By TOM MAY
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a multicolumn series about Christmas. Read a new entry tomorrow.
Theirs was a story common for European immigrants shortly after the turn of the century. Leslie was born the fifth of seven children to a stonemason from London and a Welsh mother who occasionally sang light opera, but mostly made a living being a cleaning lady. In 1908 the entire family immigrated to the United States, and passed inspection on Ellis Island on March 30. From New York, they traveled west and finally settled to call Cleveland home.
From the age of 12, Leslie wanted to be in the entertainment business, earning pocket money by singing, dancing and occasionally offering comedic banter. A friend suggested that Leslie just wasn’t a good name for an entertainer, and recommended that it be changed to “Lester.” Still not getting the attention desired, in 1929 the name was changed again, this time to honor the name of a friendly race car driver.
By 1951, Bob Hope was one of the Hollywood’s brightest stars, literally recognized and loved around the world. His name almost guaranteed box office success. Hope had successfully transitioned from radio to television and on to movies. There was a special place reserved in the hearts of Americans for this comedian because of his generous work with USO tours during World War II. Hope was Christmas for many members of the Armed Services and their families.
Paramount Pictures scheduled Hope for the remake of an old film called “The Lemon Drop Kid.” Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who had scored an earlier Hope movie, were commissioned to develop the music. Upon perusing the script, they noticed that the holiday movie didn’t spotlight Christmas in a rural setting, but rather on the sidewalks of New York. Display windows in department stores, anxious shoppers, the gleeful look on children’s faces, and the constant tinkle of bells from The Salvation Army volunteers provided the backdrop for their compositions.
The team could not wait to share their latest work with Hope, but decided to first give it a trial run in front of their wives. The duo was dumbfounded as both women burst into uncontrolled giggles throughout the entire song.
“This really won’t work,” Mrs. Evans assured them. Livingston’s wife took him aside and said, “Jay, you just can’t call them ‘tinkle bells.’” A sheepish look came over both men. The word “silver” was quickly substituted and the tune went on to become the movie’s musical showcase.
Sometimes the music of Christmas seems to get lost in the city. Concrete coloring, impersonal settings, and cold realities cast a dark shadow over the Norman Rockwell sketches of peace and goodwill. David proclaimed accurately that there is violence and strife in the city; “threats and lies never leave its streets” (Psalm 55:9,11).
As city street lights, even stop lights, flicker this holiday season, allow “Silver Bells” to remind you to bring the light of the gospel even to the harsh darkness of the city, into the darker corners of your world. Let your city be one on a hill, not hidden, but brightly proclaiming the message of the Messiah. Let your city be called “the city of righteousness, the faithful city” (Isaiah 1:26) — the city of the King.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.