One of my all-time favorite Christmas-movie houses is the farmhouse that was transformed into Holiday Inn for the 1942 classic with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. This is where I’d love to be spending the holidays and watching the snow fall each December, curled up by the fire while Bing croons “White Christmas.”
The film historian Ken Barnes called it “the definitive Hollywood musical of the 1940s.” It’s about Jim Harper (Crosby), a singer who decides to escape the rat race of nightly performances in clubs by opening an inn in the country that’s only open on holidays. Here’s the little calling card he made for it:
The movie is famous for three things: 1) It brought together three greats in the prime of their careers–Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin. 2) It inspired the name of the successful motel chain in 1952. 3) “White Christmas” became the most popular pop song ever written.
The scenes where Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) arrives at the inn in a horse taxi in the snow remind me of the ones in Christmas in Connecticut, when Barbara Stanwyck makes a similar entrance:
It might not be a very practical mode of transportation, especially on cold, wintry days, but it sure looks romantic, especially when a lovely farmhouse like this one is the destination!
The idea for the movie had been floating around Hollywood since the mid-30s. One of the original titles they considered was Stars on My Shoulder.
Whenever Ted Hanover (played by Astaire) shows up at the inn, Jim knows trouble will follow…along with some great singing and dancing!
Irving Berlin wrote all of the songs for the movie. Even the background music was his.
It’s said that Berlin got the idea for the film after writing the song “Easter Parade” for his 1933 show “As Thousands Cheer.” He considered writing a play about all of the American holidays. Instead, he ended up pitching the idea as a movie to the director Mark Sandrich, who liked the idea enough to make it happen.
Jim (Crosby) shows Linda around the inn for the first time when she comes to audition for his New Year’s Eve show:
They reportedly wanted Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth in the movie, but because Crosby and Astaire were costing the production so much already, they couldn’t afford them. They had to find two lesser known, less expensive actresses to play the parts–which went to Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale.
The inn was transformed for every holiday, and the area below the stairs became the stage. Here’s how it looked for their New Year’s Eve show:
And for Valentine’s Day:
The song Berlin wrote for this scene, “Be Careful with My Heart,” was the first real hit that came out of the movie in August of 1942. Few critics even mentioned “White Christmas” in the reviews. But by October, “White Christmas” had hit #1 on the charts and had blown the first single out of the water.
The movie was definitely rooted in the times it was written, as we’re reminded every time we see the cringe-worthy black-face routine they perform for Lincoln’s birthday. I have to fast-forward through it, it’s so bad (in more ways than one). Apparently most TV stations now edit it out when they air it, so you might not see it if you don’t watch it on DVD.
My favorite part of the set is this cozy living room with the fireplace and piano–and at Christmas, the tree.
I love when Crosby sings “White Christmas” to Linda by the fire. Here’s a shot of it from the colorized version (you can watch the scene here):
The movie got three Oscar nominations and won one, for Best Song.
The wonderful Louise Beavers played Mamie, who ran the inn for Jim with her children trailing close behind. She even made him a full Thanksgiving turkey dinner for him to eat by himself.
Beavers appeared in another one of my favorites from the ’40s, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, with Cary Grant:
In that movie, she became the face of Wham after giving Mr. Blandings (an ad exec) the perfect tagline for it:
Back to Holiday Inn–I love it when we get to see the kitchens in old movies, and this is a good one:
Always cracks me up how Jim and Linda run back to the kitchen to dish up food for their guests between performances…
The back staircase:
The upstairs hallway:
The guest bedroom upstairs is charming with its sloped ceiling, beadboard walls, and steps down from the door into the room:
It has a fireplace, too:
Village Inn Lodge in Monte Rio reportedly doubled as “Holiday Inn”–with some help from artificial snow, according to Wikipedia: “Filming outside the studio occurred at a resort on the Russian River, Sonoma County, California.”
According to the Village Inn website: “The Inn has enjoyed a long and colorful existence, including the distinction of being the site of several scenes from the Paramount Pictures Classic Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. In fact, in 1942 the hotel was renamed to Holiday Inn because of the film connection.”
I’m guessing that some of those scenes they’re referring to were the ones for the Fourth of July, which take place almost entirely outdoors, but I’m not really sure. Does anyone know which ones were filmed on location instead of in the studio?
When the inn is recreated on a Hollywood soundstage for the movie they’re making of it (a movie in the movie!), the cameras pull back and show us what the set looks like:
Some sources say that the same sets were reused 12 years later for the “remake” (term used loosely) called White Christmas, which was originally supposed to re-team Crosby and Astaire. Astaire turned it down and was replaced by Danny Kaye, but Irving Berlin once more provided the toe-tapping tunes.
Whether the sets were really the same or just rebuilt to look similar, I’m not sure, but here’s how the inn looked in White Christmas:
You can see the rest of the photos of the lodge (which I also love-love-love) in the post I wrote about it and compare them for yourself: Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont.
They do have similar walls of windows.
Jim checks out the Hollywood sets built to look like his farmhouse when they’re making a movie about it:
Jim gets the girl in the end. Was there ever any doubt?
There’s just something about those great movie sets from that era that I can’t get enough of. I always say my dream house would be one that looks like it was in a 1940s romantic comedy.