Great Christmas Songs You Probably Didn’t Know Originated in a Movie
A few nights ago the best channel on television (a.k.a., Turner Classic Movies) happened to be playing one my favorite movies of all time: Meet Me In St. Louis. This movie follows the lives of a middle-class family (the Smiths) in 1903 St. Louis just prior to the World’s Fair. This 1944 movie featured stand-out performances by both Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien as sisters Esther and Tootie Smith. June Lockhart, who later became famous for as Timmy’s mom on this show, also has a small role as Lucille Ballard. In my mind, the best characters in the movie are easily Grandpa (played by Harry Davenport, who Casablanca fans will recognize as Dr. Meade) and Mr. Smith (played by Leon Ames, who Mr. Ed fans know as Wilbur’s neighbor Gordon “The Colonel” Kirkwood). (Incidentally, the Smith family’s maid, Katie, will remind viewers of a funnier and more likable version of Alice from The Brady Bunch.)
Despite taking place at the turn of the twentieth century, the movie stands up well to the test of time. Although it is inevitable that some of the issues are outdated, the relationships within a family are authentic and still strike a chord today.
Perhaps the paramount reason for my love of this movie – and the reason why I am writing now – is Judy Garland’s voice. “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis” and “The Trolley Song” are both classics, with the former winning the Academy Award for Best Song. But, the showstopper is Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which was written for the movie. Meet Me in St. Louis is not a “Christmas film,” and, unless you are familiar with the movie, there would be no reason to think that such a classic Christmas song originated in that film.
This got me thinking about whether there are other well-known Christmas songs that most people would not know originated in a movie. Here is my not-necessarily-definitive list:
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
In the movie, the Smith family is about to move from St. Louis, where they have been all their lives, to New York City because Mr. Smith was promoted to head his firm’s office there. The entire family is utterly disappointed to be spending their final Christmas in St. Louis. After a Christmas Eve dance, Esther Smith (Judy Garland) returns home to find her little sister Tootie crying. To cheer her up, Garland breaks into song. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is both beautiful and haunting. To this day, Judy Garland’s version is unsurpassed.
“White Christmas” in Holiday Inn (1942).
Although the song “White Christmas” is universally recognized, most people incorrectly assume that the song was written by Irving Berlin for the movie of the same name in 1952. In reality, Berlin wrote the song for Bing Crosby to sing in a movie that premiered twelve years earlier – Holiday Inn starring Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds. Crosby stars as Jim Hardy who, along with Ted Hanover (Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), is part of a musical act in a New York City nightclub. Hardy and Lila have decided to get married and retire to a quaint farm in Connecticut. However, after what was supposed to be their last performance, Lila confesses that she is not ready to marry and has, in fact, fallen in love with Ted.
Hardy retreats to his farm in Connecticut, and after a failed attempt at actually farming, he decides to convert his farm into a nightclub called “Holiday Inn,” which would only be open on holidays. Eventually, Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) – who becomes Hardy’s love interest – arrives at the Holiday Inn. Upon her arrival, Hardy sings a new song for her, which is Bing Crosby’s best version of “White Christmas.”
“Silver Bells” in The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)
The Lemon Drop Kid stars Bob Hope as a petty con man in New York City. The plot centers around the Lemon Drop Kid’s attempt to pay off a debt to a gangster due to a con gone wrong. In order to do so, the “Kid” opens “Nellie Thursday Home for Old Dolls” and creates a fictional charity to support the home. The Kid and other ex-convicts (one of whom – Gloomy Willie is played by William Frawley, who is better known for playing Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy) don Santa Claus outfits and proceed to raise money throughout New York City for this fake charity. During the movie, the Kid and his girlfriend, Brainy Baxter (Marilyn Maxwell), sing “Silver Bells” while the pair walks along a sidewalk. The scene is wonderfully shot and Hope’s usual comedic asides are the perfect accompaniment to Maxwell’s voice.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Neptune’s Daughter (1948)
Neptune’s Daughter is an alright film. I have only seen it one time, and, quite frankly, the movie is largely forgettable, with one noted exception: the Academy Award winning song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” The film is a musical involving a bathing-suit designer and a case of mistaken identity. The movie has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas and – really – neither does the song. The song has become associated with Christmas over time due to the lyrics involving snow. However, the original recorded versions (and not best) of the song were performed by Ricardo Montalban (yes, that Ricardo Montalban) and Esther Williams and also by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett.
Note: Here is my favorite version of this song in a movie:
Merry Christmas everyone!