Christmas Traditions: Lionel Barrymore as Ebenezer Scrooge

A Christmas Carol 1938

A couple weeks ago I had the great opportunity to see two classic Christmas movies on the big screen thanks to the wonderful people at Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events. Many theaters throughout the country were showing a double feature of A Christmas Carol (1938) and Christmas in Connecticut (1945), and thankfully one of my local theaters was participating, a treat that doesn’t happen too often in my small’ish community.

Last time I was able to see an old movie on the big screen was when I made a 5 1/2 hour round trip drive to see Vertigo (1958) when the Landmark Theatres chain was showing it in select cities a year or two ago. Is that dedication to my passion for old movies or what? :-) Thankfully this time, my drive was only 10 minutes each way. Not bad!

Ben¬†Mankiewicz from Turner Classic Movies introduced both of the movies in the Christmas double feature, and in his introduction to A Christmas Carol, I learned something new (thanks Ben!) – that before the much loved Charles Dickens classic came to the screen, Lionel Barrymore performed the role of Ebenezer Scrooge on a radio version of the story. He first performed it in 1934, making this year the 80th anniversary of its debut, and listening to the subsequent years’ broadcasts with Barrymore reprising his role became an annual tradition for families across America.

A special performance was aired live on Christmas Eve in 1939 as part of the CBS Campbell Playhouse radio program. Narrated by Orson Welles, the program also featured music which was composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. You can listen to a recording of that 1939 broadcast including all the original commercials at the Internet Archive website.

A Christmas Carol 1984

And speaking of annual traditions, I have one of my own that I started many years ago that fittingly includes viewing A Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve night. However, the one I watch is the one from 1984 starring George C. Scott. My tenth grade English teacher shared her affinity for that version with us in class, and it has been my favorite ever since. As much as I love old movies, it still beats out the 1938 and 1951 versions for me even though I enjoy both of those as well.

My tradition has been to watch two Christmas themed episodes of Little House on the Prairie and then A Christmas Carol (1984) with all the lights off in my house except for those on my Christmas tree. I’ve missed very few years since I started, and I plan on doing it once again tonight. I can’t wait!

If you and/or your family will be partaking in a special holiday tradition this year, I hope you enjoy it as much as I will mine! I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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