It may not have raked in as much money as How the Grinch Stole Christmas or generated as much love-and-hate as Love Actually, but White Christmas remains one of the most popular holiday movies of all time. We take a look at some of the surprising stories behind the 61-year-old favorite.
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye's comedy act "dressed up like a dame" wasn't originally in the story. They were goofing around, though, and director Michael Curtiz found it so funny that he wrote it in. Apparently, the actors found it hilarious, too: The laughing during the number is real. The take in the film was the best one they could get of the two, who kept cracking each other up.
As Betty Haynes, Rosemary Clooney plays Vera-Ellen's older sister in the movie, but she was actually seven years younger. When the film came out, Clooney was 26, and Vera-Ellen, 33. Even more striking? Bing Crosby, who plays her love interest, was 51 when the movie debuted. That's a 25-year-age gap! (It's also funny to note that , who played the retired, elderly general was actually born a few months after Crosby.)
General Waverly's Columbia Inn in fictional Pine Tree, Vermont, made it's debut a decade before, in Holiday Inn. The set on the Paramount lot was refurbished for the next Christmas classic.
When the character Judy Haynes sings, the parts were all recorded by costar Rosemary Clooney or singer Trudy Stevens. The only time Vera's real singing voice is heard is when they disembark the train in Vermont and the quartet sing the opening lines of "Snow."
Vera-Ellen started dancing at age 10. And at 18, she had become one of the youngest Radio City Rockettes, performing in several Broadway shows before heading to Hollywood. Fun tidbit: Growing up in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, she carpooled to dancing classes !
Throughout the film, dancer George Chakiris accompanies the Haynes sisters in an uncredited role. But soon after, he received the credit he was due: He later won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as Bernardo in West Side Story.
After Astaire and Crosby's success in Holiday Inn, this film was intended to reunite them. But Astaire had "retired" by the time White Christmas was shot 12 years later and he declined. Then, the part was offered to Donald O'Connor (known for Singin' in the Rain) but he pulled out after an illness. Then, the part was reworked for Danny Kaye.
The iconic scene when Bob tells Betty his theory of what foods cause which dreams was almost completely improvised, according to Rosemary Clooney. (Then, he launched into "Count Your Blessings" and we stopped caring that buttermilk with liverwurst sandwiches sounds absolutely vile.) In fact, much of Bob's dialogue was based on Crosby's own conversation. So thank him for gems like, "weirdsmobile."
When Bob looks at a picture of Benny Haynes, "The Dog-Faced Boy," it's actually an image of a grown-up Carl Switzer. He's best remembered for playing Alfalfa in the original Our Gang, also known as the The Little Rascals.
Yes. Long before his sizzling moves appeared in films like Cabaret, Chicago, and All that Jazz, a young Fosse sent Vera-Ellen spinning and tapping across the stage.
Designer Edith Head was already an Oscar-winner by the time she worked on White Christmas. Throughout her life, she won eight Academy Awards for costume design — more than any other individual in that category — for classics like The Sting, Sabrina, and Roman Holiday.
That much, at least, is true. Even her robes and sleepwear keep it covered. As to why, there are a couple persistent theories. Ellen was rumored to suffer from anorexia or bulimia, though it was never publicly confirmed. So one legend is that her neck had been prematurely aged by her eating disorder. However, as several fans , less than a year after filming White Christmas, she appeared on the red carpet to promote A Star is Born — with her .
Bill Dennington, a longtime friend of Ellen, had an idea of his own: "All of her life she wore something around her neck, a necklace, a choker, a scarf, a collar, etc. It was her "trademark" like Van Johnson wore red socks. I saw her neck many times it was lovely."
The song "Gee, I Wish I Was Back In The Army" has a lyric about seeing "Jolson, Hope And Benny all for free" — reference to wartime entertainers Al Jolson, Bob Hope, and Jack Benny. The original words were "Crosby, Hope and Jolson all for free," but when Bing Crosby was cast, leaving it as-is would break the fourth wall. So meta.
The soundtrack rights for the film were controlled by Decca, but Rosemary Clooney was under exclusive contract to Columbia, a competing record label. So in 1954, Decca recorded and released an album with the movie cast minus Clooney (her part was sung by Peggy Lee.) And Columbia released an album with Clooney singing eight songs from the film. Which means the only way to hear her sing with Bing is onscreen!
Rosemary Clooney's nephew is the actor George Clooney. He called her "" — and says they didn't get along that well.
After the final shot wrapped, the actors were told that they needed to redo the finale, Rosemary Clooney recalled in the DVD extras. The King and Queen of Greece were visiting the set and the producer hoped to "give them something to remember." So the entire scene was "reshot" — but without film in the camera or Bing Crosby, who had already left to play golf.
The movie brought in $12 million, and was a top-earner in 1954, second only to The Caine Mutiny. (To put that in perspective, though, Jim Carrey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas raked in .)