Jim Backus

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 the 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,regardless 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.


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.


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.