In 1953, Elvis Aaron Presley was an 18-year-old senior at Humes High School in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis's date for the senior prom was the girl he was courting, a 14-year-old named Regis Wilson—a pretty, petite blonde with a big smile.
Wilson had a crush on Elvis, whom she considered "a gentle soul, but all boy—he kind of had this swagger to him." Elvis dressed differently than his classmates, often donning extremely colorful, loud pants and shirts, not at all the fashion for the typical male in the conservative 1950s. "He would show up in outfits that were so flashy I would open the door and blink my eyes," Wilson recalled in a book by Alanna Nash about the women in Elvis's life.
His hair was already unorthodox—heavily greased and slicked back into a ducktail, including sideburns running almost down to his chin. Still bearing the last vestiges of teenage acne on his face, though, Elvis was so shy he would sometimes stutter when faced with certain social situations. But if Elvis felt like an alien among other teenagers most of the time, he was never so out of place than on the night of his senior prom at the swanky (and segregated) Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis.
"It was the most exciting thing I had ever done," Wilson recalled. "I felt like Cinderella getting ready to go to the Royal Ball." The excited 14-year-old had picked out a pink taffeta dress for $14.98 and accessorized it with pink shoes. Strapped for money, she had her hair done for free at the beauty college across the street from the Peabody. As she sat in the beauty chair, she excitedly looked at the Peabody Hotel across the street and said to herself, "Just think, in a few hours from now I'll be back here all dressed up."
Although most of the other boys wore white tuxedos, Elvis chose a relatively conservative dark blue suit. And he did have on a pair of blue suede shoes (no kidding!). He showed up at Wilson's door in a shiny rented Chevy, also dark blue, paid for with the money he had saved by ushering at the local movie theater. Shyly, as Wilson blushed, Elvis pinned a pink carnation corsage on her dress.
As the couple entered the Continental Ballroom at the Peabody, the band was playing, and couples were already out on the dance floor. But Elvis steered Regis to a seat and offered her a Coke.
"I can't dance," Elvis apologized shyly. (Wilson remembers him perspiring under his jacket.) Wilson took it that he didn't dance because he was so religious and sweetly replied, "That's all right." And so they sat out the entire night, talking and sipping on soda pop while watching the other couples.
Finally, they lined up with all the other couples for the grand march, stepping through a mammoth heart as their names were called and their picture was taken. In the photo, Wilson managed a half-smile, but Elvis looks as stiff as a soldier, peering solemnly into the camera.
Elvis apparently made no attempts to socialize. But Elvis promised Wilson they'd have more fun afterward at Leonard's Barbeque, where they'd meet some of his pals and go on to a party. They drove out and waited, but nobody ever showed. Wilson could tell it bothered him, and finally, chagrined, Elvis took her home.
A few weeks after the prom, Elvis dropped by Wilson's house to see her and found that she and her family had simply vanished.
Wilson's mother, financially strapped, had decided to move the family to Florida to live with her relatives. Wilson said she was "embarrassed" to tell Elvis she was moving. She couldn't bring herself to tell him how bad their financial situation was. Besides, she recalled, "Girls didn't call boys in those days," so she never said goodbye.
In the family's move to Florida, Wilson lost her photo from their prom date. But Elvis always kept his, and a few years later his mother gave a copy to a fan magazine. By then, Elvis Presley was a teen heartthrob and a national sensation, with very specific dance moves all his own.
Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.
Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!
In 1953, Paramount Pictures set out to make a musical built around and named after the most popular Christmas pop song of all time. At that point “White Christmas” had already become a holiday classic thanks in no small part to Bing Crosby’s hit recording of the song, but would it translate to the same success on the big screen?
With Crosby’s star power leading the way and Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair, White Christmas overcame some early development struggles and even some anxiety from composer Irving Berlin to become one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time. Here are 12 facts about its production and reception.
1. The song "White Christmas" was already a hit.
Though the film didn’t come along until 1954, the story of White Christmas actually began more than a decade earlier, when Irving Berlin composed the future holiday classic that would become the title track. Berlin wrote the song in 1940, and the next year Bing Crosby—the singer still most identified with the song, despite many cover versions—sang it on his Christmas radio show.
By 1942, Crosby had recorded the song, and over that same year it made its first film appearance in Holiday Inn, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The film helped earn “White Christmas” the Oscar for Best Song in 1943, and over the course of the 1940s the song climbed to #1 on the charts several times. It would go on to hold the title of bestselling single of all time for decades, until it was finally eclipsed by Elton John’s rewritten 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind.” Because of the song’s enduring popularity, particularly during the World War II years, it was only natural that Hollywood would want to capitalize, and by 1949 what would eventually become White Christmas began to take shape at Paramount Pictures.
2. White Christmas was originally set to co-star Fred Astaire.
By the late 1940s, Irving Berlin and executives at Paramount Pictures were working on piecing together White Christmas as a movie musical with the title song as its centerpiece, and they had big plans for the film’s stars. The project was originally envisioned as the third installment of an unofficial trilogy of buddy musicals starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The duo had already teamed up for Holiday Inn in 1942 (which also featured “White Christmas”) and Blue Skies in 1946, and White Christmas was supposed to mark a triumphant reunion. Unfortunately, Astaire ultimately turned the project down, reportedly due to lack of interest and a concern that he might be getting too old for such a film.
3. Bing Crosby almost passed on White Christmas.
While most of the casting drama surrounding the film was tied to the Phil Davis character, there was also a point during pre-production on White Christmas that the film almost had to go searching for a new Bob Wallace. In January of 1953, when Astaire decided to back out of the project, Crosby also decided he wasn’t sure the film was right for him, and initially planned to take time off to be with his son following the death of Crosby’s wife, actress Dixie Lee. Later that some month, though, Crosby decided to stick with the project, and White Christmas moved ahead.
4. Danny Kaye was cast at the last-minute.
With Fred Astaire out of the picture, Paramount had to search for a new star to play Phil Davis to Bing Crosby’s Bob Wallace, and settled on Donald O’Connor, who was fresh off the success of Singin’ in the Rain. O’Connor was all set to play Davis in the film, but became ill shortly before production was set to begin. Now anxious to find a new co-star in time, the studio offered the role to Danny Kaye, who decided to go for broke and request a salary of $200,000 plus a percentage of the film’s gross. Kaye was apparently certain the studio would say no, but they agreed to his terms rather than attempting to wait it out for O’Connor’s health to improve. Kaye was cast as Phil Davis, and O’Connor would later go on to work with Crosby on Anything Goes.
5. Rosemary Clooney couldn’t dance.
Rosemary Clooney was one of the most acclaimed and beloved singers of her generation, and with White Christmas she became a co-star of one of the most acclaimed and beloved musical films of all time. Clooney was able to do this despite one particular shortcoming, which she was always honest about in both interviews and in her eventual autobiography: She was not a dancer. Clooney’s character, Betty Haynes, only has two real moments of dance in the film—in “Sisters” and in the “Minstrel Show” medley—and both times the choreography is rather simple and (in the case of “Sisters”) makes use of a prop to help make the scene visually interesting without too much actual dancing involved.
6. Vera-Ellen couldn’t sing.
To complete the duo of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was paired with Vera-Ellen, who was already an experienced and acclaimed movie musical performer considered by many to be one of the best dancers in Hollywood at the time. Clooney recalled feeling “inadequate” when paired with her new co-star in terms of learning her limited White Christmas choreography, but also noted that their dynamic was rather evened out by both Vera-Ellen’s patience and the fact that she couldn’t sing. Vera-Ellen’s vocals were dubbed in White Christmas, largely by an uncredited Trudy Stevens, but by Clooney herself for the song “Sisters.”
“If they could have dubbed my dancing, now, we would have had a perfect picture,” Clooney later joked.
7. Bing Crosby improvised a lot of his White Christmas dialogue.
By the time White Christmas came along, Bing Crosby was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, a veteran singer and actor who could pack audiences in and commanded respect on the Paramount Pictures lot. This meant his job came with a lot of perks, including the opportunity to embellish and flat-out improvise much of his dialogue on the fly. As co-star Rosemary Clooney recalled later on a commentary track for the film, when Bob Wallace used phrases like “slam-bang finish,” it was often because the phrases were favorites of Crosby’s. Clooney also recalled that the little monologue Crosby’s character goes on when they meet in the Columbia Inn lounge for sandwiches and buttermilk was largely made up by Crosby on the spot, faux German accent and all.
8. Bing Crosby didn’t like shooting White Christmas's "Sisters" scene.
One of the most famous scenes in White Christmas involves Bob Wallace and Phil Davis rolling up their pant legs and lip-syncing to Judy and Betty Haynes’s song “Sisters” in an effort to cause a diversion so the sisters could escape a vengeful landlord and hop on a train to Vermont. It’s an instantly memorable, and very funny movie moment, but apparently Bing Crosby was actually somewhat uncomfortable about the scene. In an effort to liven the performance up and get a rise out of his co-star, Danny Kaye improvised the moment when he begins to slap Crosby with his feathered fan. If you watch the scene closely, you can see Crosby caught off guard by this, and by the end of the scene the two men are cracking up on camera for real. According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby was convinced that the take was unusable, but director Michael Curtiz liked the spontaneity of it, and used it in the finished film.
9. White Christmas features an Our Gang cameo.
Early in the film, as Bob and Phil get to know the Haynes sister, they discuss the sisters’ brother Benny, who Bob and Phil knew from the army and who ostensibly connected them for their meeting at the club. Judy Haynes then offers to share a recent photo of Benny, who Phil had already referred to as “Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy.” The photo appears only briefly, but fans of the Our Gang series of comedy shorts might recognize Benny Haynes. He’s played in the photo by Carl Switzer, who was Our Gang’s Alfalfa.
10. White Christmas was the first movie released in a new format.
At the time White Christmas was produced, film was having to increasingly compete with television for the attention of the American public, and this meant numerous gimmicks were deployed to get people to go to the movies. This included even more prevalent use of color on the movie screen (at a time when television was still a black and white medium), as well as a more ambitious use of aspect ratios to emphasize the “big” in big-screen. White Christmas was envisioned as a Technicolor showcase, but it also became the first film to be released in Paramount’s new widescreen format, VistaVision.
The format featured special film magazines that were mounted to the side of the camera lens, which fed the film negative through the camera horizontally rather than vertically. This created a more detailed widescreen exposure that was then printed vertically just like any other film. The result was a format that could play on virtually any movie screen and offer an increase in quality, unlike other contemporary large format options like CinemaScope, which required an adapter.
11. Irving Berlin was nervous about White Christmas.
By the time White Christmas was in production, the title song was one of the bestselling and most beloved songs in the world, and had already been in heavy circulation for more than a decade. Still, that didn’t stop Irving Berlin from being nervous about how the film would be received. Though he wasn’t always on the soundstage during shooting, Rosemary Clooney later recalled that Berlin showed up every day at the cast’s recording sessions for the soundtrack, and as Crosby and company recorded the finale version of “White Christmas” the legendary composer couldn’t stop nervously pacing around the studio. Eventually, Berlin’s worried look proved so distracting that Crosby went over to him and said: “There’s nothing we can do to hurt this song, Irving. It’s already a hit!"
12. White Christmas was the biggest movie of 1954.
White Christmas was released in the fall of 1954 and, on the strength of Berlin’s songs and the Technicolor and VistaVision production values, quickly became a hit for Paramount. The film was the highest-grossing movie of 1954 with a box office take of $12 million. It was also the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz’s career, which was impressive considering his resume already included classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca.