White Christmas: 14 Facts About The Classic Holiday Movie

While we never say no to a cheesy holiday rom-com, nothing beats a good old-fashioned holiday classic. We're talking "It's a Wonderful Life," "Holiday Inn," "The Shop Around the Corner," and, of course, "White Christmas." 

Made in 1954, "White Christmas" tells the story of Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), a performance duo who joins forces with sisters Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen) to bring a Vermont inn back to life for the holiday season. As you can imagine, it has all the elements of a perfect holiday film — think snowy Vermont backdrops, classic Christmas songs, luscious dance numbers, and a couple of charming romantic plot lines. It's easy to see why "White Christmas" has gone down in history as one of the best Christmas movies of all time.

While you may have seen this classic every year for the past decade, there are still a few things about the making of "White Christmas" that you may have never known. Here are some little-known facts about the beloved Christmas movie that will make you see it in a whole new light.

The song White Christmas was a hit before the movie was produced

Walk into any shop at Christmastime and you just might hear Bing Crosby crooning out "White Christmas," the titular song from the famous film. However, you may not have realized that the song had its own history before it ever appeared on-screen in "White Christmas."

Like the rest of the songs in the film, "White Christmas" was written by Irving Berlin. However, this wasn't the first time the song had shown up in a movie. In 1942, the song was featured in "Holiday Inn," another Christmas movie set at an inn that featured a full score by Berlin. While "White Christmas" isn't exactly a remake of "Holiday Inn," it's pretty close. Both films feature two singing and dancing couples trying to resurrect a quaint old inn at Christmastime. However, the characters and plot details are a little different. One thing remains the same — Bing Crosby. A younger Crosby also appeared in "Holiday Inn" and sang "White Christmas" in that movie, too. The song even won an Oscar — no wonder it inspired a whole new Christmas movie (via Country Living).

Fred Astaire was originally meant to appear in White Christmas

The song "White Christmas" wasn't the only thing the film borrowed from the earlier movie "Holiday Inn." Apparently, the two stars of "Holiday Inn," Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, were meant to return together for "White Christmas," making it a sort of sequel or remake of the earlier holiday movie (per AFI Catalog). The pair had also appeared together in 1946's "Blue Skies."

However, Astaire decided not to appear in the film, apparently because he thought he was too old for another holiday musical romance. Instead, the part went to Donald O'Connor. However, when O'Connor fell ill just before filming, Danny Kaye became his replacement.

There was a time when Crosby also considered turning down the project because he was grieving the death of his wife, actress Dixie Lee, and wanted to spend time with his son (via AFI Catalog). Of course, Crosby changed his mind, and thanks to him, the project went ahead.

The actors who played Betty and Bob had a big age difference

One of the central couples in "White Christmas" is Betty and Bob. Played by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, this couple has a classic enemies-to-lovers arc, as they initially bicker and then eventually fall in love. While the couple's story may be sweet, their real-life age difference may shock you. At the time of filming, Crosby was 51, while Clooney was just 26 — that's a 25-year age gap (via CNN). Even weirder is the fact that Dean Jagger, who played the "old" major, was actually six months younger than Crosby.

And those aren't the only strange age gaps in the film. Even though Clooney played the older sister, she was actually seven years younger than Vera-Ellen, who was 33. As for Danny Kaye, who played Phil, he was also 33 at the time of filming, the same age as his on-screen love interest. 

Some moments in the film were unscripted

Did you know that parts of "White Christmas" were actually improvised? While most of the film is carefully choreographed, in a few scenes, the director let the actors do their own thing.

In fact, one of the most famous scenes in the film wasn't originally in the script. Remember that moment when Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye make fun of the sisters by imitating their "Sisters" song in drag? It turns out, they added that performance themselves. According to CNN, the unscripted moment happened when Crosby and Kaye started having fun on set by pretending to be their female co-stars. Apparently, the director noticed and decided to find a way to put it in the film.

In another scene, Bob and Betty discuss which foods cause different kinds of dreams. "Different foods make for different dreams," Bob tells Betty. "I've got a whole theory about it. It's called 'The Wallace Way of Wishful Wooing.'" According to Good Housekeeping, Rosemary Clooney once claimed that this scene was completely improvised, too. 

Vera-Ellen was a dancer, but probably not a singer

Watching "White Christmas," you might find yourself in awe of the multi-talented cast. They can sing, they can dance, they can act! Well, it turns out, there's some debate about that. According to some sources, Vera-Ellen, though an amazing dancer, was not exactly a great singer.

While it's never been confirmed whether or not Vera-Ellen's singing voice was dubbed, there are a few theories. Some believe that Trudy Stevens dubbed all of Vera-Ellen's singing roles. As the Express reported, little is known about Stevens, and it seems she never had a singing or acting career of her own. 

But she isn't the only singer who dubbed over Vera-Ellen's voice. Apparently, her co-star, Rosemary Clooney, actually voiced both parts of the song "Sisters" — it's no wonder they sound so alike! There is one moment in the film where Vera-Ellen's singing voice can be heard — apparently, it's her voice we hear when the foursome first begins to sing the song "Snow." 

White Christmas has been adapted for the stage

Over the years, the fame of the film "White Christmas" has only grown. So, it hardly comes as a surprise that the movie was eventually adapted into a stage musical. The show was first produced in St. Louis for a week-long run in 2000 (via Theater Mania). It was later produced in San Francisco in 2004 with a cast that included Brian D'Arcy James (best known for playing Shrek on Broadway) and Anastasia Barzee (of "She Said" and "The Affair"), per Playbill.

Since then, the show has appeared on Broadway, on London's West End, and in several U.S. national tours. As of 2022, the show is touring throughout the U.K. Actor Matthew Jeans — who plays Bing Crosby's character, Bob, in the tour — told Theatre Weekly, "I'd describe the show as a truly beautiful and heartfelt story with one of the most incredible scores by Irving Berlin, complemented by some of the most sublime dance numbers I've ever seen!" We can only imagine that this film would be even more magical on stage.

White Christmas made a lot of money at the box office

With generations of fans, "White Christmas" has become a beloved classic over the years — but even at the time of its release, it was a major hit. In fact, it was the biggest film of the year — after unprecedented buzz, it broke records when it hit cinemas. According to Express, the film made over $30 million at the box office (today, that equals over $310 million).

To put that into perspective, recent films that have drawn in similar amounts include "The Dark Knight Rises," "Frozen II," "Iron Man 3," and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II." In other words, "White Christmas" made a killing in ticket sales. Plus, considering it had a reported budget of just $2 million, the film definitely made a lot of profits — over $28 million, to be precise.

Choreographer Bob Fosse was potentially involved in White Christmas

Fans of musical theater will probably know the name Bob Fosse. He is known for his unique style of dance, as seen in shows like "Cabaret," "All That Jazz," and "Lenny." Fosse is best known for his jazzy moves — think "jazz hands" and rolled-in shoulders — not exactly the moves we see in a Golden Age musical like "White Christmas."

However, it turns out Fosse did help out with the film — just not as the main choreographer (that was Robert Alton). According to Parade, Fosse might have been an uncredited choreographer on the film. Some fans even think they can spot Fosse in three of the dance numbers. However, other fans deny that he had any involvement in the film whatsoever. In fact, The Verdon Fosse Legacy, an organization dedicated to the choreographer's memory, even tweeted, "Bob Fosse had nothing to do with 'White Christmas!'" 

The photo of Benny Haynes is actually of a well-known actor

Remember that moment in "White Christmas" when the sisters show Bob and Phil a picture of their brother, Benny, who is away at war? Well, if you recognized the man in the photo, there's a good reason: The picture is actually of the singer and actor Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer. It's unclear whether the photo was taken for the film or whether it was simply a headshot that Paramount Pictures decided to use.

Switzer's most famous role was Alfalfa, one of the children in "Our Gang," later known as The Little Rascals. However, you might also remember him as the actor who briefly appeared in "It's a Wonderful Life." After being snubbed by Donna Reed's character, he plots to open the dance floor and send the guests falling into the pool below.  

Switzer was killed in a fight that was allegedly about money in 1959, just five years after the release of "White Christmas" (via History.com).

Rosemary Clooney was George Clooney's aunt

You may have noticed that one of the stars of "White Christmas" shares a last name with one of Hollywood's biggest stars. That's right — Rosemary Clooney, aka Betty, was George Clooney's real-life aunt. Her brother, Nick Clooney, went on to have three children, including George. As George told The Guardian, her influence was part of the reason he eventually went into acting. "I didn't really grow up with her, because I lived in Kentucky and she was in Los Angeles," he said. "But we all worshipped her and I loved the idea of Hollywood — I'd dream about it!" 

George isn't Rosemary's only famous relative. She married the actor José Ferrer, known for "Cyrano de Bergerac," "Dune," and the original "Moulin Rouge." The pair's son, Miguel Ferrer, went on to have a successful film and TV career, starring in "Traffic," "RoboCop," and "Desperate Housewives." You might also remember him as the vice president in "Iron Man 3."

There's a reason the inn looks so familiar

For fans of Christmas movies, the inn in "White Christmas" may look vaguely familiar. Even though it's a set rather than a real house, the 1954 film wasn't the first time it appeared on-screen. Because "White Christmas" was originally intended to be a remake of "Holiday Inn" starring both Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, the production company also decided to reuse other parts of the 1942 film — namely, the set (via Good Housekeeping).

As one fan noted, certain parts of the two sets are almost identical, such as the curved stairway, the arched floor-to-ceiling windows, and the sloping roof and boxed-in windows in the upstairs room. Of course, much of the set was redesigned for "White Christmas," with small details added and tweaked. While it's hardly surprising that Paramount Pictures decided to reuse pieces of their "Holiday Inn" set, it's definitely a cool detail about the film.

Several song lyrics were reworked by Irving Berlin for the film

"White Christmas" features a soundtrack filled with tunes by composer Irving Berlin. However, "White Christmas" isn't the only song in the movie that had already been released. In fact, a few of the songs had to be changed to make sense in the context of the film.

The song "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army," which is sung by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in the film, is one such example. Berlin decided to change one line that referenced Crosby by name. "How we would yell for Deitrich and Cornell/Crosby, Hope and Benny all for free," was changed to, "How we would yell for Deitrich and Cornell/Jolson, Hope and Benny all for free."

The song "Snow" also received some big edits. Originally, the song appeared in the musical "Call Me Madam" and was called "Free," but it was cut from the show during previews. Apparently, Berlin updated the song, changed a few lyrics, and reused it in "White Christmas."

A West Side Story actor was an uncredited chorus member in White Christmas

If you look closely at the group numbers of "White Christmas," you might spot an unexpected familiar face. One of the ensemble members at the inn is none other than actor George Cakiris, who you may remember as Bernardo in the 1961 film "West Side Story." He also appeared in the French musical "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort." While Chakiris didn't receive a credit, he actually had a pretty big role and plenty of screen time. He even appeared as one of the four backup dancers in the song "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me." 

As Chakiris later said in an interview, "White Christmas" was one of his favorite chorus roles. "In 'White Christmas,' Rosemary Clooney does a number called 'Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me' with just four guys. Because there were just four of us, we were more visible," he recalled. "I love the song. Rosie, she was a lovely person. Rosie was just so great."

According to another interview, Chakiris' performance was so popular that the producer, Robert Emmett Dolan, arranged a screen test for him. "I was signed by Paramount for a seven-year contract ... it was a 'step up,'" he said. "I was no longer dancing in the chorus after that."

The cast of White Christmas reshot the final scene for this strange reason

We all remember that iconic final scene of "White Christmas" where the entire cast sings the titular song. As it turns out, they actually had to film the entire sequence twice. As Rosemary Clooney explained in a DVD featurette, the King and Queen of Greece paid a visit to Paramount Pictures. The film's producer wanted to show them an example of a large musical number being filmed to give them "something to remember." However, the scene had already been filmed and Bing Crosby had already left the set for a golf trip. Nevertheless, the cast reconvened to reshoot the scene without any film in the camera for the royal family (via Good Housekeeping).

Luckily, the cast was already pretty used to filming scenes over and over again. Apparently, Danny Kaye had a tendency of making everyone break character and laugh on set, which meant refilming was a pretty common occurrence.