Sunday, December 11, 2011

White Christmas

Ever wanted to know more about the holiday classic movie “White Christmas?” I didn’t think so. Nevertheless, here is

Useless Information About the Movie “White Christmas”

It was the first film released in Paramount’s VistaVision wide screen format, using 65mm film that ran horizontally through the camera. It turned out to be a hardy format, technically superior to CinemaScope. Reliable sources tell that some of the VistaVision equipment was pulled from the mothballs and adapted to make Christopher Reeve fly in “Superman.”

It was the highest grossing film of 1954, topping $12 million. That was a lotta dough back then.

The Bing Crosby we see in WC is the one we are familiar with: cool and debonair if in a slightly outdated manner. (His use of hep cat slang is a little bit like your grandmother getting a tramp stamp.) But the role that gained him an Academy Award nomination that year was in “The Country Girl.” Where his character, an alcoholic down and out signer, is a light year from type.

Danny Kaye was the third choice to play opposite Bing Crosby. First choice was Fred Astaire. (He appeared with Bing in “Holiday Inn” the first film to feature the song “White Christmas.”) Second choice was Donald O’Connor (“Singing In The Rain”) who fell ill.

Danny Kaye got $200,000 plus 10% of the gross. That’s also a lotta dough.

Kaye was given an honorary Oscar at the ceremony of March 30, 1955 for "his unique talents, his service to the Academy, the motion picture industry, and the American people." The academy failed to even nominate Kaye for any film performance, including “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1947).

The Irving Berlin song Count Your Blessings was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Song, but it was a very competitive category that year. The winner was Three Coins in the Fountain composed by Jule Styne with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. Another nominee was Judy Garland’s signature torch burner The Man That Got Away written by Harold Arlen (“The Wizard of Oz’) with lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Other musical highlights in 1954 include the score for “On the Waterfront,” composed by some new guy named Leonard Bernstein. And another newcomer shows up in the scoring for “The Glen Miller Story” in the name of Henry Mancini. On the dark side: Larry Adler did not get credit for his score for “Genevieve” due to red scare blackballing.

The song “Snow” was originally composed by Berlin as “Free” for the Ethel Merman musical “Call Me Madam.” The McCarthy era salute to democracy was reworked into a winter wonderland number after the song was cut from “Madam.” Try to imagine Ethel Merman singing “Free.”

He’s not dancing anymore. Reliable sources say that an uncredited Bob Fosse provided at least some of the choreography. That would explain the more modern look of some of the hot dance numbers, particularly “Joshua” and parts of “Mandy.” Dance legend George Chakiris (“West Side Story”) is quite visible.

A substitute vocalist looped in Vera-Ellen’s singing. There is conflicting information on who did the singing, most likely due to more than one person doing it. Trudy Stevens gets mentioned most often. And for the “Sisters” number, Rosemary Clooney double-tracked herself covering the whole song, a trick she also used in her hit record of the same year Hey There where she talks back to herself.

Yep, those costumes are by Edith Head.

There are continuity errors galore: coffee cups and a pitcher of buttermilk magically refill, and dancers last seen in Vermont somehow perform with Betty in New York. But there’s a factual/historical goof that goes right by most viewers today:

The principle photography for “WC” was shot in late 1953, including the Ed Harrison Show scene complete with a real television camera with New York City’s WNTB call letters. By the time the movie was released in October of 1954, New York’s channel 4 had changed call letters to WRCA. Oops. And, unless you grew up in NYC during the period, you wouldn’t know WNTB was the production headquarters for the NBC network. So the inference is that the gang back in Vermont are somehow watching a local New York City TV station. Not very likely with that lousy set-top antenna. We’ll assume the General watches Ed Sullivan… sorry… Harrison on CBS on WCAX in Burlington, which began broadcasting in September of 1954.

Art imitates life: Rosemary Clooney's sister is named Betty. It was Betty who talked Rosie into performing in a sister act in their teens, and eventually performed regularly on WLW in the '40's.

Some beautiful friendships were born on that Paramount soundstage during the production of "White Christmas." Rosemary Clooney formed a bond with Bing Crosby that lasted the rest of his life. When Clooney suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by, among other things, the assassination of her friend Robert Kennedy, Bing helped her regain her confidence and invited her to join him on a major concert tour in 1975. Bing wrote the forward for Clooney's autobiography This For Remembrance just a month before he died.

Rosie also met actor and dancer Dante DiPaolo at Paramount, who eventually became her life partner. She said they'll never get married. Never And now you know where George gets it. They ended up getting married anyway.

No comments: