TRAVERSE CITY — Bill Ferguson is a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” or at least he was for an hour or so in 2017.
The longtime Manistee businessman played the part of Scrooge in the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts 70-minute, one-act play, “A Tuneful Christmas Carol.”
And, just it was in Charles Dickens’ 1843 newspaper serial-turned-book, Ferguson — er-r-r, Scrooge — found redemption, peace and love, just in the St. Nick of time.
Dickens timeless tinseled classic — “A Christmas Carol, in Prose, being a Ghost Story of Christmas” — has been told and retold many-fold over its release in the mid-19th century. Over the past century the narrative that brought us Scrooge, Tiny Tim and a trio of ghosts — four when you factor in Scrooge’s long-dead partner, Jacob Marley — has been a favorite mark of stage, TV and the silver screen.
In regards to the latter, dozens of cinematic adaptations of the book have found their way to the big screen — real-life and animated — and though a few have taken a lesser-value license with the story’s central theme, most have stayed true to Dickens’ quill and ink counsel that we’re all capable of change — most importantly, of redemption.
Bill and Lee Smith, longtime owners of the Country Christmas store located at 9005 Traverse Highway just a few miles northwest of Traverse City, reflected on the black and white era of movie-making.
“I thought George C. Scott was good (as Ebenezer Scrooge), but I think my favorite is the British one with Alastair Sim,” said Bill, 83. “It’s wonderful, it’s still real good. But those old black and white movies, they were the best.”
His wife echoed his words.
“Oh, for sure, I remember the old black and white ones,” she said. “Yeah, they were scary, but really good, fun to watch.”
Todd and Norie Warnke, also of Traverse City, both smiled ear-to-ear as they reflected on their favorite film version of “A Christmas Carol.”
“Gotta’ be the Muppets,” laughed Todd, 40. “I loved them growing up and I really loved it when they did ‘A Christmas Carol.’
“But Bill Murray was good, too, his (movie) was fun.”
Norie, 36, paused to give the question extra thought as she and her husband sat in the booth of the restaurant where they were having lunch.
“Well, Patrick Stewart, he was good (as Scrooge),” she said. “But you know what, I also liked Scrooge McDuck, too. I always liked ‘Ducktales’ growing up — I liked Scrooge McDuck.”
Shannon Patrick, 29, of Manistee, also likes “The Muppets Christmas Carol,” starring Michael Caine, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and all those other merry Muppet puppets.
With three children ages 2 months to 4 years old, she called the Jim Henson version “... good, family-friendly entertainment.”
“I like that version because it keeps my kids attention, it keeps ‘em quiet — moms like that sort of thing,” she said. “But it is good, too, a very happy movie.”
If the Dickens’ story is one for the ages — all ages — 6-year-old Timmy Narbough needed only one word to say what his favorite version of “A Christmas Carol” is, but only after some painstaking explanation of what the story is about.
“Dogs,” the youngster said as he tried to bury his face behind his mom’s back as the two sat in their restaurant booth.
“He likes ‘An All Dogs Christmas Carol,’” said his mom, Marci, as she laughed and tried to comfort and corral her son. “He watches it all day long, over and over. Me? I think I like the one with Jim Carrey.”
The list of movies that celebrate “A Christmas Carol” dates back to 1901 with what is believed to be the very first silent film made of the Dickens’ story, the 10-minute long, “A Christmas Carol – Scrooge or Marley’s Ghost.” It should be pointed out the other three ghosts – Past, Present and Future – do not make an appearance in this film, nor do any other of the main characters.
Since then movie studios have produced reel after reel of the story, including ones starring Bransbyt Williams in 1928, a one-actor, 9-minute version that’s been lost to the cobwebs of history; Seymour Hicks in 1935 (the first full-length sound version); Reginald Owen in 1938; Alastair Sim in 1951; Albert Finney in 1970, Bill Murray in 1988 and others starring Michael Caine, Cicely Tyson, Kelsey Grammer, William Shatner and more
Of course, TV followed suit in producing the story, including ones that starred Vincent Price in 1949, Basil Rathbone in 1954, Henry Winkler’s “An American Christmas Carol” in 1979, George C. Scott’s popular portrayal of Scrooge in 1984, the lesser known and the seldom seen Canadian version starring leather-faced cowboy Jack Palance in 1998, and Patrick Stewart’s frightening flogging of the carolers with his cane in 1999 that scared the dickens out of many.
The list of regular television programming also tapped into the spirit of the story with a litany of shows producing storylines that centered around the three ghosts, including Bewitched, WKRP, Black Adder, Rich Little and a packed TV Guide of more.
Animated versions have been delivered by the Muppets, Mickey Mouse and friends, Disney and Jim Carrey, the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Barbie, Dora, Brer Rabbit, Mr. Magoo, Sesame Street and … well, you get it, the list goes on and on.
But no matter how many you ask, their answers are as many as the multitude of versions of the Dickens’ masterpiece that have been made over the years.
“I used to like the Mickey Mouse ‘Christmas Carol,’” said Sierra Warner, 23, of Onekama. “But now I like the one with Jim Carrey. They did a good job with that. I like scary movies and that one sure is scary.”
Kristen Stewart, who is a volunteer with the Old Town Playhouse, chuckled when she answered, “‘Scrooged,’ with Bill Murray.”
“I just like Bill Murray, (that movie was funny),” said the 29-year-old resident of Traverse City.
And what about Kristen’s father, who just happens to be Bill Ferguson, the 66-year-old, soft-talking Manistee businessman who played Scrooge in his community’s seasoned play of “A Christmas Carol” two years ago?
“Stewart,” he answered rather quickly, referring to Patrick Sterwart’s version from 20 years ago.
Then, just as quickly, he said, “George C. Scott.”
And then, “Mcgoo.”
“They’re all good,” he said, smiling. “Of course, we grew up on Alastair Sim – he was just great. But of all of them, I think George C. Scott was more attuned to Dickens’ message.
“But, so was Stewart — he played the part with a bit more anger. I liked that. Oh my, I liked ‘em all.”