I think I’ve made it pretty clear that Jeanette Nolan is one of my favorites, so it should be no surprise that I could find a way to elevate your holiday TV viewing with her presence.
Here are two Christmas-themed episodes of television shows featuring this holly jolly lady.
Okay, maybe she’s not so holly jolly in “PS Murry Christmas”, a Season 17 episode of Gunsmoke. In between appearances as Dirty Sally (and three years before her spin-off series of the same name), Jeanette played Emma Grundy, strict headmistress of a group of orphans that included Erin Moran, Jodie Foster, Willie Aames, and Todd Lookinland (Mike “Bobby Brady” Lookinland’s brother). In her employ is a handyman by the name of Titus Spangler, played by Jack Elam. That casting right there guarantees a hit.
When Titus, who is Jack Elam and therefore anything but subtle, embarrasses Emma in front of the orphanage’s benefactors during their annual Christmas visit, she fires him. The children, orphaned and impoverished, decide that going on the lam with Titus is a much better life and they convince him to take them along. Naturally, they all end up in Dodge City with Emma following. The plight of the children comes to light when Titus is arrested and Miss Kitty attempts to give the children a decent holiday with a party at the Longbranch Saloon, a gesture Emma refuses. It seems like she’s a straight up Scrooge, but there’s something a little more to Miss Emma than meets the eye.
It’s a sweet episode. You’ve got cute kids, the meaning of Christmas, and Jack Elam being Jack Elam. And at the heart you have Jeanette Nolan playing this very uptight character that goes beyond the stereotype of a heartless orphan-minder.
Jeanette isn’t who she seems to be in the MacGyver Season 5 episode “The Madonna” either. MacGyver takes a break from saving the world to try to bring a little holiday joy to some kids at an underfunded youth center. Sadly, the place is in danger of closing due to those lack of funds and kids like Katherine Isabelle (of Ginger Snaps fame) and Alessandro Julio (who went on to play Lt. Felix Gaeta on the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series) won’t have a place to go. And it’s tough out there on them streets! As we witness a couple of young punks roughing up an old homeless lady who appeared not long after a Madonna statue went missing from a local church. Nothing suspicious about that.
Turns out that everyone BUT Carol the homeless lady is short on Christmas spirit. MacGyver has a case of the holiday blues. The youth center needs $9,000 to stay open. Cynthia (Roxanne Reese), who runs the center, is at the end of her rope. Breeze (Charles Andrew Payne) has no love for the holiday he’s never had. The man who carved the Madonna, Vincent Battaglia (Anthony Holland), is all over sour. And Father Pat (Jackson Davies) isn’t too hopeful about the missing Madonna being returned before Christmas morning. Hell, even the Santa ringing a bell for money is down on his luck.
MacGyver works to both find the missing Madonna for his friend Father Pat and help the young people work to put on their Christmas show to get funds for the youth center, where Carol is now staying. And she helps out in her own special way.
It’s also a sweet episode with cute kids and Pete dressed as Santa and it ends just like you think it will (happy endings all around), but that doesn’t lessen the enjoyment. And Jeanette Nolan shines as the fount of Christmas Spirit. I mean, she takes a broom to a drunken Santa Claus and hustles 8 ball. Can’t get more spirited than that.
So, deck your halls, jingle your bells, trim your tree, and have yourself a Very Merry Jeanette Nolan Christmas.