Sure, most of us have seen Paramount Pictures’ 1954 movie White Christmas starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, but have you ever sat through it with Rosemary Clooney reminiscing and filling in personal anecdotes?
Irving Berlin’s song “White Christmas” was already a hit when the movie came out. It has been an annual favorite ever since because its timeless themes still resonate even in this digital age. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 77 percent Fresh and 88 percent audience score.
We borrowed a library copy of its first DVD home video version, released in 2000. Single disc, 120 minutes of pure 1950s Hollywood and classic Irving Berlin tunes including “Blue Skies” and everybody’s favorite “White Christmas.”
We’ve watched the movie many times. This year, after watching it and listening to Rosemary Clooney’s 2000 retrospective interview, we decided to watch it a second time with Clooney’s commentary throughout the full run of the film. For us, this was brand new territory and it felt like we were sitting right next to Clooney as she shared anecdotes about everything from the people involved to backstage antics. While this DVD is now more than 20 years old, her hearty laughter and chuckles throughout the scenes gave a sense of fresh, first time in a long while, review of a film that meant the world to her.
If you don’t know Rosemary Clooney, you may be familiar with her nephew George Clooney. She does give a brief comparison of her 1950’s bungalow on the Paramount Lot compared to today’s modern on-location trailers. No envy. Just laughter. But, you get a feel for the camaraderie of “back in the day” actors on contract to studios like Paramount when you see images of Humphrey Bogart dropping in on the set as you might expect since Michael Curtiz directed both this film and Casablanca.
What we learned from Rosemary Clooney:
Irving Berlin could write about any subject and wrote the best lyrics and music.
She lived next door to Ira Gershwin for 35 years and he also felt that way about Irving Berlin.
Bing Crosby – perfect-in so many ways. He was the consummate professional and there were many occasions where his improvisation rang out clearly in words only he used.
This was the movie she wanted to be in, more than any other film, and it led to a lifelong friendship with Bing Crosby reciprocated warmly on both their parts.
In the years that followed the film, Clooney always ended every Christmas show of hers that had a choir with THE OLD MAN. She says simply, “Irving Berlin Understood” and Dean Jagger was perfect.
Freckled Face Haynes photo is that of Alfalfa fully grown up
A typical day at the studio came with a 7 a.m. dressing call but was generally a relaxed affair with Crosby getting in some golf in the afternoon.
One way to ensure that a scene wouldn’t make the final cut was to break up or ad lib something. Crosby apparently didn’t like doing SISTERS (in pre-drag days) but the scene was so well received one version made it into the film. It is one of my favorite comedy scenes.
The train scenes were shot at 20th Century Fox studios because they were the only studio with a full train station on set.
She notes dancer George Chakiris who doesn’t say a word in the movie but got tons of fan mail as the “boy” over Clooney’s shoulder in the number “You Done Me Wrong.” Chakiris went on to win an Academy Award for his role as Bernardo leader of the Sharks in the film version of West Side Story
The scene CHOREOGRAPHY with Danny Kaye is a not-so-nice nod to Martha Graham and Clooney’s stepping style there she learned from her then-husband, Jose Ferrer, another famous name from the past.
All the music, dance and songs were pre-recorded except “Snow” and it clearly bothered her as she says more than once how Vera-Ellen missed her cue.
As we come up to the final scene, to hear Clooney say ”this is a wonderful scene” and then chuckle deeply throughout it, you come to understand how much this movie meant to her as the beginning of a lifelong deep friendship with Bing Crosby.
The Song White Christmas was already popular “I loved it, I just loved it” she says.
And her words at the opening of her commentary spoken over the film come back to mind…
“My name is Rosemary Clooney. I was born on May 23, 1928, and this is the picture I wanted to do more than other. With my friend Bing Crosby, my friend Danny Kaye and my friend Vera-Ellen and all the other people very close to me.”
Rosemary Clooney died June 29, 2002, in Beverly Hills, California.