A “White Christmas” at the Upcountry History Museum

The Upcountry History Museum follows COVID-19 protocols, including limited capacity, requiring facemasks and no contact ticket purchasing through their website. Read more.

Learn how to book a virtual tour or visit in person.

You may be dreaming of a white Christmas, but it may not be likely that you’ll see cold precipitation in your area — especially if you live in the South like me.

The Upcountry History Museum offers the next best thing:  The Greenville, S.C. museum has brought a “White Christmas” to the Upstate of South Carolina through an exhibit. On loan from the Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, Ky, the exhibit will be on display in Greenville until Jan. 30, 2021.

“White Christmas” (1954) is a holiday favorite starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. The film begins during World War II and then covers 10 years to show Crosby and Kaye’s characters are now entertainment successes. They meet two sisters (Clooney, Ellen), and the four travel to Pine Tree, Vermont, where they find their World War II leader, General Waverly (Dean Jagger), is running a failing inn. The group tries to figure out a way to help business while also honoring General Waverly’s service.

This is a rare time when the “White Christmas” exhibit has traveled away from its Kentucky home, said museum owner and former Miss America, Heather French Henry.

“This benefits the Upcountry History Museum because we can take our exhibit to people who may never travel to Augusta,” Henry said.

A peak into the exhibit room from the entrance.

My visit

The exhibit includes Edith Head-designed costumes, film props, and other memorabilia, such as a special lighter with Bing Crosby on it that he gifted that Christmas. The costumes include the blue lace and tulle “Sisters” dresses worn by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, the white wool dress and green velvet that Clooney and Ellen wore at the Christmas party,  the black pants George Chakiris wore in “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” and Ellen’s white “Mandy” costume.

After watching “White Christmas” since I was a child, it was amazing to see Edith Head’s iconic costumes up close and in person. I went with my parents, sister and four-year-old niece, who particularly loved the “Sisters” costumes and the “Mandy” white outfit.

With COVID-19 in mind, I felt comfortable at the Upcountry History Museum throughout my visit. My family was masked, and there were only one or two other small families there, making it very easy social distance.

The dresses worn by Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and Mary Wickes at the Christmas party. Henry said that the white dress was one of the most delicate, because it is wool. (Photo/Jessica P.)

Moving history across states

To move all of these pieces from Kentucky to South Carolina, each item must be carefully cataloged. To avoid any wear or damage to the costumes, the costumes remain on the mannequins, and most travel upright.

The exhibit also includes items that aren’t displayed at the Rosemary Clooney House due to space, like the sleigh. The only replicas in the exhibit are the red finale dresses made by Henry’s mother, Diana French. Paramount has not been able to locate the red dresses, which are either owned by a private collector or were altered and repurposed after the film, according to the exhibit.

Since many of the costumes are now 66 years old, the condition can be a concern, but with Edith Head and her team’s great work, many are in excellent condition.

“That’s what makes it so crazy. Not only do we have a phenomenal collection, but they are also all Edith Head designs,” Henry said. “Even if you aren’t interested in the film, you may be interested in the design.”

The blue “Sisters” dresses, worn by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in “White Christmas.” Vera-Ellen’s dress on the right was restored by Paramount and the lace was hand-created. (Photo/Jessica P.)

Clooney and Vera-Ellen in the dresses, for comparison.

From Miss America to Museum Founder

Like so many people, Henry grew up watching “White Christmas,” and says being part of this is unexpected.

After Henry won Miss America in 1999, fellow Kentucky-native Rosemary Clooney was one of the first phone calls she received. The two later performed together.

Rosemary Clooney moved to Augusta, Ky, in 1980, and after Clooney died in 2002, her children reached out to Henry and her husband, Dr. Steve Henry, about purchasing her home. The Henrys enthusiastically agreed and preserved the home, creating a museum to celebrate the life and career of Rosemary Clooney.

Since the Rosemary Clooney House opened in 2005, the Henrys started working to collect memorabilia and costumes over the years, including “White Christmas.”

“Each costume has its own story about its journey,” Henry said. “In fact, when we first started, we didn’t even think we would find but maybe one or two pieces.”

Henry first was connected with Paramount when she reached out for a sketch or pattern to recreate the red finale Christmas dresses for a “White Christmas” stage show she was performing in.

“They (Paramount) realized for the first time that they didn’t know where any of the costumes were,” Henry said. “After the show, I called them back and asked if they found anything.”

It was a “snowball effect” as collectors began to contact them. The “Mandy” ivory dance outfit was their first big auction item.

“Rosemary’s ‘Sisters dress’ was on eBay labeled ‘vintage 1950s party dress,” Henry said. “Vera’s companion dress was with a collector in Texas.”

Vera-Ellen’s dress had been altered into a sleeveless dress and was resorted for two years by Betsey Potter of Paramount, who hand-created the dress’s lace.

Costumes from the “Mandy” number in “White Christmas,” including Vera-Ellen’s white costume. The exhibit said the red/orange costume may look different in the film due to the Techcnicolor process, and due to age. Photo/Jessica P.

The “Mandy” number for comparison

A Multi-Generational Tradition

“White Christmas” was the top box office hit in 1954 but has continued to be a holiday favorite for the past 66 years.

“White Christmas is a movie I have watched since I was born. My mother had us watch it and now our girls watch it,” Henry said. “What’s so great is you see that multi-generational tradition with this film.”

Henry says her favorite number is “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” but she also loves “Choreography.”

“When she comes down in the hot pink tap dress, I just love it,” Henry said. “Vera-Ellen is one of the most underappreciated dancers of her time.”

Plan your visit

The film and exhibit also tie in with her military veteran advocacy, and in connection with the Greenville exhibit, Henry partnered with the museum to create launching Operation Waverly.  Through this initiative, the museum will be collecting supplies to benefit Fellow Countrymen, a community-based non-profit committed to ending Veteran homelessness within the Upstate of South Carolina. When you visit, you can donate one of the following items for an area veteran.

Learn more about planning your visit to the Upcountry History Museum or how to take a virtual tour of the exhibit. The exhibit will return to the Rosemary Clooney House in February.

Your humble writer in front of the sleigh and replica dresses at the exhibit, located at the Upcountry History Museum.

Musical Monday: Wonder Man (1945)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Wonder Man (1945) – Musical #239

Studio:
The Samuel Goldwyn Company, distributed through RKO

Director:
H. Bruce Humberstone

Starring:
Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Vera-Ellen, Donald Woods, S.Z. Sakall, Allen Jenkins, Steve Cochran, Edward Brophy, Otto Kruger, Natalie Schafer, Richard Lane, Huntz Hall, Edward Gargan, Virginia Gilmore, The Goldwyn Girls

Plot:
Flashy nightclub performer Buzzy Bellew (Kaye) is killed before he can testify against gangster Ten Grand Jackson (Cochran). Buzzy then haunts his bookish twin brother Edwin Dingle (Kaye) to help him.

Continue reading

Musical Monday: Hans Christian Anderson (1952)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

Hans_Christian_Andersen_FilmPosterThis week’s musical:
Hans Christian Andersen” –Musical #46

Studio:
Samuel Goldwyn Productions

Director:
Charles Vidor

Starring:
Danny Kaye, Farley Granger, Zizi Jeanmaire

Plot:
A fictitious telling of the life of Hans Christian Anderson. The film was not meant to be a biography of Anderson’s life but a “fairy tale about this great spinner of fairy tales,” said producer Samuel Goldwyn.
Hans Christian Anderson (Kaye) is shoe cobbler and journeys to Copenhagen. He becomes a cobbler and tells stories such as Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling and the Emperor’s New Clothes to the local children. With his stories he also become a famous writer. Anderson does work as a cobbler for a temperamental ballerina (Jeanmaire) named Doro and falls in love, not realizing she is married to Niels (Granger). Anderson confesses his secret love by writing the ballet “The Little Mermaid” for Doro. After Doro tells Hans that she is married, he returns home to Odense.

Trivia:

Danny Kaye as Hans Christian Anderson tells stories to village children.

Danny Kaye as Hans Christian Anderson tells stories to village children.

-Goldwyn had writers working on a “Hans Christian Anderson” musical in 1938, but the time was never right to produce it. Before starting, according to the A. Scott Berg biography “Goldwyn.”
-Farley Granger thought the film was ridiculous and said it was beginning to be a joke around town, “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets boy,” he said, according to the “Goldwyn” biography.
-“Hans Christian Anderson” cost $4 million to make, according to “Goldwyn.”
-Danes did not appreciate the depiction of Hans Christian Anderson and Anderson scholars said Kaye looked nothing like Anderson, according to “Goldwyn.”
-“Hans Christian Anderson” is the second highest grossing Goldwyn picture behind “The Best Years of Our Lives,” according to “Goldwyn.”
-Actress and ballerina Moira Shearer was supposed to play the role of Doro couldn’t because she was pregnant.
-Samuel Goldwyn originally wanted animated
-Zizi Jeanmaire dances with Roland Petit in the Little Mermaid ballet sequence. The two were married in 1954 and remained married until Petit’s death in 2011.
-The film opened the week of Thanksgiving in 1952. It was first aired on television in 1966.
-Actress Barie Chase has an uncredited role has a ballerina.
-The soundtrack released after the film includes Jane Wyman singing the female songs with Danny Kaye.

Highlights:
-There are two notable dream sequences in the film:
1. Hans falls in love with Doro the ballet dancer has a colorful dream sequence of the couple singing “No Two People.”

2. Anderson gets locked in a closet and can not see the performance of “The Little Mermaid.” As he’s locked in the closet, he imagines how it is performed. The imagined performance is the one he audience sees.

Zizi Jeanmaire as Doro performs the ballet of "The Little Mermaid" in "Hans Christian Anderson" with dancer (and future husband) Roland Petit

Zizi Jeanmaire as Doro performs the ballet of “The Little Mermaid” in “Hans Christian Anderson” with dancer (and future husband) Roland Petit

Notable Songs:
It’s hard to pick a favorite song from “Hans Christian Andersen” because there are so many lovely songs that are all very catchy:
-“Wonderful Copenhagen” sung by Danny Kaye, Joseph Walsh and sailors (a personal favorite of mine)


-“No Two People” sung by Danny Kaye and Zizi Jeanmaire (but Jane Wyman on the commercial soundtrack release)
-“Thumbelina” sung by Danny Kaye
-“The King’s New Clothes” sung by Danny Kaye
-“Ugly Duckling” sung by Danny Kaye
-“Inchworm” sung by Danny Kaye (another personal favorite)

My review:
I can’t deny that the premise of this film is a little silly. The film and main character named after a real historical figure but purposefully and admittedly has nothing to do with his life?
But I also can’t deny that I love this movie. It’s so light-hearted, happy and lovely.
It’s an interesting change of role for Danny Kaye. In films like “Up in Arms” (1944), “Wonder Man” (1945) and “The Kid from Brooklyn” (1946)- Kaye’s characters sang the fast talking songs (written by his wife Sylvia Fine) and played ridiculous zany characters. But Hans Christian Anderson allows Kaye to demonstrate his true vocal talents and play a calm, caring character. Kaye was interested in the film before even seeing the script, and I think it was a wise decision on his point.
I can see why Farley Granger didn’t like this film, because he does look rather ridiculous in his period costume and is an unsympathetic character. I’ll admit, his talent was wasted on this movie. It’s such a small role, you wonder why he was picked.
But that aside, “Hans Christian Anderson” is a film that simply makes me happy.
I love the music, I love the color and I love Danny Kaye.

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