When the movie musical Scrooge was released in 1970, I remember reading an article by the film's composer-lyricist-screenwriter (and executive producer) Leslie Briscusse saying that they'd done research and discovered that among all the Christmas carols written, there had never been one actually titled, "A Christmas Carol." So, he wrote one, which begins the film over the wonderful opening credits by the great artist, Ronald Searle (who also did the credits for, among other films, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.)
I mention all this for another reason.
It's that as good a film as Scrooge is, Bricusse's research staff was lousy. Because 14 years before, in 1956, there was a live TV musical version of A Christmas Carol that was called The Stingiest Man in Town and starred the legendary film actor, best known as playing Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone as Scrooge. And the very first song in the show was called -- yes, you guessed it -- "A Christmas Carol."
The music for the show was written by Fred Spielman, with lyrics by Janice Torre. It's not remotely distinguished or memorable, but has quite a few very nice things in it. The production was done for the series, The Alcoa Hour, and also starred Martyn Green; a mix of opera singers, such as Patrice Munsel and Robert Weede (who starred in Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella) and pop stars of the day, including Johnny Desmond and The Four Lads, as sort of traveling minstrels.
So, continuing our holiday theme of unknown Christmas songs from musicals, here is the earlier song, "A Christmas Carol," sung by The Four Lads -- leading into "An Old-Fashioned Christmas" (sung by Vic Damone), from The Stingiest Man in Town. A song that the researchers couldn't find. But we think you fine folks deserve better...
And while we're at it, I figure that a bonus song is more than appropriate. So, here is Basil Rathbone himself as Scrooge, doing a respectable job singing "Mankind is My Business." A bit of talking and some stretching on the highest notes, but far more enjoyable than one would have guessed.
By the way, before getting to the good fellow, one thing I'll add is that, as I've mentioned here in the past, I like it when songs are written from famous lines in literature, as this is. This number comes from late in the show, after Scrooge has learned his lesson. It takes its title from a line from Dickens when Scrooge has told the Ghost of Jacob Marley that his former was always a good man of business, and the specter admonishes him. And so, here, Scrooge has learned that lesson. "Mankind Should Be My Business."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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