Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm him, nor wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him, the heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?” No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blindmen’s dogs seemed to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “no eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”
But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded walks of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing call “nuts” to Scrooge.
So what does this fellow look like? Old features, frosty hair, wiry chin, pointed nose, red eyes, shriveled cheek: that’s about the extent of what Dickens gives us. When he performed the Carol himself,, he lopped most of the description away, concentrating on the clutching, covetous old sinner, cold and solitary. John Leech’s illustrations to that first edition give us a thin, pointy-nosed Scrooge but little more, as Ebenezer spends most of the story in his cap and nightclothes.
Insofar AS THERE IS A Standard Screen Scrooge, he is a tall, thin, cheaply-dressed man, balding, with a fringe of white around a high dome, and a beaky nose. There are exceptions. Magoo, McDuck, and Sim II, for example, are fairly short Scrooges, while Hicks, march, Magoo, Matthau, and especially Scott are fairly well-fed.
A beaky nose is more consistent, though how this translated into march’s eerie paste-on is hard to figure. Matthau has a round, rosy nose Rankin-Bass characters all lean toward round and rosy) while Magoo’s nose is bulbous and Hicks’s is snub. The fringe of white or grey hair is similarly customary, though a few Scrooges are totally bald (McDuck LOOKS bald, though technically I suppose that’s a dome of white feathers.) One or two have full heads of hair, particularly Finney with his fright wig.
As to clothing, some seem not to have bought anything new in the reign of the current monarch. But Sim I, Magoo, Matthau, Curry, and Scott are well turned out. (Hicks’s 1916 silent version does not come into this discourse, but take a look at it some time: he doesn’t even seem to have bathed for a generation.) Stewart and Caine should be described as soberly clad: most Scrooges tend toward basic black, but these two overdo it, rather.
Hicks has flying, wispy white hair, and a roundish face less Scroogelike than that of Donald Calthrop, his Cratchit. We open this version looking at his back; even this is cold and unyielding.
Owen is one of the oldest-looking Scrooges. He has bushy eyebrows and a tuft of hair at the crown of his domed head, and is pretty obviously a man trying to look thirty years older than he actually is. MGM did not make its reputation underplaying things.
Sim I has sunken eyes (not really red, even in the colorized versions), a deep scowl, a pointed nose, and the requisite fringe of white hair. On his way to his counting house from the London Exchange, he demonstrates his personality by declaring to a couple of his colleagues that he does not celebrate Christmas. To one man’s pleasantry about the Ant and the Grasshopper, he declares that an ant is what it is and a grasshopper is what it is, and Christmas, sir, is a humbug. If we have missed the point, once outside he rebuffs a man’s entreaty for an extension on a loan by declaring that neither Christmas nor the man’s wife’s health have anything to do with the matter. He continues by not only threatening the carolers at his door but actually pushing a small girl out of the way. Merry old chap.
As with Hicks, we see march’s back first; he does not turn until he is telling the Charity Solicitors “Nothing”. When we do see him, he is the very picture of the self-made Yankee businessman, with no attempt at a British accent. (He was apparently meant as a screen representation of Lionel Barrymore’s radio Scrooge.) Nearly as well-fed as George C. Scott, he displays a bald dome with a wild fringe, and a weird paste-on proboscis. Growling, grumbling, snapping, he has a surly reaction to just about everything, showing himself to be a strong man of violent moods.
Rathbone works away as the narrator tells us that Jacob Marley was a tight-fisted man in his day, but Scrooge is worse: a grasping, clutching, covetous, and so forth. Scrooge looks like the aged Franz Liszt, with a cascade of silky white hair, and garments of solid black. His face is a cold-chiseled scowl.
Mr. Magoo squints and gloats over his money, commenting that the only thing to be said for the holiday season is that people feel obliged to pay their debts. (Most Scrooges complain of precisely the opposite.) He seems to enjoy life as a miser, and is drawn in warm colors.
Haddrick has a fringe of grey hair round his dome, and the required pointed nose. He is tall, and goes in for retro fashion: he wears knee breeches with a stripe down the side. On his way from Marley’s gravesite to the office, he scowls at people, scattering bahs and humbugs freely on every side, and jostling women as he passes. Reaching his door he chases the carolers away, and we know just what sort of man we’re hanging around with.
In Sim II, the narrator prepares us by explaining Scrooge is an exception to the rule of good will to all men, and we move to a scene of a man hunched over a counting table. (This is another Carol icon; you MUST show Scrooge, or Cratchit, or both, huddled over a counting table.) he is an old man, bent of shoulder and thin of limb, with pointed nose and chin, high cheekbones, pinched face, and imposing dark eyebrows. His head is high and bare, with a fringe of hair at ear level. His face is stern, and he squints at his account books.
Finney begins by being affronted by the presence of carolers at his door. His Scrooge is a man of hot temperament for someone so cold, and also one of our younger Scrooges. His red hair is stringy and comes to his shoulders, but he is getting thin on top. His jaw is thuglike, his cheekbones hard and high, and he is the most hunched of Scrooges. Someone was thinking of Mr. Hyde and/or Richard III when he was constructed. He doggedly counts money when first we see him, and he is wonderfully Scroogy when, deciding to shake a fire iron at the nuisances singing at his door, he pauses to cover the money with a drawer before leaving the desk.
Matthau is a well set up, well-dressed rich man with a large head and bald pate. We find him playing with money at his desk and frowning upon children building a snowman outside his window.
McDuck rebuffs a beggar and reminisces fondly about his late partner as “a good ‘;un; he robbed from the widows and swindled the poor.” Since Scrooge McDuck began life as a comic book character based on Ebenezer Scrooge, he looks like what anybody would think Ebenezer Scrooge looked like…if Ebenezer happened to be a duck. (More than one commentator has admired his habit of wearing spats on shoeless webbed feet.)
George C. Scott is the biggest and most muscular of all Scrooges. His face is not exactly pinched; amazing whiskers bristle at the sides of it. He moves with confidence and purpose, almost too alive to be the cold, solitary miser Dickens describes.
Caine appears first in shadow, his face concealed until the crowd has finished singing “Mr. Humbug”, a musical elaboration of Dickens’s description, with interjections from passersby or our narrator, the purple Charles Dickens. When he finally turns, we find a young and stone-faced Ebenezer, with hair that seems to be working its way to grey from red. He is not only a moneylender but a slumlord; we have a quick scene with Mr. Applegate, who is behind on his mortgage payments and ends by being hurled bodily from the office by Scrooge. We’re pretty sure where we stand at this point.
Curry’s Scrooge is well-dressed, for a Scrooge, with striped trousers and gold watch chain. He also owns a dog, which at first seems unScroogelike. This dog, Debit, is unpleasant, threatening, and as suspicious as his master; he’d be a very Scrooge of a canine were he not such a roly-poly bulldog. Scrooge himself demonstrates his coldness by scowling at merrymakers outside his window through the opening music, and eventually hurls a handful of coal at a small boy, following this, as mentioned, by sending Cratchit out to fetch the coal back. Lovely fellow.
Stewart bears a resemblance to the animated Sim II, without the fringe. This is a cold limestone face, perhaps carved by Egyptian sculptors in a hieroglyphic Christmas Carol. He is as warm and cuddly as a recently unwrapped mummy, at that.
Scrooges must be designed with some care, as they will be on view through the majority of the picture. A Scrooge who is too unpleasant will grate on the nerves early in the production; a softie won’t support the story at all. (And go easy on the make-up, huh?)
FUSS FUSS FUSS #2: How Old is Ebenezer Scrooge?
Dickens is not a lot of help here. Scrooge’s hair is frosted, but whether he is grizzled or has gone completely white is left up to us. His younger sister does have a son old enough to be married. And he must be at least as old as Jacob Marley; Marley’s ghost will note that Scrooge’s chain was as long and heavy as his, seven years ago, making them contemporaries. (For what it’s worth, the name of the firm is Scrooge and Marley, suggesting the possibility that Scrooge is older than his partner.) Anyway, as we have no real idea how old Jacob Marley was, this isn’t much help.
Here are some vague estimates of how old the Scrooge in each production is supposed to look.
50-55: Finney, McDuck, Stewart
55-60: Sim I, Haddrick
60-65: Hicks, march, Magoo, Matthau, Scott, Curry
65 plus: Owen, Rathbone, Sim II
Just for the sake of comparison, here are the (more or less) actual ages of the actors playing Scrooge at the time their version was released.
40-45: Haddrick (40), Finney (43)
45-50: Magoo (Jim Backus)
50-55: Owen, Sim I, Curry (all 51)
55-60: March (57), Scott (57), Matthau (58), Caine (59), Stewart (59)
60-65: Hicks (64), McDuck (Alan Young, 64)
65 plus Rathbone (67), Sim II (70)