About Christmas TV History

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Christmas in July 2023: The Stingiest Man in Town (1956)


The cover of the DVD release.

Merry Christmas in July! It is Day #6 in the month-long celebration of Christmas entertainment. Each day this month I will be sharing brief reminisces about Christmas TV episodes, specials, and movies that are a creative or imaginative adaptation of Charles Dickens' tale A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Just a little something different and a way for me to show off the diversity of holiday stories I've collected in the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV (the updated and expanded 2nd edition will be released soon). 

Today's discussion is an adaptation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" that is a favorite of mine. Those that follow my social media closely know that I share about this program quite a bit. Not only is it a fantastic TV program but it's historically significant. Today I want to talk about the 1956 feature-length musical The Stingiest Man in Town which aired on The Alcoa Hour on NBC. 


Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Basil Rathbone.

This TV version of “A Christmas Carol” musical originally aired live and in color. Music for this original three-act production was written by Fred Spielman, with book and lyrics by Janice Torre. This was originally a very lavish production which featured special effects, several dance sequences, and falling snow effects--all during a live show.

In Act I, the songs include “A Christmas Carol” sung by the narrator, “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” sung by nephew Fred, “Humbug” sung by Scrooge and Fred, “The Stingiest Man in Town” sung by Mrs. Dilber, the Four Beggars, and Hawkins, “A Christmas Carol (Reprise)” by the narrator, “I Wear a Chain” sung by Jacob Marley and Scrooge, the instrumental “Country Dance” which is taken from “An Old-Fashioned Christmas,” and the Golden Dreams Sequence consisting of “Golden Dreams” and “It Might Have Been” sung by Young Ebenezer and Belle.  

In Act II, the songs include “A Christmas Carol (Reprise)” sung by the narrator, “The Christmas Spirit” sung by the Spirit of Christmas Present and Scrooge, “Yes, There Is A Santa Claus” sung by eldest daughter Martha Cratchit to Tiny Tim, “One Little Boy” sung by the Spirit of Christmas Present, “An Old-Fashioned Christmas (Reprise)” sung by Fred and Betty, and “The Birthday Party of the King” sung by nephew Fred.



In Act III, the songs include “A Christmas Carol (Reprise)” sung by the narrator, the instrumental “Concerto Inferno (Devil’s Ballet) during which the wretched souls dance in the cemetery, “Mankind Should Be My Business” sung by Scrooge, “The Christmas Spirit (Reprise)” sung by Scrooge, Mrs. Dilber, and Hawkins, “One Little Boy (Reprise)” sung by Cratchit and Scrooge, “Yes, There Is A Santa Claus (Reprise)” sung by the Cratchit family, and the finalé “An Old-Fashioned Christmas (Reprise)” sung by the ensemble.

The cast includes Basil Rathbone as Scrooge, Vic Damone as Young Ebenezer, Johnny Desmond as nephew Fred, Martyn Green as Bob Cratchit, Patrice Munsel as Belle, Robert Weede as the ghost Jacob Marley, Ian Martin as The Ghost of Christmas Past, Robert Wright as The Spirit of Christmas Present, Keith Herrington as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the Four Lads as the narrator/carolers/beggars, Phillipa Bevans as Mrs. Dilber, John Heawood as the ragpicker Hawkins, Betty Madigan as Martha, and Dennis Kohler as Tiny Tim. Heawood is also the production’s choreographer. The orchestra is conducted by Tutti Camarata.


The 1956 album release of the soundtrack by Columbia Records.


For decades after 1956, the only memory TV fans had of this program was the soundtrack released on Columbia Records. However, modern audiences can now enjoy this classic TV program because a kinescope of the elaborate production was recently found and has been since released on DVD.

This musical production is a re-telling of Charles Dickens’ classic tale “A Christmas Carol” with a few interesting interpretations. The Ghost of Christmas Past is depicted as an elderly man looking quite similar to Santa Claus--and not “delicate” and like a child, as Dickens originally described. Another interesting highlight of this production is the visual metaphor used to express the growing emotional divide between Ebenezer and his fiancé Belle during Scrooge’s visit to his past. Here, we see Ebenezer busy amassing his fortune and literally building a golden wall that eventually rises too tall for the lovers to reach over.  When the Spirit of Christmas Present visits Scrooge, he brings with him a Christmas tree under which is filled with toys, dolls, and toy soldiers. These toys come to life and dance for Scrooge and the Spirit. During Scrooge’s journey to Christmases Yet to Come, he is greeted by a group of dancing wretched souls in the cemetery. 


My favorite scene: during the Golden Dreams sequence, we see a beautiful metaphor realized as Young Scrooge (Vic Damone) amasses his fortune in gold bricks that eventually grow too tall for him to reach his fiancé Belle (Patrice Munsel).


Another change in this version of the story is that on Christmas morning, there is no scene of Scrooge sitting in the window calling down to a boy on the street asking him to run to the butcher’s shop. However, this version does cleverly include references to Santa Claus with the song “Yes, There Is A Santa Claus” and the gospel story of the Nativity with the song “The Birthday Party of the King.” Perhaps the emotional highpoint is when the Ghost of Christmas Present sings “One Little Boy” about the young and frail Tiny Tim bringing tears to Scrooge’s eyes.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. She is currently updating and expanding the encyclopedia for an upcoming release. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com

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