An advertisement for Mr. Bingle, my chilhood Christmas hero
When I was but a mere lad, television was still mostly broadcast in black and white. At holiday time local TV station WDSU broadcast a five-minute holiday message from Mr. Bingle, the icon of the then powerful department store Maison Blanche. As legend would have it, Mr. Bingle was a small snowman brought to life by Santa Claus who wore green holly leaf wings, had red and white candy-cane striped gloves and wore an upside down ice cream cone for a hat. This imaginative creature was drummed up as a sales promotion gimmick for Maison Blanche. Even the initals for Mister Bingle reminded one of Maison Blanche, then the largest department store in the South. At holiday time when everyone still dressed up to go downtown, my grandmother would take me to the Maison Blanche department store window on Canal Street where special 15-minute shows would take place throughout the day. Mister Bingle's voice was that of Oscar Eisentraut, an unlikely cigarette chain-smoking window dresser who was drafted as the voice of the imaginary character back at its inception, suggested as 1947. Oscar's high-pitched voice could best be described as a dwarf inhaling helium. Throughout many years on TV and at the store, Oscar was assisted by many creative individuals. The late Al Shea, who passed away a few months ago, was known as the voice of Pete the Penguin, for example. These creative shows carried on even during my tenure at WSMB-AM on the 13th floor of the Masion Blanche Building and lasted until 1985 until Eisentraut passed away. It was different for me to meet and see Eisentraut as an adult and help him prepare some of his scripts while I worked at the station. When I was a kid, it was all so magical. While my Jewish heritage did not allow me to attach much significance to the religious reasons for the celebration, I was, like all the kids of my age, attracted to the cuddly, cute and sometimes mischievous Mr. Bingle, whose image was emblazoned on the store and oftentimes on all of the holiday shopping bags. The shows truly got me into the spirit of the holiday and I looked forward to meeting Santa and hearing more about his aeronautical sleigh and reindeer. The Dr. Seuss book and TV classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" starring Boris Karloff was never read or viewed by me as a kid, although I came to appreciate it much more as an adult. Likewise, I read "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens much later in school beyond the time I was a young, impressionable child. So, the images of the two archetype villains who would steal the joy from the holiday were never in my mind until much later in life. Today, however, I can't help but summon up all of the collective images of Christmas. Mr. Bingle and my childhood impressions of Santa stand on one side with the Grinch and Ebeneezer Scrooge on the other. It is true that I still get a bit teary-eyed when I watch the immortal "Miracle on 34th Street" starring Edmund Gwenn and a very young Natalie Wood. Others that have come along since that time: Tim Allen in "The Santa Claus," the classic film made in Cleveland of "A Christmas Story" ("You'll shoot your eye out, kid!") and even Billy Bob Thornton's "Bad Santa" have also made impressions (good or bad) that I carry with me today. But for me, my fondest childhood memories were watching the small black and white screen and imagining this little puppet and all of his possiblities. How I did enjoy those trappings of the holiday. I am sorry that my son, now grown, never knew the significance of Mr. Bingle nor that more of his generation or others who have followed were never able to experience the magic of the holiday through the hilarious mischief of a happy, high-pitched, flying snowman bearing a slight New Orleans accent.