"Joy to the World" plays on the soundtrack as the camera peeks through an apartment window. Five men are framed through a Christmas wreath as they are seated around a table playing poker. So opens "Scrooge Gets An Oscar," the Christmas-themed episode of the classic series The Odd Couple that airs tonight on MeTV.
The show premiered on ABC on Thursday, September 24, 1970, and the Christmas show was only the twelfth episode of the series to air. It premiered on December 17, eight days before Christmas, and Scrooge was everywhere that fall: the musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, entitled Scrooge, had premiered at New York City's Radio City Music Hall on November 19, 1970, and starred Albert Finney as Scrooge and Alec Guinness as Marley. The makeup and costumes used for Oscar (Jack Klugman) and Felix (Tony Randall) in "Scrooge Gets An Oscar" seem based on the portrayals of the two key characters in the movie, and it may be that the producers of The Odd Couple got the idea for this episode from the film.
|Alec Guinness and Albert Finney in Scrooge|
|Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in|
"Scrooge Gets An Oscar"
Snow is falling outside and Christmas is coming, but Oscar is a grouch; Vinnie remarks that Oscar married his ex-wife Blanche on December 25th and that's why the anniversary holds bad associations for him. Oscar remarks, "I'd like to get a giant candy cane and beat the wings off a sugar plum fairy." His mood is so sour that his friends decide he would make a perfect Scrooge for their performance of A Christmas Carol at the Midtown Orphanage. Things only get worse for Oscar when Felix marches in, singing "Deck the Halls" and pushing a cart with a bowl filled with his homemade eggnog. Oscar gets madder and madder and, though Felix tells him "You're sloppy but you're not cruel," Oscar decides to throw Felix out of the apartment as a Christmas present to himself. After his roommate leaves the table, Felix tells the poker players: "That's our Scrooge!"
|The opening shot of a snowy NY street|
The first act of "Scrooge Gets an Oscar" opens with a lovely shot of a New York City street in a snowstorm; 1970-era cars crawl along the snow-covered streets. It wasn't really snowing in NYC that day; in fact, there had only been 1.8 inches of snow so far that month, so the footage must have been from a prior winter. Inside the Madison/Unger apartment, Felix sadly packs a bag and surprises Oscar by giving him a Christmas present. "Goodbye forever, old buddy," says Felix, who heads outside, where another bit of stock footage shows a snowy scene outside the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
|That's the library on the right|
A classic scene follows, as Roy, Vinnie and Speed sit around reading in the room where they will rehearse for the play. Vinnie comments "that Charles Dickens was sure a genius," but Speed is more interested in the paperback he has tucked inside his script--Lolita and the Naked Pharmacist, Or, Happiness Is A Hot Drugstore, a naughty takeoff on Charles Schulz's Happiness is a Warm Puppy, first published in 1962 and very popular throughout the rest of the decade.
Murray the Cop arrives and, now that the cast is assembled, Felix enters. The director of the show, he is responsible for choosing who will play Scrooge, since Oscar refuses to participate. What follows is hilarious, as Roy, Vinnie and Speed audition for the part. The highlight is Vinnie's reading, which leads Felix to comment that "If we ever do Scrooge as an ax murderer, you've got the job!" The upshot of all this auditioning is that the only person really able to play Scrooge is Oscar.
|Vinnie's special take on Scrooge|
Back at the apartment, the pleas of the Poker Players fall on deaf ears, and Oscar's mood only worsens when he receives a singing telegram that goes like this:
Season's Greetings, Oscar boy, my alimony's due
If you don't pay up right away I'll get the cops on you
And you'll spend Christmas in the clink with other bums like you
--Your former wife, Blanche Madison
Not surprisingly, this pushes Oscar over the edge and he throws everyone out of his apartment. Felix wags his finger and tells Oscar, "That's who you are! The real Scrooge!" Alone at last, Oscar settles down on the couch to watch TV and nurse the stomach pains brought on by overeating. "A Christmas Carol" is on, and Oscar falls asleep and dreams that he is Ebenezer Madison; on the TV screen he sees Felix as Marley's ghost.
|Oscar settles down to watch some TV|
|Felix as Marley's ghost|
After the mid-show commercial break, the dream continues. Marley warns Scrooge and then appears in person in the apartment; after a misguided attempt to lead Scrooge out the window, the two decide take the elevator. Throughout their satiric journey, Marley and Scrooge retain the traits of Felix and Oscar: the fog bothers Marley's sinuses and young Ebenezer Madison wishes for a pony, even though he lives in the Bronx! The sight of Jack Klugman in knickers is not easily forgotten and recalls Joe Besser as Stinky in the early 1950s' Abbott and Costello Show.
|Young Ebenezer Madison|
|Joe Besser as Stinky on|
The Abbott and Costello Show
A quick look into Christmas Present features the Poker Players again, with Al Molinaro as Tiny Tim repeating "God Bless Us All, Everyone!" over and over. The final visit, to Christmas Yet to Come, takes place in a stylized graveyard, where Oscar sees his own gravestone. He has a quick change of heart and awakens on the couch, with Felix there to tell him goodbye for one last time before he moves out of the apartment.
But the magic of Christmas is not through with Oscar Madison, as we learn in the conclusion of "Scrooge Gets An Oscar," and he agrees to go ahead and play Scrooge in the Christmas play. The tag shows Oscar and Felix exchanging presents that fit their personalities.
|Oscar and Felix celebrate Christmas Eve|
It's fitting that "Scrooge Gets An Oscar" will air on MeTV tonight, hours before the big day, because it is one of the best examples of Memorable Entertainment that classic TV sitcoms have to offer.
On this Christmas 2015, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and a special prayer should go out to the family of Al Molinaro, who played Murray the Cop in this episode and who passed away this past October 30th at the age of 96.
This post is part of A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic TV Blog Association. MeTV has been airing holiday-themed episodes of classic TV series every weeknight and one of tonight's shows is "Scrooge Gets An Oscar," from The Odd Couple! Find links to other Blogathon posts here.