Monday, November 29, 2010

White Christmas: My Favorite Time of Year

It's Christmastime!!  Woohoo!!  Hip hip hooray!!  It's finally here!!  Yahooooo!!!  (Teeheehee!)  If you haven't guessed yet, I love Christmas.  It's most definitely my favorite time of the year.  And now that Thanksgiving is over (because no matter how much you love Christmas, you shouldn't squeeze out Thanksgiving by starting it too early!), it's also time to talk about all my favorite Christmas movies.  (Yay!)  So let's kick off the season with one of the best classics, "White Christmas" (1954).

Now a lot of people think "White Christmas" is just a remake of "Holiday Inn" (1942), the hit movie starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire that introduced the song "White Christmas" to the world, but it's not.  "White Christmas" the film, though originally crafted as a project for Crosby, Astaire, and songwriter Irving Berlin, has a different story.  It tells the tale of two World War II Army buddies who partner up after the war and make it big entertaining.  As they follow a beautiful sister act to Vermont, they run into their old commanding general, who's down on his luck because no snow is falling for his ski lodge.  So the men decide to bring their hit show up to his inn to help generate business for the general, all while romancing the two ladies.  It's a wonderful, classic-50s light romance with lots of fun songs, dances and comedy mixed in.

As I said, this was originally intended for Crosby and Astaire, but Astaire turned it down, having "retired" at the time.  The part of Crosby's costar then went to Donald O'Connor, but unfortunately he had to back out too because of illness.  So finally, Danny Kaye stepped in, and luckily he did, because the chemistry between Crosby and Kaye is perfect.  As for their leading ladies, Paramount cast Rosemary Clooney (George's aunt) and Vera-Ellen as the Haynes sisters.

I had never seen this film myself when I received it as a Christmas present.  Being an annoying teenager at the time, I thought that it was a lame gift because I was getting something for Christmas on Christmas, which meant I couldn't watch it after that day, and would then have to wait a year.  Oh how wrong I was.  I think I ended up watching it every day for a week...then some during the summer too...until the day after Thanksgiving when it was the first thing in the VCR.  Ever year since then I've watched it a couple of times a season, all on that old VHS tape (until a year or two ago when I got the DVD for Christmas...and couldn't be happier about it).

"White Christmas," though named after the famous song, was actually the third movie to include the tune.  The first was, like I said, "Holiday Inn," song by Bing Crosby and Martha Mears (dubbing for actress Marjorie Reynolds).  The second time was in Crosby's, Astaire's and Berlin's next project together "Blue Skies" in 1946.  (Crosby sings a verse of it in a melody montage.)  Of all the holiday songs Berlin wrote for "Holiday Inn," he had the most difficulty writing a Christmas tune.  Once it was finally complete, he played it for Crosby at rehearsals, but Crosby didn't think there was anything extraordinarily special about it.  He just said, "I don't think we have any problems with that one, Irving."  Bing Crosby's version of "White Christmas" is now the best-selling single of all time.

Berlin, of course, wrote all the songs in "White Christmas," but like most of his previous film scores ("White Christmas" being his last one), many of the songs were not written specifically for this picture.  Along with the title song, "Blue Skies" and "Heat Wave" also appeared in the film "Blue Skies."  Yet "Heat Wave" originally appeared in his 1933 Broadway show "As Thousands Cheer," as well as the movie "There's No Business Like Show Business" (1954 - sung by Marilyn Monroe).  Berlin wrote "Blue Skies" back in 1926 for his newborn daughter and became the first song heard in the first sound feature "The Jazz Singer" (1927), sung by Al Jolson.  The tune "Snow" was originally called "Free" and was written for the 1950 Broadway show "Call Me Madam," but was never used.  So Berlin kept the melody and changed some words and got a new song.  "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" was written especially for "White Christmas" though, and garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Song that year.

Sadly, no original soundtrack exists for "White Christmas."  At the time, Rosemary Clooney was under strict contract with her record company Columbia Records and could not appear on any other label.  Yet, the soundtrack for "White Christmas" was being produced by Decca Records (the company who released Crosby's first "White Christmas" recording).  So Decca substituted Clooney with Peggy Lee for their soundtrack album.  Clooney made her own album under Columbia though, singing all the major songs from the film herself.  So, because of a contract, the only recordings of the actual cast singing together are the ones heard on film.

One person who is not on any song recordings though is Vera-Ellen.  She is actually dubbed by singer Trudy Stevens.  Also, if you notice, all of Vera-Ellen's costumes have extremely high necklines, even her pajamas.  This is because she was battling anorexia at the time.  With only a 21" waist, her anorexia had badly aged her neck.  Since she was supposed to be the younger Haynes sister (even though she was actually seven years older than Clooney), the aging had to be covered up.  (See Hollywood!!  Super, unhealthy skinny used to be bad, remember???)

So kick off the holiday season with "White Christmas"!  Pop it in the player and decorate your tree as you enjoy all the Christmas cheer.  Happy holidays, everyone!  Be back Friday.

(Post-tidbit:  The scene where Crosby and Kaye mimic the "Sisters" act was not originally in the script.  The two were clowning around with it on set, and the director liked it so much, it was written in, hence the men's laughter throughout the scene.)

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