Every day from now through Christmas Eve, I’ll be celebrating the “Twelve Days of White Christmas,” by sharing a little-known aspect of the production of this holiday classic.
Let’s begin by testing your White Christmas intuition. As you may have heard (perhaps from that great new book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters), Danny Kaye wasn’t the first choice to play Bing Crosby’s co-star. Paramount’s original intention was to recreate the magic of the movie that introduced the song “White Christmas,” Holiday Inn (1942), by re-teaming Crosby with Fred Astaire. But Astaire didn’t care for the script and eventually bowed out, so Paramount signed Donald O’Connor. Then O’Connor ended up contracting Q fever from Francis the Talking Mule and, unable to recover quicky, was replaced by Kaye.
With each casting change, the role of Phil Davis had to be significantly revised, from Astaire’s tap-happy playboy, to O’Connor’s fancy-footed greenhorn, to Kaye’s mix between the two, with more comedy but less dancing.
As well, Berlin had to constantly rework his score, depending on the Phil of the day.
Considering their ages and personalities, can you deduce which Phil Davis—Astaire, O’Connor, or Kaye—Berlin had in mind for each of the following songs? Answers below.
• “Blue Skies”
• “The Seven-Piece One-Man Band”
• “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing”
• “Monahan & Callahan”
• “A Singer—A Dancer”
• “A Crooner—A Comic”
• “Santa Claus Number”
• “Blue Skies” Kaye. Crosby may have made another movie with Astaire named Blue Skies (in which he also sang “White Christmas”), but the song was incorporated into a duet with Kaye at the last minute.
• “Sisters” Astaire. Berlin first envisioned Bing and Fred in drag.
• “The Seven-Piece One-Man Band” Astaire. Fred suggested this number as his virtuoso solo.
• “Choreography” O’Connor. Since Kaye wasn’t a comparable dancer, he stepped aside and let a professional dancer fill in during the most strenuous moves.
• “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” O’Connor. Kaye did perform this number without a stand-in, to his great pain. But more about that tomorrow.
• “Monahan & Callahan” Astaire. Inclusion of the vaudeville duet—salvaged from an unproduced Broadway show along with the film’s premise and two other songs—made sense when the two leads were both about the same age. It was rewritten as…
• “A Singer—A Dancer” O’Connor. When Kaye, better known as a funnyman than for his footwork was recruited, the song was rewritten again, as…
• “A Crooner—A Comic” Kaye.
• “Snow” O’Connor. Berlin intended to have an elaborate “Winter Fantasy Number” during the train trip to Vermont, but budget constraints turned the dream sequence into a song instead.
• “Santa Claus Number” Kaye. Costumed Danny and Bing were originally supposed to entertain the general with this tune as they passed out presents.