You never forget your first movie. Mine was White Christmas and it became a holiday classic. The movie was made in 1954 but I caught its re-release in 1961. My brother Dan and I saw it at the State Theater on Madison Street in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. I was not prepared for what I was about to witness.
That’s because I grew up in a world of black-and-white films and TV shows. In terms of entertainment, it was like living in Pleasantville. When The Wizard of Oz changed from black and white to color, it was considered one of the most breathtaking moments in film history. This moment was completely lost on our black and white TV, along with Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.
White Christmas was my first encounter with the world of color. When the movie began, I was blown away by the images. It was filmed in Technicolor and the first film to be released in Vista-Vision. The big screen was filled with figures twice the size of a standard film. The movie also had state-of-the-art sound quality and featured unforgettable songs.
It even had a decent plot for a musical. It starts with a scene in World War II France that quickly turns dangerous. Two performers, played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, survive to sing another day. They later lend their talents to save the ski resort owned by their commanding officer, played by Dean Jagger. His slopes are as bare as his bald head.
The boys team up with a sister act, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. The high point is when Bing croons “White Christmas,” which was written by Irving Berlin in 1942. Berlin lived in hotels and stayed up all night composing music. He wrote “White Christmas” at a hotel in California. The next morning, he told his secretary, “Not only is it the best song I ever wrote, it’s the best song anybody ever wrote.”
Berlin was right. “White Christmas” became the top-selling single in history, with worldwide sales of 100 million. It changed Christmas music forever, establishing themes of home and nostalgia. Without “White Christmas,” we might not have “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
The film was equally successful and became the biggest money-maker of 1954. I didn’t know any of this in 1961. I simply enjoyed the comic antics of Crosby and Kaye and the feel-good ending. A longtime neighbor reminded me of the film when she posted a video of Crosby and Clooney singing “Count Your Blessings.”
The song is a soothing tonic for these days of COVID and quarantine. “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. When my bankroll is getting small, I think of when I had none at all. Just count your blessings instead of sheep and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”
Nostalgia is defined as a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former time. I rarely indulge in it because I tend to be forward-looking. This Christmas, though, I can’t help looking back at better times. I remember how Forest Park has always kept Christmas well. We hold food drives, toy drives and coat drives. Our schoolkids collect gloves and hats. We distribute these items to the less fortunate.
We also showcase our local businesses with the annual “Christmas Walk,” a joyous event for adults and kids. This year it was canceled. But our spirit of Christmas is still strong, as we do our best to support our struggling businesses.
Count your blessings during these difficult times. It sure beats counting sheep.