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.
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.
Clement 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.