Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

A blog dedicated to the making of the first animated Christmas special, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Recording of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, Pt. 2

The studio entrance in the 1940s
In a previous post I discussed the history of the facility where the dialogue sessions for Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol took place, Ryder Sound Services.  In honor of the special’s 50th anniversary today, we will be visiting the facility where the songs were recorded, the Scoring Stage on the Samuel Goldwyn lot or Stage 7 as it was also known.

The west entrance of Stage 7 today
The Goldwyn lot has been around since 1917, and has been variously known as the Hampton Studios, the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio, the  United Artists Studio and for most of its history, the Samuel Goldwyn Studios.  For a period, Warner Bros. owned the lot, calling it Warner Bros. Hollywood but today, it’s known simply as The Lot.  Some of the features shot there include the silent version of Robin Hood, West Side Story, Some Like It Hot and Porgy and Bess.  TV shows to film there, either on the backlot or on stages include The Fugitive, Dynasty and Sid and Marty Krofft’s, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.  The backlot no longer exists and has been taken over by an electric substation, partially seen in the upper right corner in the photo below.  
View of Stage 7 from the adjacent parking structure
For 45 years, the Goldwyn scoring stage was considered the premiere orchestral recording facility in the motion picture industry.  Lee Orgel had aimed high when he went looking for songwriters for the first animated Christmas special, snagging two of the premiere Broadway songwriters of the time, Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.  He continued in that same vein with his choice of recording venues, using first Ryder Sound for the dialogue sessions and then the scoring stage on the Goldwyn lot for the day-long song recording session.  Walter Scharf later returned to the stage to record the bridging score with a 27 piece orchestra.  (More photos from the song recording session can be seen in my book.)
Jim Backus, Joan Gardner, Jule Styne, Laura Olsher, Royal Dano, Paul Frees and Walter Scharf
The stage had a hardwood floor which was highly prized for the recording of music and, at over 8000 square feet, was large enough to handle a 60+ member orchestra as well as the addition of choral groups if needed.  It was sought after by many composers, and the songs and score for the Christmas special joined an illustrious list of movie scores recorded at the facility—The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein, Marnie and Torn Curtain by Bernard Herrmann and both The Wizard of Oz and portions of Gone with The Wind.  Frank Sinatra, who shot The Manchurian Candidate and Guys and Dolls on the lot, recorded The Concert Sinatra album on the stage in 1963.  (Sinatra had his own private bungalow on the lot for 35 years, which still stands today.)  Pictured below are 7of the Oscars awarded to the facility for Best Sound.

By 1972, the scoring stage had fallen into disuse and served as studio storage.   In 1974, a fire on the Sigmund sound stage destroyed that stage as well as several others.  While some of the stages were rebuilt, others were not and the decision was made to convert the former scoring stage into a shooting stage, ripping out the hardwood flooring.  Today, the stage is home to one of the largest cycloramas in Hollywood.  A ‘cyc’, as it’s known in industry jargon, is used primarily for special effects shots in order to avoid the joint where the walls meet the floor and provides a sense of infinity with a concave curve joining the horizontal and vertical planes.

I asked the singer for Young Scrooge, Marie Matthews (pictured above), to reminisce at the facility where she recorded her songs 50 years ago.  We were granted permission to visit the lot and sound stage by studio manager, Dusty Barbee and were guided by Security head, Dave Del Prete, who is also the lot’s unofficial historian.  Much has changed on that stage in 50 years and the presence of the huge white cyclorama which spans the entire length and almost the entire width of the room is overwhelming.  In the shot above, Marie is standing just a few feet in front of where Sinatra is pictured below.  

With the aid of photos taken during Sinatra’s recording session for The Concert Sinatra album, Marie was able to remember that the songs were recorded in the center rear corner of the above photo, where most of the musicians are sitting.  However, due to the position of the cyclorama, we were unable to visit that portion of the stage.  She also recalled that Jim Backus, suffering from a bad back, would close the lid of the grand piano between takes and lie down on it for relief.   As photos from the song session attest, the space didn’t seem nearly as large as it does in the photo above but the stage was neither as brightly nor as fully lit as in this shot, making it seem less imposing.  Recording configurations that no longer exist and the use of sound dampening isolation booths around each of the singers would have also further constricted the space.
Jack Cassidy, Marie Matthews and Joan Gardner rehearsing Lord's Bright Blessing
Marie had not been on the lot since she recorded the songs in 1962 and was delighted to revisit the stage and the facilities.  For me, standing in the room where two of Elmer Bernstein’s most iconic scores were recorded was inspiring but being there with Marie Matthews and knowing that the songs and score for Mr. Magoo’s  Christmas Carol made the moment truly special.   Those songs and score made their debut fifty years ago tonight.  Be sure to catch NBC’s airing of the special on Saturday, December 22nd at 8 PM.  

Darrell Van Citters and Marie Matthews outside Stage 7
Special thanks to Dave Del Prete for taking time out of his busy day to show Marie, her daughter Melinda and me around the stage and lot, Dusty Barbee for allowing us access to the facility and to Heidi Ewart for making the arrangements.


Darrell said...

Thanks to Larry Rapchak for reminding me that Dec. 18, 1962 was also a Tuesday!

mike stevenson said...

Thank you for this blog on this animated classic - one that I enjoyed with my daughter via VHS for almost 20 years! Jule Styne and Bob Merrill's music was truly a "bright blessing" from above. I wish I could say the same for NBC's airing tonight; SUCH a disappointment to see the hatchet-job editing, including the elimination the final reprise of "The Lord's Bright Blessing." Peace and love to all responsible for the untarnished original. Forgive them, they know not what they do.

MarkOT said...

Darrell, do you know from your research who played the violin solo for the Fezziwig Ball sequence? He's terrific. I've often wondered whether he was a well-known violinist playing in the pickup orchestra incognito.

Also, on a slightly different topic, do you know if anyone has ever tried to produce a live stage version of the Styne/Merrill "Carol"? They'd have to discard references to Magoo, leave out "Great to Be Back on Broadway" and probably add some other appropriate songs from their catalog ("People", anyone?), but it certainly could work. Thanks.

Mike Gabriel said...

Very cool to see and read about the stage where the magic went down, Darrell. Thanks for posting this great and winsome
virtual tour of the facility. Hollywood history at it's best.

Darrell said...


Sorry to have not answered your questions sooner, I've been busy on my next project. Early on in my research, I tried to discover who the session players were for both the songs and the score but, to my dismay, the LA musician's union had no records of either recording session. I also tried placing an ad in their monthly journal which yielded no leads, either.

As for a stage show of MMCC, it's been discussed many times but I suspect that until someone shows up with a bag of money, it will remain just talk.