Irving Berlin's White Christmas (1954): Holiday Movie Trivia & Interesting Facts
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Irving Berlin's White Christmas (1954): Holiday Movie Trivia & Interesting Facts

Irving Berlin's White Christmas came to movie theaters in 1954. White Christmas holiday movie trivia encompasses Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Holiday Inn, a delayed production schedule, Dixie Lee Crosby, nightclub venues, Vermont, the 151st Army Division, the Haynes sisters and Carl Alfalfa Switzer.

Irving Berlin's White Christmas reigns as one of Hollywood's all-time holiday musicals. It's the story of four entertainers (Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen) who journey by train to New England where they help out the owner of a Vermont inn. Here are 21 White Christmas movie trivia items and other interesting facts...

1. White Christmas owes its genesis to Irving Berlin (1888-1989), the prolific songwriter who composed over 1,500 tunes during his remarkable life. According to Berlin's daughter Mary Ellin Barrett, her father began sowing the seeds for his enduring holiday standard "White Christmas" while away in Hollywood in December 1937. The song "White Christmas" was officially introduced by Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942), where it won an Academy Award for Best Song. Der Bingle once again performed "White Christmas" in Blue Skies (1946) and of course in White Christmas (1954).

2. Filming for White Christmas was originally slated to begin in January 1953. However, when Bing Crosby's wife Dixie Lee Crosby (1911-1952) died of ovarian cancer at age 40 on November 1, 1952, the production schedule was pushed back to mid-August of 1953.

Bound for Vermont in White Christmas, l-r: Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen - Paramount Pictures

3. Bing Crosby (1903-1977) had met his second wife Kathryn Grandstaff (1933-) shortly after Dixie Lee's death. Grandstaff, who later changed her name to Grant, was a starlet under contract at Paramount Pictures. Crosby later invited Grandstaff and her sorority friend from the University of Texas to join him on Stage 9 where White Christmas was being filmed. Crosby and Kathryn Grant were married on October 24, 1957.

4. The movie opens in war-torn Europe on Christmas Eve 1944, where Captain Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Private First Class Phil Davis (Kaye) are entertaining the troops.

5. Bob Wallace and Phil Davis later become show business partners. In old Hollywood fashion, Variety headlines are flashed across the big screen: "Wallace & Davis Smash Hit in Better Bistros," "Wallace-Davis Act Boffo," "Wallace & Davis Top Radio Network Poll" and "Wallace & Davis To Produce?"

6. Wallace & Davis' latest revue is titled Playing Around, a two-year hit on Broadway according to the theater marquee. They are performing the revue at a nightclub called The Florida in the Sunshine State.

7. The name of the nightclub in Florida where Betty and Judy Haynes (Clooney, Vera-Ellen) are performing is called Novello's. Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002), who plays Betty Haynes, was George Clooney's aunt.

8. The Haynes sisters flee into the night when the sheriff shows up. It seems their landlord wants $200 for an alleged burned hole in a rug.

9. The Haynes sisters produce a photo of their brother Bennie – a.k.a. "The Dog-Faced Boy" – at Novello's. It's actually a picture of Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer who starred in the old Little Rascals shorts.

Rosemary Clooney, left, and Vera-Ellen as Betty and Judy Haynes doing their "Sisters" routine

10. Bob and Phil pay $97.24 for two tickets to Vermont, which enable them to sit in the dining car all night.

11. The name of the inn in Pine Tree, Vermont, owned by ex-General Thomas F. Waverly (Dean Jagger) is called the Columbia Inn.

12. Bob and Phil were members of the 151st Army Division during World War II.

13. Johnny Grant plays the fictional TV personality Ed Harrison, on whose New York-based show Bob Wallace makes an appeal for members of the old 151st Army Division to join him in Vermont for the holidays in order to surprise their old commanding general.

14. Misconstruing Bob Wallace's intentions regarding the planned Army reunion, Betty Haynes flees to New York where she performs a solo engagement at the Carousel Club.

15. White Christmas was the first movie to be filmed in VistaVision, Paramount Pictures' answer to Twentieth Century-Fox's Cinemascope, the latter of which had debuted in The Robe (1953).

16. Betty's Christmas present to Bob is a figurine depicting a knight on a white charger, a symbol of their relationship.

17. Of the four major White Christmas stars, Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002) was the last to pass away. She died of lung cancer at age 74 in Beverly Hills, California, on June 29, 2002. Bing Crosby (1903-1977), Danny Kaye (1913-1987) and Vera-Ellen (1921-1981) had all preceded her in death.

18. White Christmas earned a solo Academy Award nomination for "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" in the Best Song category. The Oscar winner that year was the Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn song "Three Coins in the Fountain" from the Twentieth Century-Fox movie of the same name.

19. The song "White Christmas" has been recorded by over 150 artists, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ringo Starr, Garth Brooks, the Supremes, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Placido Domingo, Babyface and Hanson.

20. White Christmas, which opened on October 14, 1954, grossed over $12 million during its first release. Bosley Crowther reviewed the movie for The New York Times (10/15/54): "White Christmas, with Mr. Crosby, opened yesterday at the Music Hall...A new batch of Irving Berlin numbers comprises its musical score...But, oddly enough, the confection is not so tasty as one might support. The flavoring is largely in the line-up and not in the output of the cooks. Everyone works hard at the business of singing, dancing and cracking jokes, but the stuff they work with is minor."

21. In 2000, White Christmas was staged as a musical play, making its world premiere in St. Louis on July 17. The musical featured six additional Irving Berlin songs which had originally been written for the 1954 movie. On hand at the premiere were Irving Berlin's three daughters: Mary Ellin Barrett, Linda Emmet and Elizabeth Peters.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas/Just like the ones I used to know..."

Top Image

  • White Christmas grand finale - Paramount Pictures

Copyright © 2011 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Comments (2)

I am really not into musicals--on the stage, on the Silver Screen, or on TV--but this is another of those movies that I have to watch every Christmas or it really does not seem like Christmastime.

Fun article and a great classic Christmas song.