Animation Cel-ebration
December 8, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Grumpy Old Scrooge: The 45th Anniversary of “The Stingiest Man in Town”

Walter Matthau was such perfect casting for Ebeneezer Scrooge. It makes one wonder why it took until 1978 for him to play the role.

Oh sure, he doesn’t fit with the backdrop of Victorian London from Charles Dickens’ literary masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, published 180 years ago this December. But Matthau, one of the world’s lovable curmudgeons, played this role perfectly in a seldom-seen animated Christmas special, The Stingiest Man in Town.

Produced by Rankin/Bass, a studio synonymous with Christmas specials, the re-telling of A Christmas Carol was based not only on Dickens’ classic but was also a remake of a live-action musical special that aired on NBC in 1956.

That special, also entitled The Stingiest Man in Town, was part of the anthology series, “The Alcoa Hour,” which starred Basil Rathbone as Scrooge. The Rankin/Bass version was told in lovely 2D animation. It included a nice touch with its version of Scrooge, as he is not only voiced by Matthau but the actor is caricatured as the miserable miser as well (a nice touch).

The Stingiest Man in Town may not be the holiday season juggernaut that Rankin/Bass’ other specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Still, it is an entertaining re-telling of a familiar tale, with memorable songs throughout.

In a fun, unique spin, the special is narrated by a bug who lives in Scrooge’s counting-house, and his name is…wait for it… B.A.H. Humbug. Happy Days “Mr. C,” Tom Bosley, one member of the talented cast, voiced the character.

Dennis Day is perfectly cheerful as Nephew Fred, Theodore Bikel brings great weight to Marley, the always fantastic Robert Morse is young Scrooge, and Rankin/Bass regular Paul Frees provides the voice of both the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present.

Fred Spielman and Janice Torre provide beautiful, memorable songs. “An Old Fashioned Christmas” is a bouncy opening song that sets the stage perfectly. The title song, “The Stingiest Man in Town,” is a great character song and “tribute” to Scrooge, and “Birthday Party for a King, “ is a beautiful, emotional ballad about the true meaning of Christmas. For more on the music from The Stingiest Man in Town, read Greg Ehrbar’s 2016 article.

The Rankin/Bass design of the special was by Paul Coker, Jr, a noted illustrator who created numerous greeting cards and contributed to Mad magazine, which fits perfectly with the Dickensian world.

Coker’s style established the familiar and comforting Rankin/Bass look for several of the studio’s classic specials, including Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Here, along with the other talented artists who worked on The Stingiest Man in Town, this distinctive style adds a nice touch to such scenes as an effectively eerie first appearance by Jacob Marley, who springs to life as a wispy silhouette on the wall.

There’s also a lovely “Rankin/Bass moment,” when the Ghost of Christmas Present magically brings ornaments to life, who jump off the tree to sing “Christmas Spirit.”

Originally airing on NBC on December 23, 1978, The Stingiest Man in Town is celebrating its 45th anniversary. Since its debut, it’s been overshadowed by Christmas specials from Rankin/Bass and other studios that find themselves perpetually re-rerun each year.

To commemorate the anniversary and the season, it’s the perfect time to discover, or even re-discover, The Stingiest Man in Town, an often-overlooked treasure in the Rankin/Bass collection of specials.


  • B.A.H. Humbug must be a cousin of Jimminy Cricket.

  • I’m surprised streaming hasn’t started doing holiday specials. But I suppose the genre itself is more or less extinct because of the necessity of making them “inclusive” since the observance a single holiday is perceived as an insensitive snub to its alternatives.

    • your rattling about “those goshdarn kids” on every damned post is highly insufferable and the fact you havent been wiped from this site yet is criminal

  • So is the only way to watch this by “unofficial” means? The latest physical media release I could find was on VHS!

    • It’s included in the recent Rankin/Bass Holiday specials set released by Universal/Warners.

    • It’s been on other collections, too. It was in a DVD Classic Christmas Collection from several years back.

  • Coincidentally, Walter Matthau narrated the Dr. Seuss Video Classics tape “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” from Random House Home Video.

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