Rediscovering Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol
Darrell Van Citters, supervising director of Renegade Animation, was inspired as a child by Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Its graphic UPA style was a major influence for a generation of animators and yet the once beloved '60s TV holiday sensation has been overshadowed by the more popular Dr. Seuss, Rankin/Bass and Peanuts productions that followed. However, Citters has written a fascinating new book, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special, published this month by Oxberry Press. He details the quirky confluence of bizarre events that brought the first animated television Christmas special to homes in 1962, mixing the popular Mr. Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus) with the beloved Dickens' holiday classic. Marketing whiz Henry Saperstein, visionary producer Lee Orgel, director Abe Levitow and the fortuitous hiring of Broadway composers Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, who were on hiatus from Funny Girl while they were searching for a lead, all feature prominently in this story about a lost gem. Van Citters interviewed all the surviving participants and offers a wonderful array of art, and reminisces about the TV special with us.
Bill Desowitz: Thanks for reminding me what a treat this show was. I haven't seen it since I was a child, which is an indication of it being neglected. Is that what prompted you to write this?
Darrell Van Citters: Yes, but I was scared to death that during the interview process some of these people would be lost. The other consideration was giving them attention while they were still alive. That's why I pushed hard to get the book out before any of them died.
BD: What does Magoo's Christmas Carol mean to you?
BD: It came about at an interesting time. The Funny Girl connection was fascinating. If the project hadn't been stalled with looking for the lead and not yet discovering Streisand, they wouldn't have gotten Styne and Merrill, right?
DVC: Yeah, how about that? At the time, they had these unsolvable things that become classic moments. The other thing I found interesting about that is how many A-list guys were approached to do it. They went straight to the top, which was kind of ballsy. But if you grew up in that milieu, it wasn't so ballsy. That one really startled me. Nothing ever falls into place. And clearly they had their ups and downs on this project, but it came out the right way.
BD: What did you learn?