Before A Christmas Story, before the Grinch and Charlie Brown, most Baby Boomers’ holiday tradition was watching the movie White Christmas, the 1954 musical starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. We saw it so often, we probably knew almost every line by heart.
But here are a few things you probably didn’t know about the movie:
1. The Danny Kaye part was intended for Fred Astaire. The movie began as a quasi-remake of Holiday Inn, the black & white film that first teamed Bing Crosby and Astaire and the movie debut of the Irving Berlin song, “White Christmas.” But Astaire had announced his retirement (it wouldn’t stick) and turned the part down. It was then offered to Donald O’Connor, who accepted. Then he became ill and had to bow out. So, Kaye was the producers' third choice.
2. The musical number “Sisters” wasn’t in the original script. Crosby and Kaye were horsing around with the girls’ costume on the set. It cracked up director Michael Curtiz so much that he had the number worked up and included in the film.
3. Try and see Vera Ellen’s neck. Throughout the film, Vera is always wearing a turtleneck, scarf or other covering around her neck. No one knows why. Some theorize that there was some flaw in her neck that she was covering up. Others think it was Vera Ellen’s attempt to create a trademark look for herself.
4. While Rosemary Clooney plays Vera Ellen’s older sister, she was actually 7 years younger than her co-star. Also, Bing Crosby was a bit older than Dean Jagger, who plays “the old general” in the film. By the way, Bing was nearly twice Clooney’s age (51 to her 26!).
5. If you look closely, you’ll see future West Side Story star George Chakiris as a chorus boy in the production numbers.
6. The photo of “Benny the Dog-Faced Boy” who was brother to Rosemary & Vera is a photo of a grown-up Alfalfa Switzer of Little Rascals fame.
7. Bob Fosse worked on the film as an uncredited choreographer. It was early in the legendary dancer/choreographer/director’s career and Vera Ellen brought him on to choreograph her numbers, but without screen credit.
The two biggest box office attractions of the late 1950s and early 1960s had many similarities and two huge differences.
Both were blondes.
Both were very pretty.
Both changed their names when they got into show business.
Both worked primarily in hugely successful comedies, but were also effective in straight dramas.
The differences – one embraced an openly sexual persona, the other played the perpetual uptight virgin. One self-destructed by 1962, the other was with us until 2019.
We’re talking, of course, about Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day.
If you’re planning to watch some vintage horror movies during Halloween week, here are our recommendations for some films not quite as well known as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man:
The Cat People (1942) – The first in a series of classic horror films produced by Val Lewton (on a shoestring budget). This one deals with a young woman who will not have sex with her husband, fearing that if she does she will turn into a deadly panther and kill him. How they even handled this mature plot in the prudish 40’s make this worth a watch.
The Body Snatcher (1945) – Not to be confused with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this is another Val Lewton gem that features the final on-screen teaming of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, this movie is about grave-robbing in Scotland.
Dr. Jeckyll and Sister Hyde (1971) – Speaking of Stevenson, this is a unique take-off of his famous and oft-filmed horror story. Instead of becoming a raging brute, the good doctor transforms into a gorgeous, but equally murderous woman. This Hammer film works far better than it might because the resemblance between Ralph Bates and his female alter ego, Martine Beswick is astonishing.
The Others (2001) – A genuinely creepy little ghost story that stars Nicole Kidman as a mother fiercely protecting her two children in a remote country house while waiting for her husband to return from World War II. To give any more details would be to spoil the marvelous chills that this film delivers.
I Walked with a Zombie may be the best movie with the dumbest title in motion picture history. Cranked out by b-movie horror unit at RKO pictures in 1943, this low budget gem is far better than you might expect.
This was the second in a strong of really good low-key horror movie produced under the supervision of Val Lewton, one of filmland’s most underappreciated artists.
RKO had two rules he had to follow. One, he had to produce his films on a small budget. Two, he had to use titles the studio’s marketing department had already dreamed up and tested. The studio didn’t care about the actual plots, as long as Lewton used the titles.
So after they saddled Lewton with The Cat People and he turned that title into a really great horror movie, they gave him an even sillier title for his follow-up.
I Walked with a Zombie concerns a young nurse (Frances Dee) who arrives at a sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. She is to care for the invalid wife of the plantation’s owner, played by Tom Conway. The wife appears near catatonic and is given to taking silent, dreamlike walks at night. The local legend is that the wife is not sick, but actually dead and returned to life as a zombie by the island’s voodoo practitioners.
- It was the first network sitcom centered around a single working girl who was not a maid. Previously, woman who were sitcom stars tended to be a.) wacky housewives (see I Love Lucy), b.) family matriarchs (see The Donna Reed Show) or 3.) domestics (see Hazel). TV historians say her show paved the way for The Mary Tyler Moore Show just a few years later.
- Donald Hollinger was originally supposed to be Ann Marie’s agent as well as her boyfriend. After they filmed the series’ pilot, producers must have decided that agents can sometimes be a little sleazy. So Donald changed jobs and became a magazine writer. (He was played by Ted Bessell in that never-broadcast pilot and the subsequent series.)
- There was a connection between That Girl and The Dick Van Dyke Show. The Van Dyke show was produced by Marlo’s father, Danny Thomas and two of the show’s main writers, Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, became the creators of That Girl.
- Marlo Thomas came up with the show’s concept. She was the one who insisted that her character be a small-town girl who comes to the big city to try and find work as an actress. (Although her real life was that of the daughter of a rich, famous comedian, which made her entrance into show business much easier.)
- Her first next door neighbor was also a Broadway leading lady. Bonnie Scott who played her original next door neighbor, Judy Bessemer, starred on Broadway opposite Robert Morse in the hit musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Bonnie left the series because the shooting schedule took too much time away from her young kids.
- Ruth Buzzi and George Carlin made appearances on the show. Ruth played a neighbor of Ann’s in several episodes while Carlin played her agent (replacing Ronnie Schell) in just one episode.
- Marlo wanted to call the show Miss Independence. That was the nickname her father had given her as a young girl.
- The network wanted the series finale to be the wedding of Ann Marie and Donald. But Marlo Thomas thought that might send the wrong message to the single girls she felt were the series’ core audience. You know, she gets married and “they live happily ever after.” So, she and Donald did get engaged during the show’s fifth season, but the series ended with Ann Marie still single.
Finally, is there any human being who watched the show and thought Ann could really be a virgin living in New York City in the mid 1960’s, especially if she was working in show business?
Didn’t think so.
For 8 seasons, The Donna Reed Show provided Baby Boomers with a sort of Mother Knows Best amid a ton of family sitcoms focused on the father.
Cast as Donna Stone, Donna presided over a family with the proverbial sweet and lovely oldest daughter, Mary (Shelly Fabres) and mischievous, mildly rebellious son, Jeff (Paul Peterson).
Her TV husband Alex, played by Carl Betz, was a pediatrician who worked out of their home! Can you imagine any pediatrician doing that today? Also, can you imagine any pediatrician living in such modest accommodations?
The location for the show was the town of Hilldale. But in what state Hilldale was located was never mentioned.
At its peak, the show attempted to duplicate the success Ricky Nelson was having on the pop charts. Both Fabres and Peterson did find chart success with “Johnny Angel,” “She Can’t Find Her Keys” and “My Dad.” But neither really built credible singing careers.
The show also provided a launch pad for Bob Crane. He was a popular L.A. deejay who wanted an acting career. He was cast as Alex’s doctor buddy, Dave Kelsey. From there, Crane was able to land the title role in Hogan’s Heroes.
In The Donna Reed Show’s 6th season (1963), the Stones adopted an orphan named Trisha. For an orphan, she bore a strange resemblance to the Stone’s son. That’s because in real life, she was his sister Patty Peterson. Maybe Dr. Stone wasn’t so wholesome after all.
As the 60s wore on, we started wanting our sitcoms with more gimmicks, like witches, genies and flying nuns; so, Donna Reed called it a day in 1966.
A few things you may not have known about Donna Reed:
- She was a pin-up during WWII and saved over 300 letters she received from GIs in a shoebox.
- She once milked a cow on the set of It’s a Wonderful Life to win a bet with Lionel Barrymore.
- She replaced Barbara Bel Geddes on Dallas & successfully sued the show when Bel Geddes returned and she was fired.
- When Nickelodeon acquired the reruns rights to The Donna Reed Show, that’s what inspired them to create Nick at Nite!
- You can still find her recipe for bundt cake online
We all remember To Tell the Truth. It ran once a week on CBS’s prime-time schedule from 1956 to 1967. A 5-day-a-week daytime version was added in 1962 and ran until 1968.
Each episode started with the camera panning across three figures who were shrouded in darkness. The announcer would ask each “What is your name, please.” The lights would come up on each one in turn as they all gave the exact same name.
Then host Bud Collyer would read “a signed affidavit” that explained the unusual story of that round’s central character.
Following that, a celebrity panel of four (usually Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean and Kitty Carlisle) would ask questions, trying to figure out who really gave their true name and which two were imposters.
Finally, Bud would intone, “Would the real [person’s name], please stand up!”
There was some faking out with the contestants until finally, the real person in question would rise to their feet.
But “to tell the truth,” there are some things most of us have forgotten or simply never knew about this beloved game show classic.
Mousketeer Roll Call: Karen Pendleton
While some of watched The Mickey Mouse Club and focused on Annette, many of us who were a little younger paid attention to the youngest Mousketeers, Karen & Cubbie. Cubbie O’Brien grew up to become an accomplished professional drummer, but whatever happened to Karen Pendleton?
Hers is a bittersweet story. Karen did not continue in show business after the Mouse Club show wound down. Instead, she finished school, married lawyer Mike DeLaurer in 1970 and had a daughter in 1973.
Then, her life took a downward turn. First, she was in a bad car accident in 1983 that left her paralyzed from the waist down. For a woman who had a passion for dancing, it was a devastating turn of events. That was followed by a divorce in 1985.
Instead of retreating from life, Karen made a decision to push forward. She went back to college, completed her Bachelor's degree in psychology and then went on to earn her Master’s degree, one of only two Mousketeers to earn a postgraduate degree.
She went into counseling for women, working at women’s shelters and holding classes on single parenting.
Karen has also appeared in many of the frequent Mousketeer reunion events sponsored by Disney and in 2014 she was given a Disney Legend award.
Every film fan agrees that Tony Curtis did a marvelous job imitating Cary Grant when his character was pretending to be a millionaire in the classic film comedy Some Like It Hot.
What most don't know is that Curtis had to be dubbed when he was in drag pretending to be female saxophone player Josephine. That's right. Curtis' attempts to sound like a woman sounded pretty bad. So director Billy Wilder called in veteran Hollywood voice artist Paul Frees.
If the name is not familiar, you most assuredly have heard Frees' voice. He provided the voice for literally hundreds of cartoons characters including Boris Badenov, Ludwig Von Drake, and Inspector Fenwick as well as both John Lennon and George Harrison in those Saturday morning Beatles cartoons. To this day, you can also hear Frees as your "ghost host" in the Haunted Mansion and as several of the pirates in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" attractions at the Walt Disney theme parks.
So the next time you watch Some Like It Hot, try and imagine that it's really Boris Badenov in drag!
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