Christmas Musical Monday: “White Christmas” (1954)

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.

White_Chrismas_filmThis week’s musical:
“White Christmas” –Musical #21

Studio:
Paramount Studios

Director:
Michael Curtiz

Starring:
Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes, Anne Whitfield, George Charkiris, Barrie Chase, Sig Ruman, Grady Sutton, Carl Switzer (photo)

Plot:
On Christmas Eve in 1944, Bob Wallace (Crosby) with the help of Phil Davis (Kaye) put on a small Christmas show to entertain their Army company and pay tribute to Major General Waverly (Jagger), who is leaving the outfit. The company is then attacked and Davis saves Wallace from a falling wall. When Wallace comes to thank Davis, Davis convinces him to go into show business with him.
Fast forward 10 years and Wallace and Davis are both successful performers and producers. On their way to New York after a performance in Florida, they stop to catch the act of Betty and Judy Haynes, sisters of an old Army buddy. After a series of events, Wallace and Davis end up heading to Vermont, rather than New York, with the sisters to an inn where they are performing.
The inn is owned by General Waverly, who isn’t doing very good business. The two men set out to help him boost business.

Trivia:
-Actress, dancer Vera-Ellen did not do her own singing in this film. During the “Sisters” number, Rosemary Clooney sang both parts. Trudy Stevens dubbed Ellen in “Snow” and “White Christmas.”

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in "Sisters." Clooney sang both parts of the song.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in “Sisters.” Clooney sang both parts of the song.

-Fred Astaire was originally slated to play Danny Kaye’s role. The plan was to reunite Crosby and Astaire after their initial holiday hit “Holiday Inn” (1942). Astaire felt he was too old for this type of role and dropped out. Donald O’Connor then was set to replace Astaire, but O’Connor fell very ill. Danny Kaye was then cast along side Bing Crosby, according to the documentary “Backstage Stories from White Christmas.”
-When Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye perform the “Sisters” number, Kaye improvises and starts hitting him with the feathered fan. Crosby’s laughter was genuine, according to the documentary “Backstage Stories from White Christmas.”
-Ginger Rogers and Debbie Reynolds were considered as female leads for the film, according to “Late Life Jazz: The Life and Career of Rosemary Clooney” by Ken Crossland, Malcolm Macfarlane.
-The first Paramount Picture to be filmed in VistaVision, a higher resolution, widescreen, 35mm motion picture film format created by engineers at Paramount.
-Rosemary Clooney said in an interview in 2000 that she loved making the film. She also said she was not a dancer and Vera-Ellen- an extremely versatile dancer- was very patient with her.
-The photo of Betty and Judy’s brother is actor Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in the “Our Gang” films.
-This film helped actor, dancer George Chakiris gain popularity. Rather than being in a large dance ensemble, he was part of four men dancing around Rosemary Clooney in the “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me” number. In an interview, Chakiris said girls were wondering who the “guy with the cleft chin” was after this close-up with Clooney, according to the documentary “Backstage Stories from White Christmas.”
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song for “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”
-Top earning films of 1954.

Highlights:
-The “Abraham” dance number with Vera-Ellen and John Brascia.
-Barrie Chase meeting Bing Crosby at the beginning and saying “Mutual I’m sure” her “Kiss my foot, or have an apple” line. Chase may be my favorite character in the film.
-Every musical number in the whole film.
-Edith Head costumes

Notable Songs:
-“Mandy” performed by Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, cast
-“Choreography” performed by Danny Kaye
-“White Christmas” performed by Bing Crosby
-“Old Man” performed by Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and cast
-“Sisters” performed by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen (dubbed by Clooney)
-“Snow” performed by Clooney, Crosby, Kaye, Ellen (dubbed by Steven)
-“Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” performed by Rosemary Clooney
-“Gee! I Wish I Was Back in the Army” performed by Clooney, Crosby, Kaye, Ellen (dubbed)

Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Bing Crosby in the "Mandy" number

Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Bing Crosby in the “Mandy” number

My Review:
Maybe I’m not a very good film fan, because there are few films I can say I have seen more than 10, or even 5 times. There are so many to see that I just keep pushing through. But “White Christmas” is one of those rare films that I can quote along or know the what dance step is coming up in a musical number.
I credit this film for my desire to dance and driving me to take tap dancing lessons- particularly the “Abraham” and “Mandy” numbers.
It is a film that my family has watched nearly every Christmas for as long as I can remember and is easily a favorite films.
I could talk forever about how well the cast, costumes and musical numbers fit beautifully together to weave an interesting story that leaves you tearing up at the end.
But I recently had an opportunity to see the film with fresh eyes.
On Sunday, Dec. 14, my family went and saw it on the big screen for the first time. A film that I have seen over 30 times and thought I knew backwards, I suddenly noticed things I had never seen before.
I never noticed that Bing Crosby had yellow socks when he drives up to bring the mail to General Waverly. Or I never noticed some continuity errors, like when we are introduced to the Haynes sisters, Judy sets down the coffee pot and in the next shot she is holding it.
But most of all, I noticed the nuances in performances, especially Danny Kaye’s comedic genius.
You can see a film for years, but there is something special about watching it the way it was supposed to be shown that gives you an even greater appreciation.

White Christmas finale

White Christmas finale

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Christmas Musical Monday: “Holiday Inn” (1942)

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.

holiday inn posterThis week’s musical:
Holiday Inn” (1942) –Musical #22

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Mark Sandrich

Starring:
Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers

Plot:
Singer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) are both in love with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale). When Lila jilts Jim for Ted, Jim decides to quit show business and live on a farm.Jim ends up converting his farm into a nightclub and hotel called the Holiday Inn which is only opened during the 15 holidays of the year.
When Jim meets Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), she agrees to appear in his shows at the inn, and the two fall in love. However, Jim works to keep Linda from meeting Ted -who was also jilted by Lila-so he doesn’t steal her for an act and her heart.
Holidays and their songs include:
Christmas (twice)-  “White Christmas”
New Years (twice) -“Happy Holidays” and “Let’s Start the New Year Right”
Valentines Day- “Be Careful, It’s My Heart”
Abraham’s Birthday: “Abraham”
Washington’s Birthday: “I Can’t Tell a Lie”
Easter: “Easter Parade”
Fourth of July: “Song of Freedom” and “Let’s Say it with Fireworks”
-Thanksgiving- “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For”

Trivia:
-The hotel chain Holiday Inn was inspired by the title of this film, according to the hotel founder Kemmons Wilson’s New York times obituary.
-This film introduced the song “White Christmas.” Irving Berlin thought of the song “White Christmas” in 1935 on the set of “Top Hat” and wanted to use it for a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film. Astaire liked the tune but it was never used until their film. Irving Berlin and Moss Hart worked and copyrighted the idea for a musical revue revolving around tunes for each holiday, according to “The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin” by Robert Kimball and Linda Emmett.

– Irving Berlin had a hard time writing the Christmas song “White Christmas” since he was Jewish. He ran the song by Bing Crosby, who thought it would be great, according to “Christmas’s Most Wanted” by Kevin Cuddihy.

Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds (dubbed by Martha Mears) sing "White Christmas" at the end of the film.

Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds (dubbed by Martha Mears) sing “White Christmas” which became a hit due to this film.

-The film originally was supposed include a dance number for Labor Day.

-The original version of the song “White Christmas” talked about basking in Los Angeles and longing for an old fashioned Christmas in New England. But the version we know now is more nostalgic, discussing a Christmas that a person won’t experience first hand-much like the soldiers fighting over seas during World War II, according to “World War II and the Postwar Years in America.”

-Mary Martin turned down the role of Linda played by Marjorie Reynolds because she was pregnant, according to her autobiography.

-Fred Astaire’s shoes he danced in during the Firecracker routine were auctioned off for $116,000 that went towards the war effort.

-The popularity of the song “White Christmas” created the spin off film “White Christmas” (1954) also starring Bing Crosby and co-starring Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, according to the book “Christmas’s Most Wanted.”

-Fred Astaire was the first choice for the Danny Kaye Role in “White Christmas” (1954) to be a reunion after “Holiday Inn,” but Astaire turned down the role, according to the “Christmas Encyclopedia” by William D. Crump

-Paramount Pictures did not market this film as a Christmas movie since it covers many other holidays, according to “World War II and the Postwar Years in America” by William and Nancy Young.

Fred Astaire in firecracker number for the Fourth of July.

Fred Astaire in firecracker number for the Fourth of July.

-The Fourth of July number was expanded and made more patriotic after the bombing of Pearl Harbor; including the song “Song of Freedom,” “Let’s Say it with Firecrackers” and a movie reel of war workers and soldiers marching.

-Paramount thought “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” would be the hit from the film. Though it made the Hit Parade first with Tommy Dorsey’s Band, “White Christmas” was the true hit, according to “World War II and the Postwar Years in America.”

-Won an Academy Award for Best Original Song- “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score by Robert Emmett Dolan and Best Original Story by Irving Berlin.

-Marjorie Reynolds is dubbed by Martha Mears.

Highlights:

Fred Astaire dances with Marjorie Reynolds during the New Years scene where he took drinks of bourbon before each take.

Fred Astaire dances with Marjorie Reynolds during the New Years scene where he took drinks of bourbon before each take.

-Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby imitate each other in the number “I’ll Capture Your Heart Singing.” 
-Fred Astaire’s drunken New Years Eve dance. Supposedly Astaire had a drink of bourbon before each take-it took seven-to appear drunk in the scene.
-Fred Astaire’s “Say it With Fireworks” dance for the Fourth of July number where he throws down fireworks while he taps.
-The cartoon turkey on the calendar that runs between the dates for Thanksgiving Day. This is referring to “Franksgiving,” a controversy that occurred during the Roosevelt administration. President Roosevelt wanted to make Thanksgiving a week earlier.

 

Notable Songs: 
Since the music is by Irving Berlin, all of the songs are fantastic. The top songs include:
-“White Christmas” sung by Bing Crosby. This is the most famous song in the movie. The version sung by Cosby in the movie is the one you hear most on the radio.
-“You’re Easy to Dance With” sung and danced by Fred Astaire and Virginia Dale
-“I Can’t Tell a Life” sung by Fred Astaire for Washington’s Birthday dressed in period clothing.
-“Easter Parade” sung by Bing Crosby to Marjorie Reynolds for the Easter portion.

My Review:
When I first saw this movie several years ago, I didn’t like it.
I thought Fred Astaire was a bit of a heel and had no redeeming features. However, as I rewatch it, I see both men are heels at different points in the movie.
Characters aside- the thing that stands out the most is the music-all revolving around holidays. Irving Berlin’s songs written for each holiday are catchy and clever.
Fred Astaire also is able to show off his dancing abilities both with partners and in solo numbers. Bing Crosby has an excellent score and sings the song he is most remembered for.
“Holiday Inn” is an interesting topic for a film and is musically beautiful.
If you are looking for a Christmas movie, it doesn’t completely revolve around the holiday (but Christmas is in the film three times) and introduced one of the most loved holiday songs.

Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale

Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale

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What a Character: Grady Sutton

Grady Sutton, character actor playing anything from a soda jerk to a party guest.

You may recognize him by his southern drawl or pudgy exterior but never have know his name.

In over 200 films and television shows from 1925 to 1979, character actor Grady Sutton can be found acting in scenes with top stars and rarely receiving billing.

But at 6’2” and rather overweight, Sutton is hard to miss and usually stole the scene.

Sutton traveled to Hollywood on vacation as a college student in the 1920s with his roommate, brother of director William Seiter. Sutton was invited on set and used as an extra in the film; starting his expansive movie career.

The Tennessee native could break your heart as he searched for his date, Susie Flemming-who clearly stood him up, at the military dance in “Since You Went Away,” or irritate you as he keeps cutting in on Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby in “White Christmas.”

Looking for Susie Flemming at the dance in “Since You Went Away” (1944). Screenshot by Jessica P. 

“I just can’t figure out what happened to Susie Flemming”. Screenshot by Jessica P. 

Signature blank face while still looking for Susie Flemming. Screenshot by Jessica P. 

He acted along stars such as Katharine Hepburn in “Alice Adams” (1935) or Carole Lombard in “My Man Godfrey” (1936).

His roles usually consisted of humorous, blundering or confused characters such as James Stewart’s teaching assistant in “Vivacious Lady” (1938).

W.C. Fields, in particular, was a fan of Sutton’s acting and frequently requested to have him in his films, according to Sutton’s 1995 New York Times obituary.

Danny Kaye keeping Grady Sutton from cutting in on Bing Crosby and Rosemarry Clooney in “White Christmas” (1954). Screenshot by Jessica P. 

“When the producers told Fields he had to use another actor in “The Bank Dick,” Fields said, ‘Then get yourself another Fields,’ according to the obituary.

Sutton passed away in 89, in Motion Picture and Television Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.

Classic film in daily life: Room and Work space

Back in November I said I was going to start writing short snippets detailing classic film in my daily life.  You may remember my post about writing a Media Ethics paper researching whites playing ethnic roles in films. 

As I finish up my last week of college classes forever, I wanted to show how classic film helped to decorate my college dorm room and my desk at our student newspaper office.

I even cleaned up my room for all of you 🙂

My room:

My desk area with Nancy Drew, White Cargo, West Side Story posters on top and Brandon Flowers, Betty Grable and Doris Day below. Also on the desk is a "White Christmas" photo, Robert Osborne bobble head and my desk top background is from "Since You Went Away"

My closer has photos of LIFE magazine photos above it, I tried to be clever and put actresses looking in mirrors on my mirror, Deanna Durbin and Esther Williams autographs on top of TV and Im watching the Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine in "The Guardsman"

 

More LIFE magazines over my bed

 I also have different film books lying around (I’m currently reading Betty Hutton’s “Backstage You Can Have”) and several VHS tapes and DVDs trying waiting to be watched. I didn’t add those because that seemed a bit much.

 My desk in The Johnsonian office:

My desk. Thats me on the desk top background with "I love Robert Osborne" written on the photo. As a joke each editor had their mug shot set as the background and something that defined them written about themselves.

Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Carmen Miranda and Betty Grable help me work.

 

Ruth Chatteron, Harry James, Don Ameche and Betty Grable also decorate my desk.

 Hope you enjoyed your little tour 🙂

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Evolution of a classic film fanatic

It started with a girl named Maria and a boy named Tony who thought something was coming. That’s what I usually tell people when they ask how I became a classic movie fan: it happened on a fateful March evening in 2003 when I saw “West Side Story” (1961). I became obsessed, end of story.

But my “West Side Story” obsession (which is a whole other blog post) isn’t even close to where my classic film education began. Let’s travel back in time to 1988, the year I was born. Or maybe 1991, I would have been a bit more coherent to films at age three.

My parents introduced my two older sisters and me to classic film at an early age. Some of these movies were Disney movies like “Lady and the Tramp” or “Swiss Family Robinson” or family friendly movies like “White Christmas” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Tom Drake and Judy Garland in “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)

I  distinctly remember watching “Meet Me in St Louis” when I was five or six and thinking that Judy Garland looked pretty or laughing at Julie Newmar’s name “Dorcas” in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Basically classics have always been in my life, but as a child I never realized that they were old and thought all of these wonderful movies were brand new.

My real interest in movies started when I was in third grade and I saw the cartoon version of “Anastasia” on a rainy November day in 1997. No this isn’t a classic movie, but it started a long line of movie obsessions to come.  I mean, I even thought I was somehow the lost princess Anastasia Romanov. I was hooked.

Fast-forward to middle school. I became interested in shows on TVLand, The Monkees and 1960s pop culture. I was interested in anything old, and naturally gravitated towards movies, which is probably where it all began.

But the real gateway drug to the classic film addiction was “West Side Story” (1961). On an evening in March 2003, my dad said, “You like musicals and old movies; you should see ‘West Side Story.’” He later said he created a monster and wasn’t joking at all.

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” (1961), the film I was obssessed with for two years.

From “West Side Story,” I snowballed into a musical love and I went out of my way to tape them off the television. I started a new musical list that is  still growing at 390 titles.

I then found actors I liked, like Doris Day and Jane Powell, and wanted to see their movies and the interest just grew and grew and grew. Now, I’m not obsessed with one particular actor or movie, it’s more that I’m crazy about the whole classic film shebang.

As a rule I only watch movies from the beginning of film to the mid-1960s. Pre-code movies are great because their vulgarity is done in a tongue-and-check way that sometimes can go by unnoticed if you aren’t paying attention. Once you get into the 1960s and beyond, the plots run thin in an attempt to be artistic, nudity isn’t rare and morals go out the window. Also actors from the Golden Era were fading away and the studio system was crumbling.

I guess if I had to make an analogue with how it all started, “West Side Story” would have been that first beer that led me into old movie alcoholism. It didn’t matter what I watched as long as it fulfilled my movie viewing needs. I think my viewing is a bit more mature than that now. Sure I still watch a few clunkers, or watch a stinker movie for the sake of fulfilling a classic actor list (like “Night of the Demon” for Dana Andrews) but it is just all part of the experience.

What kind of movie fan am I now?

•I make monthly lists from Now Playing to tape; usually 30 to 40 movies a month. We use A LOT of VHS tapes.

•I only buy books, paper dolls, posters or anything of that nature that is movie related. I often search Ebay for classic film memorabilia, and as much as I would enjoy Lana Turner’s evening bag from “Imitation of Life”, as a 21-year-old college student, that really isn’t in my budget.

•I don’t have any real obsession now. I have my favorite movies, actors and actresses but no one that I hyperventilate over when I think about them. I guess the only movie that would come close to that is “Since You Went Away” or the actor Van Johnson.

•I want to meet Robert Osborne one day. He is my hero and I think we would

Robert Osborne: My hero

be best friends. Robert, if you just happen to be reading this, let’s meet in Atlanta and have lunch, okay? I’m just in South Carolina so it’s not that far.

•I’ve come to realize that the Hollywood I dreamed about in middle school and early high school is non-existent now. I used to dream about going to Hollywood and thinking it would be like it was during the Golden Era: clean, historically preserved and bowing down to Hollywood greats like Joan Crawford. My family took a family vacation there in 2006 and I’ve realized there is nothing for me there. Hollywood is not interested in preserving history, and even though the Hollywood Bowl was cool, it’s not like Kathryn Grayson will be singing a concert there ever again.

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