Baby, It’s Not a Christmas Song

What started out as a song to get party guests to leave is now a Christmas favorite that has come under some scrutiny in recent years.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has evolved into a song never left off a Christmas album. The catch? When it was written in 1944, songwriter Frank Loesser wasn’t thinking of the holidays.

Frank Loesser and wife Lynn Garland in 1956 performing their song.

Frank Loesser and wife Lynn Garland in 1956 performing their song.

Loesser originally wrote in the song to only be performed at parties with his wife, Lynn Garland. The duet—labeling the parts wolf and mouse—involves a man trying to convince a woman that she should stay, because it’s snowing outside. She says no, until she relents at the end. 

The couple was invited to parties on the basis of the song and were asked to perform when the party was about to end. They eventually recorded their version, according to “A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life. A Portrait by His Daughter” by Loesser and Garland’s daughter, Susan Loesser.

neptuneAfter holding on to the song for years, Loesser made the decision to sell the song to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1948 and it first appeared nationally in the film “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949) starring Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Red Skeleton, Betty Garrett and Keenan Wynn.

Garland’s was upset that Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams were the ones performing the song that belonged her and her husband for so long.

“I felt betrayed, as if I had caught him in bed with another woman,” Susan Loesser quotes her mother in the book. “I kept saying Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban! He finally sat me down and said, ‘If I don’t let go of Baby, I’ll begin to think I can never write another song as good as I think this one is.’”

In “Neptune’s Daughter,” Esther Williams plays a champion swimmer who designs swimwear, a plot that mirrored her real-life. Her man-crazy sister, played by Betty Garrett, is determined to find a man out of the South American polo team that has come to town. A case of mistaken identity ensues when Garrett thinks Red Skelton is a polo player. The real athlete, Ricardo Montalban, pursues Williams.

Williams and Montalban first perform “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the film—with him pursuing her. In case you’re wondering, Williams does leave.

In a comedic switch, the song is performed a second time with Betty Garrett and Red Skelton—Garrett this time doing the pursuing and Skelton also escapes.

“Neptune’s Daughter” is not a Christmas film and is set during summer; really making the placement of this song bizarre. Obviously in the film, he’s trying to make a joke. For example, Ricardo points at the window saying to look out there at the snow, there is no snow and he closes the curtains.

Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams in what is clearly not a winter film.

Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams in what is clearly not a winter film.

While I’m not a big fan of the song and I side-eye it’s ethics, I do enjoy watching the four actors perform it in the film because their body language is amusing. Esther is more annoyed and isn’t going to let Ricardo get his way. I was also a little surprised when I rewatched this at how graceful Esther moved in a choreographed way, as she admits in her autobiography that singing and dancing weren’t her forte. Betty and Red are also amusing, because of their comedic roles.

The song went on to win the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song in 1950, beating out songs written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, Alfred Newman, and Eliot Young. It went on to top the charts in 1949 when it was performed by Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whitting, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, and Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark.

The song now has sparked date rape discussions in recent years because of the male’s annoying persistence and the woman questioning what is in her drink. At the time it was written, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was originally thought to be a rather progressive woman’s song, according to a 2014 Washington Post article. In the era of the late-1940s and early-1950s when this song gained popularity, it wasn’t proper for an un-married woman to stay the night with a man. If she did so, it would most likely cause a scandal. The songwriter’s intent was to show that the female wants to stay, but she is also concerned about her reputation, gossip and scandal. She lists worries about her sister, brother and aunt as some of those concerns. The reason it was viewed as progressive was because she throws caution to the wind, does what she wants, forgets about what people will say and stays anyways. However, I have never appreciated how much he pressures the woman to stay. Regardless of her reason, she did refuse. I guess it’s up to the listener to decide if the woman really wants to stay or if she’s pressured.

Esther Williams doesn't have time for Ricardo Montalban's games.

Esther Williams doesn’t have time for Ricardo Montalban’s games.

There was no real explanation of why or how this has become a Christmas pop standard, so one can assume it evolved because of its mere mention of cold weather. However, Comet Over Hollywood’s friend Doug Grieve said Dean Martin was the first one to release “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” on a Christmas album, so that could be how it started. Despite recent criticism, the song still reached No. 10 on the Billboard Top 200 in 2014 when Idina Menzel and Michael Buble recorded the song.

While the song certainly is catchy, I’ll admit—even since I first discovered it at 14—I wished the man would just let her leave. It’s not even my favorite Loesser song—“Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” “Two Sleepy People,” “Slow Boat to China,” “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” and the whole soundtrack for “Hans Christian Anderson” are all superior.

Whenever this song comes on the radio, I think of the scenes from “Neptune’s Daughter”—where it’s summer outside—and can’t help being irritated like Ebenezer Scrooge that it wasn’t meant to be a Christmas song.  However, I know my curmudgeon ways will never get this—or “Once Upon a December”—taken off of the Christmas playlists.

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3 thoughts on “Baby, It’s Not a Christmas Song

  1. Terrific film/song history tidbit I’d never heard. You’ve sold me on seeing another old musical, both because the two scenes are cute and to figure out whether there’s a typo in this first draft of your article — either that or I’ll find out how Esther really does convince Ricardo to leave what appears to be *his* apartment.
    🙂
    [>>”Williams and Montalban first perform “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the film—with him pursuing her. In case you’re wondering, Williams does get him to leave.”]

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    • It was a typo, and I actually fixed that. It was probably while you were reading 🙂 The musical itself is fluff, but notable because it introduced this song. However, I always felt Ricardo and Esther had great chemistry!

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      • I liked the chemistry — and the choreography — in both clips. Sorry for reading and commenting before you caught the typo. Feel free to stop in at jheroes.com and do the same for me! Which reminds me that I’m way overdue for an update there.

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