The original soundtrack album for the first animated Christmas TV special–which boasts one of the finest musical scores ever—was released almost 50 years after it premiered.
MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL
Classic Media (Mono) (Download Only)
Released on November 2, 2010. From the Soundtrack of the 1962 UPA TV Special. Executive Producer: Henry G. Saperstein. Director: Abe Levitow. Producer: Lee Orgel. Adapted by Barbara Chain from the Book by Charles Dickens. Arranger/Conductor: Walter Scharf. Running Time: 22 minutes.
Performers: Jim Backus (Mr. Magoo/Ebenezer Scrooge); Jack Cassidy (Bob Cratchit); Joan Gardner (Gerald McBoing-Boing/Tiny Tim, Charwoman); Laura Olsher (Mrs. Cratchit); Marie Matthews (Young Scrooge): Jane Kean (Belle); Paul Frees (Undertaker); Royal Dano (Old Joe).
Songs: “Great to Be Back on Broadway,” “Ringle, Ringle,” “The Lord’s Bright Blessing,” “Alone in the World,” “Winter Was Warm,” “We’re Despicable” by Bob Merrill, Jule Styne.
UPA’s 1962 masterwork Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is not only the first animated Christmas TV special ever made, it remains on the short list of greatest adaptations of the Dickens classic. It is so iconic that it has single handedly kept the Magoo character in the mainstream through various video releases and airings.
Spectacular as the production is, a large share of its longevity is due to the almost superhuman level of songwriting accomplished in just six songs for the musical score. Like The Sound of Music or Mary Poppins, one often cannot have a conversation about Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol without mentioning how good the songs are—and singing a few notes of them.
But despite the score’s quality, the resumes of songwriters Jule Styne (Peter Pan, Gypsy) and Bob Merrill (Carnival, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm)–on the threshold of smash success with Funny Girl after Magoo’s Carol premiered–no soundtrack album was released in 1962.
Apparently there was a story album in the works, narrated by Paul Frees, but that was never released either. (McGraw-Hill did distribute a film strip version of the special to schools with a corresponding record, but it likely contained either straight narration or direct snippets from the finished soundtrack.)
It wasn’t until 2010 that, thanks to veteran animator Darrell Van Citters (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Box Office Bunny) of Renegade Animation (The Tom and Jerry Show, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, The Mr. Men Show), that a collection of musical elements were unearthed to create the very first commercially available soundtrack album.
Classic Media went back to the original source material to get the highest possible quality for this release,” he explained on his blog, mrmagooschristmascarol/blogspot.com.
Of the nine mono tracks assembled from the existing elements, several sound much as they did in the film. “Great to Be Back on Broadway,” is heard in its entirety followed by the short reprise that came right before Magoo approached the stage (and the sandbag fell on the director). The first renditions of “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” and “Alone in the World” and the reprise of “Ringle, Ringle” are also virtually intact.
A few tracks include moments not heard in the completed show. “Ringle, Ringle” offers a lengthy musical bridge with no dialogue. The gorgeous “Winter Was Warm” is extra special, with a different vocal resolve in the first half and a full instrumental bridge before the final section we’re used to hearing. The entire performance of Jim Backus singing the reprise of “Alone in the World” from the graveyard scene is present.
Other selections differ based on what elements could or could not be found. To put a “button” at the end of “We’re Despicable,” which is missing the characters’ laughter, some of the opening intro music is repeated. “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” finale is a mixed blessing. The big choral finish, followed by the big crash of cymbals and curtain call music must have been done in another session and have not been found. That means that for this recording, we have a finale that sounds identical until the very end, when that are heard are the voices of Jim Backus, Jack Cassidy, Joan Gardner and Laura Olsher by themselves. On the plus side, it’s a rare opportunity to hear each performer singing so distinctly.
While certainly worth the 48-year wait, the beautiful dream of a full-fledged, “book-style” soundtrack recording of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol has not been fully realized in these twenty-two minutes. Darrell Van Citters tells more about it in his November 26th, 2012 blog post:
“As part of the 50th anniversary edition of the book, [The Making of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, now out of print but as of this writing, still listed on amazon] I had proposed including a soundtrack which was to have featured the film’s song score, Styne & Merrill’s demo recordings of their tunes and Walter Scharf’s underscore. The idea was well received and Classic Media was on board so I built the book around this proposal. The songs had been released on iTunes back in 2010 and the long lost Overture had been discovered, too, so it seemed like the project would fall into place and finally, the long awaited original film soundtrack would be released, 50 years after the film had made its debut.
“Unfortunately, when the digging really began in earnest, it was discovered that the only musical material that existed in the vaults were the previously released songs and Overture. For those with an attuned ear, it’s clear that the iTunes-released songs are from the original recording session; the final standalone versions of the songs cannot be located. Equally disappointing, the score didn’t exist in any form whatsoever; not the original scoring session takes, not as a standalone score, not even as a mixed music and sound effects track commonly used for foreign language dubbing.
“What seems likely is that the elements are mislabeled or filed incorrectly in the vault. According to a former executive at UPA, the elements were delivered when the assets were purchased.
“Also unfortunate is the fact that the ten-selection soundtrack album we’ve just examined is no longer available. The downloads disappeared from iTunes and amazon several years ago. What is still accessible from the archival sound material is on the Blu-ray: a demo version of “Ringle, Ringle” sung by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, and an edited Overture by Walter Scharf that plays under a bonus production montage slide show feature called “From Pencil to Paint.”
In an ever-changing consumer marketplace where one person’s worthless “dead wood” becomes another person’s “prime content” and people seek out what they like rather than what they are told to choose, it’s a good idea to “never say never” when wishing for things like this to re-emerge. After all, Universal decided just this year to invest in brand-new bonus features for their Rankin/Bass Blu-rays and DVDs even though the “prevailing wisdom,” says things like “home video is dying,” “nobody wants extra features”, “vinyl isn’t going to stay popular” and “2-D animation is dead.” (Even Bugs Bunny said Life with Father would never be a hit!)”
As Darrell continued:
“At some point in the future, when the missing elements are located, the intent is to still release an original soundtrack. Until that day, we’ll have to content ourselves with the track that currently exists on the DVD releases.”
From the ABC Musical Comedy Special
THE DANGEROUS CHRISTMAS OF RED RIDING HOOD
Or Oh Wolf, Poor Wolf
ABC-Paramount Records ABCS-536 (Stereo) ABC-536 (Mono) (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP)
Released in 1965. Executive Producers: Jule Styne, Bob Merrill. Album Supervisor: Bob Thiele. Arranger/Conductor: Walter Scharf. Script Excerpts: Robert Emmett. Engineer: Bob Arnold. Design: ARW Productions. Liner Notes: Rick Ward. Running Time: 40 minutes.
Performers: Cyril Ritchard (The Wolf); Liza Minnelli (Red Riding Hood); Vic Damone (The Huntsman); The Animals (The Wolf Pack).
Songs: “We Wish the World A Happy Yule,” “My Red Riding Hood,” “Snubbed,” “Woodsman’s Serenade,” “Granny’s Gulch,” “Along the Way,” “I’m Naïve,” “We’re Gonna Howl Tonight,” “Ding-a-Ling,” “Granny” by Jule Styne, Bob Merrill.
Instrumentals: Overture, “Red Riding Hood Improvisation (Ballet),” “Poor Mouse (Ballet)” by Jule Styne, Bob Merrill, Walter Scharf.
Three years after Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Jule Styne and Bob Merrill wrote the songs for this one-hour musical special, for which they also served as executive producers. already renowned in the musical theater world, their stars had risen tremendously since their score for Funny Girl and its star Barbra Streisand had become the toast and “like buttah” of Broadway.
Liza Minnelli was an up-and-coming star in 1965, appearing on TV variety and talk shows, playing the London Palladium with mom Judy Garland, and riding a similar star train as Barbra—not yet a film star but a major Broadway success. She had just won a Tony Award for Flora The Red Menace the year she starred in The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood with Cyril Ritchard, who was a welcome personality to audiences as Captain Hook in the videotaped version of Mary Martin’s Peter Pan, a beloved TV tradition.
The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood is quite a delightfully unpretentious special, a fine showcase for a fledgling Minnelli and a way to enjoy the impeccable comic skill and classic musical theater artistry of Ritchard. It’s unabashedly silly and no one seems to mind. To make things completely absurd, the hit rock group The Animals (“House of the Rising Sun”) have stepped away from ABC’s Shindig and perform two songs: one with Ritchard sporting goofball lyrics like “We’ve been snub-dee-dub-dee-dubbed,” and an incongruous tune called “We’re Gonna Howl Tonight” replete with guitars and amplifiers right there in the storybook forest.
Besides Styne and Merrill, what links The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood to Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol so strongly is musical director Walter Scharf. In essence, the Red Riding Hood cast album is the Magoo soundtrack that was never completed; the stereo version may never be.
The overture for Red Riding Hood and for Magoo, both created especially for records, have very similar transitions and orchestrations. Many similarities can also be enjoyed in another Scharf project, Filmation’s Journey Back to Oz, recorded the same year as Magoo (and explored in this Spin article). 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has a bit of this Scharf touch as well.
The ABC network, which had not fully adopted color for all of its shows by 1965, presented the full color videotaped production of The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood on Sunday, November 28 (the tape has since been lost or erased, but a black-and-white kinescope film has been released on DVD). Assuming the competition that evening was Lassie and My Favorite Martian on CBS and The Bell Telephone Hour and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (showing part three of The Three Lives of Thomasina), there is a good chance that The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood did not win its time slot.
The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood is among the more obscure of Christmas TV specials and musical properties, but it has enjoyed life outside the initial broadcast. Celebrity impressionist and stage performer Marilyn Michaels released a single version of “Red Riding Hood.”
The most successful song from the score turned out to be “I’m Naïve,” repurposed for a Styne/Merrill Broadway show called Sugar—a musical version of the movie Some Like it Hot. The Broadway cast starred Robert Morse and the London version, regaining the Some Like it Hot title, starred Tommy Steele. “I’m Naïve” went from a coming-of-age song for “Lillian Hood” to a torchy tune for the Marilyn Monroe character. In addition, the musical was made available for rental by schools and community theaters — here it is performed by the Kings Theater Young Company.