Of all the roles I’ve done, the one I’d like best to be remembered for is Scrooge. It is unquestionably one of my favorites. Lionel Barrymore, Dec. 21, 1947. The New York Times. (Interview with Dorothy O’Leary).
When MGM Records released A Christmas Carol in 1947, Lionel Barrymore had been playing Ebenezer Scrooge for twelve years on the radio. Starting in 1934, CBS presented the Charles Dickens’ classic story each year and it soon became a much loved Christmas tradition. Barrymore, in his radio debut, embodied Scrooge to perfection. As he revealed in a 1947 New York Times interview, “I seem to shrink and an unnatural meanness of disposition comes over me. I seem to be Scrooge in body and mind.”
Barrymore went on to play the role 17 times before his death in November, 1954, and only the direst of circumstances prevented him from playing it. When his wife died in 1936 he was unable to perform, and his brother John rushed to fill in for him. He also missed the performance of 1938 when serious illness forced Orson Welles to substitute.
MGM Records assembled a stellar crew to produce the album. Dailey Paskman, a playwright and lyricist, had collaborated with Barrymore a few years before on “Halloween,” a radio production for children with story and lyrics written by Paskman and music written by Barrymore. In 1924 Paskman was the director of radio station WGBS and is credited with the first to produce a play on the radio.
Well known narrator Richard Hale appeared on both Serge Koussevitzky’s and later, Arthur Fieldler’s recordings of Sergey Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. He started his career as an opera and concert singer and later became a film and television star.
Sam Timberg, composer and conductor, was a contemporary of George Gershwin and Aaron Copeland. In 1931 he worked at Fleischer Studios scoring hundreds of cartoons, including those for Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. Other achievements while working at the Studio were the scores for the renowned Superman cartoons. Timberg composed the music for Barrymore’s radio version of A Christmas Carol.
Originally released in mono, A Christmas Carol was so successful it was re-released in 1950, 1959, 1962,1971 and 1981.