Saturday, October 9, 2010

Irving Berlin's White Christmas

This is one of my favourite holiday movies.  I can watch this film anytime of the year and still be wistful for Christmas.  Because it is being re-released this year on Blu-ray, I wanted to give you a brief history of the film.  But, before the film, we have to get to the title track: White Christmas

White Christmas was written in 1940 by a Irving Berlin for the 1942 movie "Holiday Inn" starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Berlin's assignment was to write a song about each of the major holidays of the year. But Berlin, who was Jewish, found that writing a song about Christmas was the most challenging. He drew upon his experiences of the holiday in New York (including Christmas Trees erected by neighbors when he was a boy) and Los Angeles, but still felt that the end result was wanting. However, when Bing first heard Berlin audition "White Christmas" in 1941 he reassured Irving that he had created a winner. Bing's preliminary evaluation turned out to be a gross understatement.

Bing Crosby introduced "White Christmas" to the public on his NBC radio show, the Kraft Music Hall, December 25, 1941. Apparently, no recording of this broadcast survived the War. He then recorded the song for Decca on May 29, 1942, with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra. "Holiday Inn" was released in August, 1942.

By the end of the War it had become the biggest-selling single of all time. Bing's recording hit the charts on Oct. 3, 1942, and rose to #1 on Oct. 31, where it stayed for an amazing 11 weeks. In the following years Bing's recording hit the top 30 pop charts another 16 times, even topping the charts again in 1945 and January of '47. The song remains Bing's best-selling recording, and the best-selling Christmas single of all-time.

The success of the song led eventually to a movie based on the song. The movie White Christmas was released in 1954 and became the leading box-office draw of 1954. The movie was supposed to reunite Crosby and Astaire for their third Irving Berlin extravaganza of song and dance. However, Astaire bowed out after reading the script (another source says that Astaire was ill at the time). Donald O'Connor was selected to replace Astaire, but he, too, had to exit because of a back injury. O'Connor was replaced by Danny Kaye.

Filming took place between September and November 1953. The movie was the first to be filmed in the new VistaVision process, with color by Technicolor, and also introduced the Perspecta directional sound system.

White Christmas was intended to reunite Crosby and Fred Astaire for their third Irving Berlin showcase musical. Crosby and Astaire had previously co-starred in Holiday Inn (1942) (of which 'White Christmas' was a partial remake) and Blue Skies (1946). Astaire declined the project after reading the script. Donald O'Connor was considered to replace Astaire, but also passed because of an illness. O'Connor was replaced by Danny Kaye. The choreography was directed by an uncredited Bob Fosse.

The centerpiece of the film was the title song, first used in Holiday Inn, which consequently earned the 1942 film an Academy Award for Best Original Song. The song Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep won White Christmas an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. The song Snow was composed by Irving Berlin, but originally was titled Free, and had nothing at all to do with snow. It was written for Call Me Madam. The melody and some of the words were kept, but the lyrics were changed by Berlin into a song more appropriate for a Christmas movie. For example, one of the lines of the original song is Free — the only thing worth fighting for is to be free. Free — a different world you'd see if it were left to me. This song can be found on the CD Irving Sings Berlin.

It is widely believed that every single costume worn by Vera-Ellen in the film — including her nightclothes — has a high neckline because she was battling anorexia at the time the movie was made causing her neck to look very aged. This is very unlikely. Even though Judy is the younger Haynes sister, Rosemary Clooney was actually seven years younger than Vera-Ellen.

Vera-Ellen's singing was dubbed by Trudy Stevens. Clooney's and Steven's voices are what is heard in the film. However, when the time came to record the soundtrack album, Rosemary Clooney's contract with Columbia Records made it impossible for her to participate. Thus, Peggy Lee stepped in. A proper and appropriate soundtrack with Crosby, Kaye, Clooney, and Stevens was never made, and still disappoints fans of the film over 50 years later.

Source: Wikipedia, Hymns and Carols of Christmas

No comments:

Post a Comment