Lots of Christmases ago, there was an obscure, 30-minute Christmas special that aired on television called Mr. Kreuger’s Christmas. Lest you think that it was a poorly-conceived holiday version of that horrific Freddy Kreuger guy of nightmarish fame, I feel compelled to tell you in my next breath that it starred sweet old Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Kreuger, and that fact alone should put all your fears to rest.
I’ll be surprised if anyone remembers it. It is the story of a humble, aged custodian who lived in the basement of the building that he cleaned every day. Throughout the course of the story, he fell asleep several times in his apartment, dreaming of himself as wealthy in one case, director of a huge choir in another, and finally, in the most poignant scene, as someone who was present at the manger…not as a Bible character with a robe and a staff, but as old Mr. Kreuger himself, who haltingly says to the baby, “I’m Willy Kreuger. I’m custodian over at the Beck Apartments….oh, but you know that, don’t you? You know that.”
Imdb.com reports the following about Jimmy Stewart’s performance:
James Stewart approached the scene where Mr. Kreuger talks to the infant Jesus very seriously. Before filming this scene, he told the producer Michael McLean, "I've got only one of these in me. Everyone who doesn't need to be here, get them out. Tell them I want this to go well. I can do other takes, but this will be the right one. There will only be one."
After the scene was finished, McLean asked the cameraman, "Did you get it?"
"I hope so," was the cameraman’s reply. "Because I was crying."
I watched this special when I was a child, and it made an impact on me. The very idea of someone from present-day standing in front of baby Jesus and talking to him was profound to me, even then. In the midst of expressing his gratefulness, his regrets, and his memories, the graying actor kneels beside the manger and delivers a wonderful monologue, as only Jimmy Stewart can.
Here he is, in his lesser known Christmas role. The scene speaks for itself. It’s just four minutes long.