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.
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.
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.
There were 7 regular cast members of that deathless TV classic Gilligan’s Island; yet during the first season, the show’s catchy theme song only mentioned 5 by name. The Professor and Mary Ann were just lumped together as “the rest.”
When the show was renewed for a second season, Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells asked that their characters’ names be included in the song. At first, the network flatly refused, claiming re-recording the song would be too expensive. Then suddenly, they changed their minds and had the song revised.
The show’s star, Bob Denver, had gone to the network and said if the song wasn’t changed, he wanted his name removed from the opening credits. The network panicked and gave in.
The rest of the cast did not find out what Denver had done until 20 years after the show went off the air!
Hazel was a very popular sit-com that ran for 5 seasons (4 in full color), producing 154 shows, that was also quite popular in syndication.
The show was based on a popular one panel cartoon drawn by Ted Key that ran in The Saturday Evening Post magazine. Hazel was a no-nonsense live-in maid that basically ran her household and also functioned as mother and father to her employer’s son.
In making the move to television, producers scored a real coup when they signed Academy Award-winning actress Shirley Booth for the title role. Her employers, the Baxters, were played by Don DeFore (who spent many seasons as Ozzie & Harriet’s neighbor Thorny) and Whitney Blake (who would go on to co-create the sitcom One Day at a Time). Whitney Blake was actually married to a guy named Baxter for several years before she was cast in Hazel. She’s the mother of actress Meredith Baxter. Bobby Buntrock rounded out the cast as the Baxters’ son, Harold.
Three Coins in the Fountain is solid proof of how easily entertained we were in the 1950’s. This piece of cinematic junk food was actually nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in the year of its release. Sadly, watching it today, one can’t help but notice that the background scenery is the most interesting part of the movie!
Made when Cinemascope was the newest gimmick studios were employing to lure people away from their newly beloved TV sets, Three Coins involves the extremely thin story of three American working girls searching for husbands in Rome, with a brief side trip to Venice.
Jean Peters, Maggie McNamara and Dorothy McGuire play the ladies in question – designed to represent young, very young and dangerously approaching middle age. They all work as secretaries – Peters and McNamara for a make-believe U.S. Government agency, “The United States Distribution Agency,” and McGuire for expatriate American author Clifton Webb (playing a far less venomous version of his character from Laura).
All of us who grew up in the 60’s watched Hogan’s Heroes, the show that demonstrated just how hilarious life could be in a Nazi POW camp. The show ran for 6 seasons on CBS and then for decades more in syndication (even reaching German viewers in the early 90s’).
Here are a few things about the show that you may not know:
Even though she was the daughter of established screen actor Robert Montgomery, Elizabeth Montgomery had to work her way up the ladder of success in Hollywood the way many of her contemporary actresses did.
That meant posing for cheesecake photos while waiting for her big break. In this shot, we see the future Samantha Stevens creating magic by wiggling something other than her nose!
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