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Elora is no stranger to Christmas movie shoots

Town stood in for New Hampshire settlement in 'An American Christmas Carol'

In March of 1979, Elora made Christmas movie history. That month, the town was the setting for scenes in a new film based on the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol.

Of course, the iconic Victorian ghost story about the redemption of mean old Ebeneezer Scrooge has been told on the movie screen and the TV screen many times under various titles, and has featured a long list of actors in the lead role; from Alastair Sim and George C. Scott to Bill Murray and Mr. Magoo. And this production wasn’t the only movie to be filmed in Elora and its environs.

Among the numerous films shot here have been Simon Birch, Lars and the Real Girl, Dead Silence and Mrs. Soffel. Local fans of movies made from Stephen King novels quickly recognized the Elora Quarry as the setting for a swimming scene in It.

Elora has been visited by celebrity stars such as Ryan Gosling, Jennifer Lopez, Diane Keaton, Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage and Dana Carvey, to name just a few.

However, this new adaptation of the Dickens story had some unprecedented features. The title, for one thing: An AMERICAN Christmas Carol. In this telling, the setting would not be Old London, but the town of Concord, New Hampshire. Picturesque Elora was standing in for picturesque New England.

The cast was largely Canadian. It included the British-born actor Christopher Wiggins, a veteran of film, TV and radio who was known for his work in such productions as The Bay Boy, A Cosmic Christmas and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; R.B. Thomson (Love and Hate: The Story of Colin and JoAnn Thatcher), Kenneth Pogue (The Grey Fox) and Susan Hogan (The Brood). There was also Derrick Jones, a child actor familiar to Canadian TV audiences for his role in Matt and Jenny.

Nonetheless, this was an American production, with an American director, Eric Till, who had worked on such TV series as The Unforeseen, The Forest Rangers and Festival. He would go on to direct several made-for-TV movies including Christmas in America, A Muppet Family Christmas and The Christmas Toy.

Scriptwriter Jerome Coopersmith, also American, was known in the business as 'The Christmas writer.' He had written the scripts for an animated CBS production, ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas, and Have I got a Christmas for You for the Hallmark Hall of Fame series.

Among the American cast members was David Wayne, a supporting actor with a long list of film credits such as How to Marry a Millionaire and The Andromeda Strain. He had shared the screen with Hollywood royalty like Marilyn Monroe and Spencer Tracy, and had portrayed the villainous Mad Hatter on TV’s Batman.

But the person who drew the greatest amount of attention from local people and the press was the unlikely actor playing the lead role, Henry Winkler. At that time, Winkler was one of the most recognized celebrities in the world thanks to his part in the hit TV sitcom Happy Days. He played the ultra-cool, leather-jacketed tough guy Arthur Fonzarelli, a.k.a. The Fonz, who could turn on a juke box just by snapping his fingers. Playing Fonzie had made Winkler a star, but he was worried about being typecast; so much so that he’d turned down a part in the movie Grease (it went instead to John Travolta) and decided instead to play against type in the American re-make of the Scrooge story.

In this version, the protagonist’s name wouldn’t be something typically quirky and Dickensian like Ebeneezer Scrooge, but the very American-sounding Benedict Slade. Instead of a heartless 19th century money-lender, Winkler would portray a heartless Depression-era industrialist. The other characters would also be re-named, but remain easily recognizable through their parts in the story.

“Elora is the perfect setting,” Coopersmith told the Guelph Mercury. He said that even though he had never heard of the town before the producer selected it as a location, “It is much like I had envisioned it while writing the screenplay.”

Elora residents and other viewers familiar with the area would recognize West Mill Street in the opening scene of the movie. Later they would see a stone building on Wellington Road 7 which served as a furniture factory, the gates of the Elora Cemetery, and the Elora Quarry. Most of the interior scenes were shot in a Toronto studio.

An American Christmas Carol premiered on the evening of Dec. 16. According to a review in the Globe and Mail, 'Fonzie' pulled off the role of the Scrooge character “with nary a humbug.” But to most viewers in Elora, the real star was probably their town.