It is almost embarrassing to try to produce an introduction to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, perhaps the most loved of Christmas stories after the one told in the gospels of Mathew and Luke.
Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol in the fall of 1843, and completed the story in six weeks; the first edition was released on Dec 17, 1843. Although the author himself made little profit from the book itself, the novella was wildly popular, first in Great Britain, which was experiencing a revival of Christmas traditions at the time, and eventually in the New World, achieving wide circulation by the end of the Civil War.
After the initial publication, Dickens returned to the story many times to refine elements of the book. Finally adapted it was for listening rather than reading. Dickens himself read the book in public for the first time in 1852 at the Birmingham Town Hall. But the story would grow beyond Dickens.
America has always been noted for quickly adopting traditions, and radio's acceptance of A Christmas Carol is no exception. On Christmas Day, 1934, Lionel Barrymore first appeared as Scrooge in an afternoon of Christmas variety programs sponsored by Nash Motor Company. Barrymore's performance was considered "spot-on-perfect", and his portrayal became a part of the Christmas landscape for the rest of the 30's, with the exception of 1938, when he was stricken by illness and his brother John Barrymore took the role. But Lionel was back in 1939, this time for the Campbell's Playhouse in a production under the supervision of Orson Welles. Although the '39 broadcast was his last time to play Scrooge on the radio, he played the role in many forms until his death in 1954, including his role in Frank Capra's film It's a Wonderful Life. The town banker, Mr. Potter, wasn't named Scrooge, but one needn't look very far to find the character's inspiration.
A further testament to the power of the story is the way it has been adapted for other programs and characters. Dickens' message wasn't lost when it was adapted for more modern characters. Scrooge was handled rather tongue and cheek by George Burns and Gracie Allen in 1936, and even more tongue in cheek by the regulars at Duffy's Tavern.
Scrooge was presented as a bit of a tough guy in Dick Powell's Private Eye show, Richard Diamond. One of the most touching retellings of the story is in James Stewart's Christmas Western, The Six Shooter. In this version, Britt Ponsett comes across a runaway, and through Ponsett's influence and benefaction, along with the lessons of A Christmas Carol, the wayward boy changes his ways.
One more interesting note; Scrooge's famous catch phrase, "Bah! Humbug!", made famous by the Lionel Barrymore portrayal, was actually only uttered twice in the book. Please allow us one direct quote from Dickens; the very last sentence in the book:
And so, as Tiny Tim observed,
"God bless Us, Every One!"