A 'Christmas Carol' With A Connecticut Twist

Len Wolpe.jpg

Imagine this:

The year is 1925 and William Gillette, legendary actor of the late decades of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, is approached by William Goodspeed, owner of the famed Opera House in East Haddam. Goodspeed is going to close down the theater, but he wants to end its run with something very special for the holidays.

He asks Gillette, who was famous for his stage and film characterization of Sherlock Holmes—and who happened to live in his castle-like home just down the Connecticut River from the theater—to play Scrooge in a Connecticut-themed version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Goodspeed suggests using Gillette’s company of actors to play the other Dickens characters in the story, which is now set in 1870 instead of 1843—but now has a twist of Nutmeg.

Interesting, thinks Gillette.

Tell me more, he says.

In this version, the character of Hartford-born financier J.P. Morgan will substitute for the tight-fisted and too-late-repentant Jacob Marley. And the Ghost of Christmas Past will be represented by the character of the beloved Hartford native Harriet Beecher Stowe. After all, as the author of America’s first book phenom, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she certainly had a great heart and a special sense of the past.

And what personage would be the Ghost of Christmas Present, a figure filled with exuberance, joy and fun? Why Bridgeport’s own P.T. Barnum, naturally. Who else better to embody such joie de vivre?

For the Ghost of Christmas Future, the choice was also obvious: the Connecticut icon known for chronicling, often cynically, the human comedy—and tragedy—of life. It’s Mark Twain, of course.

And quicker than you can say, “The game’s afoot,” Gillette is in.