The classic 1954 movie White Christmas is one of my all-time favorites to watch this time of year. And I know I’m not the only one who still loves it. Every December readers search my site for information about it, like whether Columbia Inn was a real place in Pine Tree, Vermont.
The answer: the town of Pine Tree, Vermont, was fictional, and so was the ski lodge from the movie. Most of the interior and exterior sets were built on a soundstage at Paramount Studios in L.A.
Today I’m giving you the scoop on those iconic sets and more fun facts about White Christmas, including its connection to the 1942 classic Holiday Inn.
All About the Sets from “White Christmas”
Rumor has it the inn was built from what was left of the Holiday Inn sets (1942).
There are some similarities. This was the exterior of Holiday Inn, for comparison (below):
Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire co-starred in Holiday Inn, and White Christmas was originally intended to be a kind of remake, bringing them together to sing and dance onscreen again.
When Astaire declined, the part was reworked for Danny Kaye.
The concept was also changed. It was no longer an inn that only opened for the holidays, and Crosby’s character wasn’t the owner in the partial remake.
Some of Holiday Inn’s scenes were filmed in Monte Rio, California,
at what was then called the Riverview Inn but is now the Village Inn.
According to the Village Inn’s website: “Scenes from the 1942 film Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, were filmed at the inn (with some help from artificial snow), and our name was changed to match the film name.”
In 1952 they changed the inn’s name again when it became an all-seasons hotel.
They added the attached barn and “ski lodge” for Columbia Inn in White Christmas
The title of the movie came from the song “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, which was hugely popular at the time (and still is!).
He built the rest of the songs around what was a loose script, adding “Count Your Blessings,” “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” and “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.”
This is the living room in Holiday Inn where Bing Crosby sang “White Christmas” to Virginia Dale (below):
You can see the same wall of three dormer windows in “White Christmas” during the cast party:
Vera-Ellen’s neck is always covered in the movie, and rumors spread that it was because she suffered from anorexia.
However, a longtime friend of hers named Bill Dennington insisted it was more about style than vanity: “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.”
White Christmas was the first movie to be filmed in the new VistaVision process, in Technicolor.
In “Holiday Inn,” the song and dance numbers were performed in the dining room:
For “White Christmas,” the stage was moved into an attached barn:
In real life, Rosemary was originally part of an act with her sister Betty:
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye weren’t supposed to perform “Sisters” in the movie:
They were reportedly goofing around on set and director Michael Curtiz found it so funny that he wrote “dressed up like a dame” into the movie.
The actors were unable to stop laughing during the scene, but they left it in.
Inside the Columbia Inn from “White Christmas”
Most of the scenes in the inn take place in the front lobby.
Mary Wickes played Emma Allen, General Waverly’s wise-cracking housekeeper.
When he insists he did fine in the Army without her, she points out,
“It took 15,000 men to take my place.”
Wickes had a long career as a scene-stealing character actor.
One of her final roles was as Aunt March in the 1994 version of Little Women.
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play the successful song-and-dance duo Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who met when they were in the Army together.
They’re startled when their former General walks in the door of the inn, carrying firewood. They think he’s a janitor at the inn.
“Worse,” he says. “I own the place.”
Dean Jagger, who played the “elderly” General Waverly, was 50 at the time, a year younger than Crosby.
In certain shots you can see they colored his hair to make it look more gray than it was:
The inn isn’t decorated for Christmas until the night of the “Big Show.”
Now there are wreaths with red ribbons and garland with pinecones hung on the windows and doors.
Michael Curtiz directed White Christmas. A decade earlier, he won an Oscar for Casablanca.
The double doors (below) lead to the barn/ski-lodge where the dining room and stage are:
Inside the Ski-Lodge Barn:
The barn has a stage, a bar under what reminds me of a nativity creche
(fitting for the holiday!), a main dining room, and elevated seating areas on each side.
The General’s granddaughter Susan was played by Anne Whitfield.
Vera-Ellen was born in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, and carpooled to dancing classes with Doris Day. That must have been some dance studio!
Here’s the same dining room at night when Rosemary Clooney
and Bing Crosby are getting a midnight snack:
Despite their chemistry onscreen, there’s a big age gap between Clooney and Crosby. He was 51 at the time while she was only 26.
Clooney had grown up listening to Crosby singing on the radio and signed with Paramount because they promised her she’d get to work with him.
“Our shooting schedule wasn’t hard,” Rosemary Clooney later recalled. “Bing liked to get a little golf in while it was still light. He really didn’t like to work all that much.”
After making this movie, they became close friends.
“Count Your Blessings” earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
They rolled a TV set into the space to watch the “Ed Harrison Show.”
(You can see the doors leading back to the inn’s front lobby on the left):
There’s a similar raised area on the other side of the dining room that we see briefly, as well:
An unknown actor named John Brascia did most of the dancing with Vera-Ellen:
Danny Kaye played her love interest, but he couldn’t keep up with her on the dance floor. In the “Choreography” number above he was doing what could be called “comedic movement.”
In an unconventional move, they brought another real dancer in just for those scenes, and only gave him a handful of lines, such as “Oh, Phil, we’re ready to run through the choreography numbers.”
Brascia only appeared as an anonymous “specialty dancer” in a few other films,
including Meet Me in Las Vegas with Cyd Charisse.
Bob Fosse was an uncredited choreographer for the movie.
BTW, have you ever noticed that none of those over-the-top song and dance numbers we saw them rehearse, like “Mandy” and “Choreography,” were in the actual show they put on?
And does anyone else laugh after they finish their big “Mandy” number shown above and then the camera turns to show they were performing to this small audience of three?
The Guest Cabins
Bob and Phil stayed in the inn on the left, while the girls had their own little cabin on the right.
There’s a little shuttered section behind their headboards that opens to reveal the vanity:
Although Rosemary Clooney played Vera-Ellen’s older sister in the movie,
she was actually seven years younger (Clooney was 26 and Vera-Ellen was 33).
After White Christmas, Vera-Ellen only appeared in one more movie, 1957’s Let’s Be Happy, before retiring from the screen.
She had crippling arthritis that made it difficult to dance when she got older, so she became a dance teacher instead.
When they showed a photo of their brother Benny, “The Dog-Faced Boy,”
it was Carl Switzer, who famously played Alfalfa in Our Gang (aka “The Little Rascals”):
Switzer was killed in 1959, not long after “White Christmas” came out, at the age of 31.
The original “Our Gang” comedy shorts are rarely broadcast today:
In 1971, because of controversy over some dated racial humor in the shorts and other content deemed to be in bad taste, King World made significant edits to Little Rascals TV prints.
Many series entries were trimmed by two to four minutes, while others (among them Spanky, Bargain Day, The Pinch Singer and Mush and Milk) were cut to nearly half of their original length.
Bob and Phil’s Room in the Inn:
General Waverly’s Room in the Inn:
The Pine Tree train station was on the 20th Century Fox lot:
Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes) could dance circles around all of her costars, but the only time you can
hear her real voice as a singer in the movie is when she gets off the train and sings a few bars of “Snow.”
If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you can tell Rosemary Clooney often
sings both of their parts, although Trudy Stevens covered some of them, too.
After a misunderstanding with Bob, Betty takes a job at The Carousel Club:
Rosemary Clooney provided commentary on the White Christmas DVD and echoed what most of us probably wonder every time we watch the movie and see her leaving in such a huff: “Why didn’t she just ask him what was going on? Dummy!”
But if she’d done that, then we never would’ve got to see her sing “You Done Me Wrong” in this fabulous dress, designed by Edith Head:
Clooney said she hated those gloves, though: “Those gloves were so uncomfortable.
They were covered in rhinestones, so they would catch on anything I touched!”
Dancer George Chakiris (seen above) was uncredited in the movie, but the studio received so much fan mail for him after it premiered that he became a break-out star.
Chakiris went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as Bernardo in West Side Story:
He danced in the “Mandy” number earlier, and in a non-musical-movie world, this would mean he must have broken his contract with Wallace and Davis in order to go with Betty to New York.
Then later, when she abruptly left The Carousel Club, he presumably was left without a job.
But with these kinds of movies we just have to suspend our disbelief and not think too hard about the details!
Wallace and Davis quickly pulled together a Christmas Eve show at the inn:
The song they sing in the show called “Gee, I Wish I Was Back In The Army”
has a line about seeing entertainers like Jolson, Hope And Benny “all for free.”
The original lyrics mentioned “Crosby, Hope and Jolson,” but with Bing Crosby
in the “White Christmas” cast, they swapped his name for Jack Benny’s.
Clooney said Bing sang all the time throughout his daily life.
If you visited him at his house, he’d be singing as he went up the stairs or walked down the hall.
“He even sang on his bike. But he would sing parts of songs. The middle of a song, and then drop it,” she laughed.
There is no official soundtrack that features the entire cast singing together.
According to Good Housekeeping:
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!
“White Christmas” became the best-selling single of all time. According to AMC:
Bing Crosby originally recorded “White Christmas” back in 1941 for “Kraft Music Hall,” but the recording never survived.
The following year, Crosby performed it as a duet in the movie Holiday Inn and the song became a hit — in part, because of its resonance with soldiers and their families during WWII.
Without the success of the single “White Christmas,” there may never have been a movie White Christmas twelve years later.
Clooney explained in the DVD commentary that “There were two stages at Paramount, and when they opened up the back (when it was snowing), that was the second stage behind us.”
I first wrote about the movie and the sets they built to create Columbia Inn in the fictional Pine Tree, Vermont, back in 2010, and it continues to be one of the most popular posts on my blog.
Over the years I’ve seen many other websites citing my post in their coverage of the classic, so I thought it was time to revisit it with bigger, better photos and more details I’ve learned since then.
Is this one of your holiday favorites, too?
You can see the other movies I’ve featured on my Houses Onscreen page, listed A-Z.
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