Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in the 1954 film, “White Christmas”
Another holiday season…another scramble to find that elusive music that could potentially compel the spirit to emerge. With all that is going on in America at the moment, music can provide great solace, but Christmas music? I continue to be challenged by it. (How many times can you listen to Vince Guaraldi??)
So…a redux from last year is the trivia about the 1954 holiday classic “White Christmas.” (The information comes from Regal Cinema).
Among the trivia listed, many obvious but welcome reminders:
- For the song “Gee, I Wish I Was Back In The Army”, there is the lyric, “Jolson, Hope And Benny all for free”. This is a reference to three wartime entertainers: Al Jolson, Bob Hope and Jack Benny. The original words were “Crosby, Hope and Jolson all for free”, but the lyric was changed because with Bing Crosby in the cast the original lyric would break the fourth wall.
- A myth persists that all of Vera-Ellen’s costumes, down to her robe and sleepwear, were designed to cover her neck, which had been damaged by anorexia.
- The train scene had to be shot at Fox, the only studio to house a standing train set.
- Many of Bob Wallace’s more unusual turns of phrase were lifted straight from Bing Crosby’s own speech patterns.
- The song, “What Can You Do with a General?”, which Leonard Maltin calls Irving Berlin’s least memorable tune, was originally written for an unproduced project called “Stars on My Shoulders”.
- The song “Snow” was written by Irving Berlin many years before the film. It was originally called “Free,” and included a different subject and lyrics. Berlin rewrote the song with a winter theme for White Christmas (1954).
- Third of three films to feature Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”. The other two are Holiday Inn (1942) and Blue Skies (1946).
- The photo that Vera-Ellen shows to Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye of her brother, Bennie, is actually a photo of Carl Switzer, known for his role as “Alfalfa” in Our Gang. Switzer also appeared in another classic Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), as Donna Reed’s suitor, who opens up the gym floor during the high school dance, sending everyone falling into the swimming pool underneath.
- The TV camera in the Ed Harrison Show scene is a real one (a classic RCA monochrome), with a real call sign atop it. It is Channel 4, NBC’s (and thus RCA’s) flagship station in New York, which changed its call sign to WRCA-TV the year of the film’s release. (They adopted their current WNBC-TV call sign in 1960.)
- According to Rosemary Clooney, the “midnight snack” scene in which Bob Wallace expounds on his theory of what foods cause what dreams was almost entirely improvised.
- The “Ed Harrison TV Show” that Bob appears on is a reference to The Ed Sullivan Show (1948), which featured known stars, new talent and vaudeville acts. Ed Harrison was played by Johnny Grant who did not have a long acting career in the movies, but was the honorary Mayor of Hollywood, California who officiated over the unveilings of Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame from the early 1960s until his death in 2008.
- Vera-Ellen’s singing voice was dubbed. Numerous sources mistakenly assume Rosemary Clooney sang Vera-Ellen’ s part in “Sisters” thus duet-ing with herself, but Trudy Stevens (who was Trudy Stabile at the time) was Vera-Ellen’s voice double in all of her songs, namely “Sisters”, “Snow” and the “White Christmas” finale. Some Gloria Wood articles and album liner notes have mentioned through the years that she was the one who sang for Vera-Ellen, but although she was the initial choice for the job, Rosemary Clooney intervened to have her friend, Trudy Stevens, sing the role instead. Vera’s own singing voice is heard ever very briefly singing in the “arrival in Pine Tree” scene at the railroad station where the quartet reprises – live – the opening lines of “Snow”
- When Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) appears on the Ed Harrison TV show, he is briefly shown – as if the audience is watching him at home – on a 1950s television set. The brand of the television is DuMont, one of the first manufacturers of TVs in America and the name of TV network from the 1950s. Jackie Gleason, Morey Amsterdam and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen were some of the notables that began on the DuMont Network, which ceased operations in 1956.
- Although this movie musical has been a beloved favorite for decades, especially at Christmas time, there has never been an official “original soundtrack” album released in any form. Decca controlled the soundtrack rights, but Rosemary Clooney was under exclusive contract to Columbia, who would not allow her to appear on a competing label. As a result, Decca and Columbia each released their own White Christmas albums in 1954, although neither is an official soundtrack. Decca’s album featured the movie cast minus Rosemary Clooney, with Peggy Lee taking over Clooney’s part, and singing her songs via overdubbing, a new technology in 1954. Columbia’s album had Rosemary Clooney singing 8 songs from the film, including the song “Sisters,” which Clooney recorded with her real-life sister, Betty Clooney. Both albums have been issued on CD in recent years.
- Although the movie stars Bing Crosby and features songs by Irving Berlin, it is not a sequel to the earlier film, Holiday Inn (1942), as Crosby plays different characters in each movie (Jim Hardy in the first film; Bob Wallace in this one). Originally, the plan was to reunite Crosby with his Holiday Inn (1942) co-star, Fred Astaire, but Astaire turned it down, as he had temporarily “retired” at the time. Donald O’Connor was cast as Crosby’s co-star, in what was hoped to be a reprise of his successful dance partnership with Vera-Ellen from Call Me Madam (1953). But while filming _Francis Joins the WACs_ (1954), O’Connor contracted a severe bout of Q-Fever from his co-star, Francis the Talking Mule, and had to pull out. Danny Kaye was cast as a last minute replacement.
- The first film produced in Paramount’s wide screen process “VistaVision”.
- Even though Betty was the elder of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was actually seven years younger than Vera-Ellen in real life. Coincidentally, both Clooney and Vera-Ellen were from the Cincinnati, Ohio area.
- Premiered at the famed Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
- The musical stage adaptation premiered in San Francisco in 2004 followed by productions in Boston, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Detroit, Louisville and the United Kingdom. The Broadway production opened on November 23, 2008 at the Marquis Theater and ran for 53 performances earning two Tony Award nominations. The musical was revived at the Marquis Theater for the 2009 Christmas season.
- Cast members Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney both have descendants in the Star Trek series. Bing’s granddaughter Denise Crosby appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), while Clooney’s son Miguel Ferrer appeared in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).
- This was 1954’s most successful film. The second most successful was The Caine Mutiny (1954), which featured Rosemary Clooney’s husband, José Ferrer.
- Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney both died at the same age: 74.
- One of the dancers accompanying Rosemary Clooney is George Chakiris. He went on to earn the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, as “Bernardo”, in West Side Story (1961).
- According to Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s “Sisters” performance was not originally in the script. They were clowning around on the set, and director Michael Curtiz thought it was so funny that he decided to film it. In the scene, Crosby’s laughs are genuine and unscripted, as he was unable to hold a straight face due to Kaye’s comedic dancing. Clooney said the filmmakers had a better take where Crosby didn’t laugh, but when they ran them both, people liked the laughing version better.
- During the “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” sequence Danny Kaye is wearing gray and Vera-Ellen is wearing pink. Pink and gray was the hot color combination in 1954.
- In supplemental information on the DVD Rosemary Clooney revealed that 1. She took the role mostly so that she could perform with Bing Crosby. 2. Danny Kaye caused many retakes when his antics made everyone laugh when they weren’t supposed to. 3. She considered “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” as “her” song since it was her only solo. 4. After the final shot they were informed that they would be redoing the finale because the King and Queen of Greece would be visiting the set and the producer wanted to “give them something to remember”. They “reshot” the sequence with no film in the camera and without Bing Crosby who had skipped out to play golf. In later years she and Bing recorded several record albums together.
- Percy Helton, who plays the railroad conductor, also appears in another holiday movie, playing the drunk Santa Claus at the beginning of Miracle on 34th Street (1947).
- When Betty and Bob are at the bar for the “sandwich” scene, getting a midnight snack, Crosby says the menu is not the same as “Toots Shor’s”. Toots Shor’s was a real restaurant at 51 W. 51st Street in New York. It was somewhat of a hangout for show business personalities.
- Bob Fosse was the uncredited choreographer for the movie.
- The Vermont inn is the remodeled Connecticut inn set from Bing Crosby’s earlier movie Holiday Inn (1942). In White Christmas, the recycled hotel set is very gray, and appears not to have been repainted in new colors. Since Holiday Inn was a black & white film, the sets were probably originally painted in grayscale, as color palette schemes would have been a waste of resources in 1942.
- In the movie, the four main characters take the train from Florida to Vermont, which in 1954 would have required changing trains in New York. This is alluded to during the “travel sequence,” by showing stock footage of two different trains in subsequent shots. However, the trains seen in these shots in the film are both West Coast trains! The first train is the Santa Fe Railroad ‘San Diegan’ (note the palm trees in the background), followed by the Southern Pacific’s ‘Coast Mail’, a local coach train. Neither railroad ran trains on the East Coast.
- Just after Phil and Judy finish their dance number to “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” the house band in the club is playing a rendition of “Snow,” the song that the group sings on the train.
- Tunes from the previous Bing Crosby/Irving Berlin film, Holiday Inn (1942) are used throughout the movie. When Betty walks in the kitchen at the beginning of the “Midnight Snack” scene, Bing is playing part of the “Washington’s Birthday” song from the previous film on the piano. Also, when Judy dances in her yellow dress, she is dancing to a fast-playing version of “Abraham,” the Abraham Lincoln birthday song from the earlier film.
- When General Waverly is preparing to “inspect the troops”, the bugler sounds off with “Ruffles and Flourishes.” This is traditionally played to announce the appearance of a flag officer (generals or admirals); the number of times it is repeated corresponds to the number of stars on the officer’s collar. The bugler plays it twice, signifying General Waverly as a major general (two stars).
- The hotel manager perusing the Haynes sisters is Sig Ruman who portrayed Sgt. Shultz in Stalag 17.
- The film is neither a sequel to, nor a remake of, Holiday Inn (1942), a persistent myth that continues to this day. Aside from both films starring Bing Crosby and featuring Irving Berlin scores (most notably the chestnut “White Christmas”), the plots and characters’ names are completely different. In the first film, Crosby and co-star Fred Astaire compete for the affections of the same woman (first Virginia Dale, then Marjorie Reynolds- although each woman eventually ends up with one of the men), while in the second film, Crosby and Danny Kaye fall for sisters Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, and are paired off almost immediately. There is also no subplot of an inn open only during the holidays in White Christmas: it is one inn on the verge of bankruptcy, due to lack of customers and snow.
- In Twelve O’Clock High (1949), Dean Jagger plays a World War I veteran retired Army officer who volunteers to return to active duty in World War II. In this film, Jagger plays a World War II veteran retired Army officer whose request to return to active duty at around the time of the Korean War is turned down.
- Although Dean Jagger was made out to be the “old man”, Bing Crosby was actually six months older than Dean in real life.