Sunday, February 25, 2007


This would have been the 94th birthday of the late great Jim Backus aka "Mister Magoo" and of course Mr. Thurston P. Howell of Gilligan's Island fame. But Jim was also a most fantastic straight actor as well. You only have to watch him portray James Dean's father in "Rebel Without A Cause" to discover that. But Mr. Magoo is what I will always remember him for and most especially two animated feature films featuring the near sighted myoptic wonder. One was a U.P.A cartoon called "A Thousand And One Arabian Nights" in which Magoo portrays Alladin's father and Hand Conreid portrays the voice of the villain "The Grand Vizier". Dwayne Hickman (yes, "Dobie Gillis) portrayed the voice of Alladin. The second feature was "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" that I always will consider to be a Christmas animated masterpiece. Oh it certainly varies from the original story by Charles Dickens, but it has heart and warmth and some wonderful songs by Bob Merill and Jule Styne composers of "Funny Girl" The cartoon's framing device consists almost entirely of Jim Backus as Quincy Magoo singing "It's Great To Be Back On Broadway", thus explaining in song that the character Magoo is portraying a character in a Broadway theatre production. The next song is "Ringle, Ringle", Scrooge's theme song about "coins when they mingle", is half-sung by Jim Backus as Magoo, and serves to delineate the character's change of heart. Initially he appreciates the coins aesthetically and for the wealth they represent, while Jack Cassidy as Bob Cratchit sings in counterpoint that "it's cold, it's frightfully cold", and musically begs Scrooge to spare the expense of "just one piece of coal" to warm him. Later, in a musical reprise, Scrooge sings that the coins are "meant for passing around" as he spends the coins to help the Cratchit family.Joan Gardner as Tiny Tim ("played" by the animated character Gerald McBoing-Boing) sings of "razzleberry dressing" and "woofle jelly cake." in "The Lord's Bright Blessing". The Cratchit children's requests for better food, a tree and presents are countered by Jack Cassidy as Bob Cratchit singing of what the family has, in his view: "the Lord's Bright Blessing, and knowing we're together" - a togetherness that Scrooge lacks. In the Christmas Past sequence, Backus/Magoo as Scrooge sings in poignant duet with Scrooge's younger self (sung by Marie Matthews) left behind in boarding school after all the other children went home for Christmas. "In perhaps the most touching moment... Magoo is transported back to his childhood, where he stands side-by-side with his youthful self. He watches his 'child' sing When You're Alone, Alone in the World, tracing his hand on the blackboard, hoping to find a hand of his own to hold... the quavering elderly voice blending with the clear, sweet youthful one, the invisible Magoo putting a transparent arm around his 'child'
"A hand for each hand was planned for the world
Why don't my fingers reach? "Hundreds of grains of sand in the world, why such a lonely beach? Where are two shoes to click to my clack? Where is that voice to answer mine back? I'm all alone in the world"-- that lyric used to grab me every time I heard it! Jim was born the same year as my mother and passed away on July 3, 1989 from complications of Altzheimer's disease! God bless you, Jim wherever you are! Happy Birthday!

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