Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Most of you within sight of this page have probably never heard of Cincinnati's Ruth Lyons, America's first talk show hostess. She singlehandedly invented the format. Without her, there is no Oprah. She was better than Oprah. Tom Cruise would not have jumped up and down on Ruth's couch. Ruth would have clocked him with the bunches of flowers she carried around with her to hide her microphone.

She had a seven-year waiting list for audience requests, but these days, Ruth Lyons is largely associated with her worthy Children's Fund, which purchases therapy equipment and delivers gifts to hospitalized kids. But a few years ago I discovered that she also wrote for, performed on, and produced Christmas albums. And now I understand why nobody--sponsors, guests, audience members who were required to wear white gloves--crossed Ruth.

One cut from her Christmas album, "Christmas Marching Song," positively orders her audience to have a nice day, but the only way they're going to get there is to do so in a fully regimented fashion. "Make a list," she says severely. "Now's the time. Here we go! Get in line!"

Then she counts to ten in German as her terrified castmates shout out their assigned cheer-related tasks, such as "put the lights on the Christmas tree" and "tie the presents with bows so fine." And you WILL LIKE the bows so fine, Herr Braun.

See, we Cincinnatians respond to that. We're overwhelmingly Catholic, and German, and if there's one thing we understand, it's making lists and getting into lines. In fact, it probably wouldn't be Christmas for most of us if we weren't reduced to near-tears by ensuring that each gingerbread person received precisely the correct amount of nonpareils.

There's a smidge of me that's French, just enough to grant transactional France-joke immunity. I think it's that part that stares down at the acres of dough on the cookie sheet, mutters "Whatever," and strews sugar more or less at random; if it actually ends up on the cookie, so much the better.

eins zwei drei at:


MEP said...

Wow. I'd love to hear that song. As a German, Catholic Cincinnati native who has heard of Ruth Lyons, I'm sure I would get a kick out of it and would certainly do what Ruth told me too . . . I doubt she'd want me to call her Ruth though.

Starnarcosis said...

Oh my Gosh. I remember Ruth and Bob Braun and the 50-50 club! The idea that she has a highly dominatrix style to her Christmas albums just puts me on the floor. The Wikipedia article about her is very good.

Ensuring that each individual lebkuchen gets the right amount of red sprinkles!

Anonymous said...

"I doubt she'd want me to call her Ruth though."

I only feel safe in doing so because she is dead.

"Ensuring that each individual lebkuchen gets the right amount of red sprinkles!"

I am going to attempt lebkuchen this year! Any tips?

Life's a Laugh said...

Just read the article and felt compelled to point out the apparent acceptance of ridicule in Charlie Brown Christmas. Not only do the kids not try to sugar coat the fact that they didn't send CB a Christmas card, they revel in it. Not to mention the heckling and teasing during his attempt at play direction and holiday tree selection. Nowadays, CB would soon be in therapy or looking for the nearest book depository. Thought I'd point that out.

Starnarcosis said...

Adventures in Lebkuchen making:
Don't worry if, after beating all the ingredients together, you have something that looks like crumbs. It'll mush up once you get it into the press. Also, I've seen recipes that recommend you chill the dough but it's easiest to work with if it's a little cooler than room temperature. The nice thing about pressed cookies is if you mess one up, just throw it back into the press! They also taste better after sitting overnight.

Anonymous said...

Good advice; thank you :)

Mike Marchand said...

There's a link for the MSNBC article now?

Also, while German is not normally a soft, beautiful language, I think I may like "Stillenacht" more than its English counterpart.

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