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Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special [Hardcover]

Darrell Van Citters , Leonard Maltin

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Book Description

October 2009
In the winter of 1962, a time of three gargantuan broadcast networks and a power-wielding block of national advertisers, a relatively tiny ornament called Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol would herald a family holiday TV tradition that has all but slipped into obscurity in the wake of the numerous Christmas specials that it inspired.

Now animation director Darrell Van Citters, in a meticulously researched and delightfully engaging story--told with dozens of production art images and rarely seen photographs--has captured that golden era of TV animation in this richly illustrated book. It's a detailed retelling--in the voices of many of the artists who created it--of the painstaking and often frustrating efforts to translate Charles Dickens' timeless holiday tale into a Broadway-style musical for the small screen--the first ever of its kind.

It took an amazing, quirky confluence of unlikely events to bring Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol to life, the first (and one of the most beloved) of all animated television Christmas specials. Marketing whiz Henry Saperstein's purchase and revival of the once innovative but foundering UPA studios; visionary UPA producer Lee Orgel's lightning flash of an idea to cast the comical character Mr. Magoo in a serious role as Scrooge; Orgel's enlistment of veteran director Abe Levitow (simultaneously directing the much higher profile feature Gay Purr-ee); and the hiring of Broadway composers Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, whose struggles to get Funny Girl into production left them time to write songs for an unlikely (and very nearsighted) Scrooge.

This affectionate, often suspenseful narrative in words and images is a must-have for fans of the special as well as animation and Broadway aficionados. Relive an era of pioneering TV programming, the birth of long-form animated storytelling on television, and rediscover this gem of a Christmas classic that set the stage for all that followed it--welcome to the story of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol!

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxberry Press (October 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0692001557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0692001554
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 27.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 816 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,480,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars T.V. Treasure gets treasure trove treatment! Sept. 26 2009
By M. Gabriel - Published on Amazon.com
Talk about a fun read! If you loved this first ever animated Christmas T.V special, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, as much as my family of ten siblings and I did growing up in Salina, Kansas, then you will be blown away by this book. Darrell Van Citters has written about a film he obviously loves but never allows that to distort his critical eye or shrewd assessment along the way to uncovering the truly fascinating journey along it's serendipitous creation. Kismet in many ways and determined vision by producer Lee Orgel, in many others. From this book and it's super fast paced, gripping, clear and devotedly researched telling, you will read just how magical a special it truly was. So many talented superstar designers of the UPA led fifties were a vital part of the show's bold colorful look. The boatload of newly discovered bg paintings, cool retro prime fifties era layout drawings, and character development designs are all placed alongside the correlating text. So smart. I have never read a book with images placed so cleverly and so in keeping with the spirit of the subject matter. The book's design and layout is total immersion into the world and art of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. The book is divided into clear chunks of the film's evolution and production process. One of my favorites is the music section. The songs were unbelievably all recorded in one day. I loved reading how the recording day progressed and how the cast and crew's laughter was so loud during the recording of the horrible Despicable's song--or is it the despicable Horrible's song--- when they all started singing "LA.LA, LA la la la" the crew and cast laughed so much that they could barely continue. The heartfelt performance by JIm Backus singing the duet with teenager Marie Matthews as young Scrooge "I'm All Alone In The World" convinced the doubting producer and composer Jule Styne that he did have the chops to sing Magoo's role even though he was not a trained singer. All I can say is it a fascinating and inspiring journey into how magic in filmland is made. I have worked at Disney animation as director of Pocahontas, The Rescuers Down Under, the Oscar nominated short Lorenzo, and many disney films in many varied roles. I know when a film has a spark that ignites and leads you. You want that spark, and you know it when you have it, and you know it when you don't. This beautiful version of Dicken's classic special had it in spades. It just plain works. This animated masterpiece still touches and entertains as much as it ever did, and thanks to Darrell Van Citter's devoted and precise telling you can fully appreciate it in a brand new light. I have gone back and just listened to the music after reading the book. It gave me a whole new perspective that brought it right back to life as if it was recorded today. That is called smart, honest, insightful writing. It is one from the heart, but never lets the heart bias the mind.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mark Orgel Sept. 30 2009
By Mark H. Orgel - Published on Amazon.com
Darrell Van Citter's meticulously researched book about the making of the first prime-time animated network TV special is a fitting tribute to this ground-breaking yet almost forgotten television classic. None other than Walt Disney predicted that "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" would be appreciated by future generations of children.

At first glance, casting the bumbling, myopic Mister Magoo as Ebeneezer Scrooge must have seemed odd at best. Producer Lee Orgel's inspired decision to stage the show as a play within a play, casting Magoo as an actor playing Scrooge, makes the concept work. As an added wrinkle, it was done as a musical, with Bob Merrill and Jule Stein taking time off from "Funny Girl" to write the songs. Some of the most talented animators of the time, many of them veterans of Disney and Warner Brothers, were given considerable creative free reign under the watchful eye of director Abe Levitow. Jim Backus, who most remember as Thurston Howell III from "Gilligan's Island", was a talented actor with considerable experience in radio. His performance as the clueless Magoo and Scrooge at various stages of life included singing his role in character.

The alignment of all this creative talent resulted in an animation masterpiece. That it turned out so well despite severe time and budgetary constraints is quite a story, one that Van Citters tells as only a true scholar and fan of animation can. The author, an accomplished animator himself, interviewed nearly every surviving member of the production team, and sifted through the Orgel, Levitow and Styne family archives in the course of his research, carefully documenting every step in the production.

Anyone interested in the golden age of animation, Mister Magoo, or Dickens' classic story will enjoy this book. It is lushly illustrated with hundreds of images of production artwork, many never before seen.

I hope that this book sparks interest in this underappreciated TV classic, which is far superior to the better known but artistically lacking Rankin-Bass offerings that came in its wake.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't ask for more. Sept. 25 2009
By Joel D. Brinkerhoff - Published on Amazon.com
Magoo's Christmas Carol was something I tried never to miss. Not only is it a faithful retelling of the Dickens' story, it's also true to the character of Mr. Magoo. There are beautiful songs and moments of comedy and heart touching poignancy.

Let me tell you this is a great book full of beautiful production art and well researched information on who and how this classic show was made. After just reading the introduction I learned Walt Disney was so deeply moved by the show after its first airing that he made a personal call to the producer to congratulate him. The book is chucked full of stuff like that.

I will enjoy and consult this book for years. Thanks!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classy, Engaging, and Worth Every Penny! Nov. 13 2009
By Garan Grey - Published on Amazon.com
This book is a must-have for anyone who knows and loves MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL, Christmas TV Specials, Animation, and Christmas itself.

It's a beautiful presentation of a fascinating story. So well done, it can easily take its place among the best books of its kind. In fact, if you laid this book down with the ones about A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (both of which I love) this is the first one I would pick up.

Mr. Van Citters and Company deserve a candle in a jar of razzle berry dressing, a Christmas far more glorious than grand!

Buy this fast - for yourself, and everyone on your Christmas list - before it sells out!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Christmas Far More Glorious Than Grand" Dec 9 2010
By George Zadorozny - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like the first edition, this 2010 revised edition (with new material) is a simply splendid book about a splendid and glorious film. Thank you, thank you, Mr. Van Citters, for the painstaking and superb job you did of researching and writing this book. It is truly a labor of love. Its words are illuminating and wise, and its illustrations--mostly reproductions of the amazing original artwork created for the film--leap off the page in sparkling vividness and mesmerizing beauty.

As for the film itself--"Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" is simply the finest film realization ever, animated or live, of Charles Dickens' wonderful and wondrous tale. Sheer magic, astonishing beauty of story and song, deeply loving, profoundly moving. If you have a heart that has been shattered seemingly beyond hope, but somehow yet capable of hearing the most exquisite whisperings of that which makes life not just good but even mystical, not just sweet but even sacred, then this film is your film, this story is your story, and its songs sing beauty and comfort to you, even in your night of most inward darkness. And the song at the film's center and heart, "Winter Was Warm," sung by a woman with the voice of love itself, is perhaps the greatest song of lost and yearning love ever recorded. A thousand "Bravos" and profoundest gratitude to all who worked to create this magnificent masterpiece of the storyteller's art--this journey from bleakest tragedy to utter exaltation.

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