This post was authored by Nanette Gibbs, Business Reference Librarian in the Science, Technology, and Business Division. This is a teaser for a series of posts in 2018 to celebrate the New Orleans Tricentennial so stay tuned.
Mention Mr. Bingle to just about anyone from New Orleans and they will probably smile and sing the jingle:
“Jingle, Jangle, Jingle, here comes Mr. Bingle
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!”
Mr. Bingle, the snowman with the ice cream cone for a hat, holly shaped leaves for wings, a candy cane, and blue ornaments for eyes was the trademark of the Maison Blanche department store. The trademark is now owned by the department store chain, Dillard’s Inc. After Hurricane Katrina, some even credited Mr. Bingle with saving Christmas in New Orleans. In fact, Mr. Bingle, a cultural icon, is considered synonymous with Christmas in New Orleans.
Mr. Bingle was originally conceived as an advertising strategy for Maison Blanche after their display manager Emile Alline had traveled to Chicago in 1947 to look at holiday window displays. Upon his return to New Orleans he decided that Maison Blanche needed a signature character for the store. Although there was a contest among store employees to name the snowman, Herbie Swartz, a manager at the store named the snowman himself. Mr. Bingle’s initials are ‘MB’ and that was perfect because the initials stood for Maison Blanche and could be used in the jingle as well.
Constructed as a puppet, Mr. Bingle needed to be brought to life. Edwin Harmon “Oscar” Isentrout was known in New Orleans as a talented puppeteer and voice artist (Branley, Maison Blanche Department Stores, p.51). Using the puppet version of Mr. Bingle, Isentrout created live shows for the window displays at the Canal Street store to the delight of children and passersby. Santa and Mr. Bingle also appeared on the third floor level of the store drawing additional crowds while children sat on Santa’s lap. Further, Mr. Bingle, the animated version, was seen on television in ads for Maison Blanche. A highly effective and strategic advertising strategy, Mr. Bingle would tell children that everything they could possibly want for Christmas could be found at Maison Blanche. In 1985 Isentrout passed away and the shows came to an end. Jeffrey Kent who was Isentrout’s last apprentice was able to get the only Mr. Bingle from Isentrout’s shop after he died. Although Mr. Bingle was severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina, Jeffrey Kent restored Mr. Bingle to the original fluffy character everyone loved. The once two-story-tall fiberglass Mr. Bingle that hung in front of the former Maison Blanche appears in the Krewe of Jingle’s annual Christmas parade. Every year after the parade Mr. Bingle makes his way to New Orleans City Park’s annual holiday light festival. This year’s festival will begin on December 6, 2017.
Although Mr. Bingle no longer appears on television or as a puppet, department stores in the south continue to sell Mr. Bingle toys, keepsakes and ornaments. In the words of Jeffrey Kent:
“Some people say that Bingle is dead. But as long as we have memory, he stays in our hearts. You don’t really know who he is until he comes to life.”