Since the publication of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol nearly 200 years ago, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge has become familiar fodder for adaptations of all sorts—from ballets to operas to a mime performance by Marcel Marceau. But Richard Donner’s film adaptation, Scrooged, has one thing that sets it apart: Comedy.
Since its release on November 23, 1988, the holiday comedy starring Bill Murray as a ruthless television executive tasked with pulling off a live Christmas Eve broadcast of A Christmas Carol (starring Buddy Hackett, Jamie Farr, the Solid Gold Dancers and Mary-Lou Retton as Tiny Tim!) has become a contemporary classic. Here are 22 things you might not know about the Christmas comedy classic.
1. Scrooged marked Bill Murray's return to the big screen.
Though it’s easy to remember the 1980s as a decade packed with Bill Murray comedies, Scrooged marked a reemergence of sorts of the in-demand comedian. Though he had a brief cameo in Frank Oz’s 1986 remake of Little Shop of Horrors (playing a pain-seeking patient of Orin Scrivello, Steve Martin’s demented dentist character), Scrooged was Murray’s first major role following a self-imposed, four-year exile from Hollywood.
2. Bill Murray references Little Shop of Horrors in the movie's closing song.
Scrooged concludes with the cast and crew singing “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” For his part, Murray went a bit off-script, adding in lines like “Feed me Seymour,” a direct reference to Little Shop of Horrors.
3. Bill Murray ad libbed many of his lines.
In a 1988 interview with Philadelphia Daily News, Richard Donner discussed Murray’s penchant for improvisation and described the experience of directing Murray as follows: “It's like standing on 42nd Street and Broadway, and the lights are out, and you're the traffic cop.”
4. Bill Murray had originally been approached about the movie two years earlier.
At that point, he wasn’t ready to jump back into the moviemaking fold just yet. “But when I wanted to work, the scripts were just not good,” Murray told Starlog Magazine in a 1989 interview.
5. Bill Murray would only agree to sign on for the movie if the script was reworked.
"We tore up the script so badly that we had parts all over the lawn," Murray told Starlog. “There was a lot I didn't like. To remake the story, we took the romantic element [Frank's relationship with his former girlfriend, Claire, played by Karen Allen] and built that up a little more. It existed in the script’s original version, but we had to make more out of it. The family scenes were kind of off, so we worked on that.”
6. Scrooged was a Saturday Night Live reunion of sorts.
The script for Scrooged was written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O'Donoghue, whom Murray had worked with in the early days of Saturday Night Live.
7. Even Paul Shaffer was there.
Before he rose to fame as David Letterman’s musical director, Paul Shaffer was a member of the SNL house band from 1975 to 1980 and appeared in a number of sketches, most notably as the piano player to Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer character. He makes a cameo in Scrooged as a street musician, where he plays alongside fellow musical legends Miles Davis, David Sanborn, and Larry Carlton.
8. A lot of footage ended up on the cutting room floor.
“We shot a big, long sloppy movie, so there's a great deal of material that didn't even end up in the film,” Murray told Starlog. “It just didn't work. You tend to forget what was wrong. It's hard. I just figured that anyone who's good could step into this part and have a lot of fun with it. It's sort of a wicked character. The idea of making a funny Scrooge was an inspired touch. That's what was appealing to me about it.”
9. Richard Donner had reservations about turning A Christmas Carol into a comedy.
“It’s a thin line,” director Richard Donner told the Texas Archive of the Moving Image about getting the right tone for the film. “But you have two of the most irreverent writers in the world. You have the most irreverent humorist since W.C. Fields. And you say, ‘Let’s go!’ There’s a thin line you walk, but the line is broken—hopefully—in the end of the picture when you see a man evolve out of a situation.”
10. Richard Donner calls it the movie where Bill Murray became "an actor.”
Though Scrooged is mainly a comedy, it concludes with Murray’s character being a changed man, who has to deliver a rather dramatic speech in order to make his character’s transformation clear. But Donner told Philadelphia Daily News that what they witnessed in that pivotal scene was something much greater: “On the last take I saw something happen to Billy. I saw Billy Murray become an actor.”
11. Richard Donner saved that dramatic scene for the very end of the shoot.
“I always had my car parked facing the gate,” Donner joked to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image about how the film’s ultimate success hinged on that final scene. Which is why he saved it for the end. “When Bill Murray played off that last scene in the way that he did, I felt confident—and slightly insecure—but I felt confident that we had accomplished what we wanted,” said Donner.
12. For Bill Murray, the bigger challenge was carrying a movie on his own.
Murray was a bona fide movie star by the time Scrooged hit theaters, but up until that point—in movies like Caddyshack, Stripes, and Ghostbusters—he had always been part of an ensemble cast. “Scrooged was harder [than Ghostbusters] because I was by myself, really,” Murray told Starlog. “Even though there are a number of people in the movie, they only had cameos. They would stroll in for a day or two and split. I was there every day, and it was like flunking grade school again and again.”
13. Robert Mitchum's cameo wouldn't have happened without Bill Murray.
In one of the film’s many aforementioned cameos, Robert Mitchum plays Murray’s boss, Preston Rhinelander. But such a small role for such a major star wasn’t an easy sell, so Donner invited Mitchum to meet with Murray. “Mitchum was not going to play that small a part, but we said, ‘Well come in and meet Bill. Let’s rap, let’s talk,’” Donner told the Texas Archive of the Moving Image. “He came in and we never got a word in edgewise. He’s so wonderful with stories and we didn’t want to talk … The minute you get around Bill, you’re swooning. Everybody is.”
14. Scrooged is a Murray family affair.
Though seeing one of Bill Murray’s brothers in one of his films is nothing new, Scrooged features all three of them—John, Joel, and Brian Doyle-Murray.
15. It took 23 years for the movie's soundtrack to be released.
It wasn’t until 2011 that Danny Elfman’s score for Scrooged was released. The album, which was limited to just 3000 copies, contained a total of 34 tracks, not all of which were included in the film. The final track is a bonus track that was actually created for Trading Places.
16. Keith Haring's work makes some cameos throughout.
Look at the background throughout the film and you’ll likely spot Keith Haring’s “Free South Africa” poster on a few occasions. The same poster is seen in Lethal Weapon 2, also directed by Richard Donner, which was released the following year.
17. Sam Kinison was supposed to play the Ghost of Christmas Past.
The part eventually went to David Johansen, and rumor has it that that happened because of Murray’s close friendship with the actor-musician. If Johansen’s face looks familiar to you, but not his name, that’s because he often went by a different name at the time: Buster Poindexter. Yes, the very same guy who sang “Hot Hot Hot.”
18. Carol Kane didn't have much fun as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Though it’s a running gag throughout the film that Carol Kane, as The Ghost of Christmas Present, be rather abusive toward Murray whenever they meet, the task began to take a toll on the actress. Both Donner and Murray told Starlog that Kane would often break down on the set, and spend 20 minutes or so simply crying.
19. Carol Kane's scenes weren't much fun for Bill Murray either.
In one scene, Kane is supposed to grab Murray’s lip. Which she did—a little too well. “There's a piece of skin that connects your lip with your gums and it was really pulled away,” Murray explained of the scene to Starlog. “She really hurt me, but it was my idea to be physical and it was her idea just to hit me as opposed to pulling the punches.” Filming had to cease temporarily while Murray healed from the incident.
20. John Houseman passed away less than a month before Scrooged premiered.
John Houseman is yet another one of the preeminent actors who made a brief appearance in Scrooged. Unfortunately, he passed away on October 31, 1988, less than a month before the film made its debut on November 23, 1988.
21. The movie features the Solid Gold Dancers's final performance.
In the telecast within the movie, one of A Christmas Carol’s selling points is that it will feature the Solid Gold Dancers as The Scroogettes. The movie would mark the small-screen dance group’s final aired performance, as Solid Gold the television series had been canceled back in July.
22. The studio played up Ghostbusters's success to promote Scrooged.
In an attempt to recapture the attention of Ghostbusters fans, the studio referenced the movie in Scrooged’s marketing materials, most notably with its tagline: “Bill Murray is back among the ghosts, only this time, it’s three against one.” The tactic probably didn’t get the studio the exact results it was looking for; while Ghostbusters was the second highest-grossing film of 1984 with $229,242,989 in box office totals, Scrooged made about a quarter of that ($60,328,558 to be exact) and was only the 13th highest grossing film of 1988.
A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2021.