THE ICON: Oscar Isentrout
THE LEGACY: It was Maison Blanche window-display manager Emile Alline who dreamed up the idea for Mr. Bingle, the Christmas mascot introduced by the New Orleans department store in 1948. But it was local puppeteer Oscar Isentrout who breathed life into the iconic little snowman with the ice-cream cone hat and holly-leaf wings. A former vaudevillian who at one point performed an adults-only puppet show on Bourbon Street, Isentrout was hired to provide Mr. Bingle’s high-pitched voice while pulling his strings during regular marionette shows in the store’s Canal Street windows. The character proved so popular that a 1949 story in The Times-Picayune said “two uniformed men were required to help get adults aside so children could see the Bingle show.” For decades afterward, Isentrout would bring Mr. Bingle back every holiday season, performing for packs of enchanted children in local Maison Blanche stores and, later, on the airwaves of WDSU-TV — and in the process spreading a bit of indelible Christmas magic to countless New Orleanians.
THE ARTIST: Jeff Morgan
THE INSPIRATION: “The first time we performed with (Mr. Bingle) at Crippled Children’s Hospital, I placed his hand on the knee of a little boy whose hands were twisted into little claws. That boy slowly straightened one of his hands and laid it down on Mr. Bingle’s. That’s when I knew what I’d been sent here to do.” — puppeteer Oscar Isentrout, in a 1984 interview with The Times-Picayune