Holiday Flicks Always a Hit
By James Barlett
As the season to be jolly fades away until next December, we decided
to take a look at some of the most popular Christmas movies of all time
- movies that are on television year after year and many know almost word-for-word,
yet never seem to lose their magic.
Surprisingly, the majority of these classic movies featured Irish-American
actors, some of whom were well known for their connections to the Emerald
Isle, and others who had connections long back in their family history:
"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten,
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow…"
Sung by Bing Crosby in what many consider to be the greatest holiday
film of all time - the appropriately named White Christmas - this
song represents an idyllic, picture-perfect vision of Christmas, and is
the song that Crosby is most famous for.
The Irving Berlin composition was the best-selling single for over 50
years, selling over 100 million copies, although it had actually first
been used in another Crosby film, 1942's Holiday Inn, when it won
the Oscar for best original song.
Crosby had 37 other #1 singles in his career, more than Elvis Presley
and The Beatles, and in total he sold close to 500,000,000 records, also
being rated as the third most popular actor of all time after Clark Gable
and John Wayne.
The 1954 movie also featured another Irish-American actress/singer,
Rosemary Clooney, and was notable not only for the fact that it was directed
by Michael Curtiz (who directed the legendary Casablanca) but it
was the first movie in glorious "Vistavision", and was the biggest box
office hit of that year.
The story of White Christmas is based around two WWII Army buddies,
Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), who hit it big as entertainers
after the war and help Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and her sister to escape
some trouble, joining them on a train trip to Vermont for the - you guessed
it - Christmas holidays. Confusion and music follow, but by the end everyone
has fallen in love and there is a snowy finale.
Harry Lillis Crosby was born in Tacoma, Washington on May 2, 1903, the
fourth of seven children. His parents were Harry, a bookkeeper, and his
mother was Irish-American Catherine Harrigan (known as Kate), the daughter
of a builder from Co. Mayo.
In 1910, Crosby was forever renamed "Bingo" (shortened to Bing) due
to his love of "The Bingville Bugle," a humorous parody newsletter included
in a local newspaper. One of "Bing's" earliest experiences in entertainment
was in 1917, when he took a summer job as property boy at Spokane's "Auditorium"
and saw some of the finest acts of the day, including a black-faced performer
named Al Jolson.
As for Rosemary Clooney, she was a popular pop music singer and actress
in the 1940's and 50's, scoring #1 hits with "Come On-a My House", "Half
As Much", "Hey There" and "This Ol' House". She was born in Maysville,
Kentucky to Andrew Joseph Clooney and Frances Marie Guilfoyle, both of
whom were Irish Catholics, and was the aunt of Hollywood heartthrob George
Clooney, the star of recent movie The American, Michael Clayton
and the Ocean's 11/12/13 trilogy.
Second in the list, and certainly a movie that has inspired numerous
re-makes, is 1947's Miracle on 34th Street, which featured fiery
redheaded Irish-American actress Maureen O'Hara as Doris Walker.
The movie was written and directed by George Seaton (who wrote Marx
Brothers movies Night At The Opera, Day At The Races and
early "disaster" movie Airport) and is a charming tale based around
Santa Claus: or is he?
Following the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, a single mother
(O'Hara) and her daughter, a lawyer, and many others are left wondering
whether or not a department store Santa just might be the real Mr. Claus,
the jolly, red-and-white bringer of toys to good children.
The movie won Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Edmund Gwenn as Kris
Kringle, who shouted "Now I know there is a Santa Claus" on receiving the
gold statue), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best
Writing, Screenplay (Seaton).
Maureen Fitzsimons was born on August 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, Co. Dublin,
and among her five other siblings she was a child prodigy. Her mother Marguerita
Lilbur was an accomplished contralto, and her father Charles was a businessman
and part owner of an Irish soccer team named "The Shamrock Rovers."
Her last name was changed when she was cast to star in Jamaica Inn
(1939) - apparently so it would fit on the marquee easier - and this was
the first in a long line of classic films she appeared in, including The
Hunchback of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley, Irish classic
The Quiet Man, The Parent Trap and McLintock!
She was a renowned beauty, spoke fluent Irish, and worked with the most
dashing of Hollywood's Golden Age leading men including Tyrone Power, Rex
Harrison, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Sir Alec Guinness and, of course,
"The Duke" himself, John Wayne, in The Quiet Man.
On television, there are several classic shows that everyone watches
at Christmas, and perhaps the most famous of these is "Rudolph the Red
Nosed Reindeer" from 1964, directed by Kizo Nagashima and Larry Roemer.
The Irish-American connection here is white, cold, and often doesn't
last very long: Burl Ives was the voice of "Sam The Snowman", who sings
and tells the tale of the famous reindeer and his special schnozzle.
Born on June 14, 1909, in Hunt, Ill., the 6-foot-plus Ives was one of
six children born to a Scottish-Irish farming family in Jasper County.
Many years before he was the famous snowman, he first took the stage for
a soldiers' reunion at the tender age of four. Later on in high school,
he learned the banjo and played fullback, intending to become a football
coach when he enrolled at Eastern Illinois State Teacher's College.
Things didn't work out though, and after dropping out in 1930, he traveled
around hitching rides, doing odd jobs and street singing. This eventually
led to a job with CBS Radio in 1940, and through his "Wayfaring Stranger"
persona he popularized many of the folksongs he had collected during his
He also had a brush with the House Un-American Activities Committee
in the 1950's, when he was suspected of having Communist sympathies and
named fellow folk singer Pete Seeger and others as possible Communists.
By the 1960s, Ives had both country and pop chart hits, and recorded
nearly 50 albums over his career, although his acting career was just as
successful - he reprised his Broadway role as "Big Daddy" in the movie
version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and won an Oscar for Best Supporting
Actor in The Big Country that same year.
Forty-one years after cooperating with the HUAC, Ives and Seeger were
reunited in a benefit concert in New York City, singing "Blue Tail Fly"
together, while his song "A Holly Jolly Christmas" from "Rudolph
the Red-Nosed Reindeer" remains a seasonal favorite.
Finally, there is one contemporary classic Christmas movie - albeit
now 20 years old - that many enjoy at Christmas. Based on a tale written
by Charles Dickens over 150 years ago (and remade regularly ever since),
(1988) was directed by Richard Donner (the Lethal Weapon movies)
and featured Irish-American actor Bill Murray as wild, harassed TV executive
Frank Cross, a man who workaholism has lost him the love of his family
and a good woman.
Now he's having trouble sorting out his company's annual television
Christmas Special - which of course is A Christmas Carol - until
some rather weird ghosts of past, present and future pay him a visit.
Born on Sept. 21,1950, in Wilmette, Ill., Murray was the fifth of nine
children born to Irish-American Catholic parents Edward and Lucille Murray,
a lumber salesman and mail room clerk, respectively. Acting is clearly
in the family blood: three of Murray's siblings are also actors - John
Murray, Joel Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray - and they all appeared in Scrooged.
In his early days Murray and most of his siblings worked as caddies,
which paid his tuition to Loyola Academy, a Jesuit school. He played sports
and did some acting while there, but in his words, mostly "screwed off".
He enrolled at Regis College, Denver to study medicine, but left after
being arrested for possession of marijuana and joined the "National Lampoon
Radio Hour" with Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, and John Belushi, later joining
them again on American comedy program "Saturday Night Live".
A comedy favorite, he has had plenty of hits in his career: Caddyshack,
Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day to name but
a few, though he famously eschews the Hollywood scene, Murray acts without
an agent or publicist, and is only contractible by a phone service - which
he only checks every now and then. This has probably cost him some big
roles, but Murray seems to be happy with life's pleasures: he owns several
minor league baseball teams and is a diehard Chicago Cubs fan.
So enjoy the next holiday season, and in the words of Irving Berlin
- and the voice of Bing Crosby:
"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white"