The Music Plays On — Irving Berlin White Christmas

Donato Cabrera
3 min readDec 23, 2020
Bing Crosby singing for the troops in 1944

Most people today associate the song White Christmas with the 1954 eponymous hit film, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. Filmed in Technicolor, it was also the first film to be filmed in VistaVision, a technique developed by Paramount Pictures that doubled the surface area on 35mm film, creating far superior prints. It was the top grossing film of 1954 and it still looks beautiful today.

However, this is not the film where the song White Christmas was introduced. A decade earlier, in 1942, Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant, composed twelve songs specifically for the musical film, Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, and Walter Abel. The film was quite successful in 1942, but the song White Christmas was an immediate hit, receiving the 1943 Academy Award for Best Original Song. It is interesting to note that the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened halfway through the filming of Holiday Inn and the Fourth of July segment was greatly expanded to include the number, Song of Freedom. Here’s the version of White Christmas that people first encountered in the movie theaters in 1942. It’s worth seeing just to see Crosby use his pipe to tap the bells on the Christmas tree.

And here’s the original 1942 version of the song that became a hit on the radio in 1942. I love this version because there’s a hint of the swing band era sound that is missing in subsequent remakes.