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A Christmas mystery – solved!

Roy Peter Clark



(Original Caption) 3/22/1961 - Redington Beach, FL: Relaxing in a cabana on Redington Beach are Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio March 22nd. Marilyn is in town for a short vacation while Joe is here with the New York Yankees during their Spring Training acting as their batting coach. Photo: George Sweers/Tampa Bay Times via Zuma Press.

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I like to find things. When I am frustrated by some lost item in the house, I always look in our mahogany piano bench.

Open the lid, and you never know what might pop out.

Not long ago, I was searching for a piece of sheet music. I did not find it. But I found something else at the very bottom. Inside a manila envelope there was a single piece of paper. It was old.

The quality of the paper stock looked familiar: gray and thin, the sort of copy paper used for decades in newsrooms.

On that single sheet were typed the lyrics of a song. You could tell that whoever wrote them had used a typewriter because the mistakes were X-ed out like this: xxxxxxxxxxx.

The title of the song was in all capital letters:


But there was no byline.

It was a Christmas mystery.

I knew the song was not mine. I have written a handful of funny Christmas songs for family and friends, including “Christmas without Snow,” “Santa’s Little Christmas Pup,” and the oh so naughty “Santa’s Got a Problem: He’s Got No Mo Ho.”

The mystery song begins as a mournful ballad of lost love:

No, it won’t be the same this Christmas

No things won’t be like they use to be

The yuletide tonight

It won’t seem quite right

Cause you’ve walked out on me.


I’ve tried little darling to bear up

In the lonely role I’ve been cast

But those Christmas tree lights

They don’t seem so bright

As I dream of Christmas past


Our friends have gathered around me

As my heart for you still pines

In fact, your close friend Donna

Has dropped in several times.


(Hmm, I thought, this story is about to take a turn, from lost love to sweet revenge.)


Now tonight Donna’s planned a small party

On this the lonely Christmas eve

What a time we intend

With her two girlfriends

Who are here staying with me.


One is a New York dancer

Who I’ve nicknamed the Prancer you see

The other’s a beautiful actress

Who’s a vixen on TV.


No it won’t be the same this Christmas

Without you it’s won’t seem right

But with Donna and the Vixen

And Prancer the dancer

I think I’ll make out all right, all right

I think I’ll make out all right.


Merry Christmas to you all

And to all a good night.

By now I was laughing out loud. I wondered if someone had simply copied out the lyrics he or she had found somewhere. But an online search found no title by that name – or any of the lyrics, so the song must be original. But who wrote it?

Then it hit me in a flash like from an old-fashioned camera.

George Sweers.

When I arrived at the St. Petersburg Times in 1977, George was the veteran photo editor, and one of the most honored photojournalists of the last century. He died in 2010 from cancer at the age of 82. Andrew Meacham wrote a featured obituary:

“The former Associated Press and St. Petersburg Times photographer and editor ducked rocks and bullets in Japanese riots. He glided down the Mekong River in Vietnam with an American regiment. He buzzed military bases in Florida in a rented plane to see how closely they were being guarded … He also aimed his lens at simmering East-West tensions along the Berlin Wall; anxious preparations at Guantanamo Naval Base during the Cuban Missile Crisis; and hundreds of Cuban citizens fleeing that country in 1965.”

Missing from that obit was the anecdote that I always found most intriguing: that in 1954 during the Korean War George followed Marilyn Monroe on a four-day trip in which she entertained more than 100,000 troops in a show called Anything Goes. Images from back then show Marilyn in skin-tight outfits performing before soldiers dressed for the cold weather.

George got to know Marilyn enough that she gave him permission to shoot photos of her and her hubby Joe DiMaggio when they visited Redington Beach. I run into those photos of Marilyn and Joe, she shading her eyes, he relaxing with a cigarette. At the time, they were two of the most famous people on the face of the earth.

Perhaps George’s most significant contribution to journalism was the conversion of newspapers from black and white photography to color. The Times was an innovator in the move to color, in spite of the opposition from traditionalists.

That’s George’s resume, but it leaves out his passion: Writing clever lyrics for songs.

I know this because he often came to the Clark house for holiday parties. We’d sit at the piano, and he would invite me to play his favorite songs, the ones with the cleverest lyrics. He loved the words of “I’ll Take Manhattan … the Bronx and Staten Island, too … Let’s go to Coney, and eat baloney on a roll…”

He gave me a tape of a song he had written and published during his time in Japan, when the popularity of calypso music in the 1950s was making its way around the world. The Japanese singer belted out George’s lyrics in accented English: “Japanese calypso, oh what you do to me, me, me – ay, ay, ay.”  It was a minor hit, and we would sing it every Christmas.

I just remembered that George wanted to visit my house – and piano – with something he was working on. He needed a melody for his lyrics. I am thinking now that it was probably the mystery song I found in my piano bench.

I reached George’s son-in-law – with the great name of Mike Manley – living in Shawnee, Kansas. His wife Susan, George’s daughter, has no memory of that Christmas song, but when I read the lyrics to Mike over the phone, his response was spontaneous: “That is SO George!”

Lacking evidence to the contrary, I am formally attributing the lyrics of “No It Won’t Be the Same This Christmas” to George Sweers. As for the melody? Let’s meet again here next year.





































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  1. Avatar

    Charlie Guy

    December 17, 2023at8:39 am

    Great story!! Especial for our family!!

    My 48 year old son in Safety Harbour is married to a Japanese woman & they have sons…one in high school & one FSU. Being a pretty large Japanese American local presence, could you please post sources so this can be shared>

  2. Avatar


    December 16, 2023at6:31 pm

    The community of St Petersburg is so blessed to have Roy Peter Clark and his remembrances.

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