The Man Who Invented Christmas

- jim Young

“Marley was dead to begin with… This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” - Charles Dickens

Our daughter recently gave us a subscription to Netflix for Christmas. I’m an old “hands-on” guy and I still like having a DVD I can hold in my hands. I even have a few classics left over from my VHS collection.

But even with a collection of over 60 Christmas movies on DVD, sometimes we crave something new to watch at Christmas and I was excited to see what Netflix had to offer. 

It turns out… not much. We’ve enjoyed a few new Christmas movies that we don’t have in our collection, but it turns out that what the Hallmark-type companies flog as “Christmas Movies” are nothing more than Harlequin Romances set at Christmas time.

I think I am going to love Netflix overall but at Christmas I may have to fall back on our trusty DVD player for the most part.

SCROOGE

What to watch on Christmas Eve is always a problem. We know it’s going to be “A Christmas Carol” also known as “Scrooge”... it’s just a matter of what version.

I always get a kick out of people who tell me their favourite version is the original. What they really mean is the acclaimed 1951 B&W version of Scrooge starring Alistair Sim. I like to tease them by saying, “Oh, you mean the 1901 silent movie version of Scrooge?”

“No, no… the one they made after that.”

“The 1935 version with Seymour Hicks?”

“No… well I guess it wasn’t the original one, but you know the one I mean.”

“Yes, of course. Reginald Owen starred in the 1938 version. Did you know that Gene and Kathleen Lockart played Bob Cratchit and his wife while their real-life daughter June (from Lassie & Lost In Space) played their daughter Belinda Cratchit?

By now I’ve exasperated my friend and skip to the 1951 version. As an interesting side note, Patrick Macnee of “The Avengers” fame played a young Jacob Marley in this version.

But to be fair, although this version set the standard for all future versions of “Scrooge”, it was hardly the original. There are at least a half dozen that came before producer/director Brian Desmond (whose reflection can be seen in a mirror in one scene) brought the Alistair Sim version to life. 

And there have been over 50 more versions on TV and the big screen since, not counting the many TV shows that have featured Scrooge-like plots in their Christmas episodes.

MY FIRST TIME

My exposure to Scrooge began in 1959 when our parents bought my sisters and me an audio version of “A Christmas Carol” on a long playing record. Narrated by Richard Hale, Lionel Barrymore starred as the voice of Ebenezer Scrooge. From that Christmas on, it became a Christmas standard in whatever abode I called “home”.


It wasn’t until 1962 that I saw my first “video” version of Scrooge on television starring Jim Backus (of Gilligan’s Island fame) as the voice of Mr. Magoo, playing the part of Ebenezer Scrooge. Although it was filmed in colour, I watched it intently on our black and white television. And if I remember correctly it was snowing outside at the time which meant I would be walking to school the next day, uphill - both ways.

Then, in the early 1980s on Christmas Day, after returning home from a day of celebrating with family and stuffing ourselves with turkey and dressing, and after putting our children to bed, I turned on the tv to catch the beginning of the 1951 Alistair Sim version of “A Christmas Carol”. By now I had a colour tv, but the movie was shown in its original black and white. (It was snowing outside that day as well but I didn’t have to walk to school the next day.)

MORE SCROOGE

Since then, I have made it my goal to watch as many versions of “Scrooge” as possible and my Christmas DVD collection holds over 20 different versions from the 1901 silent movie version of Scrooge to the 2009 Jim Carrey version of “A Christmas Carol”.

Only a few hold a candle to the Alistair Sim version, such as George C. Scott’s version in 1984 and Patrick Stewart’s version in 1999.

The Henry Winkler (from Happy Days) version, set in the depression and the musical with Albert Finney are each in leagues of their own and well worth watching while the musical with Kelsey Grammar (Frasier) and Jason Alexander (George Costanza) is best left at the bottom of the list.

“Scrooged,” with Bill Murray (SNL veteran), a comedic version set in the present and also in a league of its own, is a must see.


Rich Little’s version too is a comedy and stars Rich Little of course. But it only stars Rich Little, who plays all the parts by impersonating celebrities from Truman Capote to Johnny Carson. It’s worth a giggle.

While the 1935 and 1938 versions that I spoke of earlier don’t live up to the Alistair Sim version, they both have their moments and their interpretation of some of the scenes are worth watching.

Likewise, the Jim Carrey version has a few exceptional scenes, but as the movie was filmed with the intent of releasing the 3D version on the big screen, some of the scenes which showcase the 3D effects get a little tiresome.

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

I have mentioned some of the producers and actors in the various versions of “Scrooge” but I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the common denominator, the man without whom none of these versions of this wonderful movie would be possible, the author of “A Christmas Carol” himself, Charles Dickens.

Suffering from financial hardship due to the lack of success of his previous book, Charles Dickens set out to write “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. Dickens’ publishers and even his friends predicted it would fail since Christmas was largely considered irrelevant at the time. The lack of support from his publishers forced Dickens to hire his own artists and editors and pay for printing at a time when Dickens could ill afford the expense. Written in a matter of weeks to meet the December 19th deadline, “A Christmas Carol” was an instant hit. The first edition sold out by Christmas Eve and 12 more editions were sold by the end of the following year. “A Christmas Carol” has never been out of print since.

Some have speculated that “A Christmas Carol” may be, in part, responsible for the resurgence of Christmas. Capturing the imaginations of the masses of the Victorian era, Dickens has been credited as “The Man Who Invented Christmas” as portrayed in the book and movie of the same name. While not meant for historical purists this partly truth - partly fiction portrayal of Charles Dickens’ struggle to write “A Christmas Carol” is a must see for any Scrooge fan this year and every year after. 


We may not watch “The Man Who Invented Christmas” on Christmas Eve this year, but we will watch it sometime again this season.

Yes my friends… Those were the days.

- 30 -

Do you have some pictures or memories of the proverbial “good old days” that you would like to share? If so, please send them by clicking on this link, Those Were The Days, My Friend.



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