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Chapter 8 of Days of A Christmas Carol Past: Non-Traditional Casting

A quilt of many colors

By Rebecca MortonPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 4 min read
Chapter 8 of Days of A Christmas Carol Past: Non-Traditional Casting
Photo by Dinh Pham on Unsplash

The first non-storybook version of the Cinderella story my daughter ever saw was The Wonderful World Of Disney’s 1997 TV movie, starring Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as her Fairy Godmother. Bernadette Peters played her stepmother. Whoopi Goldberg played the prince’s mother and Victor Garber played his father. Cinderella’s stepsisters were each a different color.

My daughter was two years old at the time. I’m sure she didn’t notice the different colors of characters. Because that’s all they were to her — different colors of people. My husband and I did not raise her with any racial bias and she hadn’t come into contact with racist talk or ideas at her school or church yet.

She had no idea what a revolution she watched on TV that day. My first awareness of what they used to call “color-blind casting”, or now more commonly, “non-traditional casting” was my director dad’s productions of A Christmas Carol.

If you look up “color-blind casting’ on Wikipedia, there is a long list of “examples” dating from the 1960s, with “Eartha Kitt was cast as Cat Woman” as the first television-related entry. The Google entry for “non-traditional casting” makes it look like it officially did not begin until 1986 with the founding of the Non-Traditional Casting Project by, in part, the Actors’ Equity Association.

But ten years before that, my dad’s first production of his adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol had a racially diverse cast. The actors portraying the villagers, ghosts, party guests, and the large Cratchit family were several different races and ethnicities. In 1976 Milwaukee, the cast looked like the surrounding neighborhoods and my fourth grade class. It made sense to me.

Playing “Second Narrator” and my “Papa” in that production was African American actor Franklyn Seales. (This was not the same actor who, four years later, played my father, Bob Cratchit, with whom I fell madly in love in Part Six of this series. I don’t know what happened to that guy.) Seales, who played my father when I was “Belle’s Child” in 1976, went on to do a lot of work, including the 1979 film, The Onion Field, and popular 1980s family sitcom, Silver Spoons.

Yes, kids of the 1980s, I said Silver Spoons, starring Ricky Schroder, aka, “The Ricker”! Later, Alfonso Ribeiro joined the cast years before he was Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Franklyn Seales, my “Papa”, played Ricky’s dad’s business manager, “Dexter Stuffins”. Now, that’s a character name that would make Charles Dickens proud!

Grownup and living away from my parents in the spring of 1990, I got a phone call from my dad. He told me that “Dear Franklyn Seales has died. It was from complications from AIDS.” My Papa.

I was as surprised by the news as many were two years later when they found out about the death of Robert Reed, aka, Mike Brady, dad of The Brady Bunch, meaning surprised that he had been gay as well as sick. I hadn’t seen Franklyn in fourteen years, but, for the past few years, when flipping channels on my TV, I would stop if I came to Silver Spoons, if Franklyn was in the scene. “There’s my Papa,” I would say out loud, even if I was alone.

A year or so after the grim news about Franklyn, I heard that a church group at my graduate school was hosting a get-together to make panels for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Sadly, I now had a name to sew. I went to the meeting and made a panel featuring, above his name, a black top hat, like my Papa wore in A Christmas Carol. I decorated the green panel with Christmas trees and bows.

I hope it got sewed into the quilt. I looked it up, and, by 2020, the AIDS Memorial Quilt weighed fifty-four tons, too big to be displayed all at once anywhere. You can find more information about it at .

After my dad had directed a few yearly productions of his “Carol” in the 1980s, he began receiving mail complaining about the racially diverse cast, with some writers pointing out that “There were no black people in Victorian England”. I’m sure this complaint is not historically accurate, but, putting that aside, my dad had a great answer for these complainers.

He would write back to them, “We’re pretty sure there were no ghosts in Victorian England, but they are in our play.”

My dad was saying that A Christmas Carol is like Cinderella. It’s a story of magic and spirits, like a fairytale, so the colors of the characters shouldn’t even be a thing.

I know it gets more problematic these days with actual, historical stage, film and TV characters being played by different races of actors, but that’s a whole other series of articles I don’t feel qualified to write.

I’m just glad I grew up with a colorful version of A Christmas Carol, as beautiful in its diversity as a patchwork quilt.


This chapter was originally published on


About the Creator

Rebecca Morton

An older Gen X-er, my childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children, first my students, then my own, and now more students! You can also find me on Medium here:

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