Mr. Bingle is celebrating his 75th anniversary this holiday season. And New Orleans is still as infatuated with the little fella as when he was created in 1947 — maybe more. Local adoration endures for the mischievous little puppet, an iconic symbol of our childhoods and of our parents and grandparents.
Newcomers to the city may be puzzled as they walk the streets and repeatedly see a small snowman with an inverted ice cream cone hat, a goofy grin and a cherry nose, his little hand clutching a striped candy cane. His image can be found adorning doors, decorating yards and peeping through windows. However, once they learn the story of the little puppet, many are quick to join Mr. Bingle’s pop culture cult and seek their own dolls and decor.
A walk from Tulane University to Magazine Street produced a dozen Mr. Bingle sightings, and that’s before peeking through the windows at the mantles and Christmas trees. Uptown porticos, Mid-City porches, Gentilly baby nurseries, Bywater balconies, Lakeview gardens, North Shore decks, and houses and yards across the burbs and Gulf Coast have something in common during the Christmas season: Mr. Bingle. No matter that time and storms have dispersed and scattered us, New Orleanians still pay collective homage to our little Maison Blanche department store snowman.
Finding Mr. Bingle
Dillard’s Lakeside has a third-floor display with dozens of iterations of Mr. Bingle (yes, you have to go to Metairie). Stuffed toys, decor, jewelry, ties, greeting cards, serving ware and tree decorations can be found — along with music boxes playing Mr. Bingle’s theme song: “Jingle, jangle, jingle/Here comes Mr. Bingle/with another message from Kris Kringle.”
Boutiques Uptown (such as Hazelnut, which sells a door hanger featuring Mr. Bingle) and further afield stock all manner of Christmas décor with his image. Both Etsy and Facebook have a booming Mr. Bingle market.
A Mr. Bingle roundup on social media brought out numerous New Orleanians with Bingle fever, even those as far afield as London. All were ready to proudly display photos of their Mr. Bingles. For example, Ginger Gibson, an NBC News editor in Washington, DC., immediately Tweeted a photo of herself from the Capitol wearing a pair of Mr. Bingle leggings.
“Do I have stuffed Bingles?” said Gibson. “Ornament Bingles, Bingle paintings, a Bingle oven mitt, Bingle dish towels, and a Bingle for my front yard?” The answer was yes.
Mr. Bingle History Primer
For decades, a trip to Maison Blanche to see Mr. Bingle was pivotal to the children of New Orleans. In his heyday, Mr. Bingle was as essential a character as Santa Claus and was even included in the background of photos with Santa. If you begged enough on the same trip, you could also swing a visit to the angel hair Winter Wonderland caves at D.H. Holmes and the angel hair tunnel at the Roosevelt Hotel.
Mr. Bingle, a naughty elfin assistant to Santa Claus, was created as a Maison Blanche department store mascot in 1947. He was the creation of Emile Alline, the display director at the store. The story goes that Alline visited Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago, where he saw a snowman-like marionette in a Christmas window display. Inspired, Alline hired puppeteer Ewin Harmon ‘Oscar’ Isentrout to create a New Orleans version. Isentrout was also the voice of Mr. Bingle.
Mr. Bingle first appeared in the Christmas window display of the Canal Street store. Soon after, he appeared in puppet shows in the same windows. The shows occurred daily, every 15 minutes, in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Mr. Bingle also was featured in musical radio shows and television commercials over the decades.
Many already know the history of the holly-leaf winged snowman. Sharing personal memories of Mr. Bingle is more important to locals. Anecdotes begin with a story of taking the bus downtown for Christmas shopping on Canal Street. That’s where, each holiday season, a 75-foot Mr. Bingle hung from the Maison Blanche department store building.
Mr. Bingle endures
That original flying Mr. Bingle who swooped over Canal Street now resides in City Park as a character in the Celebration in the Oaks light display. When the Maison Blanche Canal Street location closed its doors in the late 1990s, Dillard’s department store bought the copyright for Mr. Bingle and donated the original display to New Orleans City Park. After refurbishment, Canal Street’s Mr. Bingle appeared under the oaks for the first time in 2005.
Probably the prototype for SNL’s Mr. Bill—created by New Orleans native Walter Williams.