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Mr. Bingle Mr. Bingle Mr. Bingle Mr. Bingle Mr. Bingle

Speaking Out: Hope
An Annual Report (excerpt)
By:  Errol Laborde
Used by Permission

Too many local businesses were absorbed by national chains. Where there was First NBC there will be Bank One; where there was Maison Blanche there will be Dillard’s – or, in some cases, nothing at all. Even New Orleans’ one indigenous Christmas symbol, the elfin, winged snowman, Mr. Bingle, was affected by the ride. He has moved to the suburbs and now works for Dillard’s. Insiders and sentimentalists will remember, however, that, corporate takeovers to the contrary, Bingle’s initials remain the same as the store of his nativity, the departed Maison Blanche.

December 1998 - Vol. 33 - Issue 3 - Page - #333
(c) 2004 New Orleans Magazine, New OrleansMagazine.com, and MCMedia LLC. Reprinted by Permission.
 New Orleans Magazine 


Chronicles of Recent History: Bingle all the Way
The Making of a Christmas Character
By: Liz Scott Monaghan
Used by Permission


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 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 Chicagoans, he was as identifiable as Santa Claus.

Alline stood in front of Marshall Field’s plate-glass 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 character, Uncle Mistletoe. Alline was display director at Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans.

He came home and got busy designing his own character. It had to be completely unlike Uncle Mistletoe, but just as irresistible. 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 just a tad different, as early versions of Mickey Mouse are different from the modern one.

This Mr. 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, round Christmas 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’s 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 paper.

“I walked into Maison Blanche and I looked at their signs, which were lousy. And 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 II 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-striptease show.

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 striptease 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 squeaky 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 go to jail,” Alline recalls. “The police came screaming up Canal Street. Turns out you can’t fly low over a crowded area like that.”

But the children loved it and flocked up to the store’s 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 eastern New Orleans, even Lafayette and Baton Rouge. There was a Mr. Bingle theme 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, which by then owned Maison Blanche, announced plans to have him appear in 100 stores in 21 states.

“It didn’t work out well. They didn’t handle it right,” Alline says.

And last August, Dillard’s Inc. bought 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 that much gas 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 though a scrapbook documenting his creation of the little snowman. Meanwhile, a smaller, humbler Mr. Bingle will gaze soulfully from his lighted case in Emile Alline’s living room.

December 1998 - Vol. 33 - Issue 3 - Page - #333
(c) 2004 New Orleans Magazine, NewOrleansMagazine.com, and MCMedia LLC.  Reprinted by Permission. 
 New Orleans Magazine

Special thanks to Errol Laborde and Liz Scott Monaghan 
at New Orleans Magazine for the use of these great articles.

Click link below to visit New Orleans Magazine:
New Orleans Magazine

Uncle Mistletoe
(Click thumbnail for full view)
Uncle Mistletoe
Little Golden Book
Copyright 1953
Simon and Schuster, Inc. and
Artists and Writers Guild, Inc.
This litte book features the Marshall Field's Christmas
mascot that was Emile Alline's inspiration in 1947, during
his trip to Chicago, for Maison Blanche's Mr. Bingle
who was first introduced in 1948.

(Ashleigh Austin's Personal Collection)


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Image courtesy of Alan Ayers
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