Jingle, Jangle, Jingle, here comes Mr. Bingle … with another message from Kris Kringle
By Kristine Froeba, Gentilly Messenger
To quote Don Draper of “Mad Men,” nostalgia is powerful; it’s delicate but potent. Mr. Bingle, New Orleans’ Christmas snowman, turns 76 this year. And New Orleans is still as infatuated with the little fella as when he was first created in 1947 — perhaps more so.
Mr. Bingle, flying above Canal Street on Maison Blanche, was an iconic symbol of New Orleans’s childhood past: ours, our parents, and even our grandparents.
When local children saw Mr. Bingle on WDSU-TV after school, they knew it was getting close to Christmas. The cheery snowman had his own annual local TV and radio shows. He also appeared as a guest star on other TV programs and frequently visited local hospitals to bring joy to the children’s wards and hospitals. Some say he was our first television star.
Newcomers to the city are likely puzzled as they repeatedly encounter the inverted ice cream cone-capped, goofy-grinned, snowcone-like creature. However, they soon learn the imp with the cherry nose, his little mitt clutching a peppermint candy cane, is just as important as Santa in many local households.
Once they understand the story of the little puppet, they’re quick to join the Mr. Bingle pop culture cult and seek their own dolls, ornaments and decor.
A walk from Tulane University to Magazine Street produces dozens of Mr. Bingle sightings, and that’s before you peek through the windows at the mantles and Christmas trees. Uptown porticos, Mid-City porches, Gentilly baby nurseries, Bywater balconies, Lakeview gardens, Northshore decks, and houses and yards across the burbs and Gulf Coast have something in common during the Christmas season: Mr. Bingle.
No matter how far time and storms have dispersed and scattered us, we still pay collective homage to our little Maison Blanche department store snowman. A mention of his name has anecdotes flying.
Buying Mr. Bingle
Dillard’s, which acquired the rights to Mr. Bingle when it took over Maison Blanche in 1998, has a third-floor display at Lakeside selling numerous iterations of Mr. Bingle in every price range. Stuffed toys, decor, jewelry, greeting cards, serve-ware, tree decorations, and music boxes playing Mr. Bingle’s memorable theme song.
The year’s collectible is an old-fashioned red phone booth, Mr. Bingle “snowglobe.” This year’s big-ticket ornament is Bingle stepping out of the TV to join his viewers.
Boutiques Uptown and further afield stock all manner of Christmas décor bearing his image, and legal or not; Etsy and Facebook have a booming Mr. Bingle black market.
A Mr. Bingle roundup on social media brings numerous New Orleanians celebrating Bingle fever, even those as far afield as London. All ready to share stories and photos of their personal Mr. Bingles on display. For example, Ginger Gibson, an NBC News editor in Washington, D.C., posted a photo of herself from the Capitol wearing a pair of Mr. Bingle leggings.
“Do I have stuffed Bingles?” Gibson said. “Ornament Bingles, Bingle paintings, a Bingle oven mitt, Bingle dish towels, and a Bingle for my front yard?” Answer: yes.
Mr. Bingle history primer
For decades, a trip to Maison Blanche to see Mr. Bingle in person was pivotal to the children of New Orleans. In his heyday, Mr. Bingle was as essential a character as Santa Claus and was even included in the background of photos with Santa. (If you begged enough on the same trip, you could also swing a visit to the angel hair Winter Wonderland caves at D.H. Holmes and the tunnel of angel hair lights in the Roosevelt Hotel lobby.)
Mr. Bingle, a naughty elfin assistant to Santa Claus, was created as a Maison Blanche department store mascot in 1947. He was the brainchild of Emile Alline, the store’s artistic display director. The story goes that Alline visited Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago, where he saw a snowman-like marionette used as a Christmas window display. Inspired, Alline hired puppeteer Ewin Harmon “Oscar” Isentrout to create a New Orleans version.
Mr. Bingle first appeared in the Christmas window display of the Canal Street store. Soon after, he appeared in puppet shows in the same windows. The shows occurred every 15 minutes daily in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Mr. Bingle also could be seen in numerous musical radio shows and television commercials over the decades. Isentrout was also Mr. Bingle’s voice.
However, many already know the history of the holly-leaf winged snowman. The personal memories of Mr. Bingle are more important to locals. Most anecdotes begin with a story of taking the bus downtown for Christmas shopping on Canal Street. That’s where, each holiday season for a half century, a 75-foot Mr. Bingle hung from the Maison Blanche department store building, now the Ritz-Carlton.
That original flying Mr. Bingle swooping over Canal Street now resides in City Park as a central character in the “Celebration in the Oaks” light display. After a brief stint adorning the Lakeside store, the original 50-foot papier-mâché Mr. Bingle was donated to the Friends of City Park. After refurbishment, Canal Street’s Mr. Bingle appeared among the oaks for the first time in 2005.