Johnny Cash’s Christmas Specials, Featuring June Carter, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman & More (1976–79)

John­ny Cash, out­law coun­try singer and defi­ant man in black, comes care­ful­ly pack­aged for many peo­ple through the mer­chan­dis­ing of his life and image. From t‑shirts to posters, doc­u­men­taries to award-win­ning biopics, we know about his ornery prison con­certs, drug use and arrests, noble cham­pi­oning of the dis­en­fran­chised, and dra­mat­ic sto­ry of pain and redemp­tion. We mar­veled at the mys­tique around the aged Cash in his late-life revival. But many of us know lit­tle about anoth­er side of the man—Johnny Cash, genial TV per­son­al­i­ty.

If you hap­pened to have been glued to the tube dur­ing the sev­en­ties and eight­ies, how­ev­er, you would know this John­ny Cash well from his cameo appear­ances on Colum­bo and Lit­tle House on the Prairie. You’d have seen him shilling for Amo­co dur­ing the gas cri­sis of the ear­ly 70s—a gig he took on dur­ing a seri­ous career slump. You’d have maybe caught his recur­ring role on Dr. Quinn Med­i­cine Woman, his turn on 1985 mini-series North and South (as John Brown, nat­u­ral­ly), as well as a num­ber of film appear­ances. And that’s not to men­tion Cash’s own, short-lived vari­ety show, which ran from 1969–71.

If this rather com­mer­cial, main­stream Cash seems at odds with the leg­end, wait till you see The John­ny Cash & Fam­i­ly Christ­mas Show, which ran each year from 1976–79. Here, writes Dan­ger­ous Minds, “Cash game­ly refash­ioned him­self as a fam­i­ly-friend­ly coun­try music TV host” in the vein of Porter Wag­oner. It is decid­ed­ly “far from the mid­dle-fin­ger John­ny Cash or Fol­som Prison Blues”—closer instead to Hee Haw’s Buck Owens and Roy Clark (who appears in the first spe­cial at the top). After his mar­riage to June Carter in 1968, many of his ven­tures fea­tured the two as a singing duo. Here, they aren’t just man and wife, but “fam­i­ly,” mean­ing “many of June and Johnny’s wide-rang­ing clan of rel­a­tives are fea­tured.

We’re also treat­ed to appear­ances from Tony Orlan­do and Cash’s spir­i­tu­al men­tor Bil­ly Gra­ham (’76), Jer­ry Lee Lewis (’77), Kris Kristofer­son and Steve Mar­tin (’78), and even Andy Kauf­man, in char­ac­ter as Taxi’s Lat­ka Gravas (’79). Yes, these may be coun­try corny as all get-out, but they’re also real­ly fun. We get charm­ing, infor­mal goof-offs with June and John­ny, lots of Vegas style com­e­dy bits and lounge rou­tines, and, of course, some stel­lar musi­cal per­for­mances. After his dra­mat­ic late-six­ties con­ver­sion, Cash remained staunch­ly evan­gel­i­cal to the end of his days. (Hear him read The New Tes­ta­ment here.) But rather than rail at sec­u­lar­ists in his Christ­mas spe­cials, he treats the hol­i­day as a laid-back occa­sion for food (“snake ‘n’ pota­toes”), laughs, friends and fam­i­ly, and all-star sing alongs by the fire. Hop on over to Dan­ger­ous Minds to see all four spe­cials.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The First Episode of The John­ny Cash Show, Fea­tur­ing Bob Dylan & Joni Mitchell (1969)

John­ny Cash: Singer, Out­law, and, Briefly, Tele­vi­sion Host

The First Episode of The John­ny Cash Show, Fea­tur­ing Bob Dylan & Joni Mitchell (1969)

John­ny Cash Reads the Entire New Tes­ta­ment

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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