"Online since 1999"
Thanks to Lauren Brown
at the Mr. Bingle Fans site.
with another message from Kris Kringle.
Time to launch the Christmas Season,
Maison Blanche makes Christmas pleasin.'
Gifts galore for you to see,
each a gem from... MB."
By: Lauren Brown
Who? What? is a Mr. Bingle you say?
Well, either you already know very, very well or you have no clue at all. That's ok because we're going to tell you all about him.
Once there was a department store named Maison Blanche. The store was founded in 1897 by Isadore Newman. He was once a penniless merchant. The store, located on Canal St. in New Orleans (no longer in business) is now owned by Dillard's Department Stores. It has since turned in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Maison Blanche "MB" decided that they wanted to find a special little character to use for their advertising purposes. Emile Alline was a display director of Maison Blanche and employee since 1937. He had taken a trip up to Chicago in 1947 and noticed a character in a Marshall Fields department store called Uncle Mistletoe. He was a scraggly haired Dickenson character. Although very different from Mr. Bingle, that character became the inspiration for Mr. Alline's newest creation (Mr. Bingle). Actually, he was first called the "Snow Doll" by Mr. Alline. Mr. Herbert Schuartz, MB President, wanted the new character to have MB in the name so thus became Mr. Bingle. There was even a Mr. Bingle museum on the third floor.
Mr. Alline also wanted to have special Christmas puppet and marionette shows in the huge dress display windows, so he found a man named Edwin Harmon "Oscar" Isentrout, who was a master puppeteer in New Orleans working in the French Quarter at the time. He was named "Oscar" according to some because someone started calling his shows "Oscar and the little Woodenheads." Mr. Isentrout was also the voice,movement and some say the spirit of Mr. Bingle. Together they worked together to bring these special shows to New Orleans area year after year for like 37 years since 1948 and Mr. Bingle became infinitely famous. Oscar once had this to say about his little friend: They cannot divide him or the Christmas cheer he spreads. They just keep multiplying him. Now there's a'lot more of Mr. Bingle to go around. When you saw Mr. Bingle downtown, you knew Christmas was near and it was difficult not to say Mr. Bingle and Christmas in the same sentence. This special little character's snowman body was adorably adorned with an ice cream cone hat, candy cane in hand, red ribbon with bells and holly wings. The holly wings were so he could fly. He was created as Santa's helper.His voice was the most magical of all. He had a characteristically high pitched squeeky, raspy voice that captured the hearts of many a child and adult alike.
Eventually Mr. Bingle had his own little tv show locally and was on the radio. Remember Rose Mae and Penquin Pete? Mr. B also appeared as a guest on other TV programs,and made frequent visits to Children's Hospital to bring cheer and hope to many sick or terminally ill children. He was our first local childrens tv hero in a time when anything that moved on our one television channel was breathtaking! It was an era of simpler things and all the high tech gadgets of today were not even fathomed yet. Kids were content and ecstatic if they got one doll, a pair of skates or a toy train. Try that today!
Mr. Bingle also made an appearance one year at the Citrus Bowl in Florida in 1989 and has appeared according to my research at the White House.
Every year parents would bring their children downtown to see the puppet shows. We inched our way through the crowd and pressed our noses up against the thick cold glass to get a quick glimpse of our hero, then it was off to see the most authentic Santa on the 3rd floor of MB and probably get your picture taken. Mr. Bingle has his own jingle song and there is even a story about Mr. Bingle and Santa and how he came to be. It became a New Orleans southern tradition. He is not on Canal Street any more however. He has moved to the suburbs and those big shopping centers that crept seemingly overnight like something out of a science fiction movie. Then stores began multiplying and began appearing everywhere. When Mercantile stores bought them out years previous,he was also used at a store called Lowensteins in Memphis,Tenn. They also had a television show with him for many years. I know he was also in some stores in Florida. He may have journeyed to more places but that's all I know about so far.
Mr. Bingle is a New Orleans cultural icon as famous as Mardi Gras, Red Beans and Rice, Gumbo,and Beignets. If you grew up in New Orleans there is no way that you cannot know who he is and was. Mr. Bingle has impacted many childrens' lives who are now grownups and is still sending his special Christmas message to a newer generation.
There was a huge Mr.Bingle paper mache figure that also hung outside the building every year. It measured approximately 50 feet tall and 35 feet wide, mitten tip to mitten tip. It took two huge flat cars to move him from Chicago where he was created to his new home in New Orleans. He was first mounted on the Maison Blanche Building in November,1949.
Once Santa and Mr. Bingle made a grand entrance appearance on Canal St. via helicopter. It was quite a spectacle. The police went zooming everywhere. It appeared they didn't know that they couldn't fly so low in a commercial district. Then one day after years and years, this huge Mr. Bingle fell and pieces of him went everywhere, as far as I know no one was hurt, but New Orleanians were deeply saddened. He was replaced eventually but his new look was not exactly the same one we always remembered, but we continued to love him nevertheless.
There were many stuffed plush dolls, jewelry, candy boxes, puppets and soap with Mr. Bingle. There was also clothing with his special icon,and lots more. The dolls especially; went through many changes over the years but I'll get into dolls and memorabilia later. There is nothing especially elaborate about him. He didn't light up, was not especially talented or anything dazzling, but to many of us who grew up with him, he was our hero. He represented a slower, kinder, more gentle time in our wonderful city we call New Orleans and we will always remember him, especially at Christmas time!
Sadly Mr. Isentrout "Oscar" is no longer with us. He passed away in 1985 at the age of 61. He pulled the strings for many years bringing his character to life and creating smiles and joy. He did not however allow the strings to get pulled on him if he could help it. He was his own private, quiet kinda person, who gained happiness through the simpler things in life and not being in the spotlight. He was content being behind the scenes, doing his job and probably feeling very good about it. I think he smiled during the era when Mr. Bingle the marionette and dolls had no mouth and could not smile for themselves.Thanks Oscar! You are missed!
Emile Alline Sr.,also a very special man who also dedicated most of his life work to MB and the creation of Mr. Bingle and his family is also not with us. He prided himself on all of his work and his many creations and inventions. He loved talking about Mr. Bingle and cherished him till the end. He was born November,27,1917 and died December 6, 1998. He was 81 years old and we will miss him also! Thank You for creating Mr. Bingle!
Friday, December 16, 2005
Angus Lind Times-Picayune Column
Mr. Bingle, rescued and renovated, has taken up residence in City Park, as the chief attraction of the scaled-down Celebration in the Oaks.
Some would say it's a small miracle that the spirit of Christmas in New Orleans still lives on in the body of this snowman character wearing an ice cream cone hat and wings of holly leaves -- a New Orleans icon that has brought smiles to kids' faces for decades and now will continue to do so.
There's even more reason to celebrate his return this holiday season. Some two decades after his death, the original puppeteer and voice of Mr. Bingle, Edwin H. "Oscar" Isentrout, finally has a tombstone at his previously unmarked grave in Hebrew's Rest Cemetery No. 3 on Pelopidas Street in Gentilly.
"I had written off the possibility of this coming to fruition under the circumstances," said Sean Doles, the driving force behind restoring some dignity to Isentrout's life and career. Doles is the author of "Saving Mr. Bingle," the book that brought Isentrout's story to the forefront in 2004.
Doles had teamed up with Dan Alfortish of Alfortish & Sons Cast Iron Stone Products in Gretna and others to get the deal done.
"I knew they had come through the storm OK," he said. "Then I got a phone call from Dan saying that the stone was finished, it was in place and it was the nicest one there."
The commemorative marker includes an engraved picture of Mr. Bingle, and underneath Isentrout's name it says, "Puppeteer & Voice of Mr. Bingle."
For 37 years beginning in 1948, there would be four Mr. Bingle puppet shows a day during the holiday season at Maison Blanche department store on Canal Street, now the site of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. As television began to blossom, Mr. Bingle appeared in TV commercials for the store from Thanksgiving to Christmas and in his own daily show.
Isentrout, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., worked with touring puppet shows in New York and Canada before purchasing, on a whim, a bus ticket to New Orleans, where he began doing puppet shows in the French Quarter. Emile Alline, a window decorator for MB, created Mr. Bingle and recruited Isentrout to animate the puppet.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"Oscar Isentrout literally gave life to Mr. Bingle," Doles said. "But since his death, this man's contribution to New Orleans history and culture had gone unrecognized, and his life had been all but forgotten. As soon as I discovered this tragic oversight, I knew we had to fix it. And amid all the suffering that's taken place over the last few months, I'm glad that we can give the residents and supporters of New Orleans some small reason to smile."
Just to show what a small miracle this really is, none of this would have happened if Doles had not decided to write his Mr. Bingle book. While doing research, Doles went to WTIX Oldie King Bob Walker's Web site and found an obscure essay by Paul Yacich, a longtime director and engineer for WDSU-TV.
In his writing, Yacich said that Isentrout, who never married, had died in 1985 at age 61 after a long illness. Having no immediate family, he was buried in an unmarked grave and, sadly, forgotten.
When Doles read those words, he recalled, "It was jaw-dropping. I could not believe it.
"It became the central motivating theme behind my book. And once I found out the situation, my main goal was to correct the oversight."
More information on the subject is available at www.savingmrbingle.com .
It would be difficult indeed, if not impossible, to explain to someone who did not grow up here, or live here during Mr. Bingle's heyday, how important this make-believe symbol of the holiday season is to New Orleanians. So we won't try.
It's one of those things that signal the start of a season, like the first strains of "Mardi Gras Mambo" or "Carnival Time" a couple of weeks before the first parade rolls. It's the bugler playing the first "Call to the Post" on Thanksgiving Day at the Fair Grounds. It's what we are all about.
Back when Isentrout was still puppeteering, he took his Mr. Bingle puppet show on the road, visiting other MB store locations as well as hospitals, schools, orphanages and even homes for the elderly -- any place that cheer needed to be spread. And Mr. Bingle could always be relied on to do just that.
The final chapter of the Mr. Bingle and Oscar Isentrout story has yet to be written. But the groundwork has been laid. Along with Doles, Lauren Brown (who runs the Web site www.mrbinglefans.com), Char Schroeder of the Ritz-Carlton and WWL radio's Spud McConnell had been lobbying Dillard's department store -- which, with its purchase of the city's Maison Blanche stores in 1998, inherited a storefront-size Mr. Bingle -- to get the symbolic snowman returned to Canal Street. Dillard's, however, donated it to Celebration in the Oaks, which was fine with the group.
Getting the tombstone in place, said Doles, "was a nice way to cap it off. We followed through -- but we're not really done. What we'd like to do is get a permanently displayed plaque at the Ritz-Carlton and have a formal ceremony at the cemetery next year."
Which no doubt would include a blast from the past:
Jingle, jangle, jingle, here comes Mister Bingle
With another message from Kris Kringle ...
An original 1950's program
from many years ago
at Christmas Time.
Thanks to Mark Glynn