Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”… Number 7. Six Names a-Changin’

Rosemary Clooney's character and her nightclub both got name changes.

After each screenplay draft of White Christmas was submitted to the studio, producer Robert Emmett Dolan and director Michael Curtiz would sit down with the writer in a story conference to review what they liked, what they didn’t like, what was missing, and what the lead performers were concerned about.

Norman Krasna wrote his first two drafts with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in mind as the leads. The scripts had basically the same plot as would the eventual finished movie, except for the lead characters, who were venerable show business contemporaries (which Astaire didn’t like) and romantic rivals (which Crosby didn’t like).

Despite their stars' lingering concerns, in analyzing the second draft, the biggest changes Dolan and Curtiz suggested were changing most of the names. Instead of “Chuck Wallace,” they said Crosby should go by the mellower “Robert,” “Bob,” or “James.” (“Bob” stuck.) Instead of “Johnny Davis,” Astaire should be renamed “Phillp.” (It ended up as “Phil.”) Wallace’s love interest, “Helen,” sounded more attractive yet still level-headed as “Betty” or “Beth.” (They went with “Betty.”) “Judy” was fine for her kid sister. New York TV gossip columnist “Steve King” was to be renamed either “Ed” or “Walter” (to conjure up the image of Ed Sullivan or Walter Winchell. They went with the Sullivan-esque “Ed Harrison.”).
Dolan and Curtiz also wanted the two nightclubs renamed. For the Florida club, instead of “Fancy Free,” they suggested “Heads Up” or “Fiddle Sticks.” (It became the benign “Florida Theatre.”) And in New York, in place of the “Kit Kat Club,” they asked for either the “9 O’Clock Club” or “The Carrousel.” (They used the latter.)
All the characters’ personalities, however, remained the same.
The name changes were insufficient. A few weeks later, both Crosby and Astaire walked. Fortunately, one of them was eventually persuaded to return.

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