Jersey Reflections: Song and a Movie

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Jersey Reflections


By Vince Farinaccio


A Columnist for the Grapevine


White Christmas, the movie, could never hope to match that of its title song, which had made its mark during the 1940s.
This Saturday at 11:00 a.m., Millville’s Levoy Theatre will screen one of the most beloved holiday films, the 1954 classic White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney.
The movie’s popularity, however, could never hope to match that of its title song, which had made its mark during the 1940s.
Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” in 1940 in a hotel in either California or Arizona. The confusion arose over the claim by each establishment, the La Quinta Hotel and the Arizona Biltmore, that it was the location where Irving wrote his classic composition. However, Berlin’s opening verse, which is usually not included on most recordings, suggests that California was where the song was born: “The sun is shining, the grass is green/ The orange and palm trees sway/ There’s never such a day/ in Beverly Hills, L.A./ But it’s December twenty-fourth/And I am longing to be up North.”
According to sources, the song received its first public performance when Crosby sang it on his NBC radio show, The Kraft Music Hall on December 25, 1941. It wasn’t until May 29, 1942, that Crosby entered the studio with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers to record a version of the tune for Decca Records. It was released as part of a six-disc set of 78 rpm records that comprised the musical soundtrack of the film Holiday Inn, a showcase for Berlin’s songs, which starred Crosby and Fred Astaire.
Surprisingly, the tune was not yet a favorite of the American public, which preferred another song from Holiday Inn, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” over the Christmas offering. Even Crosby remained indifferent about “White Christmas,” only informing Berlin that there weren’t “any problems with that one.” But by the end of October 1942, the song reached the top of Your Hit Parade and remained at that position into the next year, when it won an Oscar for Best Original Song. From that point on, the tune’s popularity became part of American culture.
One of the reasons “White Christmas” became such a favorite is its nostalgic stance. The singer dreams of a holiday “just like the ones I used to know,” a Christmas that harkens back to youth and all that it represents before adulthood reshapes innocence into reality and responsibility. For U.S. soldiers fighting in Europe and on the Pacific during World War II, the song invoked a sense of home and family and instilled a promise of return.
“White Christmas” again enjoyed a place at the top of the charts in 1945 and 1946, at the expense of the recording master, which became damaged from overuse. The solution was to bring Crosby, the John Scott Trotter Orchestra, and the Ken Darby Singers back into the studio on March 18, 1947, to re-record the song. It’s this version of Crosby’s performance we hear at this time of year.
With the continued popularity of the song, Paramount was eager to reunite Crosby and Astaire in 1949 for a film entitled White Christmas, which would utilize old and new Berlin material in a storyline partially based on a new musical the composer had been putting together. Film sources report that upon reading the script, Astaire passed on the project and was replaced by Donald O’Connor, fresh from a brilliant performance in Singin’ in the Rain.
After a long series of delays, filming began in autumn 1953 with Kaye in the O’Connor role and White Christmas was released the following year, earning what sources claim was the highest box office figure for a cinema release that year. Over the decades, White Christmas has joined the top rank of holiday movies, but it never reached the peaks achieved by its title song.
Sources report that the tune enjoyed the prestigious achievement of remaining the best-selling record for more than 50 years. Crosby’s single of the tune has reportedly sold 50 million copies, an achievement that Guinness World Records declared made it the best-selling single of all time. According to sources, there are 500 versions recorded, ranging from jazz renditions to rock’n’roll arrangements, that continue to capture the public’s attention. What an accomplishment for a song that only makes an appearance one month out of the year.

SNJ Today is a Southern New Jersey news and information source based in Millville, New Jersey that is dedicated to providing current stories related specifically to South Jersey.