ANIMATION SPIN
November 29, 2016 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Playhouse Pictures’ “The Night Before Christmas” (1968) on Records

A look at the album based on a syndicated animated special with some interesting connections to a vintage radio sitcom and a live Disney Theme Park musical.

PlayhouseNightBeforeFront-600

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Featuring The Norman Luboff Choir
Elba Productions S-7243 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo)

Released in 1968. Narrator/Arranger/Conductor: Norman Luboff. Orchestrations: Wally Stott. Running Time: 27 minutes.

Songs: “Savory Serenade,” “Wintertime,” “Lullaby Land,” by Bill and Louise Turnbull; “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore, Ken Darby; “The Morning of Christmas” by Ken Darby, Louise Turnbull.

PlayhouseNightBeforeBack-600Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” described a version of Santa Claus—already a part of several legends and myths–that helped establish his appearance (further cemented by the Coca-Cola painting by Haddon Sundblom).

This TV special offered a fictionalized account of how Professor Moore (voiced by Olan Soulé) created the poem on the fly to please his ailing daughter and had been unable to find any published Santa Claus book. It was produced by Playhouse Pictures in Hollywood, about which Mike Kazaleh has written extensively in several CR posts. Several scenes from the special adorned the Playhouse lobby.

So many Hanna-Barbera artists and voice actors participated in the special, it looked more like it came from H-B’s building at 3400 Cahuenga Blvd. than Playhouse’s studio at 1401 North LaBrea (especially with character designs by Iwao Takamoto). The music, however, was unique and distinctive, due to the participation of renowned vocal director Norman Luboff (who had also worked with Rankin/Bass on their Cricket on the Hearth special).


Three original songs are woven through Luboff’s narration on side one, with side two taken up almost entirely by the entire “Night Before” poem set to music. There have been many musicalized versions, but this one has a particularly fascinating history. It was created in the early 1940’s for the long-running radio sitcom, Fibber McGee and Molly, starring Jim and Marian Jordan. Marian played Molly and a little girl named “Teeny” who performed “Night Before Christmas” as a yearly tradition with a vocal group called The King’s Men.

The King’s Men was formed by vocal arranger Ken Darby, whose numerous Hollywood movie credits include The Wizard of Oz, Make Mine Music and Finian’s Rainbow. Darby’s musical take on “The Night Before Christmas” with Teeny and The King’s Men was recorded by Capitol Records in 1945.

Other artists to record it were Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians and The Harry Simeone Chorale. But for decades, Disney park guests knew Darby’s version as the one heard in the live stage show, “Mickey’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which until only a few years ago was still being presented at the Tomorrowland Stage in Magic Kingdom in Florida.

The TV special enjoyed a yearly run in the mid-70s. Also in that decade, several scenes, particularly the musical sequences, were edited into a direct mail TV commercial for an unrelated collection of Christmas music. In the early 1980’s, Toys ‘R Us offered the album in their stores (even though the special was not as well known as the subsequent Rankin/Bass take on the poem in 1974). There was also a storybook with art adapted from the special and cover art identical to the album jacket.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Night Before Christmas”
The recording does not include any of the voices from the animated special, but instead a narration by Norman Luboff and a lush orchestral background with the songs in stereo.

9 Comments

  • One of my all time favorite Christmas cartoons. And hard to find too! This should not be confused with the Rankin Bass version with the same name that starred Joel Grey,George Gobel, Robert McFadden and Tammy Grimes. The only two versions of The Night Before Christmas that I found was the original featuring Fred Warring and the Pennsylvanians and another version preform by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Norman Luboff version was quite different that the one preformed by The Fred Warring and the Pennsylvania version with a sweet incidental musical number with the dancing sugarplum tree, a cute peppy incidental number with Santa, his reindeer and a family of birds who was trilled to see santa and a jazzy number in the “In the Wink of his Eye” segment replacing the original big band number that was part of the original version.

    I just wish they rerelease the soundtrack on cd and one iTunes as well was reborn in time for the special’s upcoming 50th anniversary coming in 2018.

    • I wonder who might own the special these days. It’s been so out of the limelight for so long, I wonder if it had fell into the Public Domain by this point. Used to get a few home video releases in the 80’s.

  • I had never seen this adaptation of the famous poem. Shame that it isn’t played somewhere on the all-too-vast TV “dial” anymore or at least released as a combo DVD/CD with the soundtrack discussed here on it.

    • You would think someone would care but apparently not that much. I only knew of this because it was a tape my mom bought me back in the 80’s since I didn’t see it before on TV and was impressed at the music/visuals contained.

  • This is a beautiful recording. I really enjoyed listening to it and may do so again before long. I was not familiar with this record. However, I saw the special on TV years ago and loved it.

    “The Night Before Christmas” must have run on one of our local stations around 6 or 7, because there was another special that followed it–might have been a rerun of “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”. This special was followed by the Rankin/Bass “Night Before Christmas”. Of course, I was delighted–couldn’t have too many takes on the Clement Clarke Moore poem as far as I was concerned. But I remember my brother, who had evidently enjoyed the earlier cartoon (or at least had not actively disliked it), took one look as the Rankin/Bass titles flashed on the screen and shouted, “Not another one!” He stormed out of the room and wouldn’t watch the R/B special, evidently feeling that enough was enough.

    The Playhouse Pictures version inspired me, a few years later while in college and having done some research into the subject, to write a short story for Christmas titled “The Moore Family’s Christmas Eve.” I believe the MS is lost now, but I was quite proud of the effort, which I felt stuck a little closer to the actual facts than the more fanciful animated version.

    This is a delightful recording–wish I had a copy of my own. Thanks, Greg, for sharing!

    • Nice to know this did the trick to get you to be inspired by it. Somehow I thought the tale of a sick daughter was true but now I see why they went this route for the special just to have a conflict to resolve.

  • I remember seeing the “Elba” animated special that aired often during the holidays.

    Wally Stott had been the musical director on the “Goon Show” and several other BBC radio shows, including “Hancock’s Half Hour.” After moving to America, he later had a gender change and became Angela Morley, continuing to score TV series and feature films.

  • Too bad the YouTube clip for the special appears to be a truncated version I recall seeing in the early 90’s, because I guess commercial time had to be acknowledged. About three minutes were trimmed out of it. The remainder of that clip is some guy playing a video game he bothered to tape at the end of this!

    Here’s the full version, albeit, very hissy audio.
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xn74y4_the-night-before-christmas-1968_music

  • I saw this originally in its debut… the now “cliche’ Iwao Takamoto style was thankfully devoid of the Scooby style and this stayed true to the 19th century style while working ewell for later generaitons of us young’un’s..and I’ve heard the Waring version of the song – over seven minutes long!! 😀

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