Berlin’s Musical Calendar

Posted on: December 23rd, 2016 by Nick Mecikalski

Irving Berlin wrote many of the songs in Holiday Inn specifically for the 1942 film itself—but several of them took different trajectories from what he originally planned. The following traces select songs from the musical back to their roots and explores their lasting impacts.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Top Hat, which features the song "Cheek to Cheek"

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Top Hat

Berlin and Bing Crosby originally intended “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” to become the standout hit from the Holiday Inn film, but “White Christmas” emerged as the runaway single instead. Written as an intentionally fresh take on a Valentine’s Day love song, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” both celebrates romance and acknowledges its dangerous side.

Berlin originally wrote “Cheek To Cheek” to accompany the ballroom dance in the 1935 film Top Hat, in which Fred Astaire famously sings the romantic melody to Ginger Rogers after proposing to her. The song went on to earn a 1936 Oscar® nomination and become the Billboard number 1 song of 1935—and Berlin wrote the entire thing in a single day. “Cheek To Cheek” did not actually appear in the original Holiday Inn film.

The melody to the “Easter Parade” refrain originally appeared in Berlin’s 1917 song “Smile and Show Your Dimple.” Berlin reused the tune for “Easter Parade,” which he featured in his 1933 musical revue As Thousands Cheer, a satire of world events and newspaper headlines of the time. “Easter Parade” went on to be included in several films, including Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938) and Easter Parade (1948) in addition to Holiday Inn.

Judy Garland in "Meet Me in St Louis"

Judy Garland in the film Easter Parade

The first Independence Day song added to the Holiday Inn film was an intentionally apolitical and wordless “fire-cracker ballet.” After the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, however, Berlin, in the midst of shooting the film, quickly wrote “Song of Freedom” as a rallying cry for a nation at war. Inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech earlier that year, “Song of Freedom” captures America’s pro-war fervor at its entry into World War II.

The version of “Blue Skies” heard in this musical also contains parts of Berlin’s song “Down Where The Jack-O’- Lanterns Grow,” which Berlin wrote for The Cohan Revue of 1918. Berlin first wrote “Blue Skies” itself for the 1926 musical Betsy. At the opening performance, the audience was so enraptured by “Blue Skies” that actress Belle Baker ended up giving 24 encores of the song, the final one onstage with Berlin himself after she forgot the lyrics.

A 'Four Freedoms' stamp from 1946

A "Four Freedoms" stamp from 1946

Berlin wrote “Marching Along With Time” as part of his first musical feature film, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, the first ever musical film comprised of songs entirely by the same composer. Though Berlin’s producers urged him to make Alexander’s Ragtime Band an autobiography, the film instead primarily became a history of Berlin’s compositions. Ethel Merman was supposed to perform “Marching Along With Time” for the film, but the song ended up being dropped from the score.

In the Holiday Inn film, a cartoon sequence directly before the debut of “Plenty To Be Thankful For” depicts a confused turkey running back and forth between two different dates on a calendar—a reference to President Roosevelt’s failed attempt to move Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November in order to extend the holiday shopping season. The contrast between the moment of political commentary and the song’s idealistic lyrics may well be Berlin’s reminder to his audience of the capitalistic and governmental forces at work behind even our most sacred holidays.

Irving Berlin and performers from Alexander's Ragtime Band, 1938

Press photo of Irving Berlin (left) and performers from Alexander's Ragtime Band, 1938

When Berlin penned “White Christmas”—perhaps in 1940, though the exact date is unknown—he had no expectations for its success. Nostalgic and melancholy, the ballad
perhaps draws from Berlin’s conflicted feelings around the holiday, which in 1928 saw the death of his infant son, Irving Jr. The song became wildly popular when in 1942 Armed Forces Radio broadcast Bing Crosby’s version overseas to American GIs. Still a quintessentially American tribute to home, “White Christmas” is now the most-recorded and best-selling song of all time.

Berlin wrote both “Holiday Inn” and “Happy Holiday” in 1942 as separate songs and only later combined them for the film. “Happy Holiday” is popularly considered a Christmas anthem, but in this musical, as in the original film, it serves as the New Year’s Eve number, intended as a blessing on all holidays over the course of the new year.


Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical is now playing at Studio 54. Visit our website for tickets and more information.

Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Holiday Inn, Upstage

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