Mister Magoo: the ghost of Christmas past

Cartoon characters come and go all the time. The Yellow Kid. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Ben Mulroney.
Mister Magoo was one of the biggest cartoon stars of the late ’50s and early ’60s. The near-sighted miser was created at the UPA animation studio and was made memorable by Jim Backus, the radio and film actor who shone in such diverse credits as Rebel Without a Cause and Gilligan’s Island. Backus’ distinct voice made Magoo stand out.
My memory of Magoo is of one of his TV series incarnations (available on DVD), plus a series of long-running GE light bulb commercials. (See one here.) Magoo was always seeing the back of people’s heads as light bulbs.
Year later the great Leslie Nielsen played the bumbling Magoo in a 1997 feature film which did nothing for either of their careers.
Magoo’s appeal was kind of limited. The gag about him being blind as a bat got old fast. That was played down to perfection in Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, a surprisingly faithful retelling of the Dickens’ classic.
NBC and Global are showing Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol Saturday night at 8 p.m. Magoo’s Christmas first appeared 50 years ago in 1962 and was the first animated-for-television Christmas special, predating Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer by two years. Yet it has fallen out of the network holiday rotation. It deserves this revival if just for the musical score by Broadway veterans Jule Styne and Bob Merill (Gypsy, Funny Girl).
For more on Magoo and this special, follow this link to this story I wrote this week for The Canadian Press.

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