upon a time, a troubled man walked the streets of New York. He
was a songwriter bY trade, and had been asked to write a Christmas
song. He didn't think he could do it. He had never tried to write
one before, and now...
now was just about the worst possible time to try to think about
anything festive or jolly. You see, it was October of 1962, and
this man was not alone in feeling troubled. It was the middle
of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and for a few days there it really
looked as if nuclear war was going to erupt. Everyone was worried
– everyone had that same troubled look.
man had been through World War II, part of the time as a spy who
had successfully infiltrated the Nazis – dangerous stuff,
indeed. He knew first-hand the horrors of War, a knowledge that
only fueled his current rather grim state of mind as he walked
the city streets.
then, he came upon two women, each with a stroller, and each stroller
containing an impossibly cherubic baby. He looked down, and saw
that the two babies were actually smiling at each other. Happily
oblivious to the troubles of grownups, these two innocents were
happy in that separate peace of childhood.
a flash, the man's despair had vanished. In his words, "All
of a sudden my mood was extraordinary." The image stayed
with him as he raced home, his Christmas song already begun.
had had a vision of the babies as innocent little lambs, and began
to sketch out a little story about the night wind speaking to
a similar lamb long ago, asking "Do you hear what I hear?"
doubt much of the rest of the story is familiar. In the story
within the song, the wind is of course telling the lambs of the
birth of that Prince of Peace for whom Christmas was named, and
the lambs tell a shepherd, and the shepherd tells a mighty king,
and in the fantasy in which the tale takes place the king in turn
tells the world to pray for Peace. An extraordinarily fitting
tale for those Cold War days which my childhood recalls, now so
very long ago.
far as the real story, President Kennedy was of course able to
prevent a nuclear war, and the songwriter, Noel Regney, gave the
lyrics to his wife, Gloria Shayne, to put to music, and "Do
You Hear What I Hear" was quickly recorded by the Harry Simeone
Chorale in time to become a modest success that holiday season.
Its greatest success lay a year away, however.
the fall of 1963, Bing Crosby decided to record it. He went into
the studio in late November, on the same day a group called the
Wellingtons went in to record the "Scarecrow" theme
for Disney – and tragically and ironically the same day
President Kennedy rode a Dallas motorcade to eternity –
November 22, 1963.
nevertheless released the thing at the beginning of that December,
and the song became a world wide hit which would go on to be recorded
by hundreds. It seems the world's evident need for such a "prayer
for peace", as Regney called his creation, was stronger than
ever in the wake of tragedy. It seems we continue to need it,
perhaps now more than ever.
I must confess that, being six at the time the song was written,
I remember nothing of the Missile Crisis, other than the fact
that our teacher seemed to be conducting an inordinate amount
of "drop drills".
do, however, remember that holiday season very well indeed, for
December 1962 brought us the debut of the incomparable "Mr.
Magoo's Christmas Carol".
therefore cannot leave you without the news that, as predicted
in a previous column, the long-awaited book on this First Animated
TV Christmas Special Ever is out, and just in time for Christmas!
Find out all about Clara's favorite Christmas show here:
and Good Will to you all, and a Very Merry Christmas!!