“White Christmas,” the 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, has been as much a part of the holiday season as the holiday season itself. Whether it’s late-night television or a holiday theatrical presentation (see below) or a DVD, watching the story of two World War II Army soldiers-turned-entertainers who join forces with two sisters for a holiday show at a Vermont Inn continues to delight generations of movie fans.
In addition to the film’s iconic title tune, the score boasts additional Irving Berlin classics such as “Gee I Wish I Was Back in the Army,” “The Old Man,” “Snow” and “Sisters.” To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the film’s release, Paramount Home Entertainment recently issued “Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas,’ ” a diamond anniversary Blu-ray combo edition. The set features hours of bonus materials including an optional sing-along track; a 1965 video of Danny Kaye reading “A Christmas Carol”; a photo gallery; seven featurettes covering everything from “a look back” with Rosemary Clooney and a tribute to Danny Kaye for his humanitarian work (primarily with UNICEF) to a retrospective of the career of Bing Crosby and backstage stories from the making of the film.
“The movie [directed by Michael Curtiz] was originally made for Fred Astaire,” said Dena Kaye, daughter of the late Danny Kaye. “Then it went to Donald O’Connor, who got sick, and my father stepped in. The dance scenes he did with Vera-Ellen were amazing. His joking around with Bing. The ‘Sisters’ number. It’s just a classic movie. I’m thrilled the [box set] features an introduction by Michael Buble because it will hopefully bring in a whole new generation [of fans]. Many people have no idea who my father was.”
Danny Kaye was the Brooklyn-born David Daniel Kaminski, whose roots as a comedian/singer/dancer (combined with an uncanny talent for combining song and dance with tongue-twisting monologues) in the Borscht Belt of the Catskills, and later on Broadway, eventually garnered a successful film career as Danny Kaye (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “The Inspector General,” “Lady in the Dark,” “Hans Christian Andersen”). Simultaneously, Kaye devoted his life to helping the children of the world through UNICEF. He was appointed Good Will Ambassador for UNICEF in 1954.
“My father was not only a superbly talented entertainer but he was a humanitarian. He was the Pied Piper to the world’s children.”
So what was it like to grow up the daughter of an international celebrity?
“My life was quite separate from my father’s career,” continued Dena Kaye. “I grew up in a relatively ‘Hollywood-free’ environment. Dinner was at 6 every night. … We did have an apartment in New York, as well, so we were a bicoastal family to a certain extent. I don’t know if we ever watched [‘White Christmas’] together. I don’t know if my parents and I ever watched any of his movies together. It’s to my regret that he and I never discussed the film.”
The Kaye family (Danny married Sylvia Fine in 1940, who then became his lifelong manager as well) were no strangers to Chicago.
“My dad and I took the train from New York to Chicago together for a father-daughter trip,” Kaye said. “I don’t think I was a teen yet. On the train we played Gin Rummy; I taught him how to play jacks. My father bought all of his pajamas at Marshall Field’s. We would go there together to shop. He was always tell me, ‘See, I can sit here with you and buy my pajamas and nobody recognizes me.’ He loved it.”
Kaye is still in awe of the show business accomplishments of her late fatherer, who died in 1987 at the age of 76. “There was never anybody like him,” she says. “Who had the talent range that he did? Singing, dancing, serious, comedic, someone who could perform in theater, radio, movies, film. There was just a sheer pleasure you got when you watched him perform. He’s a performer you can’t take your eyes off of. I love watching him during ‘Blue Skies’ [in ‘White Christmas’].”
If you want to catch “White Christmas” on the big screen, you can catch it at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport, which continues its annual Christmas Show series featuring screenings of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” through Dec. 24. For tickets and complete information, visit the site here. The remaining schedule is as follows: Dec. 21: 12:15 pm: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” 3:20 pm: “White Christmas,” 6:30 pm: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Dec. 23: 3:20 pm: “White Christmas,” 6:30 pm: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” 9:40 pm: “White Christmas.” Dec. 24: 12:15 pm: “White Christmas,” 3:20 pm: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”