Unsung Christmas Movie Heroes and Heroines

Photo from a rare Southern snowfall.
Photo from a rare Southern snowfall.

As you pass the happy holidays with a virtual film festival of Christmas cinema, don’t forget these characters, who may not command the spotlight, but make sure each story you watch is a happy ending.

Mary Hatch (Mary Bailey), from the film “It’s A Wonderful Life,” played by Donna Reed. George Bailey is clearly the film’s protagonist, and takes up much of the movie’s time. It almost makes you overlook the role Mary played in the film. In addition to giving up her honeymoon, raising a ton of kids while George battles Potter, helping with the home dedications for “those people,” but on Christmas Eve, she’s the one who rounds up everyone George knows to rescue him from Potter and the bank examiner. Even as George realizes his life is worth living, she’s the one who makes sure he can spend it out of prison, with the family he loves.

Linus (Van Pelt), from the film “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” voiced by Christopher Shea. Much of the focus of the television production is on the title character, and his struggle to understand the true meaning of Christmas, and get happy for the holidays. He’s the play director, the person who buys the Christmas tree, but he abandons both. It’s up to Linus to sacrifice his beloved blanket to keep the tiny tree with the single ornament upright. He also provides the Christmas story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus from the Bible, reminding us the real reason for the season.

Max, the dog, from the TV special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” We all know about the Grinch’s meanness, the famous song, and his change of heart when he hears the Whos singing. We also know about Cindy Lou Who (who was no more than two, voiced by June Foray), who is accosts the Grinch, and is fooled by him. But “who” remembers the Grinch’s loyal dog Max, who tolerates the reindeer costume, carries the sleigh, and catches the presents (sort of). But in the end, he’s the one that gets the first slice of roast beast from Cindy Lou Who.

Ellen and Rusty Griswold, played by Beverly D’Angelo and Johnny Galecki, respectively, from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” When Clark Griswold’s world is falling apart around him (incinerated Christmas tree, burned cat, charred turkey, destroyed house, Jelly of the Month Club), or when he’s trying to overdo it, with the Christmas lights on the house, it’s Ellen and Rusty who stand by him, supporting “Sparky,” encouraging him, and try to steer him toward some sense of normalcy, without insulting him. Here’s hoping both get the first dip in that new swimming pool.

Marley, played by Michael Hordern in “A Christmas Carol” and by John Forsythe in “Scrooged.” Hordern, who plays the former business partner to Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 version featuring Alastair Sim, doesn’t strike one as the heroic type. He’s just as self-absorbed and shallow as Scrooge. But he makes the list for the story from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 16, Verses 19 to 31, about the rich man and Lazarus. While the rich man is in hell and the poor man Lazarus is in heaven, the wealthy miser begs to go back and warn his family to be better, but is refused the opportunity. Marley comes back to warn his colleague, and to bring along three ghosts, to keep Scrooge from suffering a terrible fate. If there’s any justice, Marley will get his chance for a better afterlife, for thinking of his old friend before himself.

Mrs. Donner and Clarice, voiced by Peg Dixon and Janis Orenstein, respectively, in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Sure the title character, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius, are heroes. But we forget that it’s Rudolph’s mom and girlfriend who go out looking for Rudolph when he runs away, the only reindeer to show him any kindness.

So enjoy this Christmas, and watch these great films. Cheer on the protagonists, but don’t forget those who help, even save, these title characters. They make good role models too.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

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