to another edition of our bimonthly folklore column - or, as it
seems to be turning into, the "Chronicles of Clara".
those of you just joining us, let me explain. I'm a new father
- my daughter (the aforementioned Clara) is just sixteen months
old. I have been writing these columns for over twenty years now,
invariably pushing the envelope of what properly constitutes "folklore"
to include not only the expected and obligatory Origins of various
Traditions and retellings of Popular Legends old and new, but
also everything from the Beatles to Disney to Charles Schulz.
In short, everything that moves me or fascinates me in this big
old wonderful world has been Fair Game.
the birth of my daughter, I now have the extraordinary opportunity
of revisiting all the inherent magic of this world anew, through
her eyes. What follows is one example. It is a Christmas tale
and should by rights be tucked away for a year, but a year from
now so much will have changed that I fear this tale would get
lost in the process. Therefore, a final bit of nutmeg and mistletoe
to make everyone's New Year a little jollier...
few weeks ago I had decided that it was time to expose her to
some of the animated Holiday Classics. She had been obsessed with
Disney's "Cinderella" for some time, and, as we had
thus seen it about 800 times in the past month, it was getting
old. Therefore, digging deep into the archives, I pulled out my
collection of the very first original Christmas animation specials
from the 60's, and began...
started with the original "Charlie Brown Christmas".
It should have been a no-brainer, as she is familiar with the
characters, and is fond of pointing out Charlie Brown, Snoopy
and the rest when looking at books with Daddy. For some reason,
however, the show didn't hold her attention.
same thing happened with "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".
This surprised me, as the music and characters should have been
right up her alley, but it was a no go. Within minutes she was
bored. The Grinch fared a bit better, as we actually lasted for
the entire half hour, but after that initial showing she was over
left only one...
long time readers know the great affection I have for "Mr.
Magoo's Christmas Carol". For those of you just joining us,
I will briefly elaborate.
was the first (and arguably best) of the four Christmas Animated
Classics (the other three being the ones already mentioned) that
set the stage some forty-odd years ago for what is now a rather
ubiquitous Holiday Tradition. It seemed like an odd concept -
Mr. Magoo was a one-joke UPA character who had by 1962 already
passed his prime.
yet it worked. It worked extraordinarily well! They turned the
special into a play-within-a-play, so that we were treated to
backstage glimpses as well as segues between "acts"
where the camera would take in the audience as they applauded,
with the stage itself far away, a mysterious world-within-a-world
waiting to be discovered. To top it off, they commissioned several
wonderful songs from the great Jules Styne, then at the top of
special was a hit, which was something of a surprise, since at
the time no one was sure just how well a cartoon Christmas special
was going to go over. When it was rebroadcast the next Christmas
('63) the ratings were even higher, and so it was that the following
three Christmases saw the premiers, in order, of "Rudolph",
"Charlie Brown", and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".
A new and lucrative tradition had been born, the echoes of which
resonate to this day.
was six at the time of the first airing of "Magoo",
that December of '62, and it was my first exposure to the concept
of plays, backstages, sets, costumes, etc. By serendipitous coincidence,
one of the big toys that year was something called a "Show
Boat", which was a big plastic stage in the form of a boat
that came with actual scripts and sets. I was hooked.
a year later I got to play Tiny Tim in a school production of
as you can see, I have a deep and wonderful attachment to that
show, and so I was extremely hesitant to pull it out. Clara had
already rejected the other three, and it was going to break my
heart if "Magoo" suffered the same fate.
quickly decided that I was being foolish - at sixteen months,
she could hardly be expected to have quite developed the aesthetic
sophistication to fully appreciate these classics. I realized
that the best I could hope for was to give her an initial exposure
to them. Full appreciation would come in a few years.
that in mind, I threw on Magoo.
was instantly, completely mesmerized. We watched it three times
in rapid succession, and have probably seen it 100 times since
then. My wife is ready to kill us, but daddy and daughter are
applauds whenever the audience does in this wonderful play-within-a-play
- she claps along with the Cratchit "Brightest Christmas"
song, she is invariably transfixed by the beautiful "Hand
for Each Hand", she always points at the screen with great
delight at that magic moment when the opening carolers and the
"Winter was Warm" theme segue into our first glimpse
of Magoo as Scrooge...
was an extraordinary Christmas surprise, and one that I am unlikely
to ever forget.
Footnotes: First, I am happy to announce that she eventually warmed
up to both "Charlie Brown" and "Rudolph" (she
loves the Abominable Snowman in the latter).
I am delighted to announce that at long last a book is being finished
that is all about the making of the Magoo classic. It's called
"Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol: UPA, Magoo and the Making
of the First Animated TV Special", it's written by Darrell
Van Citters, and if all goes well there is a good chance that
it might be published this Fall, just in time for Christmas 2009!
You can learn more about that at abelevitow.com
now I have gone on way too long, and so I welcome you to another
New Year, and bid you all Goodnight!