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“Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” book is sure to be a hit with baby boomers

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“Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” book is sure to be a hit with baby boomers

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The Philadelphia Inquirer said that it “ … succeeded in generating more warmth and sentiment than have flesh-and-blood actors in several previous … ‘Christmas Carols’ “

The Chicago Daily News that “ … it really was a remarkable job.” More importantly that this production “ … undoubtedly will become one of those rare … efforts worth repeating each year at Christmas time.”

The Chicago Tribune called it “ … a new Yule classic.”

What’s that you say? Are these early reviews for Disney’s A Christmas Carol? If only. No, this is what was said about the world’s very first animated holiday TV special, “Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol.”

Mr. Magoo as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
Copyright 2009 Oxberry Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Yep. Two years before Rankin/Bass’ “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” debuted on NBC and three years before “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first bowed on CBS, Quincy Magoo appeared as Ebenezer Scrooge in a hour-long animated holiday special sponsored by Timex.

And given the huge ratings that “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” got in December of 1962 (It got an national audience share of 39) and 1963 (Viewership actually went up for the second airing of this holiday special. With 14 million homes tuning in to watch “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” which gave this rerun a national audience share of 46) … Well, one wonders if the Grinch would have ever had the chance to steal Christmas if Mr. Magoo hadn’t first proven that there was a market out there for animated holiday specials on TV.

Sadly, over the past 47 years, “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” has been eclipsed by many of the animated holiday specials that followed it. Which is why it’s terrific that Darrell Van Citters has put together a book that seeks to restore this seasonal show to its rightful place in TV history, “Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, the Making of the First Animated Christmas Special (Oxberry Press, October 2009.”

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol Book cover
Copyright 2009 Oxberry Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Van Citters is the perfect guy to tackle a project like this. Especially since Darrell started his animation training at CalArts. Which is where Cornelius “Corny” Cole, the production designer on “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” taught for many years.

More to the point, given that Van Citters has worked in animation for three-plus decades at this point (working on projects as varied as Disney’s very first attempt at turning Gary Wolf’s “Who Censored Roger Rabbit” into a feature film to serving as director on the highly popular animated TV series “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi”) … Well, Darrell knows all too well how tough it is to turn out a quality product under television’s crushing deadlines.

And given that Van Citters has an obvious affection for “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” … Well, he brings the perfect blend of a fan’s excitement and an industry insider's insight to this book.

Character designs from the Making of Mr. Magoo's A Christmas Carol book
Copyright 2009 Oxberry Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved

In the years that he spent researching “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special,” Darrell unearthed stories that I’ve never ever heard about this holiday favorite. Like how “Magoo” producer Lee Orgel tried to recruit musical theater legend Richard Rodgers to come write the score for this TV show.

As strange as this may seem, the talent behind “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel” was sorely tempted by “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.” As Van Citters explains:

Orgel sent Rodgers a first edition of “A Christmas Carol” with a note telling (Richard) that he would like to talk with him about this project. As Orgel explained his idea, Rodgers became intrigued by both the concept and the prospect of working in animation. (Richard) asked for some time to mull things over while he pondered his choice of lyricist. Some time passed, and after a frank appraisal of his professional obligations, Rodgers declined. In a note dated October 17, 1961, (Rodgers) told Orgel that, “I may be rejecting the best opportunity I’ve had in many years, but I’m afraid that I haven’t enough hours left in which to do a score for Mr. Magoo and the ‘Christmas Carol.’ “(Rodgers) did, however, offer to (help Orgel) find someone else to the project as he felt that others would “jump at it.”

Storyboards from Mr. Magoos Christmas Carol
Copyright 2009 Oxberry Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Darrell found other gems as he was pulling together this 128 page hardcover. Story sketches that Marty Murphy did for this holiday special. Rare old photographs from the recording session for the soundtrack for “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”

Disneyana fans may want to take a closer look at the photo below. You see that thin gentleman at the very center of this picture? That’s Royal Dano, the character actor that Walt Disney personally chose to be the voice of our 16th President in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”

And directly to Royal’s right is a genuine Disney Legend. He’s the master voice actor behind Ludwig Von Drake, the Ghost Host at The Haunted Mansion, the auctioneer in Pirates of the Caribbean (Not to mention Boris Badenov on “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show”). The one, the only Paul Frees.

Royal Dano and Paul Frees are part of the group picture taken for while recording the soundtrack for Mr. Magoos Christmas Carol
Copyright 2009 Oxberry Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved

The end result is a book that any baby boomer is just going to love. Van Citters covers it all. How Orgel got around Jim Backus’ rather limited vocal range by proposing that “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” be presented as a play within a play. That the audience out in TV Land know – right from the get-go – that Mr. Magoo was not actually Ebenezer Scrooge. But – rather – just an actor playing a role in a show.

Jim Backus, the voice of Mr. Magoo and Mr. Magoo himself
Copyright 2009 Oxberry Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Ah, but what an actor. As directed by UPA vet Abe Levitow, “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (to my way of thinking, anyway) packs more of an emotional punch than most of the other adaptations of Charles Dickens’ holiday tale that have been produced over the past 50 years. In fact, I defy you not to tear up in this TV special’s Ghost of Christmas Past sequence. When old Ebenezer finds young Ebenezer left to spend Christmas all by himself at boarding school and then sings Jules Styne & Bob Merrill’s heartfelt “Alone in the World.”

Character layout sheets from the Making of Mr. Magoos Christmas carol book
Copyright 2009 Oxberry Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved

“So how does ‘Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol’ stack up against Disney’s new performance capture version of this holiday tale?,” you ask. Well, Nancy and I actually got to see that Robert Zemeckis movie this past Monday. And while you’ll have to wait ‘til later this month for my full-blown review of this new film, I will say that “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” was surprisingly strong. This ImageMovers Digital production gets this seasonal story’s scare-to-sentiment ratio just about right.

But even so … Like so many other baby boomers out there, if you were to ask me what my absolute favorite version of “A Christmas Carol” is, I’d still have to single out this 1962 holiday special. Which is why I so enjoyed reading Darrell Van Citters’ “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special.” So that I could then learn even more about this TV show that I so enjoyed back when I was a kid. Which was back during the Paleozoic era.

A production cell of various characters from Mr. Magoos Christmas Carol
Copyright 2009 Oxberry Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Your thoughts?

I know, I know. Halloween's barely over. It's just the first week of November and people are already yammering about the holidays.

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Happy Holidays!

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  • Always a personal fave - and a great score!  I've long believed the secret to the potency of this wonderful adaptation was the brilliant casting of Magoo as Scrooge.  The beloved old guy is the ONLY Ebenezer you really like and are pulling for right from the top of the story.

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