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Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites

The playwright and actor shares his list of movies that put him in the sparkling Christmas spirit. Ho ho ho!

Win Tickets to The Divine Sister at Soho Playhouse


Charles Busch is the author and star of such plays as Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which ran for 777 performances on Broadway and won Mr. Busch a Tony nomination for Best Play. He wrote and starred in the film versions of his plays, Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommie Die!, the latter of which won him the Best Performance Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Mr. Busch made his directorial debut with the film A Very Serious Person, which premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, where it won an honorable mention.


His latest play The Divine Sister (see photo above) is currently playing Off-Broadway and is listed as a New York Times Critic pick, where it is also part of the Best Theatre of 2010.


Given his impeccable taste, we've asked him to share his favorite holiday movies with you all. Enjoy!


My list of favorite holiday movies includes some very popular and beloved films, but also some movies that aren’t specifically holiday films, but which have Christmas sequences that I’m very fond of. Generally, my favorite films tend to be from the period of 1932-1969. Obviously, there have been many wonderful holiday films since, but the films mentioned here are strictly my own somewhat eccentric favorites.


These are my holiday picks, and I hope you can watch some or all of them and have a wonderful, movie-filled holiday. And as Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame would say, “a happly li’l old new year!”


Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites

A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol (1984)

There are two versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that I’m crazy about. One is the classic British 1951 adaptation starring a brilliant and perfectly Dickensian Alistair Sim. But I also really love a 1984 made for television version starring George C. Scott. He plays Scrooge in a very naturalistic style that isn’t as comic as Sims, but Scott’s epiphany at his own grave is both terrifying and deeply moving.


Rent the 1951 version.
Rent the 1984 version.
Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites
Little Women

I like people to think I’m something of a tough tootsie, but I’m a shameless sentimentalist when it comes to classic film, and I have a great fondness for the 1933 film of Little Women. When 19th century novels are filmed today in the real locations, they seem somehow less realistic than the versions shot on the studio back lot. This black and white version of Little Women has the look of old daguerreotypes and etchings. It features one of Katharine Hepburn’s finest performances and has a beautifully touching and warm Christmas sequence. The March family’s joy in giving a beautiful Christmas to the poor is truly something to aspire to.


Rent Little Women.
Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites


Remember the Night


I’m very fond of a 1940 romantic comedy called Remember The Night, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. It’s about a prosecutor (MacMurray) who finds himself taking a convicted shoplifter (Stanwyck) home to his family for the holidays. No one plays tough and sexy better than Stanwyck. She didn’t consider herself a comedienne, but she’s got such effortless comic timing and snap. The movie is a refreshing twist on a holiday theme.


Rent Remember the Night.

Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites


The Trouble With Angels


I simply must include The Trouble With Angels. This is a 1966 comedy/drama starring Rosalind Russell as the Mother Superior of a convent school, who is forced to deal with a rambunctious student played by Hayley Mills. I have to include this movie because it’s one of the main sources of satire in my current play, The Divine Sister. I love Hollywood movies about nuns where the convent seems more like a wacky sorority full of warm, slightly kooky sisters. Roz applies all of her brilliant comic skills to the role of Mother Superior and Hayley Mills—well, for my generation, Hayley Mills was the greatest teen actress of all time. There’s a very synthetic-but-fun Christmas sequence, where the students have to volunteer to give Christmas cheer at an old age home. It’s marvelously saccharine and sanctimonious in a way that only Hollywood at the end of the studio system could manage.


Rent The Trouble with Angels.

Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites


The Bishop's Wife

This is a 1947 movie starring Cary Grant as an angel who steps in and helps a struggling Bishop (David Niven) and his lovely wife (Loretta Young). I’m a bit ambivalent about this movie: on one hand, Cary Grant, despite his enormous charm, is a bit too complex and dark to play a convincing angel, but the movie features a wonderful performance by one of my favorite actresses, Gladys Cooper. Cooper had been a famous British stage beauty in the twenties and began making films in Hollywood in the forties as a character actress, usually in severe and cantankerous roles. She gets to display more range than usual in this film, as a cold dowager with a burning secret.


There’s a probably-apocryphal story that her sister tried for a stage career, but when she made her first entrance on the stage, she thought the audience was hissing her. They were actually whispering, “That’s Gladys Cooper’s sister.” Say that very fast and you’ll see what I mean.


Rent The Bishop's Wife.

Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites


Meet Me In St. Louis


I’ve gotta include the 1944 classic musical Meet Me In St. Louis. I’m a devout believer in Judy-ism. Judy Garland was the greatest actress/singer/performer in the history of the Universe, and those of us in the faith will not tolerate any blasphemy. Seriously, this is one of the greatest of all film musicals, filled with joy and honest sentiment—one of director Vincente Minnelli’s masterpieces. The Christmas sequence that concludes the film is truly memorable, and is capped by Garland’s heart rending rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.


Rent Meet Me In St. Louis.

Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites



I’ve always loved the 1937 version of Heidi starring Shirley Temple, directed by Allan Dwan. There’s nothing better than 1930s Hollywood’s evocation of old Europe. This fantasy Switzerland is absolutely divine. The entire last part of the film takes place during Christmas, and it’s both beautiful and somewhat harrowing. A number of Shirley Temple’s films get surprisingly dark when she is in true peril, and in Heidi, little Shirley gets a real emotional workout. Her grandfather, Jean Hersholt, has traveled by foot to find her in the big city, and it’s very dramatic and upsetting as they desperately try to reunite and keep being pulled apart—Hollywood storytelling at its best.


Rent Heidi.
 Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites
Miracle on 34th Street


The 1947 Miracle on 34th Street would be on many people’s favorite holiday film lists, and it’s firmly on mine. Directed by George Seaton, it has a very clever and touching storyline of what happens when Macy’s Santa Claus turns out possibly to be the genuine article. It stars Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, and a very young Natalie Wood, who gives a very refreshingly non-cute, natural child’s performance. 


Rent Miracle on 34th Street.
Charles Busch: Holiday Movie Favorites


A Christmas Memory


My favorite of all holiday films is a 1969 made for television film adaptation of Truman Capote’s short story, A Christmas Memory. It was later theatrically released with two other short films and called Trilogy; I don’t think it’s available on DVD. Geraldine Page gives one of her greatest performances as Capote’s elderly Aunt Sook, who took care of him as a child in rural Alabama. Frank Perry directed this film—it has both great humor and sometimes an almost documentary feel to it. It’s also heartbreakingly narrated by Capote himself.


We found a DVD on Amazon.


What holiday favorites would you add to the list? Tell us in the Comments below.



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