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the website of Sean Patrick Doles

Saving Mr. Bingle Reviews

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Friday, December 16, 2005

Marked achievement

Finally, a tombstone has been placed on the grave of the man who was the voice of Mr. Bingle

by Angus Lind

Mr. Bingle, rescued and renovated, has taken up residence in City Park, as the chief attraction of the scaled-down Celebration in the Oaks.

Some would say it’s a small miracle that the spirit of Christmas in New Orleans still lives on in the body of this snowman character wearing an ice cream cone hat and wings of holly leaves — a New Orleans icon that has brought smiles to kids’ faces for decades and now will continue to do so.

There’s even more reason to celebrate his return this holiday season. Some two decades after his death, the original puppeteer and voice of Mr. Bingle, Edwin H. “Oscar” Isentrout, finally has a tombstone at his previously unmarked grave in Hebrew’s Rest Cemetery No. 3 on Pelopidas Street in Gentilly.

“I had written off the possibility of this coming to fruition under the circumstances,” said Sean Doles, the driving force behind restoring some dignity to Isentrout’s life and career. Doles is the author of “Saving Mr. Bingle,” the book that brought Isentrout’s story to the forefront in 2004.

Doles had teamed up with Dan Alfortish of Alfortish & Sons Cast Iron Stone Products in Gretna and others to get the deal done.

“I knew they had come through the storm OK,” he said. “Then I got a phone call from Dan saying that the stone was finished, it was in place and it was the nicest one there.”

The commemorative marker includes an engraved picture of Mr. Bingle, and underneath Isentrout’s name it says, “Puppeteer & Voice of Mr. Bingle.”

For 37 years beginning in 1948, there would be four Mr. Bingle puppet shows a day during the holiday season at Maison Blanche department store on Canal Street, now the site of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. As television began to blossom, Mr. Bingle appeared in TV commercials for the store from Thanksgiving to Christmas and in his own daily show.

Isentrout, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., worked with touring puppet shows in New York and Canada before purchasing, on a whim, a bus ticket to New Orleans, where he began doing puppet shows in the French Quarter. Emile Alline, a window decorator for MB, created Mr. Bingle and recruited Isentrout to animate the puppet.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“Oscar Isentrout literally gave life to Mr. Bingle,” Doles said. “But since his death, this man’s contribution to New Orleans history and culture had gone unrecognized, and his life had been all but forgotten. As soon as I discovered this tragic oversight, I knew we had to fix it. And amid all the suffering that’s taken place over the last few months, I’m glad that we can give the residents and supporters of New Orleans some small reason to smile.”

Just to show what a small miracle this really is, none of this would have happened if Doles had not decided to write his Mr. Bingle book. While doing research, Doles went to WTIX Oldie King Bob Walker’s Web site,, and found an obscure essay by Paul Yacich, a longtime director and engineer for WDSU-TV.

In his writing, Yacich said that Isentrout, who never married, had died in 1985 at age 61 after a long illness. Having no immediate family, he was buried in an unmarked grave and, sadly, forgotten.

When Doles read those words, he recalled, “It was jaw-dropping. I could not believe it.

“It became the central motivating theme behind my book. And once I found out the situation, my main goal was to correct the oversight.”

More information on the subject is available at

Back when Isentrout was still puppeteering, he took his Mr. Bingle puppet show on the road, visiting other MB store locations as well as hospitals, schools, orphanages and even homes for the elderly — any place that cheer needed to be spread. And Mr. Bingle could always be relied on to do just that.

The final chapter of the Mr. Bingle and Oscar Isentrout story has yet to be written. But the groundwork has been laid. Along with Doles, Lauren Brown (who runs the Web site, Char Schroeder of the Ritz-Carlton and WWL radio’s Spud McConnell had been lobbying Dillard’s department store — which, with its purchase of the city’s Maison Blanche stores in 1998, inherited a storefront-size Mr. Bingle — to get the symbolic snowman returned to Canal Street. Dillard’s, however, donated it to Celebration in the Oaks, which was fine with the group.

Getting the tombstone in place, said Doles, “was a nice way to cap it off. We followed through — but we’re not really done. What we’d like to do is get a permanently displayed plaque at the Ritz-Carlton and have a formal ceremony at the cemetery next year.”

Which no doubt would include a blast from the past:
Jingle, jangle, jingle, here comes Mister Bingle
With another message from Kris Kringle

From the The Los Angeles Times
December 25, 2005

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.

By Scott Gold

NEW ORLEANS — The cold world of commerce had done in Mr. Bingle.

The beloved holiday mascot — a portly papier-mache snowman with holly leaves for wings and an ice cream cone hat — had long graced the entrance to the New Orleans department store.

But times changed, and Mr. Bingle was deemed irrelevant, banished to the dark corner of a warehouse. Then, lifted by a spirit of togetherness and a rediscovered love of their city, residents banded together to return him to a place of grandeur and distinction.

That was fiction — the plot of a 2004 book, “Saving Mr. Bingle,” written by Texas author and New Orleans native Sean P. Doles. Now, just as things couldn’t get much weirder here in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the story more or less has come true.

Today, Mr. Bingle is the centerpiece of New Orleans’ holiday light festival. His triumphant return, to many in this depleted city, has helped save Christmas.

Each year for the holidays, starting in 1948, a two-story Mr. Bingle was placed over the entrance to the Maison Blanche department store on Canal Street, a bustling thoroughfare that forms the western boundary of the French Quarter.

Animated Mr. Bingle danced amid elaborate window displays. Inside, performers dressed as Mr. Bingle entranced children. There were Mr. Bingle puppet shows and, for a time, short Mr. Bingle television episodes that aired before the evening news.

The Mr. Bingle jingle — in which “Bingle” rhymes with “Kris Kringle” — was as ubiquitous in New Orleans during the holiday season as the song “Carnival Time” is during Mardi Gras. Some even claimed the figure had restorative powers; Edwin H. “Oscar” Isentrout, the puppeteer who performed the voice of Mr. Bingle, said a boy living at a home for disabled children had unclenched his fist for the first time after touching Mr. Bingle’s pillowy hand.

“He was never really just a commercial character,” said Rob DeViney, chief operating officer of City Park, New Orleans’ version of Central Park and the host of the lights festival, Celebration in the Oaks. “He became such an icon in New Orleans that people here felt like he was theirs, like they owned him.”

Eventually, though, department stores fell out of favor. Maison Blanche closed in 1998, and the landmark building became a Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Dillard’s Inc., the department store chain, bought New Orleans’ Maison Blanche stores, trademarked Mr. Bingle and tried gamely to carry on the tradition.

Dillard’s put him on display at a suburban mall but, most agreed, it wasn’t the same. And the truth is, he had long before started to show his age. Paint jobs and other cosmetic patches could not disguise the fact that his internal structure of fiberglass, metal and wood was collapsing.

Deemed a liability, he wound up in the back of a warehouse. Spurred in part by interest from Doles’ book, a few aficionados tried to get him fixed up. But the cost was estimated at $45,000, and money was scarce. Dillard’s still sold doll-sized versions, but for the big guy, it seemed, the end was near.

Then Hurricane Katrina roared ashore. The storm collapsed a levee just a few blocks from the industrial district where Mr. Bingle had been stashed. Every nearby warehouse was destroyed — except the one housing him.

“We called around and found out he was alive,” DeViney said. “It seemed fitting that he had survived. It felt important — it was important — that he made it.”

The community began to rally around Mr. Bingle.

A local nonprofit foundation, the Azby Fund, decided to donate more than $1 million toward making sure that Celebration in the Oaks, a dazzling light display that covers 2 1/2 miles of roads in City Park, went on as usual.

That would be no small feat. The 1,300-acre park was swamped after the storm, which caused $43 million worth of damage. The park is not funded by the city and is self-sustaining, largely through paid-admission events like the lights festival. Managers were forced to cut their staff from 260 to 23 and had no promise of revenue any time soon.

But with the Azby money, and through the work of volunteers and free work donated by the local woodworkers and welders unions, the park managed to put together an abbreviated Celebration in the Oaks; it will run through Dec. 30. Part of the fund’s donation went toward refurbishing Mr. Bingle, now resting comfortably under the boughs of towering oaks, good as new.

On a recent blustery night, a small crowd began to file in. A National Guard band was playing Christmas carols. There was hot chocolate along with red beans and rice, a traditional New Orleans dish.

In some ways, the festival is a shadow of what it once was. In a typical year, half a million people come through. This year, organizers say, they will be lucky to see 60,000. But every person who walked in, it seemed, made a beeline for Mr. Bingle.

Organizers had retrieved recordings of Mr. Bingle’s television and puppet shows, which were playing through loudspeakers. Tom Paquin, 60, did a little jig when he heard Mr. Bingle’s jingle — “Jingle Jangle Jingle; here comes Mr. Bingle” — much to the consternation of his 9-year-old grandson, Thomas, who rolled his eyes.

“I haven’t heard that in years,” Paquin said. “We lucked out with this guy.”

Susie Kehoe positioned her great-nephews — Tommy, 9, and Noah, 7 — in front of Mr. Bingle for a photograph. Like many of the adults who stopped by, Kehoe, 50, said her first memories of growing up in New Orleans were the annual pilgrimages her family made to Maison Blanche.

“You’d get all dressed up with your little gloves and everything, and off you’d go to see Mr. Bingle,” she said. “We’re glad to see him home. He’s the only good thing that Katrina washed ashore.”

While researching his book, Doles discovered that Isentrout, Mr. Bingle’s puppeteer, had died alone in 1985 and had been buried in an unmarked grave.

Doles donated part of the proceeds from his book toward getting a gravestone for Isentrout, who had been plucked from obscurity nearly 60 years earlier while performing on the streets of New Orleans and was asked to bring Mr. Bingle to life.

This month, the stone, engraved with a picture of Mr. Bingle, was placed on Isentrout’s grave at Hebrew’s Rest Cemetery No. 3. It turns out the voice of Christmas in New Orleans was Jewish.

“I like that,” Doles said. “It creates a nice bridge between faiths during the holiday season.”

Doles said the old man would have been happy about Mr. Bingle’s return.

“He felt strongly that Mr. Bingle was an ambassador of goodwill,” Doles said. “This is exactly how he envisioned it, and I know he would be proud.”