How could this 1978 TV special be one of the first musical adaptations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol when so many other Scrooge musicals seem to have come before it?
AN OLD-FASHIONED CHRISTMAS
Selections from The Stingiest Man in Town & Other Favorites
With The Alcoa Singers
Aluminum Company of America (Manufactured by Columbia Records) 44-4184-J (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo)
Released in 1979. TV Producers: Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass. Album Producer: Russ Streiner, Creamer, Inc. for Alcoa. Music Supervision (“Stingiest Man”): Maury Laws. Vocal Arrangements (“Stingiest Man”): Jerry Graff. Orchestral Arrangements (“Stingiest Man”): Bernard Hoffer. Vocal Arrangements (Other Songs): Eleanor Glockner, Clark Glassman, Hawley Ades, John Cacavas. Piano Accompaniment (Other Songs): Merle Sharff. Guitar Accompaniment (Other Songs): Lorenzo Rodriguez. Cover Character Design: Paul Coker, Jr. Cover Design & Illustration: Urban Kari. Engineer: Merelyn Davis. Running Time: 44 minutes.
“Stingiest Man” Songs: “Holly Ho! (A Christmas Carol),” “Humbug,” “The Stingiest Man in Town,” “Yes, There is a Santa Claus,” “The Christmas Spirit,” “An Old-Fashioned Christmas,” “The Birthday Party of the King,” “Holly Ho! (Reprise)” by Fred Spielman, Janice Torre.
Other Songs: “Let There Be Peace On Earth” by Sy Miller, Jill Jackson; “The Little Drummer Boy” by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati, Harry Simeone; Public Domain Songs: “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam; “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” “Lullay, Thou Tiny Child,” “Fum, Fum, Fum,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Jingle Bells,” “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” “Sunshine Christmas (Medley).”
With such a proliferation of TV and film adaptations, knockoffs and reworkings of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—particularly musical ones—over the years, it’s hard to imagine a time when there was only a handful.
But Scrooge only began singing his own show tunes in the baby boomer era, when most of network TV was live.
One of the earliest—if not the first–musical adaptation of the story appeared on the live Desilu TV series, Shower of Stars, on CBS in 1954. Frederic March played the lead with Basil Rathbone as Marley’s Ghost. The music by Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, Psycho) with lyrics and adaptation by Maxwell Anderson (Lost in the Stars, Key Largo) were performed in the manner of light opera, like Amahl and the Night Visitors (the soundtrack for this version of A Christmas Carol is available on CD from Kritzerland Records).
1954 “Shower of Stars”
It wasn’t until The Stingiest Man in Town was presented live on The Alcoa Hour that A Christmas Carol was given the full-blown Broadway “book musical” treatment, in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe. The concept of a musical Scrooge, believe it or not, generated no interest when writer/lyricist Janice Torre began working on the idea in 1948. As her son Christopher Torre Perky writes in the excellent DVD release of the live show from Video Artists International (VAI):
Torre teamed with composer Fred Spielman (with whom she also wrote “Paper Roses”) and two years later, Alcoa financed a Broadway-sized budget unusual for the new medium of TV. A stage adaptation was performed at hundreds of schools and community theaters in the ensuing years. In the pre-eBay days, Columbia’s original cast album became a highly sought after collector’s item. But since the program was live and never rebroadcast, it had never been properly recognized for its groundbreaking stature.
“My mother, who had written the lyrics to the song “Merry Christmas” for Judy Garland for the film In the Good Old Summertime, thought the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol would lend itself well to being retold in musical form…but after writing the first version of The Stingiest Man in Town, she came to believe that there was little or no market for such a grand production…it wasn’t until 1954 that the success of television inspired her to pull it back off the shelf.”
Numerous musical versions of A Christmas Carol were produced in the ensuing years–including Mister Magoo’s version on TV, Lynn Ahrens and Alan Menken’s stage adaptation and movie musicals with Albert Finney and The Muppets. By the time Rankin/Bass produced their 1978 animated version of The Stingiest Man in Town, there were those who were not aware that it was indeed a remake—including the Variety editors who neglected to mention the 1956 live version in a review of the 1978 cartoon. An addendum was printed after a reader pointed out the omission.
With more than their average cast of celebrity voices—including Walter Matthau, Tom Bosley, Theodore Bikel and Robert Morse—and twice the number of songs for an hour special, the animated Stingiest Man was one of the most ambitious Rankin/Bass holiday specials. The program was well received, it still plays here and there at holiday time, was released on VHS and DVD, but without the historical impact. It seemed to be a latecomer when in reality, the opposite was true.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Selections from “The Stingiest Man in Town”
Alcoa sponsored the 1978 version, just as they did in 1956. Within their corporate culture, this musical seems to have a special place. Instead of releasing a cast album of the animated special, Alcoa’s employee vocal group, established in 1963, recorded the songs using the orchestral backgrounds used on the soundtrack. Columbia Records released the LP as a premium.
Theatrical Enterprises Presents
THE STINGIEST MAN IN TOWN
TV Cast from “The Alcoa Hour”
Columbia Records CL-950 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)
CD Reissue: Jasmine Records JASMCD-2607 (2006)
Available for Download on iTunes
Released in 1956. TV Broadcast Producer: Joel Spector. TV Broadcast Director: Dan Petrie. Musical Director: Tutti Camarata. Arrangements: Ray Ellis, Maury Laws. Running Time: 51 minutes.
Performers: Basil Rathbone (Scrooge); Vic Damone (Young Scrooge); Johnny Desmond (Nephew Fred); Patrice Munsel (Belle); Robert Weede (Marley’s Ghost); Betty Madigan (Martha Cratchit); Martyn Green (Bob Cratchit); Robert Wright (Christmas Present); Jack Bittner (Christmas Past); Philippa Bevans (Mrs. Dilber).
Songs: “A Christmas Carol,” “An Old-Fashioned Christmas,” “Humbug,” “The Stingiest Man in Town,” “I Wear a Chain,” “Golden Dreams,” “It Might Have Been,” “The Christmas Spirit,” “Yes, There is a Santa Claus,” “One Little Boy,” “The Birthday Party of the King,” “Mankind Should Be My Business” by Fred Spielman, Janice Torre.
Instrumentals: “Spirit Theme,” “Concerto Inferno.”
CD Bonus Tracks: “One Little Boy” (Sung by Vic Damone; “The Birthday Party of the King,” “An Old Fashioned Christmas,” The Lord’s Prayer,” “Happy Holidays to You” (Johnny Desmond); We’re All Kids at Christmas,” “The Story of Christmas” (Betty Madigan): “Mary’s Little Boy Child” (The Four Lads).
Even though the listings for the CD reissues of this album refer to it as an “original soundtrack” it is actually an original cast album that Columbia produced just as it would for a huge Broadway show. In many ways, the album is “tighter” and smoother because it had the luxury of editing, which was not possible on the live shows (this is true even today, when comparing some performances on live network musical broadcasts to those on their pre-recorded, easily edited cast albums).
The 1956 production was a 90-minute telecast, so the songs are generally longer than they are in the 60-minute Rankin/Bass version–so much so that the 1956 cast album is roughly the same length as the entire 1978 animated special! In the style of stage musicals like Oklahoma! and films like An American in Paris, The Stingiest Man in Town has a ballet sequence near the end, in this case a ghostly ensemble terrorizing Scrooge as his gravesite. “I Wear A Chain” includes verses about other denizens of Marley’s netherworld, “Golden Dreams” contains transitions to convey how “a wall of gold” eventually separates young Scrooge and Belle, and the “Christmas Carol” (“Holly-Ho”) tune is sung several times throughout the show by The Four Lads, acting as a Greek Chorus.
Tutti Camarata handled the musical direction for the TV broadcast and the record album, just as he was about to join Disneyland Records for another chapter in his legendary career (a year later, he would record The Greatest Record Ever Made, which was extolled in all its glory in an earlier Spin.
This album was reissued on vinyl in 1974 (and also used for radio broadcast) with added narration by John Carradine, but the songs were cut, major musical sections were omitted and the sound was manipulated to “simulate” stereo. Speaking of radio, Basil Rathbone played Scrooge in an episode of CBS Radio’s Stars Over Hollywood that Columbia adapted into a 78 RPM album, later reissued on LP. The supporting cast included such animation and radio voice greats as Walter Tetley (Peabody and Sherman), Paula Winslowe (Bambi’s mom), Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd) and Rhoda Williams (Drizella in Cinderella).
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“An Old-Fashioned Christmas”
Listen for the powerful opening, soaring strings and distinctive brass punctuations in this arrangement, so reminiscent of the musical “house style” that Maury Laws created for Rankin/Bass specials, series and movies. I mentioned this to Tutti Camarata and he recalled that Laws could very well have been the song’s arranger, which would link him to both the 1956 and 1978 versions of The Stingiest Man in Town.