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:
- It brought together three greats in the prime of their careers — Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin.
- It inspired the name of the motel chain in 1952.
- “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.
Whenever Ted Hanover (Astaire) shows up, Jim knows trouble will follow…along with some great 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 when she comes to audition for his 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. 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 rooted in the times it was written, as we’re reminded every time we see the black-face routine they perform for Lincoln’s birthday. 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:
Here’s a screenshot of Crosby singing at the piano in the colorized version:
One of the original titles they considered for Holiday Inn was Stars on My Shoulder.
The movie got three Oscar nominations and won one, for Best Song.
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:
I love it when we get to see the kitchens in old movies, and this is a good one:
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:
It has a fireplace, too:
Some exterior scenes were filmed at the Village Inn Lodge in 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 because of the film connection.”
The inn is recreated on a soundstage for the movie they’re making of it (a movie in the movie!):
The sets were remodeled and recycled 12 years later for White Christmas:
You can see photos of the lodge here: Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont.
Holiday Inn also had dormers and rows of arched 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. 🙂