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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Alf's Christmas Special: My Take On It

Alf was a pretty popular character in the 1980s, he was really an aardvark-looking alien creature puppet whose answer to everything was comical quips. However, he never had a movie made. They just didn't do that in the 1980s. Which is kind of a shame, because when I got to know Alf, he was funny as heck! But his Special Christmas Special episode, which aired in December, 1987, was as close as the world ever got to seeing an Alf movie. That episode kindof became a family tradition in our household, we watched it every year at Christmas time. It's a good episode, filled with Christmas music and Christmas spirit.

I used to think the little girl [Tiffany] in the episode was really a dying child. But as I got older, I began to wonder if the same little girl used in the episode was really the girl the episode was dedicated to, or if she was just an actress. She had a lot of energy for a child who was supposedly dying at the time that episode was made! Well, I recently found out the little girl used in that episode was not dying. She was actually an actress named Keri Houlihan. However, Tiffany was a real little girl who was dying. She and Alf "met" due to the Make A Wish Foundation. It was her dying dream to meet Alf. Her full name was Tiffany Leigh Smith, and she passed away on January 4, 1987; actually several months before the episode was in production. She died of leukemia. I actually figured that out several years ago, because it was never mentioned in the episode what she was dying of. I guess her parents did not want it revealed. But so many children per year get diagnosed with leukemia, it's almost gained the rank of being a regular childhood disease. The thing is, it's one disease that not every child survives. It's not like measels or the flu. It's cancer. Which is worse!

I remember I first saw that episode in school. My english teacher brought it to school on a video tape and showed it to the whole class. I was not into watching Alf back in those days, but I sat and watched anyway. Though I admit at first, I only watched because I had to, but for the first 10 minutes or so, I was getting bored with it. Then there was a scene where Mr. Foley (played by Cleavon Little), dressed as Santa Claus, and Dr. Willoughby (Carl Franklin) were standing around after Mr. Foley gave out most of the gifts to the children in the hospital. All except Alf. Tiffany did take Alf, but gave him back to Mr. Foley. OK, so this scene is getting interesting. Dr. Willoughby told Mr. Foley that all Tiffany really wanted was to see him for Christmas because some other little kid told her there was no such thing as Santa. To which Dr. Willoughby's answer was to show her an article in an old book. OK, again this was beginning to spark my interest, so I kept intently watching.

It was then that Dr. Willoughby showed Mr. Foley what his answer was to Tiffany's question. The book had an article that began "Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus", which really was an editorial printed in the NY Sun back on September 21, 1897. It has become a very popular article mentioned many times and became popular Christmas folklore. And it was the most famous newspaper editorial of all time. Well, Mr. Foley continued to read on. Somehow at the end of reading that article, he discovered something terrible about Tiffany. Dr. Willoughby cannot do anything to save her. When I saw that part I thought "Wow! This is really juicy!" Alf was in the background and looked in shock after that was said. But I think the most tear-jerking part of that scene was when Dr. Willoughby [almost tearfully] said "What are you supposed to say to a little girl, who's not going to see another Christmas?" Well, with that line, the episode finally caught my attention. I got into this.

After that scene was done, Alf was back in Tiffany's room to pay her a visit, to wish her a merry Christmas, and to see if she had anymore cookies. LOL! I'm sure the producers put the cookie line in just to make that funny before the real downer comes. That is when Tiffany is in bed with Alf by her side. It's then she reveals she's going to have to "move on to another world too". She knew she was dying. She tells Alf that she is afraid to go, but that she knows she's not supposed to be afraid. Alf assures her that it's OK to be afraid. I'm pretty sure those were the exact words uttered between Alf and the real Tiffany before she died. Being a child who knows she is dying, there's bound to be a little bit of fear. Tiffany then says "I'm so afraid I can't go to sleep at night. Because I'm afraid I'm not going to wake up." The little girl is almost in tears when she reveals that. Well, that would be the best, most merciful way to go. She falls asleep and doesn't wake up, at least she'd be in Heaven before she knows she's dead. And it's a peaceful way to go.

This whole scene is a bit of a tear-jerker too. I feel for that little girl. Even though she may go in her sleep, she is still just a little girl. An 8-year old girl. She'll never have the opportunity to get her first driver's license, or graduate from school, or get a career, or have children of her own. Its one of the saddest things to think of such a young girl dying like that. At the end of their little bedside chat, Tiffany says "I love you Alf." To which Alf pauses to caress Tiffany's hand and then says "I love you too Tiffany." Then the little girl falls asleep. After she is asleep, Alf slowly walks to the door, pausing for a brief minute to look back at her sleeping, with tears in his eyes.

After that, Alf tries to leave the hospital, during which you do not see much of Tiffany, but you do see a woman who is pregnant and in labor with her husband. After she gets into the hospital, she gets stuck in an elevator and she is about to have a baby. Alf is under the gurney she is lying on, and he is stuck with her. While he is stuck, he decides to try and help her by pretending to be a doctor. As I am watching this, I'm thinking "OK, this is boring!" Even today, this portion of the episode still is dull to me. However, I do see the point. The producers want to make this episode as funny as possible, so they get Alf to help deliver a baby. After which he offers a suggestion for the baby's name. He suggests the mom name the baby Tiffany, after his new friend. The mom agrees.

Looking back at that today, that kind of scene has become something of a cliché. I remember a lot of episodes, of a lot of TV shows, has one person dying (usually really dying, or already dead) and another person being born. I remember the episode of Sesame Street where it's announced that Mr. Hooper passed away. At the end of that episode, you see a couple walking into Big Bird's lair to show him their new baby. Something like that would never be shown on today's TV networks! It might trigger someone, or be taken off for causing depression. Well, today the Alf Christmas Special would never be shown, even if Alf was still running. One of the Christmas tunes you hear a lot of on that episode is "Away In A Manger", which has religious undertones. And the belief in Santa Claus today would also be triggering to modern day snowflakes. I'll tell you, I miss the 1980s, when kids were innocent, and the belief in Santa Claus was still going on. We had atheists back then, I was friends with one of them. But they had tougher skin than they have today. They didn't get outrageously angry over someone else believing in GOD, or Jesus, or Santa Claus.

I think that's why I don't like today's TV shows, cartoons and movies. Everyone these days wants everything to be scientifically accurate! If they're not, then they face severe scrutiny and criticism from the snowflakes of today. I think that also may be why we're seeing more cats in commercials today. It used to be you never saw a cat in a commercial unless it was a commercial for cat food or cat litter. Now, they seem to be everywhere! No doubt because the snowflakes complained that there were too many commercials with dogs in them. Even commercials that had nothing to do with pets. I miss the days when cartoons and movies were just fun. They didn't need to look so realistic, like you see in Disney/Pixar films. They didn't need to be so scientifically accurate. A good example of that would be like you see in Finding Nemo. In one scene you see Nemo and his father moving in and out of their anemone. Almost making a game out of it. Clownfish would not take that as a game, they do that for protection. To them, it's serious. The producers of Finding Nemo could have made that scene more like the scene in Bambi, where his mom takes him to the meadow for the first time. Bambi charges away from his mom to the meadow, but she stops him. Telling him never to do that because there could be danger. And the scene with the sharks. You never see sharks as the good guys. And one flips when Dory bleeds and he smells it. Why can't they just let them be their characters and not make them so scientifically accurate. Even on Ice Age, where Diego threatens Syd. Well, if you ask me, Ice Age would have been better if they didn't have Diego at all. Or on Madagascar when that stupid lion talks about how he's "the king". Now that is sooooooo damn stupid!!! Madagascar would have been 1000% better without the stupid lion altogether! But to call him, more than once or twice, "the king", it just makes the movie seem more corny. And that's not even scientifically accurate. It's just something that was carried on over the years by children's stories.

Anyways, back to the subject. Toward the end of the episode somehow, the Santa suit winds up on Alf, and he is finally wheeled out of the hospital by Mr. Foley. Well, Mr. Foley had a rough month that December. His wife died a few weeks before, and so he just wanted to end it all. So, he winds up on a bridge, and begins to climb over the rail when Alf gets out of the van and stops him, and proceeds to tell him why he should go on. He manages to change Mr. Foley's mind and asks him to take him to see Willy Tanner (Max Wright). Mr. Foley agrees to that saying he's always wanted to see how Santa goes down the chimney. Alf kinda fumbles there, muttering "Me too!" under his breath.

When they get to the cabin the Tanners were staying in for Christmas, Alf is already on the roof preparing to drop in on them by way of the chimney. Brian (Benji Gregory) believes the noises on the roof to be Santa Claus. But his mom (Anne Schedeen) tries to convince him that it can't be Santa. But when Alf throws snow down the chimney to calm the fire enough so he can get down there, Brian is convinced it is Santa. The two women get scared and try to wake the father, then Alf appears in the chimney. Well, all that time they had been looking for Alf, and now they found him. He was happily home with his friends.

Later, they go back to the hospital, where Tiffany and Mr. Foley are frolicking together, sort of. He is fixing her bed. It was then the Tanners walk into Tiffany's room and introduce themselves. They give her presents and say they are with Alf. After which Tiffany is happy to see them. After a brief chit-chat between Willy and Mr. Foley, the mom tells Tiffany to look out the window. She excitedly leaves the bed and looks down, and Alf is in their tan station wagon parked underneath Tiffany's window. She looks down at him and he looks up at her. She waves and mouths "I love you Alf." During this whole scene, you hear the studio choir humming "Silent Night" and Mr. Foley's voiceover reading the old newspaper editorial "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus". This scene is a real tear-jerker. I remember when I was in school watching that, it almost made me cry. It was so sad! To this day, it still makes me well up. Then after that, you see "Dedicated in memory of our friends" and then "Tiffany Leigh Smith (1979-1987)". So that was proof this was a real girl, it just wasn't the girl in the episode.

Well, this was a special episode, it kinda made me look at Alf in a different light. During the 1990s, I began watching him, along with my sis. I still think he's funny. But every time I watch him, I always think of him in that Christmas special. It was how I got to know him. Paul Fusco was the uncredited voice of Alf, and he was written to by the real Tiffany Smith back in 1986, and she wanted to meet Alf so badly, it was her dying wish and she wrote to the producers of Alf many times before she was finally granted a video conference with him. Fusco admits now he has kept every one of her letters all these years, and still has them to this day. I'm sure it's a very sweet memory!
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