A Christmas Carol

Mr. Magoo Returns to Prime Time

The Christmas of 2012—the very one that Christians and Jews with a penchant for disappointing their Bubbies  will celebrate in a few weeks—marks the my 53rd holiday.    That’s a lot of tinsel, kids.

And of all the holidays on the Gregorian calendar, Christmas is my favorite;  the one that causes me to wax nostalgic the most.    Every year I try to watch all the Christmas movies that are near and dear.   And no, not the ones that We, Lifetime and teh Hallmark Channel bombard us with.    And they all have the same  themes.  Certainly similar titles.

  • A Holly Christmas
  • Christmas for Holly
  • A Christmas Wedding
  • A Christmas Engagement
  • A Dog’s Christmas
  • Pete and Ernie’s Fun Canine Christmas

Where’s The Christmas Hysterectomy or A Bris  for The Holidays or Little Mohammed’s Sunni Christmas????

I’m talking about the standards.     It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my favorite movies, damnedregardless of its holiday affiliation.   I like White Christmas too,  for no other reason than that comedy factor involved in watching Danny Kaye effort to be an on-screen  Lothario.   I’ve never seen A Christmas Story.   Nope, sorry—never have.  I’ve tried sitting through one of the movies when TBS insists on running a 24 hour “you’ll put your eye out”  marathon every December, but I just can’t.    I have a major disconnect with Ralphie.    Not sure why.  Maybe it’s those Children of The Damned eyes of his.

There are also the animated specials that are close to my adolescent heart–the one I now take Warfarin to keep pumping normally.   There’s Charlie Brown’s Christmas special and of course, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with its archaic stop-gap animation courtesy of Rankin/Bass which sounds like an exit you’d find  along Interstate 10 somewhere  in Houston.      I was too old for Frosty the Snowman to make a soulful impression.   I was almost ten when that first premiered in 1968.     Yeah, I watched it for a few years, but by 12, it was over.  I was already starting to show signs of being a  future pessimist.   Jade was my favorite color.

Now, there is one animated special that screams Christmas to me and its rarely ever broadcast.  I’d bet few even remember it.

But…

It’ll make the airwaves this year AND in prime time AND on a major network.

MagooChristmasIt’s called “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”.    Mr Magoo was once a fairly popular cartoon character mid-century.    He was a kind man; a wealthy man,  drove a convertible Model T and his extreme nearsightedness was the cause of much hilarity—-for the time.   I seem to remember a scene in which he hugged a pot-bellied stove, thinking it was a portly friend of his.

Yeah, third degree burns are HIGH-larious.

Over the years, Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol was shown infrequently.  Usually, on one the cartoon network and usually around 3 am.   But this year, it returns to its rightful position on NBC, Saturday, December 22nd at 7 pm CST( check your local listings).   It last aired on December 18th, 1962,  50 extremely event filled years ago.    And keep this in mind—Magoo was the first of the modern Christmas cartoons.  It premiered four years before the brilliant Chuck Jones and Dr. Seuss had the Grinch attempting a holiday coup d’etat in Whoville.   It aired three years before Charlie Brown  learned the true meaning of Christmas and introduced us to the breezy music of Vince Guaraldi.    And it was two years before    a stop-motion puppet version of the story of how Santa’s sleigh was aided and abetted on a foggy Christmas Eve by Rudolph and his nose so bright.

This version of ‘the carol’ is true to Dickens opus.   All the characters are there–Ebenezer, the ghosts, the beleaguered Bob Cratchett and his long-suffering youngest child,  Tiny Tim.  Just what was the malady  from which he suffered?  Polio?? magoo doorknocker  Anybody?

Some of the same production aspects are there, too such as the menacing lion’s face door knocker on Scrooge’s front door.    It was haunted.  It morphed into Jacob Marley’s face before Ebeneezer entered it on Christmas Eve.

This is also an animated version of a Broadway play and in the commercial segues, the camera pans back to show a stage and motionless audience members.   This music is great….and with good reason.  Jules Styne and Bob Merrill wrote all the tunes.   They’d go on to write the music for “Funny Girl” and a whole host of other hits.    There has always been scuttlebutt along The Great White Way that the hit   “People” which Babs Streisand sang with such style, was actually written for the Magoo carol,  but that the writing duo changed their minds.

Interesting.

It probably would have worked considering the amazing paradigm shift that the  three ghostly visitors offered  the Christmas-hating Ebenezer Scrooge who according to Dickens, was/is  “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence.

There’s one song that always moved me, even as a kid.   It’s when the ghost of Christmas past (the spirit with the tiny flame above his head) takes Ebenezer back to his childhood and the orphanage where he grew up.   “All Alone In the World” is a duet with Scrooge and himself as a boy, left all alone at Christmas time.  The harmonies are pretty and lyrically, it’s a bit gut wrenching.

The man who gave Magoo a voice was actor Jim Backus who gave us Thurston Howell III, the wealthy buffoon who along with his wife Lovey, packed three years worth of clothes for a three-hour tour .  Gilligan’s Island, remember???    It was rumored that the producers initially wanted Robert Goulet to sing in his stead.   Goulet was a singer; Backus wasn’t but he ended up singing all his own songs backus thurstonand did a yeoman’s job, if you ask me.   Here’s another little piece  of scuttlebutt.   The song “People”, which Babs Streisand sang with such amazing style was actually written for Magoo to sing, but the song writing team changed their minds at the last minute.

The song would have worked considering that late in the Carol, three nocturnal visitors–a trio of ghostly vehicles that transport Ebenezer backwards, forwards and sideways in time—offer him an amazing paradigm shift.  He awakens Christmas morning to the realization that his cruel, miserly ways  don’t work and that the walls he built constructed of his money and resentful ways, not  only keep people out, but imprison him in the process.    Jacob Marley, the eternal chains that bind him…all that stuff.

The character of the downtrodden put upon Bob Cratchett is given life courtesy of Jack Cassidy, ex husband of Shirley “Mrs. Partridge” Jones and father of David and Shawn, half-brother heart-throbs whose airbrushed faces helped sell millions of  Tiger Beat magazines a million years ago.   Other familiar names on the closing credits include Morey Amsterdam as Jim Brady.   ‘

Jim Brady????   I don’t remember this character.   Was he one of the ghosts?   One of Scrooge’s business partners perhaps?   Or just a White House press Secretary wounded during a presidential assassination attempt??  Most will remember Morey Amsterdam as the obnoxious, wise-cracking Buddy Sorrell, one of the writer’s for the fictional Alan Brady show on ” The Dick Van Dyke Show’.   Al the other names on the credits were foreign to me.

Why should you watch Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol?   Well, if you’re like me, holiday cartoons are like colorful time machines.  They can whisk  me back to a time of innocence, before the chaos of mortgages and mayhem of marriages  that end despite promises that they wouldn’t.    And not only that, it’s good.   The message of the Carol is a good one.   It’s all about what I call “preventable regrets”.     We all have the power to change our lives for the better.   To be nicer, kinder, more generous and not only with money, but with our time and affection.    There is a sweet simplicity in the message, regardless of how it’s portrayed and trust me, it’s been done to death.

There have been countless renditions of the Dickens classic .   Fred Flintstone endured a Jurassic version of the tale.  Even Walt Disney got into the act with a Scrooge McDuck offering and one that featured Mickey Mouse.  Jim Carrey starred in a movie version a few years ago, as did George C. Scott and there was the classic black and white movie starring Alistair Sim.   I always found that movie cold and disturbing.    Then again, that was Dickens intent.    Last but not least, Bill Murray gave us “Scrooged” back in the 80′s.   There were  countless others.

As for the animation I would imagine that it’ll look alien to today’s kids…maybe even their parents.   It’s dated.  We’re talking early 1960′s animation.  No technological bells or whistles.   Magoo and all the characters were painstakingly hand drawn.   The movements are crude but the sentiment is there.

Stick around for the grand finale.

magoo christmas finale

The whole cast appears on stage to sing the “Lord’s Bright Blessing” a  lush, well-orchestrated song which bestows the virtues of hope, charity, concern for fellow man and something called razzleberry dressing, whatever the hell that is.

“Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol”, Saturday December 22nd on NBC.

 

The Christmas O.D.

I’ve never seen it this bad, this early.

 Here in Houston, Christmas decorations in several strip centers went up a week and a half ago…almost a week before we were even hob-nobbin with the goblins of Halloween.   Hell, I can take it back even earlier.  I was in one of those  “Bath and Beyond Your Bed and Broken Hearth” stores and I saw a smallish Christmas display up and priced accordingly and that was in the second week of October.  

This  extremely premature commercial bombardment of Christmas is, in my opinion, counter productive.   Well, for me it is.  It makes me want to run in the opposite direction and convert to Shintoism or something.   The problem is I love Christmas.  It’s a great time of year.  The world seems prettier all adorned with even the tackiest of tinsel, but come on!!!!   Can’t we wait to encourage some over achieving Reynold’s Aluminum smelter to throw up on trees, displays and store facades at least until Advent????  This “too much, too soon” approach grates on my nerves and completely erodes the special nature of the season.

In fact, it completely removes all traces of what little “santamentality” I’m able to muster.

Tonight, I was flipping through my TV channels and stumbled upon some Christmas music, but not just any Christmas music….this music had genres, the likes I’ve never seen before.

Here they are; varied for your listening pleasure:

  • Latinio Navidad
  • Soulful Holidays
  • Ultra Hip Holidays
  • Classical Holidays
  • Country Holiday
  • Holiday Instrumental
  • The Christmas Message
  • Holiday Remix
  • Blues Holiday
  • And The Billy Holiday, which I can only imagine,  must be a Yuletide homage to syringes and hard living

one liners and party fun jokes for christmmas

Crass commercialism. 

Buy this, get that.  No home should be without (insert in demand item here).   No child can have a truly happy Christmas unless he/she receives…whatever THEE toy is this Christmas. 

What is the true meaning of Christmas?   I liked O. Henry’s distinct situational irony in “Gift of the Magi”.  A poor couple wants to give each other great Christmas gifts.  She wants to buy him a pretty chain for his watch, so she cuts her beautiful long hair and sells it in order to buy a silver watch fob.  He in turn, sells his watch in order to buy her nice combs for her beautiful long hair.   

In “A Christmas Carol”, Charles Dickens’ theme was also spot on with his unabashedly Unitarian approach  to morality and ethics.  The main character, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge  isn’t condemned for his stingy, cheap skate ways alone. If he were simply a stingy man, whose penny-pinching ways hurt no one but himself, he might be a pitiable character, but one about whom readers do not overly concern themselves. Scrooge’s miserliness, however, is symptomatic for Dickens of the way in which his society ignored, exploited, and abused its poorest and most vulnerable members.  

The sickly Tiny Tim comes to mind.   You know, I’ve often wondered what it was that made Tiny Tim so ill.  He was small, frail, pale and needed a crutch to walk, that is, when he could walk.  Otherwise, Daddy Bob would hoist him up on his shoulder and carry the tyke around that way.   But what was his actual ailment?   I read somehwere that a physician with a literary background once conducted an intense study into Tiny Tims’s illness, analyzing all the symptoms. His conclusion?  Tiny Tim had a severe case of “the pathetics”, which was a classic “go to” illness favored by many scribes in Victorian England.  Tim was a character written as ill simply for literary effect which in this book’s case, had to play upon our emotions and be curable…as long as Ebenezer threw some post spiritual redemption money at it.   Young Tim actually had no nameable disease. 

Now, you know.

But Dickens’ sappiness be damned, one of my best memories of this story actually comes in the form of a cartoon from of all characters, Mr. Magoo.   Mr.  Magoo’s A Christmas Carol was the first animated holiday special ever produced specifically for television.  It was commissioned and sponsored by Timex and first aired on NBC on December 18, 1962.   The cartoon is written as a Broadway theater play, divided into acts with an actual stage curtain.  A long shot includes hand drawn audience members who never move, much less emote or applaud.

Nothing can hurl me face first into the Christmas spirit faster than the holiday TV classics.    A Charlie Brown Christmas;  How The Grinch Stole Christmas  and of course,  Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer  (the Rankin/Bass ‘stop motion’ version, ONLY)  are shows I still try to catch each year, but my  sister, Karol and I used to love the Mr. Magoo effort the most.   In the mid and late 60′s and early 70′s, the special  used to come on random Sundays in December when nothing else was was worth airing.  We’ve never seen the hwoit begins; we always seem to tune in when the damn thing is already in progress, but we still love it.    I remember always being so moved by one particular scene that included the Ghost of Christmas Past,  the one with the little flame above his/her androgynous head.   The specter takes Ebenezer back to his tragic childhood–sad, lonely days spent as a sad, lonely orphan.

I was also struck by the fact that the finger belonging to the Ghost of Christmas Future was bony, black and rife with palsy as it pointed toward Ebenezer’s tombstone, indicating his ultimate fate.  That image has always stuck with me.     And a bit of M.r Magoo trivia, if I may:  the voice of Bob Cratchit belongs to Jack Cassidy,  father of David; ex-husband of Shirley Jones.   Decent set of pipes;  didn’t know the cat could sing. 

If you really want to get into the Christmas spirit and Clarice, Cindy Lou Who and Charlie Brown, et. al, just aren’t doing it for you, get the DVD of  Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol if you can.  It’s available through Amazon.     It’s good, evocative and wreaks of familiar Christmases past and those of us who are old enough will remember Mr. Magoo, but don’t expect much of the typical Magoo-esque, nearsighted bungling;  with few exceptions such as the fact that it’s a musical,  this version of “A Christmas Carol” is fairly straight forward and relatively true to its Dickensian script. 

But just remember, I submit the above holiday recommendation under protest.  The holiday is being shoved down our throats even before the last Three Muskateers bar from Halloween has been eaten.   But I guess I have no choice but to be a holiday lemming and do as everyone else and tolerate all the intensely early pre-season falderal, even though it’s early November.  I hope by December 25th, you can still handle, for the third month in a row, seeing Jesus in a cradle–with lighting attachment–on sale for $34.99,  or a spinning dreidel display (relegated to a back corner at your neighborhood, Anti-Semite Mart) and somehow, not lose your fruitcake or nog…..or kugel, if you’re shopping for the dreidel.  How utterly ridiculous!   It’s all being shoved down our throats and to that,  I say bah humbug, which I’m sure is decorated and on sale somewhere.   And I hope that when it comes to sensible spending this Christmas, you’ll follow Ebenezer’s lead.   If he were real and living in this economy, he’d be right to be frugal.

In fact, that’s precisely why Scrooge has always been so fond of Rudolph;  every buck is deer to him.

What?!?!   How dare you turn on me!   It’s Christmas for Pete’s sake.

   

.

;vvvvv