Orson Bean and Allie Mills reprise their annual free staging of “A Christmas Carol”

By Shanee Edwards

Orson Bean as Ebenezer Scrooge and Bodhi Carlson as Tiny Tim in a prior Bean-and-Mills production of “A Christmas Carol” Photo by Ulf Hermjakov

Orson Bean as Ebenezer Scrooge and Bodhi Carlson as Tiny Tim in a prior Bean-and-Mills production of “A Christmas Carol”
Photo by Ulf Hermjakov

Longtime Venice canals residents Orson Bean and Allie Mills have a special mission each Christmas: to give the joy of live theater to their neighbors in and around Venice, especially kids who wouldn’t otherwise have access to such an experience.

Their annual production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” starring Bean as iconic miser Ebenezer Scrooge, returns for its 13th go-round with free stagings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the First Lutheran Church of Venice. Bean and Mills cover all expenses.

The shows are first-come, first-seated, but kids get priority seating upfront. The couple also puts on a special performance tonight for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice and families who live in shelters or supportive housing.

Bean, who has worked in film and television since the 1950s, and Mills, best known for her roles on “The Wonder Years” and “The Bold and The Beautiful,” believe in the transformative power of live theater and enjoy sharing it with others.

“There’s something about live theater that’s so immediate. It’s a much deeper experience than film or TV,” Mills said. “You never know what’s going to happen, especially the way we do it. We have 35 kids in the play, and they’re all in kindergarten. You don’t know whether they’re going to make their entrance, whether they’re going to burst out crying. I love that it’s not all ‘real’ actors.”

It also helps that “A Christmas Carol” is one of the great stories of redemption.

“That’s why it’s really important that the shows are free. We don’t even pass a hat. This show is a gift to the community,” Mills said.

Though the story was written in 1843, the story still appeals to contemporary audiences, Bean said.

“I think it’s because Scrooge genuinely changes. The meaner he is in the beginning, the more exciting the change is at the end,” he said.

But this isn’t serious business. Bean, who was both a frequent guest (200 times) and regular guest host of “The Tonight Show” in Johnny Carson’s day (for 100-plus appearances), believes the unique thing about his version of “A Christmas Carol” is that’s it’s filled with humor.

“I know the parts of the show where the kids get bored and start throwing popcorn at each other. I just left those out, put in a bunch of jokes and left Dickens’ heart,” said Bean, also a staple of the TV game show circuit from the 1950s to the early ‘90s.

But does Bean, who at 86 continues to take serious acting roles on stage and for television, think people can transform as much in real life?

“I don’t think it’s that easy, but on the other hand Scrooge has an extraordinary experience with three nights of ghosts, showing him things, so maybe. I’d like to think so,” he said.

As for ghosts, Bean claims to have seen one in real life and even spoke about the experience publicly —when he was a guest on “The Tonight Show,” of course.

“It was very scary. I always thought there was something creepy about the house when I bought it. I had just had a baby, my youngest child who was born in Australia, and my then-wife woke me up, saying there’s something in the room. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ Then I saw this dark, shrouded figure hovering over the baby’s crib. We packed everything and left for America in the morning,” he said.

Bean doesn’t draw upon that frightful experience to play Scrooge, however.

“I just play my grumbly self,” he said. “I think people love to see negative characters. Given equal actors, Iago steals the show from Othello; Donald Duck steals the show from Mickey Mouse. People like to see the grumblers because they don’t allow themselves to behave that way.”

The Bean-and-Mills production of “A Christmas Carol” begins at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday before concluding with a 5:30 p.m. Sunday show at
First Lutheran Church Venice, 815 Venice Blvd., Venice.