“Jingle, Jangle, Jingle, here comes Mr. Bingle.” Every New Orleanian over 40 knows the little ditty that conjures up glorious childhood memories of Christmas on Canal Street where department stores raised Christmas decorations to an art form. For decades at Maison Blanche, Old Saint Nick shared the stage with Mr. Bingle, the store’s popular little holly-winged snowman puppet with an ice cream cone hat.
As the story goes, Mr. Bingle was the brainchild of Maison Blanche’s display manager Emile Alline, Sr., who got the idea during a buying trip to Chicago in 1947. There he saw how department stores created Christmas mascots to attract customers. Back home, he sold his idea, a little snowman puppet, to his boss Herbert Shwartz, son of Maison Blanche founder Simon Shwartz. Alline made a snowman doll and, after an unsuccessful employee contest to name it, Shwartz dubbed it “Mr. Bingle” based on the store’s initials “M.B.”
Alline gave the job to create Mr. Bingle the puppet and his marionette pals to French Quarter puppeteer Edwin Harmon “Oscar” Isentrout and his assistants Harry Ory and Ray Frederick. Isentrout, known for his between-acts striptease puppet shows on Bourbon St., went on to create immensely popular holiday puppet shows at Maison Blanche on Canal St. and in other company-owned stores. Bingle had his own television show, appeared in commercials, and performed at Children’s Hospital.
After Isentrout died in 1985, the shows stopped and his assistant and fellow puppeteer Jeffrey Kent acquired one of the two Bingle puppets. Though badly damaged when Hurricane Katrina flooded Kent’s Gentilly home, he has since restored Bingle to its former glory. The second puppet is in a private collection, and Emile Alline’s daughters, Denise Gurtner and Jerilyn Faulstich, have their father’s original Mr. Bingle prototype doll.
As to the 1949 Mr. Bingle seen here in 1952, several replacements followed, the last being the flying papier-mâché Bingle that hovered above the store’s entrance until 1998. That’s when Maison Blanche’s new owner Dillard’s closed the store, sold the building and moved Bingle for a brief time to Lakeside Shopping Center. It now appears annually at City Park’s Christmas “Celebration in the Oaks.”