Le Jongleur de Notre Dame

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Le Jongleur de Notre Dame is a religious miracle story by the French author Anatole France, published in 1892 and based on an old medieval legend. Similar to the later Christmas carol The Little Drummer Boy, it tells the story of a juggler turned monk who has no gift to offer a statue of the Virgin Mary except for his ability to juggle well. Upon doing so, he is accused of blasphemy by the other monks, but the statue comes to life and blesses the juggler. It was made into an opera by composer Jules Massenet in 1902 (see Le jongleur de Notre-Dame), but "straight" dramatic versions have also been produced.

Adaptations of the story[edit]

  • The story has been staged for television several times, especially during the days of live TV. The titles used for two early versions were, respectively, Our Lady's Tumbler and The Young Juggler (the second version starring Tony Curtis).
  • In 1917, children's author and illustrator Violet Moore Higgins published an adaptation titled THE LITTLER JUGGLER and Other French Tales Retold[1]
  • In 1942, MGM filmed a short subject based on the story, titled The Greatest Gift. It starred Edmund Gwenn as the juggler (here called Bartholomé), and Hans Conried as one of the monks. It is sometimes shown on the Turner Classic Movies channel.
  • In 1953, cartoonist R.O. Blechman's hardcover book adaptation, The Juggler of Our Lady, was published by Henry Holt.
  • In 1958, an animated Terrytoons short based on the Blechman adaptation, narrated by Boris Karloff and also titled The Juggler of Our Lady, was released. It was nominated for a BAFTA award.
  • In 1961, American children's author and illustrator Barbara Cooney published an adaptation titled The Little Juggler
  • In 1965, American choreographer and dancer Flower Hujer and artist and choreographer Miller Richardson co-created a 30 minutes dance/movement theater piece "The Juggler of Our Lady" that was performed by a cast of twenty dancers, mostly in churches, with several revivals for the next 25 years. Hujer herself performed the role of the figure of the Virgin Mary brought to life. It was filmed and telecast on the program "Lamp Unto My Feet," WCBS-TV, New York, May 2, 1965.[2]
  • In 1968, the British television series Jackanory presented an adaptation of the story under the title The Little Juggler.
  • In 1970, an obscure, low budget, feature-length film version titled variously The Juggler of Notre Dame, Magic Legend of the Juggler, and Legend of the Juggler was released, starring Barry Dennen in the title role, and featuring such actors as Walter Slezak, Willoughby Goddard, and Joe E. Ross.
  • In 1974, children's author and illustrator Tomie dePaola adapted a version of the story for his picture book, The Clown of God.
  • In 1982, The Juggler of Notre Dame, an Americanized, modernized adaptation of the story, filmed for television in color, starring Carl Carlsson, a real juggler, as Barnaby, and co-starred Merlin Olsen and Melinda Dillon as characters created especially for this version. Eugene Roche played the role of the Prior, here called Father Delany.
  • In 2003 a version of the story called "Barnaby the Juggler" was told by Andy Griffith on his Christmas/Gospel album, The Christmas Guest.

None of the film or television versions have been released on DVD.

During the Golden Age of Radio, the story was broadcast several times, usually under the title "The Juggler of Our Lady," and nearly always on the then-popular radio series Family Theater. But another adaptation featured on "Family Theater" was titled Joppe the Juggler. It was broadcast during the Christmas season of 1950, and starred Wallace Ford as the juggler, with opening and closing remarks by Spencer Tracy. Screen Guild Theatre broadcast a version in 1940 narrated by Ronald Colman, with songs provided by Nelson Eddy.

In 1980, an anthology of science fiction stories titled The Best of All Possible Worlds for Ace Books featured five of Spider Robinson's favorite stories by select authors, together with a favorite story recommended by each of those authors. Mr. Robinson contributed a self-translated version of the story, titled "Our Lady's Juggler," in response to learning that the story was Robert A. Heinlein's favorite short story of all time.