My wife’s grandson nailed it on Facebook last week. Someone was griping about Baby It’s Cold Outside, and he said that it was just bait. Meaning, it was trolls trying to get clicks and sew discord by attacking something people seem to like. Like Christmas, or Xmas, or people who write Xmas instead of Christmas. I have it on authority that religious students regularly abbreviate Christ as X, so I suppose it’s not that bad if I do it, too.
I’ve been going through the rounds of Xmas movies again this year to get myself in the mood. First I watched Love Actually. It has as tenuous a connection with Xmas as Die Hard, but both of them always make the lists of best Xmas flicks. I hadn’t seen LA in quite a few years, and I had read a critical review a few days before – actually a re-review by a critic who seemed perplexed that it had become a Xmas classic. The critic claimed that the falling in love in LA was way too simple, and didn’t show any of the work involved in relationships. I’ve been guilty of falling in love way too fast myself, but I still enjoyed the film. Even though I still adore Emma Thompson, I had a bit more sympathy for Alan Rickman as her husband tempted by provocative coworker Mia (Heike Makatsch). Not that it has ever happened to me, of course.
Then I found a DVD of Holiday Inn at Target. This bluray includes the original black and white version, a colorized version and a film of the 2017 Broadway version. Holiday Inn, which features all the major holidays, always makes the Xmas lists, too, but is always flagged for a blackface scene. Apparently most broadcasters, except Turner Classic Movies, cut that scene out, but it is kind of important to the plot.
Jim (Bing Crosby) wants to hide Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) from his amorous former partner Ted (Fred Astaire), so he resorts to blackface for the Lincoln’s Birthday show number. During Bing’s song, they briefly cut to Jim’s servant Mamie (Louise Beavers), singing to her two children about Lincoln freeing the darkies. And Linda appears dressed as a pickaninny. In 2000 Spike Lee took flak for a parody of the minstrel show and blackface in Bamboozled, but it wasn’t terribly surprising to someone who saw Amos n Andy on network TV in the 1960s to see them as part of a mainstream show.
What I found sad was that by Thanksgiving, when Linda had left Jim for a career in Hollywood, Mamie served the very lonely Jim a turkey while she and the kids ate in the kitchen. Wouldn’t a lonely man want any sort of company at his table on Thanksgiving? Not if it was black folk, no. Not in 1942, anyway.
Netflix still has White Christmas, which is often seen as a remake of Holiday Inn since they both feature Bing singing Irving Berlin’s song at an Inn in Connecticut. But Bing has a great singing partner in Rosemary Clooney, a great dancer in Vera-Ellen, and the versatile Danny Kaye to help move things along. Mamie was replaced by stalwart character actress Mary Wickes. My favorite number was Snow, but I had forgotten that I’d Rather See a Minstrel Show and Mister Bones is in White Christmas, too. The minstrel scene isn’t in blackface, but there is an interlocutor, and a bone man, and traditional minstrel costumes interpreted by the great Edith Head. Again, this was 1954, so seeing remnants of minstrelsy wasn’t that unusual. I’m not sure when I learned that Danny Kaye was actually born David Kaminsky. Irving Berlin was openly Jewish, but those who performed his music had to adopt anglo names.
I have to admit that I cried towards the end of the film. They were honoring old General Waverly played by Dean Jagger, and it just made me think of my father who passed away this year, and how I used to watch these movies with my whole family before everything became bait, and we all became divided.