Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Sequel to Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol?

Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Charles Dickens

It’s fairly well known that the success of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol spawned the 1964 TV series, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.  What has been unknown until now is that there was a later attempt to recapture that earlier success by making a sequel to Christmas Carol.   A recent investigation into Lee Orgel’s files turned up a few copies of a long lost treatment called The Return of Ebenezer Scrooge.  Making sequels to projects from the past seems to be de rigueur in Hollywood today but it was less common at the time it was proposed.  

In this pitch, Lee Orgel, who worked with Barbara Chain to develop the concept, projected it to be “the second in a proposed series of animated specials based upon the work of Mr. Charles Dickens”  with Magoo playing the reoccurring role of Ebenezer Scrooge (a concept not unlike that of Famous Adventures).  It makes for an unusual sequel and injects Scrooge into key roles from other Dickens stories, in this case Oliver Twist.  The circle was now complete as the musical version of that story, Oliver!, was the original inspiration for Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  In this concept, a newly enlightened Ebenezer Scrooge becomes accidentally entwined in Oliver’s story and ends up becoming his benefactor, taking him from his life on the streets and raising him as his own, in effect, taking on the role of Mr. Brownlow from the novel.  It’s an interesting premise although not an entirely successful one, mashing up two of Dickens’ creations into one show.

Although some of the copies bear a UPA cover sheet, Lee Orgel was not directly employed by the company at the time but was acting as its representative in pitching the concept, which appears to have had its genesis in the early 1970s.  The first dated material in the files is a letter from Jule Styne’s office from May of 1973 expressing his interest in the project and agreeing to re-team with Bob Merrill to write the songs.  There are no Styne or Merrill files indicating that their participation ever went beyond this initial agreement.

Although Orgel probably began pitching the show around that time, nothing in the files indicates any further activity until a pitch at Universal in June of 1976.  It’s not unreasonable to assume that Orgel continued to shop the show after that and by this time, Orgel had allied himself with Depatie Freleng as a production house for the special, due in part to his efforts at selling Mr. Magoo as a new series, one that was eventually produced by the company.  The greatest concentration of sales efforts appears to have been in the summer of 1979 when the show was rejected by an ad agency, Helfgott, Towne and Silverstein and also Wometco Home Theatre, a NYC-centric early pay-TV service.  Despite those rejections, Orgel finally had a contract with Showtime in June of 1979 to produce the special but for unknown reasons, the deal fell through and the contract was never signed.

Lee continued to pitch the sequel but, showing just how much the cultural landscape had shifted since 1962, The Return of Ebenezer Scrooge was rejected at CBS in 1980,with the network telling him they were “not interested in a traditional story concept for a Christmas special”.  The show was also rejected at NBC for Project Peacock around the same time.  As with Christmas Carol, Orgel was tenacious and continued trying to sell the concept through the 1980s, at one point pitching it to Paramount at a cost considerably less than the original special, especially when inflation was taken into account. The final nail in the coffin appears to be a 1988 rejection letter by Andy Heyward of DIC (a TV animation company) who, apparently unaware of Lee’s history with the character, helpfully informs him that Hank Saperstein owns the rights to Magoo, telling him, “I thought you would want to know.”

It’s doubtful that The Return of Ebenezer Scrooge would have achieved anywhere near the success of its original inspiration.  By the 1980s, the culture had irretrievably changed, animation as a viable medium was in the doldrums and Mr. Magoo had begun fading from the public consciousness.  What is interesting, though, is that the success of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol continued to reverberate for decades, much beyond what anyone could have predicted in 1962.

Special thanks to The Mago0 Admirer for the headline image.

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