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Mr. Bingle is a fictional character, a snowman assistant to Santa Claus. Originating as a mascot of the Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans, Louisiana, the character was later marketed in New Orleans and elsewhere by Mercantile Stores and Dillard's, and it remains part of the popular culture of the Greater New Orleans area.
Mr. Bingle was originally conceived by Emile Alline, an employee of Maison Blanche, in 1947. Mister Bingle shared the initials of his home, "M.B.", as the store was often called. Mr. Bingle became best known in puppet (or marionette) form at the Canal Street Maison Blanche, puppeteered by Edwin "Oscar" Isentrout (who also played the voice of Mr. Bingle), assisted by Ray Frederick and Harry J. Ory. These puppet shows occurred each day for the few weeks leading up to Christmas for about 15 minutes at a time, and were a favorite of local children. Mr. Bingle also appeared in musical radio and television commercials. The puppet shows ended in 1985 when Isentrout died.
For years Mr. Bingle-related merchandise, especially plush toys, were sold.
Mr. Bingle's theme song:
- Jingle, jangle, jingle
- Here comes Mr. Bingle
- With another message from Kris Kringle
- Time to launch your Christmas season
- Maison Blanche makes Christmas pleasin'
- Gifts galore for you to see
- Each a gem from MB!
Later Dillard's bought the Maison Blanche chain and the Mr. Bingle trademark. Today, many locals[who?] consider Mr. Bingle a cultural icon, fondly remembering the times when Mr. Bingle's shows were one of the most anticipated activities of the Christmas season.
Mr. Bingle was also displayed as a large papier-mâché figure on the front of the flagship Maison Blanche store on Canal Street, first standing next to Santa Claus and later in a flying form. The flying figure was displayed at the Metairie, Louisiana Maison Blanche Store and later at a Dillard's Metairie location when the Canal Street store was closed. By 2004 the Mr. Bingle figure was in such poor condition that it could not be displayed, although Dillard's continued to market small replicas. A 2004 novel entitled Saving Mr. Bingle became a local success in New Orleans and Memphis; proceeds from the book were later used to buy a gravestone for Isentrout's unmarked grave at Hebrew Rest #3 Cemetery in New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, a levee collapsed near the warehouse where Mr. Bingle was stored, and the neighboring buildings were destroyed but Mr. Bingle survived. Spurred by this discovery, funds were raised to refurbish the display and it became a centerpiece of the Christmas 2005 "Celebration in the Oaks" light display at New Orleans City Park. By 2011 the Mr. Bingle figure was again reported to be in need of repairs.
Mr. Bingle outside New Orleans
Mr. Bingle also appeared in Memphis at the department store Lowenstein's, which was also owned by Mercantile Stores (Mercantile acquired MB a few years before itself being acquired by Dillard's), and was used in Christmas advertising nationwide at various regional department stores owned by Mercantile. According to the official Mr. Bingle website, merchandise featuring the character was available at 21 Dillard's locations in 10 states during the 2007 holiday shopping season, in addition to the Dillard's website. Ironically, the locations did not include any stores in New Orleans itself, where the character originated. (The items were available, however, in four New Orleans suburbs.)
- Hans J. Sternberg, We Were Merchants: The Sternberg Family and the Story of Goudchaux's and Maison Blanche Department Stores (LSU Press, 2009), ISBN 978-0807134498, p. 95. Excerpts available at Google Books.
- Peggy Scott Laborde & John Magill, Christmas in New Orleans (Pelican Publishing Company, 2009), ISBN 978-1455602179, pp. 16ff. Excerpts available at Google Books.
- Sean P. Doles, "In Search of Mr. Bingle", Gambit, December 21, 2004.
- "Book About Store's Christmas Pitchman Becomes Big Easy Hit", Associated Press in The Harlan Daily Enterprise, December 24, 2004.
- ""Mr. Bingle" animator gets tombstone", The Advocate (Baton Rouge), December 16, 2005 (pay site).
- Scott Gold, "Mr. Bingle Helps Save Christmas in New Orleans: The beloved mascot is back, anchoring the holiday light festival as the city tries to recover from Katrina." Los Angeles Times, December 25, 2005.
- "No Jingle, No Jangle: Mr. Bingle To Miss Holiday Parade", WDSU, December 1, 2011.
- Christine Arpe Gang, "Holiday Memories / Beloved Mr. Bingle -- Snowman is a treasured memory of days gone by", The Commercial Appeal, December 25, 2009. Available here – via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
- Saving Mr. Bingle, by Sean Patrick Doles, New Orleans Stories, 2004. (A work of fiction.) ISBN 0-9758996-0-0
- Canal Street: New Orleans' Great Wide Way, by Peggy Scott Laborde & John Magill, Pelican Publishing Company, 2006. ISBN 978-1-58980-337-4
- New Orleans Television, by Dominic Massa, Arcadia Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7385-5404-4
- Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley, Arcadia Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7385-8817-9