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Christmas with Ed Sullivan (1959)

A book of personal Christmas stories shared with Ed Sullivan by many of his celebrity friends

Dear Ed,

One Christmas will always stand out in my mind as “Charlie’s Christmas.”

Charlie, as was his custom, had spent his Christmas Eve at the 21 Club, and I was irritated by the thought that he had left me in sole charge of the Christmas preparations. In the MacArthur household, the holiday itself had always meant a conventional, joyous, yet complicated celebration, and there was always a great deal of work to be done.

Our son Jim was eleven -- a confusing age to friends and relatives who aren’t quite certain whether to flatter a boy with grown-up gifts or give him the toys and games of a child for still another year. I had trimmed our tree, hung up the stockings, and was putting out the gifts after Jim was in bed when, much too late in the evening, I realized that all his presents seemed to be books and clothes. He loved books, and a boy of eleven always needs clothes, but my despair mounted as I picked up and shook and tried to peek inside each package marked for him only to find that there was but one toy -- a small archery set. My heart sank when I thought of his disappointed Jim would be when he came bouncing down the stairs in the morning. I picked up the phone to call Charlie and tell him of our predicament, but I realized suddenly that it was too late for him to do anything about it. Carefully I put the bow and arrow in front of all the other wrapped packages and went to bed.

Early the next morning Jim was at the doorway, urging me to hurry downstairs with him and open our presents. I followed him with considerable apprehension. However, he took one look at the tree and made a dive for his bow and arrow, ignoring the boxes of sweaters, shirts, ties and books piled nearby.

But then, with his very first try, Jim snapped the bow in two. As I looked up from the stacks of boxes and parcels on the floor, I saw the broken bow in his hands and a tear beginning to run down his cheek.

This couldn’t be Christmas, I told myself suddenly. It was all supposed to be totally different. I had planned for another day altogether. The decorations, the tree, everything had lost its point. I ran upstairs to Charlie.

He was still asleep, and after his own unique celebration at the 21 Club the night before, was apparently quite prepared to sleep through the heart breaking Christmas that had taken shape below.
I spoke to him. No answer. I shook him and called him. When he at last opened one eye, I broke down and literally sobbed the terrible details, vowing that I’d spend Christmas in bed too, and with a pillow over my head.

Charlie began to mumble. He said something about toys, toys from some friend at 21. Every word made me angrier. Every explanation he tried to give infuriated me a little more.

I remember suggesting coldly that he make an effort to forget his friends at 21 for a moment. And think of his own son! Not one single toy! Every child in the neighborhood, but Jim, would be playing with Christmas gifts for weeks! Clothes, oh yes! And books! And a broken bow! But not one other toy!

Charlie got out of bed. As he pulled on his clothes, he was still assuring me that everything would be all right.

Good old Louis Marx, he said, his friend from 21. Good old Louis had sent Jim a box of toys. He’d mentioned it just last night. Louis hadn’t forgotten. Not Louis who was one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the country.

And what’s more, Charlie was going down to the trucking warehouse for them himself. That’s where he was going. Louis’ box of toys would be there for Christmas. It hadn’t arrived earlier because the delivery service was so terrible. The toys had probably been lying around for a week. Two weeks!

I saw him go wandering absently from the house. Just how he would manage to open the warehouse on Christmas day, if he even went there, I didn’t know. A long hour passed, and I had time for the most elaborate self recriminations, while Jim politely opened packages of handkerchiefs and underwear.

Suddenly I heard a banging at the front door. It sounded as though someone were trying to kick it in. I opened the door cautiously and peered out. It was Charlie. I recognized him by his shoes. There wasn’t much else of him showing, for he was hidden by a huge box which was rocking dangerously. I helped him in. When we tore open the top of the box toys popped out. I had never seen so many, absolutely everything a little boy could want.

There was no question who would be hero with the neighborhood children. I might say also there was no question who was the hero of the house. From that day on, I was very careful of the way I talked about Charlie’s friends at 21.

Helen Hayes

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