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8 great little details you never noticed in The Dick Van Dyke Show Christmas episode

In terms of sheer joy, few Christmas episodes top the one made by The Dick Van Dyke Show. Because of the sitcom's premise — Rob Petrie works on a television show — the audience is treated to a special look at the fictional Alan Brady Show. And this holiday treat is nothing but wall-to-wall singing and dancing. 

Watching Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke twirl and bump bellies in their Santa suits — well, it will warm you in the coldest weather.

A perennial favorite, "The Alan Brady Show Presents" is more than wall-to-wall Yuletide happiness. It's always a fascinating part of The Dick Van Dyke Show legacy. Let's unwrap it for a closer look.


It was the first time Carl Reiner faced the camera on the show.

Series creator Carl Reiner based the sitcom on his own experiences as a family man working as a television writer. He even starred in the pilot, originally titled Head of the Family. Of course, Dick Van Dyke took over the lead role when it went to air. Reiner instead became Alan Brady, the boss of Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) and the star of the show-within-the-show. In early episodes, Reiner is mostly heard and not seen, in a manner similar to Larry David playing George Steinbrenner on Seinfeld. Reiner finally gets a lot of screen time in the season-two finale, "When a Bowling Pin Talks, Listen" — but his back is to the camera. You can catch glimpses of Reiner's face in profile when he tosses a cream pie. So, it must have been shocking to viewers when in season three, the Christmas episode opened with Alan Brady facing the camera. Reiner, at least, was seen face-to-face! Well, in a Santa beard.


It was the only episode to show an episode of The Alan Brady Show.

While much of The Dick Van Dyke Show centered around Rob Petrie and his fellow writers working on the fictional Alan Brady Show, we never truly see an episode of The Alan Brady Show. Well, except for this one. Aside from a flashback sequence, the bulk of "The Alan Brady Show Presents" is an uncut episode of the show-within-the-show. Episode writers Sam Denoff and Bill Persky also worked The Andy Williams Show, which gave them the idea of doing a story that was nothing but holiday musical numbers. Denoff and Persky also wrote some musical numbers, like Rose Marie's wonderful "Santa, Send a Fella."


The toy soldier number dates back to an earlier episode… and Germany.

In the closing number, Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), Rob, Buddy (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally (Rose Marie) dress as toy soldiers and perform "I Am a Fine Musician." The core quartet had the number down pat — they sang the same tune in "The Same Pomerantz Scandals" in season two! Van Dyke was fond of the number, which dates back decades to a German folk song titled "Ich Bin Ein Musikante." Van Dyke first discovered it on a record when he was working on a children's show in Atlanta in the early 1950s. Digging for material, he likely stumbled upon a version sung by Dinah Shore, Phil Harris, Tony Martin and Betty Hutton in 1951.


The giant scissors were recycled, too.

A smart show makes the most of its resources. Take the giant pair of scissors wielded by Sally after she sings "Santa, Send a Fella." That prop dates way back to season one, episode four, "Washington vs. The Bunny." Rob dreams he is a puppet on Laura's strings… until Mel (Richard Deacon) comes to snip the marionette lines with the massive clippers.


That's not the only link to season one, episode four.

Speaking of "Washington vs. The Bunny," there is another little tidbit to tie these two episodes together. Young Ritchie Petrie (Larry Matthews) belts out "Little Drummer Boy" in "The Alan Brady Show Presents." It was not his first time singing on the sitcom. In "Washington vs. The Bunny," he comically croons Cole Porter's "You're the Top" to his mother, messing up with lines like "Tower of Pizza" and "the Mommy Lisa."


There was a subtle nod to Bye Bye, Birdie.

"The Alan Brady Show Presents" kicks off with Alan Brady himself riding onto the stage in an open sleigh drawn by showgirls, not reindeer. A jaunty musical number plays. Listen closely. It is an instrumental version of "A Lot of Livin' to Do," a tune from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. It's a cute wink to Dick Van Dyke's career. Not only was he in the 1963 film mere months before this episode aired, he performed in the Original Broadway Cast of Bye Bye Birdie.


The kids with Santa were related to the show.

This episode truly was a family affair on a meta level. The plot revolved around Alan Brady forcing his staff and their families to perform on his show. In reality, the kids sitting around Santa were part of The Dick Van Dyke Show family. The girl by Santa was Cornell Chulay, daughter of assistant director John C. Chulay.


They all sing the Dick Van Dyke Show theme song at the end.

While we discuss the meta-ness of The Dick Van Dyke Show, take a step back to realize that this fictional Christmas episode of The Alan Brady Show, the show-within-a-show, ends with the cast singing the melody to The Dick Van Dyke Show theme song! It was an instrumental in the sitcom, but it secretly had lyrics.

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