! This gem needs to be restored! Thanks for writing, Rick