For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of the many film and television adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic novella A Christmas Carol. Put one of those things on, and I’ll watch it: good, bad, or indifferent. Part of the appeal, I suppose, is the story’s still-relevant, still-progressive message of charity and goodwill toward one’s fellow man; part of it is the weirdly appealing blend of light Gothic horror with heartwarming holiday cheer. But I have to admit that the biggest drawing point, for me at least, is the clothes. As ridiculous as it might sound, Alastair Sim’s Scrooge in particular was one of the first people whose dress sense I appreciated as a child; when I saw him put on that top hat and that long scarf, I immediately identified with his style. And I’ve been popping the collars on my peacoats ever since.
I know, of course, that Ebenezer Scrooge is far from the first thing that comes to mind when most people think “fashion icon.” But think about it this way: between the monochrome wardrobe, the high collars, and the grumpy demeanor, he’s basically a less gay, less Teutonic Karl Lagerfeld. So please, take hold of my robe, and join me on this journey through the fashion of Christmas Carols past. It might not make you a convert, but maybe it will encourage you to put on your scarves with just a little more Hollywood-Victorian flair.
Unknown Actor (Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost, 1901)
Sadly, the name of the first Scrooge to grace the cinema screen–not to mention a good amount of the film itself–has been lost to time. We can, of course, blame this actor’s disappearance from the historical record on a few practical reasons: the notorious instability of nitrate film stock, say, or the shameful lack of credit given to actors in the early silent era. But I say at least some of the blame must be laid at the feet of the film’s (also unknown) costume designer. I mean, just look at that pilgrim hat! That goofy, ill-fitting overcoat! Is this guy supposed to be playing Ebenezer Scrooge or the Quaker Oats man? I guess my point here is, a Scrooge with more swag would have been remembered, lost footage be damned.
Marc McDermott (A Christmas Carol, 1910)
Now this is more like it. The 1910 Edison Studios production of A Christmas Carol starred Australian-born stage actor Marc McDermott, who brought a healthy dose of style to the role: trading in that awful capotain for a classic top hat, and pairing it with a severe, yet nicely tailored frock coat. Sure, his portrayal of the miserly Scrooge involved a lot of hunching over and snarling, but that just adds to his persona.
Seymour Hicks (Scrooge, 1913)
With this 1913 British production starring veteran music hall performer Seymour Hicks, however, Scrooge’s screen incarnation would take two steps back away from the fashionable. Hicks seems to have taken the description of Scrooge as a “miser” a mite too literally, and had his version of the character dress like a raggedy old bum. Come on, man, even an old skinflint like Scrooge would at least spring for a damn top hat!
Russell Thorndike (A Christmas Carol, 1923)
The next notable portrayal of Scrooge, for our purposes at least, was in the 1923 Christmas Carol starring Russell Thorndike. I especially like the slim cut of his slacks, which give him sort of a Nick Cavey/Jack Skellingtonian vibe. I also have to admire anyone with the stones to take matters into his own hands and whack annoying carolers over the head with his accounting ledger. Scrooge is always a curmudgeon, obviously, but Thorndike’s has some real bad boy attitude.
Seymour Hicks again (Scrooge, 1935)
Yep, it’s Hicks again, with another portrayal of Scrooge-as-derelict. Granted, at least this time he seems to have gone out and gotten a decent coat for himself; but would it have killed the guy to run a damn comb through his hair?
Reginald Owen (A Christmas Carol, 1938)
The 1930s was clearly a dark decade for Scrooge Style. How else to explain this 1938 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer version of A Christmas Carol, starring British character actor Reginald Owen? Honestly, I’m not even sure where to start with this one. There’s that absurd hairstyle, which looks like it was left over from a failed audition for the role of the Mayor of the Munchkin City in MGM’s own Wizard of Oz. And then there’s Owen’s bizarre artistic decision to waddle around bowlegged, like he’s suffering from an intense case of inner thigh chafe. Basically, the whole thing is a disaster; whatever else there is to say about the film, Owen’s Scrooge stands as an embarrassment to all fashion-forward Scrooges before and since.
Jesús Tordesillas (Leyenda de Navidad, 1947)
I’ll admit that I don’t know much (or, like, anything at all) about this 1947 Spanish version of the Carol. I had initially hoped that the suave, moustachioed gentleman on the poster to the left was Scrooge, but unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be the case; still, check out the lower left part of the poster for confirmation that El Scrooge (played by Jesús Tordesillas) still had some pretty dope facial hair. The world might not have been ready for a Scrooge with a pencil-thin moustache in 1947, but at least we got a Scrooge with an imposing, quasi-Satanic goatee.
Alastair Sim (Scrooge, 1951)
But enough kidding around; Alastair Sim’s 1951 Scrooge is the GOAT, sporting an understated black overcoat and top hat combo with a long scarf (bright red in the controversial colorized version) for added drama. Hell, this Scrooge is such a badass, he doesn’t even put on his own coat and scarf; he straight-up makes Bob Cratchit put them on for him. Say what you will about appropriate supervisor-employee relations; this is exactly the kind of boss move that makes Sim’s interpretation of the character so iconic.
Fredric March (A Christmas Carol, 1954)
Another American production, and another step back for Scrooge, this TV musical version was aired as part of the CBS variety series Shower of Stars on Christmas Eve, 1954. Star Fredric March–perhaps best known for his starring role in Paramount’s 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde–plays Scrooge with a balding pate and a distractingly obvious prosthetic nose. Nice, crisp collar, though.
Oddly enough, erstwhile Sherlock Holmes star Basil Rathbone had already appeared in the aforementioned 1954 version of the Carol, as the ghost of Jacob Marley, before graduating to the lead role in another American television production two years later, this one for NBC’s Alcoa Hour. Rathbone’s Scrooge in that version, entitled The Stingiest Man in Town, was fine, but unremarkable. It was his return to the role two years after that, in the premiere episode of the UK television series Tales from Dickens, that brought something remarkable to the table: namely, the bizarre, stringy, shoulder-length white fright wig he wears throughout the production. I don’t know whose idea that wig was, but it’s inspired, adding a touch of Edgar Winter to the Scrooge Style repertoire. Plus, get a load of that pointed nightcap in the image above: is Rathbone playing Ebenezer Scrooge or a wizard? Either way, I’m into it.
Mr. Magoo (Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, 1962)
In an interesting development, the coolest-looking character in the 1962 Christmas Carol starring the UPA animated character Mr. Magoo is not, in fact, Ebenezer Scrooge; that honor goes to the “Plunderers” in the TV special’s “future” segment, particularly the eyepatched Old Joe and the lanky, sideburned Undertaker. But Magoo’s Scrooge acquits himself well nonetheless, with the obligatory high collar, a snazzy cane, and a nice maroon topcoat that makes for a welcome change of pace from the previous adaptations’ nonstop black and gray.
Albert Finney (Scrooge, 1970)
To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of Albert Finney’s Scrooge: a little too much cartoonish mugging for my taste. But I can’t knock the man’s vest game–or his muttonchop game, for that matter. A solid C+.
Henry Winkler (An American Christmas Carol, 1979)
The Fonz as Scrooge? Well, not exactly. As cool as it would have been to see him show up in his then-trademark leather biker jacket, Henry Winkler’s Scrooge–or, um, “Benedict Slade,” from the loose 1979 TV adaptation An American Christmas Carol–comes from the self-important Serious Method Actor phase of his career, which means he spends the whole movie in ludicrous old-person makeup only slightly more convincing than the stuff Billy Crystal wore in The Princess Bride. In other words, he basically looks like if the Henry Winkler of today went crazy and stopped combing his hair and moisturizing. So, actually kinda cool, but not in a “fashion icon” kind of way.
Scrooge McDuck (Mickey’s Christmas Carol, 1983)
Everyone knows Scrooge McDuck is a fashion innovator: he is, after all, the man–or, I suppose, mallard–who pioneered the use of strap-on shoes/sandals for duck feet. But how does he stack up to the other Scrooges? Surprisingly average, actually. Oh, sure, he hits all the necessary marks–top hat, coat, scarf, later replaced with a nightgown and cap–but he just doesn’t wear it with his usual flair; I’d even go so far as to say that old Uncle Scrooge is a lot more dapper in, say, the DuckTales show and video game. Personally, I blame his corporate overlords at Disney, who seemed hell-bent on making Mickey’s Bob Cratchit the star of the show, when everyone knows Cratchit is a lame milquetoast who’s barely fit to help Scrooge on with his coat. But hey, at least McDuck still got to wear those neat duck-shoes for the role.
George C. Scott (A Christmas Carol, 1984)
So far, we’ve been focusing mainly on the various Scrooges’ sartorial choices; but for this 1984 CBS telefilm, I’d like to single out star George C. Scott’s facial hair, a welcome rarity among Scrooges. Scott’s luxurious sideburns make Finney’s aforementioned muttonchops look like the wispy week’s growth of an adolescent, and are the perfect complement to the Patton actor’s gruffer, more virile Scrooge. It takes a rare Scrooge to go chop-to-chop with the charitable solicitors at the beginning of the film and actually hold his own; Scott’s is a rare Scrooge, indeed.
Bill Murray (Scrooged, 1988)
Another fashion low point, I’m afraid. Bill Murray‘s character in Scrooged isn’t really Ebenezer Scrooge, nor is he even really the film’s updated character of “Frank Cross”; like every other character Murray plays, he’s pretty much just Bill Murray. But even by those standards, his appearance is pretty dire: I don’t know who told Murray to go with a mullet for the flashback scenes, but I’m pretty sure they were high on that potent drug we know as “the late ’80s.” This isn’t a referendum on Richard Donner’s film itself, of course: any movie that features David Johansen as a cab-driving, cigar-smoking Ghost of Christmas Past can’t be all that bad. I’m just saying: Bill, that hair is killing me.
Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, 1988)
Okay, so Rowan Atkinson’s “Ebenezer Blackadder” isn’t even the best-dressed incarnation of his multi-generational Blackadder character, let alone the best-dressed Scrooge (my vote for the former, in case you’re wondering, would go to the Regency Britain-era Blackadder the Third). But he does bring an interesting, dandy-ish touch to the role with outfits like the frilly-shirted formal wear pictured above.
Michael Caine (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992)
Michael Caine’s Scrooge isn’t a groundbreaking take on the character, which makes sense considering The Muppet Christmas Carol is more of a parody than an adaptation. Still, he pulls off the classic Scrooge ensemble well, and the wanton cruelty with which he treats the Muppets in the first half of the movie only makes him more appealing.
Patrick Stewart (A Christmas Carol, 1999)
Patrick Stewart never looks like anyone else but Patrick Stewart, though maybe that’s a good thing in this case: he makes for a suave Scrooge, not a bumbling idiot like Reginald Owen or a face-pulling grotesque like Seymour Hicks. Plus, his slick-looking robe and nightwear–normally the low point in Scrooge’s fashion–deserve special mention.
Kelsey Grammer (A Christmas Carol: The Musical, 2004)
Now, here’s a case where a too-recognizable star works against the portrayal; Kelsey Grammer, Scrooge or no Scrooge, is nobody’s fashion icon. Still, I have to give Kelsey and his costume designer props for their ballsy decision to give Scrooge a luxurious mane of hair. He looks a bit like a young, steampunk version of Meat Loaf, or perhaps an aging Screaming Lord Sutch. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sit through this movie, but the hair at least gets my approval.
Jim Carrey’s Reanimated Corpse (A Christmas Carol, 2009)
Let’s get this out of the way: the Scrooge from Disney’s 2009 version of A Christmas Carol, like every other character from director Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture films, is a freakish, dead-eyed zombie from the wrong side of the Uncanny Valley that should not be allowed to exist. But besides that…actually, you know what? There is no “besides that.” This is a terrible Scrooge and a terrible way to end this article, and I don’t want to look at it anymore…wait, what’s that you say? There’s a more recent movie adaptation of A Christmas Carol we can end with?
Grouchy Smurf (The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol, 2011)
Actually, on second thought, maybe Zombie Jim Carrey Scrooge wasn’t all that bad.