How Modern! 1954’s “White Christmas”

Surfing the holiday movies on TV, I took another peak at “White Christmas,” probably the first movie I ever saw in a theater, in my hometown of Mount Vernon, Ohio. The Vernon Theater was on the town square beside the donut shop.

East High Street #1, 1948

While these visual slices of mid-century small towns are long gone, happily “White Christmas” isn’t. Watching the film after dismissing it for years reminded me of this winter snow painting by my father in 1948, which is one of his most favored watercolors in The Artist’s Eye book. Like Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye who starred in the film six years later, his World War II experiences were still firmly front-and-center in his identity.

“White Christmas” is steeped in nostalgia, opening with a flashback to Christmas 1944 at an Army camp in Europe. In fatigues, helmets and grimy faces, the soldiers are glum and homesick as bombing raids burst around them. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye & their Army pals decide to entertain the troops with a lively music show. It all culminates in the yearning for back home, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…” while their general booms, “there’s no Christmas in the Army, gentlemen!”

Fast forward to Christmas 1954 — when Crosby and Kaye along with Rosemary Clooney (aunt of today’s George) and Vera Allen produce a new show to surprise their old Army general upon his retirement. Ponytails and capris, circle skirts and pencil-thin waists, Marilyn Monroe look-alikes, ’40s dance bands, Army uniforms, athletic tap-dancing. The early ’50s still evoked images of the late ’40s but with a very modern style that permeated that transitional decade — the first half of the 1950s pulled to the past and surged toward the future. And, oh, the glamorous romance. To use one of the film’s jazzy expressions, it’s just “crazy” to remember!

About The Artist's Eye

Writer, consultant and author of The Artist's Eye: Vernon P. Johnson's Watercolors of 1950s Small Town America
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