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Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn (1942)

Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire light up the big screen in the 1942 musical Holiday Inn. Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale co-star.

Holiday Inn lobby card set image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries

Director Mark Sandrich and Paramount Pictures brought the delightful Holiday Inn to movie theaters in 1942. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire star, with Der Bingle crooning the classic “White Christmas” for the first time.

Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn

Irving Berlin had gotten the idea for Holiday Inn after penning the song “Easter Parade” for his Broadway musical As Thousands Cheer, which opened at New York City’s Music Box Theatre on September 30, 1933. A big success during the depths of the Great Depression, As Thousands Cheer would log 400 performances until its closing on September 8, 1934. Berlin later pitched his movie idea of a star-studded salute to American holidays to producer Mark Sandrich, who finally brought the film project to fruition nine years later.

Elmer Rice and Claude Binyon wrote Holiday Inn for Paramount Pictures. Mark Sandrich (Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Skylark) produced and directed. Robert Emmett Dolan served as musical director, with original music by the prolific Irving Berlin.

Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire Star in Holiday Inn

Bing Crosby (Jim Hardy), Fred Astaire (Ted Hanover), Marjorie Reynolds (Linda Mason) and Virginia Dale (Lila Dixon) head the fine cast. Other players include Walter Abel (Danny Reed), Louise Beavers (Mamie), Irving Bacon (Gus), Marek Windheim (Francois), James Bell (Dunbar), John Gallaudet (Parker) and Shelby Bacon (Vanderbilt).

Playing an orchestra leader at the Midnight Club is Harry Barris, Bing Crosby’s old Rhythm Boys partner. Also making a cameo appearance is Bing’s younger brother, Bob Crosby, along with his orchestra.  

Holiday Inn Filmed in California

Budgeted at a healthy $3.2 million, Holiday Inn was filmed from October 1941 to January 1942. Filming locations included the original Holiday Inn in Monte Rio, California, which is still in operation today as the Village Inn & Restaurant.

One of the picture’s more spectacular scenes was a Fourth of July sequence titled “Let’s Say It with Firecrackers,” which thrilled moviegoers of the era. “The firecracker number, in which I threw torpedoes to explode in a rhythmic conglomeration at my feet, took an awful lot of planning and rehearsing,” reported Fred Astaire in his autobiography Steps in Time (Harper & Brothers, 1959). “I also had the stage wired to set off what looked like strings of firecrackers with visible flashes as I stepped in certain spots. It was great satisfaction, that dance…”

Holiday Inn: A Musical Celebration of America

Holiday Inn opens on Christmas Eve in New York City, where entertainers Jim Hardy, Ted Hanover and Lila Dixon are appearing at the Midnight Club. In her dressing room, Jim tells Lila that this is their final show. He produces a wedding ring, and announces that after their marriage they will retire to Midville, Connecticut, for life on the farm.

There’s one complication: Lila is in love with Ted. Clued in about their secret romance, an embittered Jim quits the act and heads to Connecticut alone. Here the months and holidays roll by, with Ted working on his farm.

A reconciled Jim and Ted later open a nightclub in Connecticut called Holiday Inn, which caters exclusively to the 15 or so American holidays populating the calendar. Later joining them at the inn is the blond singer/dancer Linda Mason, discovered by agent Danny Reed while working at a flower shop, who becomes Jim’s girlfriend.

Holiday Inn proves to be a successful business venture, with Hollywood getting wind of the establishment. The men from Tinseltown express their desire to make a motion picture on Holiday Inn, featuring the new dynamite dancing team of Ted Hanover and Linda Mason, along with Jim Hardy’s music.

Romantic entanglements ensue, with Jim learning in a movie magazine that Linda is now engaged to Ted. A despondent Jim is urged by his maid Mamie to head out to Hollywood in order to win back his girlfriend.

Holiday Inn Opens in New York City

Holiday Inn premiered at New York City’s Paramount Theater on August 4, 1942.

“That man Irving Berlin has been whistling to himself again. Not content with turning out the most rousing Broadway show in years, he has scribbled no fewer than thirteen tunes for Holiday Inn, the light-heartedly patriotic musical…” reported Theodore Strauss of The New York Times (8/5/42).

“Loaded with a wealth of songs, it’s meaty, not too kaleidoscopic and yet closely knit for a compact 100 minutes of tiptop filmusical entertainment,” observed Variety.

Film Analysis

Holiday Inn is just what the good Hollywood doctor ordered in the grim, early years of World War II. It’s an unabashed flag-waving musical, featuring Bing Crosby as the crooner and the incomparable Fred Astaire as the hoofer. Add to that the talents of Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale, and Holiday Inn ranks as one of Hollywood’s greatest music fests.

Irving Berlin fashioned an array of energetic toe-tappers especially for Holiday Inn: “I’ll Capture Your Heart Singing,” “Lazy,” “You’re Easy to Dance With,” “Happy Holidays,” “(Come to) Holiday Inn,” “Let’s Start the New Year Right,” “Abraham,” “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” “I Can’t Tell a Lie,” “Let’s Say It with Firecrackers,” “Song of Freedom,” “(I’ve Got) Plenty to Be Thankful For” and “White Christmas.” Also included are two earlier Berlin tunes, 1933’s “Easter Parade” and the 1918 World War I ditty “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.”

For “White Christmas” lovers, the song is performed twice in the film. The first outing comes with Bing Crosby at the piano, joined by Marjorie Reynolds whose singing voice is dubbed by Martha Mears. “White Christmas” is heard a second time, with Mears once again dubbing for Reynolds with the Bob Crosby Orchestra in accompaniment.

One of Holiday Inn’s big highlights is Fred Astaire’s superb Drunk Dance scene, in which his tipsy character arrives at the inn and does an impromptu fling with Marjorie Reynolds. “I took two stiff hookers of bourbon before the first take and one before each succeeding take,” Astaire reported in his autobiography. “I had to fall down on my face and be carried out for the finish. It was hot on that stage, too! All in all we did it seven times. The last one was the best.”

Holiday Inn Box Office, Oscar Nominations, Trivia, DVD

  • Holiday Inn grossed $3.8 million at the American box office.
  • Academy Award nominations: Best Original Song “White Christmas” (Berlin, won), Best Scoring of a Musical Picture (Dolan), Best Original Story (Berlin).
  • Producer-director Mark Sandrich wanted two comparatively unknown girls to work with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, hence Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale were signed. And don’t get them confused: Marjorie Reynolds is the blonde and Virginia Dale the brunette.
  • Martha Mears (1908-1986) not only did the singing for Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn, but dubbed for other stars as well, including Rita Hayworth, Audrey Totter, Julie Bishop, Hedy Lamarr, Veronica Lake and Lucille Ball.
  • The so-called “Abraham” sequence celebrating Lincoln’s birthday, in which Bing Crosby disguises Marjorie Reynolds in blackface, is often deleted from television showings. Some TV station managers view it as racially insensitive, even degrading.
  • Twelve years after the release of Holiday Inn, Irving Berlin brought White Christmas (1954) to movie theaters.
  • Deceased Holiday Inn stars: Bing Crosby (1903-1977), Fred Astaire (1899-1987), Marjorie Reynolds (1917-1997), Virginia Dale (1917-1994).
  • On DVD: Holiday Inn Special Edition (Universal, 2006).
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