Bingle All the Way

Memories of "Oscar"

Native Mr. Bingle, The Hometown Tradition

Mr. Bingle's battery runs on smiles

Another Mr. Bingle Story from Tennessee

Mr. Bingle and the Uncle Mistletoe Connection

Chronicles of Recent History
Bingle All The Way

Written By Liz Scott Monaghan
Photo by Chris Granger
Used with Permission By Liz Scott Monaghan and Chris Granger
New Orleans Magazine 1998 article

Dillards proudly welcomes Mr. Bingle. So began a press release announcing the decision of the retail chain that recently took over the Maison Blanche stores.One of the lingering questions was what would happen to Mr. Bingle,MB's Christmas character.Where did the puppet snowman come from? And why the fuss? Read on: When Santa left his shop one day He found a snowman near his sleigh... "You'll be my helper now"he said, And tapped the little fellow's head...

So began a whimsical poem titled"The Story of Mr. Bingle" by Emile Alline Sr.,Who moreso than Santa,was responsible for Bingle's creation.

It was the 1947 Christmas season in Chicago,a blustery time of the year,and in the Marshall Field's department-store windows were models of a scraggly haired,Dickensian character with a high,dented hat.He was Uncle Mistletoe,and to Chicagoians,he was as identifiable as Santa Claus.

Alline stood in front of Marshall Field's plateglass window,marveling at the genius of it all.Everybody in Chicago,no doubt,linked Christmas with Marshall Field's,and the link was that crusty little charactor,Uncle Mistletoe.Alline was display director at Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans.

He came home and got busy designing his own charactor.It had to be completely unlike Uncle Mistletoe,but just as irresistable.More so.

His creation now stands in a glass box in his Lakeview home.It is clearly the Mr. Bingle revered by generations of young New Orleanians.But it's a tad different,as early versions of Mickey Mouse are different from the modern one.

This Bingle is pudgier and actually looks cuddlier.He's molded,Alline says on a chicken wire base,swathed in layers of cotton-the kind you buy to put under the Christmas creche.He has the familiar candy-cane hat,Christmas-ribbon bow tie and holly-leaf wings,but his nose and eyes are tiny ornaments,not the button-like versions on later models.His legs are mere snowy stubs,and he has no mouth at all.

Alline called him"the snow doll"and presented him to Maison Blanche President Herbert Schwartz for christening.Schwartz chose the name Mr. Bingle,which had both a holiday ring and the initials M.B.

And the rest is history,Alline says. Alline is a combination of the pragmatic and the artistic-he would have made a spectacular Mardi Gras float designer.But that is not what he did.He got a job at Maison Blanche in 1937,the day after his graduation from Commy High School(later S.J.Peters)where he'd distinguished himself by carving linoleum blocks used to illustrate the school's newspaper.

"I walked into Maison Blanche and I looked at their signs,which were lousy.I went to personnel and told them I could letter signs better than that.So the personnel manager took me to the sign-painting department,and they gave me a try and hired me.Later on,the director of the display department saw my work and hired me for display.Then he went to {work in} Houston and I took his job"

He went to night school at Tulane University,studied advertising and journalism,and in World War 2 he was assigned,during most of his stint,to edit military newspapers.

His job was waiting when he returned after the war. And in 1948,he was bubbling over with ways to promote his creation.He'd designed the store windows for Christmas with animated figures from Germany,and he decided the centerpiece should be a puppet show starring Mr. Bingle.Something to amuse the kiddies-there were few television sets and no"Sesame Street" then.Somebody told him about a puppeteer who worked on Bourbon Street doing a puppet -S.T. shows.

His name was Oscar Isentrout,and Alline offered him a steady job."I set him up in a workshop on Broad Street so he could make the puppets under my supervision.I didn't want any S.T. puppets,"he adds with a chuckle.

Isentrout's Mr.Bingle had longer legs,so he could dance,and a mouth - a simple slash that opened and closed-and Isentrout's voice,a very squeakey one,which turned out to be as enchanting to children as it must have been annoying to their parents.

Mr. Bingle turned out to be an advertiser's dream.He and Santa arrived one year via a helicopter that dipped low over the Canal Street store."I thought we were all going to jail",Alline recalls."The police came screaming up Canal Street.Turns out that you cannot fly low over a crowded area like that." But the children loved it and flocked up to the fifth floor to pay 50 cents each for a Mr. Bingle walk -through,a series of animated scenes culminating with Santa and Mr. Bingle and a package of gifts from the little snowman.

Eventually,there were puppet shows in Maison Blanche stores in Clearview Shopping Center in Metairie,Lake Forest in East New Orleans,and even Lafayette and Baton Rouge.There was Mr. Bingle the song: "Jingle Jangle Jingle.Here comes mr. Bingle..."

For several years there was a 15-minute Mr. Bingle Tv show during the Christmas season.There were all kinds of Mr. Bingle dolls and Mr.Bingle jewelry and even Mr. Bingle soap.He appeared at the White House and the Citrus Bowl.

Alline left the store in 1968 to go into business for himself as a display and decorating distributor.Isentrout died in 1985.Mr. Bingle stayed on.Just two years ago in November,Mercantile Stores,including the Maison Blanche outlets."And Mr.Bingle went with them"Alline says sadly.

Alline 81,still creates things-mostly gizmos for around the house.His doorbell plays a merry little song.His living-room drapes close at the touch of a button.He once invented a one man golf cart that you could fold up and carry in the trunk of your car."It was gasoline powered,though,and you're not allowed to carry gasoline in your trunk.So I couldn't patent it"He built an entertainment center that incorporates a wet bar,a music system,a VCR,a large screen TV and two smaller ones,so he can watch three football games at once.

Sometimes he pages through a scrapbook documenting his creation of the little snowman.

As for Mr. Bingle,he's outlived Maison Blanche.Dillard's decided to take him to the suburbs.His paper mache' likeness,the one created by float builder Blain Kern that once hung on Maison Blanche on Canal at Dillard's in the Lakeside Mall in Metairie.And he's appearing live in other local Dillard's promotions this month.Dillard's has no plans to use him nationwide,but who knows what the future may hold?

Meanwhile,a smaller,humbler Mr. Bingle will gaze soulfully from his lighted case in Emile Alline's living room.

by Errol Laborde
used with permission
wrote for City Business.

Memories of "Oscar"(My title) Not Mr. Laborde's,Hope that is ok Errol...

Article by Errol Laborde;New Orleans Magazine

When I last saw Oscar Isentrout, he was having lunch at LaFamille, a little Greek Cafe that once stood across Dauphine Street from the downtown Maison Blanche building. I thought to myself that I needed to interview him one day. I wish I had. He died not long after. His is the interview that got away.

It was the fate of Isentrout to be denied the spotlight, although this little man lived near it. He was not the sort of person who would be associated with festivity, legends, sentiment or, most of all, Christmas, but he should be. New Orleanians celebrate the holidays pretty much as people do anywhere else, with the addition of one indigenous character, a snowman marionette named Mr.Bingle. Isentrout provided Bingle's movement, voice and, in a sense, his soul.

When he has been written about, Bingle has been presented as a source of childhood memories. Now there's a new level of Bingle nostalgia, not just form childhood, but from adulthood.

Mr. Bingle was originated as a marketing device for Maison Blanche Department store. His initials even matched the store's familiar MB. A generation of kids saw Bingle each evening starring in his own television show; dancing, singing and doing whatever else puppet snowmen do while pitching toys.

At some point Bingle became not just a corporate symbol but a symbol of Christmas in New Orleans. In a city denied snow he is the universal snowman. The towering Bingle mounted on the downtown Maison Blanche building has become the harbinger of the season. He is such an institution that when Maison Blanche was sold to a new owner, the press release detailing the transaction went into great detail about the sale including the legal rites to Bingle. Some lawyers actually spent time on Bingle legalities.

Bingle is the Mike Foster of Christmas icons, there's nothing particularly dazzling about his personality and he's not especially handsome, but people like him if just for his simplicity. MB's new owners saw Bingle's ongoing marketing value, especially to the kids who once watched him on TV and were now money-spending adults. Several years ago, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the marionette's creation, Maison Blanche issued a special doll on which Bingle's everyday wardrobe of an ice cream cone hat and holly wings was complemented by a sophisticated monogrammed plaid vest. Bingle had become a fashion plate among puppets. He was now high-toned and yuppified, like the kids who grew up with him.

On the night that the new owners reopened the downtown MB there was a gala. Well-dressed people mingled between the food areas and music groups while taking in the glitter. Few noticed the real cultural happening that evening. In a corner of the third floor Isentrout was showing and telling about Bingle.

Since he was so unassuming, little is known about Isentrout. He did not create the Bingle concept, Emile Alline Sr., a former display director for MB, had the idea after seeing a similar window display puppet used by Marshall Fields Dept. store in Chicago. Alline hired Isentrout, a vaudevillian, who at the time was working his trade on Bourbon Street staging a show that starred S.T. marionettes.

Jeff Kent, a young puppeteer who worked with Isentrout during his last years, recalled that the man became the personification of Bingle. The puppeteer was so entwined with the snowman that some fellow employees thought he went over the edge. There were strange stories of Isentrout each day saving some of his lunch, saying that the portion was for Bingle. Kent remembered returning to work with the puppeteer one day after the lunch hour and noticing that he was carrying a wrapped up pork chop. Recalling the rumors, Kent asked the older puppeteer about the chop.

"It's for my dog," Isentrout revealed, "I just tell people it's for Bingle."

Rather than Isentrout's lunch, Bingle got something more valuable, Isentrout's existence. Bingle thrives today as a Super-star. Behind every star, however, there is always the story of a person behind scenes who, at the appropriate time, pulled the right strings.

More is Revealed about Long Saga of Our Mr. Bingle
by Michael Donahue

This article is courtesy of George Flynn, Memphis, TN. It is written by Michael Donahue and is a Bluff City, TN newspaper article.

Click here to read the article.
*Note* It is in .PDF format, therefore AdobeReader is required. Download is available here.

Site owner's comments:
All research I've done is detailed in stating Mr. Bingle was created in New Orleans Maison Blanche By Emile Alline and he stated before his death in an interview he wrote the Story of Mr. Bingle. Not to be contradictory but I personally do not believe it was Ms. Crenshaw as stated in article.

Mr. Bingle and the Uncle Mistletoe Connection

It is believed by many that Emile Alline got his inspiration for creating the character for New Orleans from a character he saw up in Chicago named Uncle Mistletoe. Of course Uncle Mistletoe was nothing like Mr. Bingle, but was Marshall Fields' icon/mascot for advertising and their window displays in the late 40's and way beyond. Here is some historical information I recieved from a representative at Marshall Fields. Courtesy Marshall Fields, Chicago, Ill. Included is a small photo of the Uncle Mistletoe character. He was also known as the Ambassador of Goodwill and had a Kindness Club.

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