The Return of Mister Magoo's Scrooge

PlayBlog   The Return of Mister Magoo's Scrooge
"How many of you know all these songs by heart?" asked musical theatre historian Aaron Gandy earlier this month to a roomful of giddily revved-up Baby Boomers, and the packed auditorium at The Paley Center for Media in Manhattan was a big wave of excited hands, all voting yes.

The songs were written by composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill — in their prime, on the cusp of Funny Girl — for a project far removed from Broadway.

The event is lavishly and elaborately chronicled in a tome just published by Oxberry Press, "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special." The text was lovingly written by animator Darrell Van Citters.

To celebrate the book, Paley programmer Rebecca Paller unspooled the 1962 hour-long television special in which ABC cast (against type) the bald-pated, famously nearsighted cartoon character Quincy Magoo as Ebenezer Scrooge — a full two years before "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" debuted on NBC and three years before "A Charlie Brown Christmas" bowed on CBS.

A panel discussion followed the screening, moderated by casting director Jack Doulin and including Judy Levitow (daughter of the special's director, Abe Levitow), author-animator Van Citters and the voice of Young Scrooge — Marie Matthews.

By all accounts, the special was on the express track: Styne and Merrill dashed off their haunting score in a month; illustrating and animating the piece took nine months; all the songs were recorded in a single day, and all the dialogue in another.

And how did a little girl wind up voicing Young Scrooge? Simple. Matthews' mom handled child stars, and, when none of the young boys she sent over struck the right chords with the songwriters, she sent in her daughter. Three bars into the audition, Styne declared, "That's it! We look no further!" And, with that, Gandy brought Matthews forward to sing Young Scrooge's big number one more time — "I'm All Alone in the World," which Styne always said was his personal favorite in the score.

The room was pretty much undone by the rendition. Doulin regained control with a closing crack: "And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a showstopper."

— Harry Haun

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