Archive for December, 2011

The Fight Before Christmas

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Christmas greetings from our friend and fellow UPG-er Gary Apple!

UPG Guestpert: Craig Wichman

Monday, December 19th, 2011

From time to time, we like to talk to guest experts (or “guestperts” as we wittily refer to them).  This week we bring you Craig Wichman, a NYC-based actor and producer who, among being an expert in radio drama and silent cinema, is currently writing the book Standing in Spirit at Your Elbow: The Radio/Audio History of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. We sat down with Craig (OK, so we really just emailed him some questions) to discuss this iconic Christmas story, and how it got to be that way.  Today, incidentally, is the anniversary of the book’s publication in 1843.

UPG: Hello, Mr. Wichman.

CW: Hi there!

UPG: What was the critical reception of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when it was first published?

CW: Generally, glowing – as represented by author William Makepeace Thackeray’s calling the little book, “a national benefit, and to every man and woman who reads it a personal kindness.”

UPG: Was it as immediately popular in his time as it is today?

CW: Absolutely. The First Printing sold out at once, and was it quickly followed by a presold Second.

UPG: A Christmas Carol is Dickens’ most reproduced work.  Why do you think that is?

CW: The piece came from deep within a gifted artist’s heart: Charles Dickens, child of sometime poverty, had begun to make money – and was afraid of greed encroaching into his own soul. And after lecturing to working class Londoners, and walking their streets, he’d felt driven to create a piece specifically for all the Cratchits of the world.

Also, the book was specifically designed to be a Christmas present, and fits squarely in the British tradition of ghost/fantasy tales at that time of year.

And it has brilliantly drawn characters, a rich plot, humor, and horror.

It is a satisfying “full meal.” It has it all.

UPG: What was the first adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and did Dickens approve such things?

CW: Within a months of the publication, several theatre companies had mounted unauthorized dramatizations. And even before that, a published plagiarization began appearing. As part of the goal of the project had been to earn some much-needed money for Dickens  (his latest “big book” was not performing as well as expected), he was not amused!

UPG: Out of all the adaptations – stage, screen, and radio – which adaptations of this story that you think Dickens would be particularly proud of, and which do you think he would find odious?

CW: Reading someone’s mind like that is always tough… but Dickens was a very accomplished “dramatic” writer in his prose, and an amateur actor himself. So I’d like to think that he’d (much like me!) best appreciate those that are the most faithfully adapted & well performed. And would like least, those that replace his graceful, well-chosen words with dross, and/or are acted clumsily (or cloyingly, which may be worse!)

Personally, I’d hope he’d like the 1951 film, favorite of many, and the lesser-known-though-also-wonderful 1935 film written by and starring Sir Seymour Hicks, who’d Scrooged for many years on stage.

And the classic 1939 broadcast by Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater on the Air, with Lionel Barrymore, who would eventually play the role for nearly 20 years on the radio. Dickens did suggest that the story be listened to in a darkened room, and did public readings of it himself, so I think he might’ve appreciated audio theater productions of it.

UPG: Are there some adaptations of this story that are so ridiculous to defy reason?  What’s the biggest stretch you’ve seen someone try to do?

CW: Well, “ridiculous” is in the eye of the beholder! And I’m no snob – the animated Mr. Magoo version is one of the best, and THE best musicalization, I think. But there have just been SO many watered-down variations: just about every TV sitcom in history has done a Carol riff, and most are tired, one-note affairs.

UPG: A Christmas Carol is subtitled “A Ghost Story for Christmas.”  Did Dickens intend to write a scary story?

CW: Take a look at this illo, and tell me what you think?

(Also see note above about the Brit’s fondness for scary stories at Yuletide.) The ghosts, and the scenes they appear in, are eerie overall, and frightening when appropriate. And the building darkness of the plot, as Scrooge is ground down more and more by the reality of his own evil, is truly gripping and unsettling. As an actor playing the part, I really believe that he has one foot already in Hell in the climatic moment at his own gravesite.

UPG: Most productions we first come across are pretty cute.  Was there a specific turning point when A Christmas Carol started to become a sappy, sentimental story opposed to the darker piece that the story really is?

CW: There have been so many, and so many lost to history, that that point would be hard to place. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the earliest stage adaptations were already softening the sharp edges, and sweetening the bitter moments, of the piece. A review of an early play talks of “improvements” to Dickens (!) – and this was an era when the English even bowdlerized their best, Shakespeare!

I can think of a few recent examples, though: many of the animated versions (but not all, especially considering the classic by Richard Williams and Chuck Jones) have tried to turn it into a story “for kids” – which it emphatically is not! And an otherwise solid 1941 and 1949 record/radio production with Ronald Colman makes two fatal wrong turns: having the story be a flashback by the already reformed Scrooge, and using the maudlin device of having his redemption take place at Tiny Tim’s grave, not his own!

Those kind of choices take Dickens’ artful sting right out of the tale.

UPG: Why do you think this story has become so distorted from the original and so commoditized?

CW: Like other classic stories, from those in the Bible to Shakespeare, it is in the public domain, so free – and it has such a solid frame that it can be loaded with just about any type of gunk, and still bear the weight!

UPG: Do you anticipate this story will retain its popularity through the 21st century?  And if so, how do you envision future adaptations will handle the subject matter?

Can’t see why not? There was Jim Carrey’s CGI toon in 2009, and F. Murray Abraham is doing a new radio version right now (12/2011) – as are half of the other audio – and stage – theater companies in America.

UPG: And if so, how do you envision future adaptations will handle the subject matter?

I’d expect more of the same – plenty of riffs, mostly stale, with hopefully the occasional gem thrown in!

May you all keep Christmas well!

Craig Wichman is an Actor, Writer, Producer, and lifelong lover of The Carol who lives in New York City. He first played the role of “Ebenezer Scrooge” in an unfinished Super 8mm film in High School. Recently seen at the NY Fringe Festival as “Reuben Kincaid” in THE BARDY BUNCH,   he will soon be seen as “The Uncle” in the feature film THE ADVENTURES OF PAUL AND MARIAN. The creator of the short collage film A CHRISTMAS CAROL – IN EIGHT MINUTES [Embedded below], he’s also the founder of the award-winning Quicksilver Radio Theater, with whom he returned to the role of “Ebenezer Scrooge,” which is available here.

Things I’ve learned from printing UPG customers’ gift messages

Friday, December 16th, 2011

By Julie Davenport, customer service representative at UPG’s fulfillment center

1. Letter writing is a lost art form
2. UPG customers “can’t resist” : )
3. Symbols are funny, ex: “Happy $%^&*# Holidays”
4. People text too much
5. UPG customers are pretty darn witty
6. There are a lot of birthdays in December
7. UPG customers “immediately think of” a lot of specific people when they see stuff
8. The word “Chanukah” can be fun
9. I need to watch an episode of “Dr. Who,” apparently
10. Envelope glue is nasty


The Dorothy Parker Martini Glass

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

We’re thrilled to have our Dorothy Parker martini glass back in stock.

The stylish art deco design features the quote “I like to have a martini / two at the very most / three I’m under the table / four I’m under the host.”  If there’s a classier vessel for a martini, we haven’t found it.

You can get yours here.

We’re working with a new manufacturer for our glassware and really happy with the way they came out.  Below are images of our glasses being manufactured and packaged for your sipping, swilling, and swizzling pleasure.


The 12 Days of Christmas

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Only 12 days left of the Christmas season!

In honor of the day, below is our 12 Days of Christmas video featuring UPG employees and friends.  You’re welcome.


Wednesday, December 7th, 2011


Today, the Unemployed Philosophers Guild proudly enters the weblogosphere! With our new web blog! This one!

We UPGuilders appreciate the odd manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had one; the US called theirs a “declaration”, and Charles Foster Kane wrote one for his newspaper. In the tradition of intellectuals, rebels, and fictional editors, we hereunder present our own odd manifesto about this blog, all that it stands for, symbolizes, and represents:

WE PROMISE to fill this blog only with things we find fascinating or edible or smelling of fresh-cut grass or all of those things.

WE PROMISE that while occasionally we will use this forum to shill our (unequaled, utterly essential) products, we will do so with humor to sweeten the deal.

WE PROMISE to provide behind-the-scenes top-secret insider accounts of the doings and makings of Guild members, Guild projects, and our loyal fans, the UPGuilders.

WE PROMISE to keep our blog posts relatively short and relatively safe for work.

WE PROMISE that this, as with all manifestos, will be strictly adhered-to, until we ignore it.  We firmly believe in evolution, revolution and devolution so anything can happen.

Now go off to feast and sing, fellow UPGuilders, for today we celebrate!

And please, as a matter of public safety, don’t fire magnetic finger puppets into the air.