Friday, May 13, 2022

Designer Double-Dip: "Christmas" Re-Gifting

A close friend and I recently made another sojourn to The Rosemary Clooney House, a museum devoted to the gifted singer and sometimes actress. Hailing from Maysville, Kentucky, Clooney spent her last 20 years stationed in the cozy, nearby town of Augusta in a quaint brick home along the Ohio River. After her passing, the house was reinvented (and saved from condemnation) into a charming museum that has continued to fill up with genuine memorabilia since its founding in 2005. The museum is owned and operated as a non-profit organization by former Ky Lt. Governor Steve Henry and his wife Heather French Henry, who was Miss America 2000. Both have worked tirelessly to build the museum up from its initial set of offerings and new things are coming in frequently. (I might add, the $5.00 admission has never increased in these long and troubled 17 years since the opening - at which, naturally, I was present!)

Miss Heather Renee French-Henry and me on the day The Rosemary Clooney House was dedicated.

Her big night. The first Miss Kentucky ever to win the crown!

I've never been able to get her and the dress on the same day. Sometimes ya gotta improvise!

Mrs. Henry, who was the only Miss America contestant that I ever rooted for who proceeded to actually win, is boundlessly creative and not only sings, paints, designs ornaments, writes and endeavors on the behalf of disabled veterans, but she also, along with her mother, painstakingly recreated Rosemary's dress from the finale of White Christmas (1954), the original not believed to have survived. However, the "Sisters" dresses shown with it at left are the real deal. (I bet ya can tell which one was Vera-Ellen's!) These are only a few of the now many costumes which are found within the museum.
Longtime readers here know that I was at the museum the day that White Christmas dancer George Chakiris was on hand (with pal, former Miss America Lee Meriwether) to help present more memorabilia from that film. And since that, there has been still more recovered, including a green tuxedo like the one he wore and a paler one, worn by John Brascia, who was the featured dancer opposite Vera-Ellen in two numbers. The top photo here was not taken at the museum but rather at an exhibit, but all the clothing shown can be found at the museum now. So all that exposition out of the way, we can now move on to the gist of this post!

White Christmas was a (very) loose remake of an earlier film, Holiday Inn (1942), which starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and also featured music by Irving Berlin. Holiday Inn was a smash hit (number 8 for the year of its release) and introduced the Oscar-winning song "White Christmas" to the world. Astaire chose not to do Christmas and, after Donald O'Connor had to bow out due to illness, Danny Kaye was cast.

During the making of Holiday Inn, the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese and suddenly the war was on. The movie already had a gallery of holiday-themed numbers, but after we were entered into WWII, the Fourth of July number was expanded.

Note the eagles hovering over the star-spangled stage. 

Next comes a passel of patriotic pretties, all done up in striped skirts and glittery, star-dotted tops.

It would be hard to get any more "1940s" than the gals here with their iconic coiffures.

No, this is not an Ann Miller lookalike contest!

Edith Head was the chief designer at Paramount during this time, but I don't know if she merely oversaw or actually designed these costumes. The perky number is eye-catching, but we don't really get to know exactly what these get-ups would have looked like in color. Until now...

The chorine costumes from Holiday Inn can be seen in my first photo from White Christmas above as well as in this moment with Crosby. Note the red top hanging in the piece of luggage. The costumes are never part of a number or scene in Christmas, but they decorate the set multiple times as Crosby's company of performers rehearse at Dean Jagger's inn.

Here they help provide a backdrop for Crosby and Ms. Clooney.

Perhaps the best chance to lay eyes on them is during this rehearsal sequence. They are on hangers behind the cast and for a brief moment we get to see one of them, full-length and un-obscured but for Vera-Ellen's extended arm. It's a neat, almost secret, sort of connection between the similar, yet not truly connected, movies. Still, this is not the only example of designer double-dipping that I have for you today.

When folks recall White Christmas, so often they think about "Sisters" or the finale with the title number in all its glory. But truly one of its showstoppers is the spectacular production number "Mandy." In it, an impossibly slender Vera-Ellen emerges in a white getup against a striking scarlet set and proceed to dance herself silly.

The other costars are in the number as well and do their part...

...even providing a certain amount of hoofing.

However, in this particular sequence, they know their place.

The splendiferous number provides an explosion of color.

This white costume with removable train is housed at the Clooney Museum and so is one of the female dance ensembles (complete with "tambourine!") It's the dancing girls' getups I want you to take note of.

Nearly 70 years later, time has bled some of the red color from the ensemble, but otherwise its condition is remarkable.

Here we see Mr. Chakiris peering at Vera-Ellen. His boyish face and figure are featured throughout the film whenever dancers are required.

Here we see Brascia joining the star for what becomes a highly-energetic and athletic routine. (And again take notice of the dancing girls' clothing.)

For her part, Vera-Ellen is whirled around, stretched apart and hurled all over the place!

The remarkable sequence gets strangely overlooked and is made even more remarkable by the low number of edits in it. This is being performed for the camera in straight takes. (It's also easy, with everything going on, to miss Clooney in the background banging away on her tambourine!)

While Vera-Ellen is being yanked around and twisted like a pretzel...

...Bing, Rosie and Danny have a somewhat easier time of it.

So... the red-hued dancing girls of White Christmas did their part and then hung up their costumes in exchange for the next assignment. Were these confections ever seen again after 1954?

Yes! Ten years later, the outfits were dusted off, stripped of their bows and featured in the Elvis Presley/Barbara Stanwyck film Roustabout (1964.)

The once glitteringly glamorous getups from White Christmas were now morphed into cooch-dance costumes in a carnival! See what difference a few accessories can make?

Babs, at far left, doesn't seem too impressed.

Here's a closer look at the now-familiar pieces.

This is another Paramount/Edith Head production, so the recycling of the costumes makes sense.

The removal of the large bows on the back do leave a few of the gals showing more than had been intended the first time the outfits were filmed. But I guess it suits the "Girlie Show" setting.

See what I mean, Vern?!

So I'd say, all in all, that my dance card was pretty full today! I do have to take a moment here to credit (not to mention thank!) the warmly welcoming Mr. Henry for pointing out these costume overlaps to me. He and his wife's endless search for memorabilia continually provides documentation that leads to fun facts like these.

It fascinates me that Vera-Ellen and George Chakiris were both born in the neighborhood in which I currently reside and later wound up with thriving Hollywood careers. Chakiris had moved away only a few years after his birth, but Vera-Ellen was raised here.

In fact, I am only about two blocks from her childhood home. (It crossed my mind once that I should fudge the details and open up MY house as the "Vera-Ellen House & Museum!" LOL) She and Doris Day (who was only a couple of miles south!) used to carpool to dance class together. It's a remarkable region for those with burgeoning musical talent. (Of course Cincinnati also gave the world Charles Manson... so I'll quite while I'm ahead!)

That's all for this time, folks!



Dan said...

I’m surprised they let you back in - weren’t there a few untoward moments at your last visit?
I love “Holiday Inn”, although I have to mute the TV, leave the room, and put a bag over my head during that odious “Abraham” number. So difficult to believe anything like that could ever have been considered in good taste.
I know millions adore “White Christmas”, but I’ve always found it a bit cloying. And why didn’t the marvelous Mary Wickes get a big solo number?
I know you can enlighten us on this, but I recall reading that “background” costumes were constructed in a way that made them easier to alter, for example, often being made without a lining.
Thanks again.

Gingerguy said...

Lol Doris and Vera Ellen carpooling while pour Charles Manson probably hitch hiked. I love that your neighborhood is chock-a-block with famous people. I do remember the post about the museum and somebody imitating Mary Ann Mobley's big strip tease number for Miss America. The Museum sounds really fun. I loved the detective work here, and those costumes work in both settings, though the girlie show looks more fun. As always, your eagle eye is most imprressive.

Shawny said...

Interior Designer Double Dip? The overhead shot of the rehearsal studio, center left, there's a woman standing on what looks like the scarlet backdrop used in the Mandy number, but cream color. Maybe being used as a room divider. I'm probably wrong. I need to get a hobby...

Ptolemy1 said...

Probably my favorite Christmas film, well, that and Finney's Scrooge! from from 1970. I'm partial to the "Abraham" number, where Ellen lets loose and throws down taps like bullets out of a machine gun. That film is such a fantasy, many a time my friends and I have hooted over the barn magically transformed into a soundstage, with its seemingly seamless floor. I've always been a big fan of Kaye and I'm glad he replaced Astaire. He's given a wonderful chance to shine in this. The GREAT character actress almost steals the film and is a hoot and a holler. Thank you.

Poseidon3 said...

Dan, I don't think we ever truly got enough of Mary Wickes in anything! (Except perhaps "Sigmund the Sea Monster.") I don't really know too much about the construction of movie costumes, but I do pray regularly that Kim Kardashian doesn't come to the Rosemary Clooney House and try to rent out any of the clothes there for a future Met Gala...!! Ha!

Gingerguy! Hilarious about the hitch-hiking! I think Charlie was outta here after his early childhood (though I'd have to look that up to know for sure), so we will pass along responsibility for his actions to someplace else! I always say any place that gives the world Charles Manson and Roy Rogers (who was from here, too!) is always going to have a schizoid atmosphere to it! And we do.

Shawny, that "rehearsal hall" is actually the floor of the Vermont Inn, with the stage right there. So all the set pieces had been loaded in to the venure. The cream colored item is one of the off-white chairs that the dancing girls in red use during the number. ;-)

Ptolemy1, I went years and years without ever having seen this movie and the number that startled me was "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" by Rosie. I wasn't prepared for that sleek black dress and those gloves, all so glam in a movie I anticipated would be more... rustic? I think I really fell in love with her easy, warm voice at that moment. But, yes, what a scream that this HUGE production number goes on in a barn and yet looks like it's at Radio City Music Hall or someplace and then when it's all finished, after all its astonishingly garish glory, the young gal on the floor goes, "This'll bring business in, Grandpa..." or something like that!! HAAH!!!

Ptolemy1 said...

HAHAH I meant to say Mary Wickes there at the end of my comment! Kaye was speculated to be many things but a character actress...not so much. Thanks again!

hsc said...

I always enjoy these detailed looks at movie costumes, and especially the ones that reappear in later films!

That Rosemary Clooney museum is great, and I really appreciate the fact that they not only preserved a complete chorus girl costume from the "Mandy" sequence, but tracked down another notable use of the set of costumes!

However, the shot of the costume in the museum seems to show a more solid base for the segments (flames? petals?) that swirl around the body.

In both sets of framecaps, it looks like a lighter-colored sheer fabric was used to give more of an illusion of "bare skin peeking out" between the segments. And as you say, it's really more apparent in ROUSTABOUT without the back pieces, when the girls turn around.

But on display, it looks like that fabric is now darker in comparison to the other segments (which, as you say, have faded), and now it seems opaque rather than sheer.

I guess this could just be the way the fabric photographs on a mannequin rather than a dancer-- but maybe the original costume had to be reconstructed because the base fabric didn't hold up well?

(I know a lot of the costumes Debbie Reynolds collected and eventually sold at auction were in sad shape in the auction catalog photos-- sometimes to the extent where you had to wonder if it was actually the same piece in the movie still next to it!)

Thanks for sharing your visit to the museum and the wonderful looks at these three films! Love to all-- and be well and safe, everyone!

Ken Anderson said...

Although I've yet to even see "White Christmas" (I've seen so many of the numbers over the years it almost feels as though I've actually seen the whole thing) I got such a kick out of the info about the film, it's predecessor, the museum and the history of them all.
Such an informative post and I always enjoy seeing you in photos, your enthusiasm for movies always comes through. I don't know what it'll take to get me to watch WHITE CHRISTMAS, but until such time, your engaging and witty post will do just fine. Thanks!

VictorG said...

Terrific piece as always, Poseidon, I am fascinated by the lives of the costumes as well as of the stars, second bananas and bit players. As a music and classic film lover, I never miss Holiday Inn and White Christmas during December. Back in the 1980s I worked in the music biz here in NYC and had the great pleasure of working with Rosemary Clooney, who was recording wonderful albums with Concord Jazz every year. She was a delight, she sang live in the studio with the band, not over tracks, so it was especially fabulous. She signed her book and albums and photos for me and was simply lovely. Years later she wrote a second autobiography and I met her again at Barnes & Noble, and she was as wonderful as ever, a great singing star and a great lady. How nice to know that Rosemary Clooney's home is now a museum, she was a big star with a big heart and a gorgeous voice. Thanks, Poseidon!

Poseidon3 said...

hsc, I really think that the "flesh-tone" fabric of the chorus girl costume has gotten darker over time (or perhaps under the blinding old time lights of VistaVision just "read" lighter on film.) Regrettably, I didn't take time to really examine the garment up close (or ask more about it.) And, yes, the original base may have given out and the principal details applied to a new underpiece. Some of these clothes really got a workout and that's not even counting all the endless dress rehearsals, multiple takes, etc... And dare I mention perspiration! LOL Thank you!

Ken, thanks for visiting and commenting! It took me AGES to see "White Christmas." I know I was nearing 40 before I finally saw it. There is some corn along the way, but between the gorgeous photography, the familiar songs and, what may sway you, some truly eye-popping dances, I think you'd find yourself well occupied. I have a feeling that, like me, you'll appreciate it far more than you anticipated you would prior to viewing.

VictorG, as you can imagine, many people in these here parts have stories of brushing up against Rosie in one situation or another and I feel like the most common denominator in every tale is that she was so very down to earth and "real" to speak with. A little blunt at times, but typically about herself as much as anything else. I have yet to have an unhappy experience relayed to me by anyone who met/worked with her in this area. Glad you had the same pleasure (and thanks for sharing it with us!)

Shawny said...

I associate Rosemary Clooney with her "Extra value is what you get, when you buy Coronet," commercial. Do they have a stack of paper towels in the museum? :)

Dan said...

Just remembered! Rosemary was one of the stars of the 1957 “Edsel Show”, introducing Ford’s newest creation. Things did not start off well - the door handle of her brand new Edsel came off in her hand.