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‘White Christmas’ puts imaginary Vermont town in spotlight

One of the final scenes from “White Christmas,” shortly before the characters discover the snow drought is over and glittering flakes are falling outside.

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Once again this Christmas, throngs of people visit Pine Tree, Vermont.

The small town is nestled in the mountains, surrounded by forests with glistening snow. sleigh bells tinkle. buttermilk is served.

Reading: When was the movie white christmas filmed

try to find a pine tree on a map or go for a walk and you’ll be out of luck. the town is fictitious. As the setting for the classic 1954 Christmas movie, “White Christmas,” the town lives only within VistaVision’s musical that sings and dances nonstop on laptops and TVs this time of year.

vermont is the backdrop for most of the film and continues to command attention that the film shines 60 years after its making, even though no part of the bing crosby-rosemary clooney romantic comedy was filmed in the state of the green mountains.

With the “White Christmas” viewing ritual throughout Vermont and the country, it’s worth taking a look at what the movie has to say about Vermont and Christmas.

white Christmas tradition

penny rand of richmond watches the movie at least twice a year with her daughters, karin, 16, and annavitte, 19. they watch one at thanksgiving, one at christmas, and sometimes another on the middle.

Her daughters know the words to all the songs, especially the upbeat duet “sisters,” and they enjoy the movie as much as their mother.

the film conveys an image of vermont as a simple, rural and authentic place, an image that lives on today.

“That’s the Vermont connection for me. It’s really a very sweet story of something at a time when people didn’t have a lot of money and people were trying to get things done,” Rand said.

recognizes the image of vermont depicted in the movie.

“why do people want to come to vermont on vacation?” Rand said. “because you’re really getting away from it all and seeing the simplicity of being together in a comfortable, cozy place with a fireplace.”

The lead characters in “White Christmas” played by Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen, ride the train to Vermont.

Faking Vermont on film

“White Christmas” topped the box office the year of its release. Crosby’s enormous marquee value and the title song, composed by Irving Berlin, helped. the swirling, sentimental tune was already wildly popular, having debuted a dozen years earlier in the 1942 film “holiday inn.”

The famous song is not the only thing the two films have in common. both star bing crosby and take place in rural new england inns, though the fictional columbia inn in “white christmas” is in much better shape than the fixer-upper crosby renovates in “holiday inn.”

Recycled items didn’t stop audiences from loving “White Christmas,” the story of two Army buddies now working as artists trying to revive the Vermont inn run by their former commander as a snow drought threatens to put the place out of business.

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The film’s repertoire of cheeky duets, soft ballads and patriotic provocateurs, all from Berlin, and danny kaye’s spectacular dancing and wasp-waisted vera-ellen add to the appeal.

none of the tap dancing, waltzing, or singing were filmed in vermont, and the picturesque vermont backdrop is the work of the artists on set.

“White Christmas” was filmed between September and December 1953, entirely in Southern California, according to archivists at the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study Film Library in Beverly Hills, California.

Most of the filming was done on soundstages at Paramount Studios. The movie’s train station was filmed on the 20th century fox lot, and there was some second-unit filming on local locations, according to the file.

“White Christmas” is one of many movies set in Vermont but not filmed in Vermont, according to Gregory Gerdel, chief of research and operations for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. He also served as director of the Vermont Film Office when it was created in 1981.

other movies in the same category, according to gerdel:

•”state and main”, which playwright david mamet conceived for vermont but ended up shooting in maine.

•”The Jacket”, filmed in Canada.

•”hope springs”, also shot in canada, although, gerdel said, there could be a quick shot of the bennington monument.

even some of the movies that appear on the lists of movies made in vermont were mostly made somewhere else.

“Many of the movies we list with locations in Vermont were shot entirely on Hollywood sets, except for a few opening shots that were often added during post-production,” Gerdel said. Disney’s “something wicked this way comes” is a good example. the director arrived to supervise the location shots and complained, “we should have shot everything here!” “

out of the studio, on location shooting

Promotional materials for “White Christmas,” which was the biggest hit of the year at the box office when it was released in 1954.

Gerdel was instrumental in founding the state-supported Vermont Film Bureau after state authorities began wringing their hands at the success of the movie “On Golden Pond,” which was filmed next door in New Hampshire and brought the Granite State good publicity.

Nowadays, technology makes it easier for small crews to shoot low-budget movies in Vermont. There are many local efforts among the more than 100 films made (or partially made) in Vermont since 1920.

but studio and big budget movies have historically been difficult to get to vermont.

In the early 1950s, when “White Christmas” was filmed, it was the norm for directors to shoot much of their footage in a studio. going to the place was unusual.

There were some exceptions. Alfred Hitchcock filmed parts of 1954’s “The Trouble With Harry” in Craftsbury. Long before that, movie star Lillian Gish came to Vermont and sat on a piece of floating ice for the 1920 movie “Way Down East.”

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“It was quite dangerous,” Gerdel said. “They really had her on an ice floe, before the special effects.”

As location filming became more popular in the 1960s and beyond, there were still barriers to shooting movies in Vermont, including the state’s highly changeable weather.

“Our tendency to have inconsistent sky coverage is a challenge. You have clouds, sun, bright filtered sun, clouds and then it gets dark,” Gerdel said. “would drive filmmakers crazy.”

In addition to Vermont’s changing weather, other obstacles over the years have included tax incentives, storage space for quick interior shots, and good access to union gear.

still, vermont attracted filmmakers who came to shoot scenes for major productions, such as “baby boom” (1986), “beetlejuice” (1987), “ethan frome” (1992), and “house rules of the cider” (1998). ).

These movies may have contributed to the Vermont brand, but one of the most well-known stories set in Vermont is a TV show.

“on the television side, the series with the greatest impact on visitors to vermont is, without a doubt, the program ‘newhart,'” said gerdel. “The opening shots at the premiere and throughout the first season were actually outtakes from ‘On Golden Pond,’ which was shot in New Hampshire around 1979.”

The makers of “newhart,” another story set in a vermont inn, filmed most of the show elsewhere but sent a crew to vermont for seasonal and exterior shoots at the weybury inn in east middlebury, he said gerdel.

white christmas

and the vermont brand

the pine tree is trapped in a movie, like a town trapped inside a snowball. no one can go there, but the town manages to grab attention quite effectively by sitting on the mantelpiece of the imagination.

all those visions of “white christmas” and the vermont it represents could have a lasting impact on vermont branding and tourism.

The movie “probably had some impact on the mindset that Vermont is a good place to vacation,” Gerdel said.

perhaps the happy ending of “white christmas” helps spread a good sugar cookie aroma over vermont. The film ends in classic Hollywood style. bing and rosemary stop arguing and find true love. everyone can dance and sing in red velvet costumes. huge snowflakes fall on a pine tree. the columbia inn is saved.

For a movie that’s heavy on fantasy, there’s one theme that’s all too real, even today: the saving quality of snow for profitable vacations in Vermont.

As Gerdel puts it: “One of the interesting ironies is, as any Vermont innkeeper will tell you, the anxiety about whether it will snow by Christmas runs deep.”

contact molly walsh at 660-1874 or mwalsh@burlingtonfreepress.com. Follow Molly on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mokawa.

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