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Old 23 December 2015, 01:02 PM
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A Turtle Named Mack A Turtle Named Mack is offline
 
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Theme Icon Irving Berlin and White Christmas

I heard this story sometime before, but I cannot now find it online. I don't know if it is glurge or real or maybe a slightly true storry with glurge added, or...

Irving Berlin came to the USA with his father and brother. They were going to bring his mother and sisters over after they had earned enough money. Irving was still elementary school age. The three of them sublet a room from a large Irish family in an apartment building. The excitement and preparations over Christmas of the many Irish children in the apartment as well as of the entire NYC was infectious, but of course, Irving's father explained about the differences between their Jewish traditions and the Christian traditions. When it came to Christmas Eve, Irving's father told them they would need to stay in their room all that evening and the next day so as not to interfere with the Irish family having their Christmas festivities. However, the father of the Irish family was having none of that: he knocked on the Berlins' door and insisted they join them for the games and songs and their feast (such as it was - they were nearly as poor as the Berlins, hence subletting a room to them). There was even a small present for each of the Berlin boys. The Irish father explained that they were celebrating the birth of a Jewish child who taught them to love their neighbors and to seek peace on Earth, goodwill toward all mankind, and they could not fully celebrate if they did not include the Berlins in the celebration. And years later, Irving Berlin, already an accomplished songwriter, was sitting at his southern California home trying to compose a Christmas song. As a Jew, he was not immersed in the theology and traditions of Christmas, but he reflected back on the excitement and the welcome and the warmth he had felt, even as a poor Jewish German immigrant his first year in NYC, and the concept of I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" came quickly to him. Supposedly he always considered it to be one of his most personal and heartfelt songs.

So, can Snopesters help me sort out the origin of this story. Sorry, I cannot even tell you where I read or heard it. I have looked before at the Wiki article on Berlin and White Christmas, and did not see this story there, which makes me suspect total glurge, but I'd really like to be proven wrong on that, at least to have a germ of truth to it.
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Old 23 December 2015, 01:33 PM
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Check out the immigration sheet image in this National Park Service (pdf) article on Irving Berlin (nee Israel Baline). In it it shows that Irving's father, Moses Baline (misspelled as Beilin), immigrated with his wife and 6 others. A larger image from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation (have to create a free registration to see it) shows that Sarah and one other person with Moses were servants. Still that leaves 4 children who immigrated with Moses and Lena (Leo in the manifest). If I'm reading it right, two of Moses and Lena's children with them were female, so the part about Irving, his father and brother coming over, then bringing their mother and sisters over appears false.

While that doesn't disprove the story, if a story about an event doesn't have basic facts, obtainable with a bit of research right, it casts a large amount of doubt on the story. Granted, the research may not have been available at the time, but the facts are still wrong.

Last edited by GenYus234; 23 December 2015 at 01:52 PM. Reason: clarity and updated with new information
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  #3  
Old 23 December 2015, 03:54 PM
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I wonder what inspired him to write "Easter Parade"...

According to this article, as an adult Berlin celebrated a "secular Christmas" with his family.

This article alludes to Berlin's experiences with Christmas at "neighbors, homes," lending a possible grain of truth to the story in the OP.

The consensus seems to be (here's yet another article) that no one is exactly sure.
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Old 23 December 2015, 04:28 PM
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Well, he was Russian, not German. According to Wikipedia, he lived on the Lower East Side (where a lot of Jewish immigrants lived), not in an Irish person's apartment. I guess I don't know for sure since I was not there, but everything I know about Jews in Russia at the time and immigrants tells me that he certainly knew that Jews were "other", what with the running away from Pograms ans whatnot.

Those are just a few facts that dispute some of the backstory. It is also unlikely that in their first year here they would have become assimilated, and thus not religious enough to eat from the Irish family's feast. Maybe teh next generation, but not when they first got here and father still ruled.

Along with the backstory being false, which as was mentioned above makes it likely that the whole thing was made up, this whole story bothers me. What bothers me is the message that it is trying to send- these poor Jews were told that Xmas was about a Jewish baby and they took it on. Christians have been trying to convert us for about 1800 years and one of the line is "hey, Jesus was Jewish- we're the same religion." I am not accusing you of this at all, Mack, but the people who come up with these stories are of the same cloth as those who think a Jew is Christian who doesn't know it yet.

I have no idea why years later he wrote Xmas music, and I have no doubt that years later he assimilated and took on a secular Xmas, etc.

Sorry.

Merry Christmas

ETA: Also, his wife was Catholic, which fits with assimilation later, but not as a child.
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Old 23 December 2015, 04:32 PM
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Two reasons he likely wrote Christmas music: he was a songwriter and he wanted to write hits and he was married to a practicing Roman Catholic so he may well have wanted to honour her heritage with his music.
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Old 23 December 2015, 04:50 PM
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FWIW, I took Dr. Dave's "I have no idea why" to be a literal statement of facts, not a suggestion that it was hard to imagine why Berlin did so.
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Old 23 December 2015, 04:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sue View Post
Two reasons he likely wrote Christmas music: he was a songwriter and he wanted to write hits and he was married to a practicing Roman Catholic so he may well have wanted to honour her heritage with his music.
In other words, he wrote Christmas songs to get paid. It isn't clear on the Wikipedia page, but it seems as if White Christmas didn't debut until the release of the Film "Holiday Inn" with Bing Crosby.
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Old 23 December 2015, 06:32 PM
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I've got the DVD of Holiday Inn and they talk at one point about how they didn't expect White Christmas to be the breakout hit, they thought it was going to be "Be Careful, It's My Heart". If anyone has seen this movie they'd be excused for thinking "what were they thinking".
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Old 23 December 2015, 07:12 PM
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I've got both DVDs here with me, Holiday Inn and White Christmas.

I agree Sue, it looks like a record company got excited over the a-side of a record when all of a sudden the b-side becomes the greatest thing ever.

I like both movies. I love the music in both. But oddly enough, White Christmas is not my favourite song in either.
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Old 23 December 2015, 07:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lainie View Post
FWIW, I took Dr. Dave's "I have no idea why" to be a literal statement of facts, not a suggestion that it was hard to imagine why Berlin did so.
Yes, thank you, exactly that. It was not meant to be a snarky "I couldn't possibly imagine why..." kind of thing.
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Old 23 December 2015, 08:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UEL View Post

I like both movies. I love the music in both. But oddly enough, White Christmas is not my favourite song in either.
I love Holiday Inn but could never get into White Christmas for some reason. Probably the lack of Fred Astaire . Just curious as to which song is your favourite from Holiday Inn, for me it's got to be White Christmas but I can listen to the whole soundtrack anytime. I am guessing your choice might not be Abraham - at least not as it was filmed anyhow .
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Old 24 December 2015, 12:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UEL View Post
I've got both DVDs here with me, Holiday Inn and White Christmas.

I agree Sue, it looks like a record company got excited over the a-side of a record when all of a sudden the b-side becomes the greatest thing ever.

I like both movies. I love the music in both. But oddly enough, White Christmas is not my favourite song in either.
My wife's favorite song from White Christmas is "Sisters". She's got a thing for movies with men in dresses - To Wong Fu,...; The Birdcage; Braveheart....
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sue View Post
I love Holiday Inn but could never get into White Christmas for some reason. Probably the lack of Fred Astaire . Just curious as to which song is your favourite from Holiday Inn, for me it's got to be White Christmas but I can listen to the whole soundtrack anytime. I am guessing your choice might not be Abraham - at least not as it was filmed anyhow .
I find Danny Kaye much more charming that Fred Astaire.

With our recent mentioning of blackface and halloween, I am surprised that there hasn't been any backlash against Holiday Inn. At least they didn't do the Minstrel Show piece in White Christmas in blackface.
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Old 06 January 2016, 01:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Winston O'Boogie View Post
With our recent mentioning of blackface and halloween, I am surprised that there hasn't been any backlash against Holiday Inn. At least they didn't do the Minstrel Show piece in White Christmas in blackface.
I recall that song (the "Abraham" number for Lincoln's Birthday) being cut from the TV edit for quite a long time. I remember as a kid being confused about what the hell Bing was wiping from his face in the next scene.
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Old 07 January 2016, 07:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sue View Post
I love Holiday Inn but could never get into White Christmas for some reason. Probably the lack of Fred Astaire . Just curious as to which song is your favourite from Holiday Inn, for me it's got to be White Christmas but I can listen to the whole soundtrack anytime. I am guessing your choice might not be Abraham - at least not as it was filmed anyhow .
I just saw this now. I don't know the song's exact name, but it is something like "You are Easy To Dance With". It has been a while since I watched the film. I should watch it today.
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Old 07 January 2016, 01:01 PM
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Coincidentally, Mrs. from Georgia gave me for Christmas the book White Christmas: The History of an American Song by Jody Rosen. On pages 35-36 Rosen recounts a story often told by Berlin: When he was a kid, he discovered that his family's Irish neighbors, the O'Haras, made a big thing of Christmas, and he supposedly loved going over to see their Christmas tree each year--they bought the biggest one they could fit in, and it always touched the ceiling.

Rosen notes that Berlin's parents assimilated very readily into American culture and that Berlin and his wife, Ellin (a Gentile) always celebrated Christmas with their daughters (who remembered Christmases as grand occasions). However, in 1928 their three-week-old son, Irving, Jr., died on Christmas Eve, and every year that was a somber day in the Berlin household; Dad and Mom went away for many hours and came back subdued and sad. The daughters didn't know it, but their parents were visiting their brother's grave.

Now, Rosen points out that Berlin's memory was flexible and was a publicity tool--he told many times the story of how he composed "White Christmas," and no two accounts matched, but most said he wrote it while lonely in Beverly Hills. Rosen suspects that its genesis began in 1937, when Berlin was stuck in Beverly Hills and couldn't be with his family in New York for Christmas. However, what's known for sure is that the composer showed up at his office on the morning of January 8, 1940, with 48 measures of the melody for his secretary, Helmy Kresa, to put into proper musical notation. Berlin had spent the Christmases of 1938, 1939, and 1940 at home in New York.

Rosen says that the tone of the piece changed. Berlin originally intended it for a revue called Happy Holiday that he thought would "debunk the holiday spirit," with satirical songs about various holidays, mocking the sentimentality of them all. However, "White Christmas" eventually emerged as more nostalgic and melancholy than satirical (Berlin's original staging was for a stage full of Hollywood idlers to lounge around sunbathing while sipping on Martinis and singing cynically of how much they missed the ice and snow).

Okay, this is too long already, but one more thing: The rarely-sung verse of the song has the lines "There's never been such a day / In Beverly Hills, LA." Unless the LA refers to the county, that's just wrong--Beverly Hills and Los Angeles are separate municipalities. Someone pointed that out to Berlin, but his response was "Who the hell cares?" Which was more or less John Sebastian's response when someone pointed out that in "Nashville Cats" he had relocated Sun Records from Memphis to Nashville.

Brad "okay, I'm done now. Sorry for the earworms" from Georgia
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Old 09 January 2016, 06:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad from Georgia View Post

Okay, this is too long already, but one more thing: The rarely-sung verse of the song has the lines "There's never been such a day / In Beverly Hills, LA." Unless the LA refers to the county, that's just wrong--Beverly Hills and Los Angeles are separate municipalities. Someone pointed that out to Berlin, but his response was "Who the hell cares?"
I love that story, it makes Berlin seem much more real to me, I don't know much about him and as you note in your post there do seem to be some contradictions in what is put out there but all in all he sounds like someone who made a success of his life and had a little fun doing it. Not at all a bad thing .
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