The George S. Irving Centennial

Born 100 years ago today: George S. Irving (Irving Shelaskey, 1922-2016). You merely think you don’t know who that is. Irving’s best known credit is the role of Heat Miser in the ‘Rankin-Bass holiday classic The Year Without a Santa Claus‘ (1974), opposite Dick Shawn’s Snow Miser. The characters were clearly designed to resemble the actors playing them. Prior to that, Irving had also been the Narrator on the animated cartoon Underdog (1964-67), another off camera role with a huge audience.

I am amused by the fact that the actor’s name seems to merge those of George S. Kaufman and Irving Kaufman, Irving Caesar and Irving Berlin — good show biz mojo, that. He’d studied voice as a kid in Massachusetts and was already on Broadway by the time he was 20. The theatre is where Irving made his biggest mark, appearing in the original Broadway productions of Oklahoma! (1943), Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1949), Can Can (1953), Me and Juliet (1953), Bells Are Ringing (1956), Shinbone Alley (1957), Irma La Douce (1960), Gore Vidal’s An Evening with Richard Nixon (1972), So Long 174th Street (1976, the musical adaptation of Carl Reiner’s Enter Laughing), and the 1981 revival of Pirates of Penzance (1981), which was the second Broadway show I ever saw! I’m very sure I would have been much more excited if I’d realized that Heat Miser was in it!

Irving was married to dancer Maria Karnilova, whom he’d met while both were in the cast of Call Me Mister (1946).

Irving’s screen footprint was pretty small. In addition to the voiceover work we mentioned, he was notable for being a regular in the short-lived sit-com The Dumplings (1976), with Geraldine Brooks, James Coco, and George Furth. He was in the 1972 movie Up the Sandbox with Barbra Streisand, Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977), and TV specials like Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf (1958) and Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980), another Rankin-Bass production. Irving also did guest shots on The Goldbergs, Car 54 Where Are You?, The Patty Duke Show, and All in the Family.

Irving’s last credit was an astonishing one. At age 86 he reprised the role of Heat Miser in A Miser Brothers Christmas (2008), alongside an 88 year old Mickey Rooney.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous