Danny Kaye really had no interest in appearing in White Christmas. He simply did not care for supporting roles. A few years earlier, he’d agreed to co-star with Gene Kelly in a musical Huckleberry Finn for MGM, but—just as filming was about to begin—he backed out. He knew that he’d disappear behind Kelly in any MGM musical.
Consequently, he didn’t think his role would be any better appearing alongside Bing Crosby in a movie built around Crosby’s most famous song. But Kaye also didn’t want to just say no to Paramount. His personal production company had just completed its first picture, Knock on Wood, and Paramount had provided funding, equipment, crews, offices, and distribution—and agreed to do the same for a second film. Indeed, production had gone so well, Kaye’s partners were in the midst of negotiating a second two-picture deal with Paramount.
In addition, Paramount’s liaison to Kaye—Don Hartman—was a close personal friend of Danny's. He oversaw the writing of Kaye's first three movies in Hollywood (Up in Arms, Wonder Man, and The Kid from Brooklyn) and nearly teamed up with Danny to form their own production company in the late 1940s.
In August 1953, when Hartman begged Kaye to take the role, he was desperate, after already losing Fred Astaire and Donald O’Connor. The script, music, costumes, sets, everything was ready and waiting.
So Danny agreed to appear for the ridiculous amount of $200,000 (more than double O’Connor’s price) plus 10% of the profits, convinced that Paramount would pass. Paramount had already promised to split the profits in thirds with Crosby and Berlin, but—out of options—consented to pay the $200,000, if Crosby and Berlin each gave Kaye 5% of their cuts. Both happily agreed, figuring that the picture—and, in turn, they—would make more in the long run with Kaye in the cast.
Ironically, the role Kaye didn’t want turned out to be the most lucrative of his career.