Wednesday, December 15, 2010
How'd you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
The late, great crooner Bing Crosby is one of my style icons. The man could rock a cardigan, and sadly, according to some of his children, he could throw a mean punch. Der Bingle is almost synonymous with Christmas, due in large part to his star turn in the 1942 film classic, Holiday Inn. That film introduced perhaps Bing's most well known song, the Irving Berlin penned "White Christmas." The song was such a hit (in fact, it is the best selling single of all time!) that it became the lynchpin of the 1954 film of the same name. One of the likely reasons that the song was so popular is that its wistful lyrics struck a chord with servicemen serving overseas.
Washington Post article from a few years back has the interesting history of how Crosby and Bowie's recording "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" came together. The original performance of the song, from Crosby's 1977 Christmas special is pure cheese, but delightful to watch. For your viewing pleasure...
Now watch Will Ferrell and John C. Riley's faithful take on the same from Ferrell's Funny Or Die site. Subtle hilarity...
Another classic Christmas tune I really enjoy is "Christmas Island," performed by a number of artists over the years, including Jimmy Buffett. But my favorite version is the one performed by the Andrews Sisters with the Guy Lombardo Orchestra. The real Christmas Island would not have been a good place to spend Christmas at mid-century, as the lyrics suggest. Rather, it was one of the test sites where the United States detonated an above ground atomic blast back in 1946.
I actually recently met a remarkable man who was at Christmas Island for the detonation. Over the summer, I was lucky enough to go on a tour of the former Atomic Test Site in the Nevada desert, something most people don't get to see. I had to go through an extensive background check, as site is still a highly secure facility under the auspices of the Department of Energy. Our tour guide, Ernie Williams, now in his late 70s, worked for the U.S. nuclear program for many years in the Nevada Desert and other locations. Among other interesting tidbits (he confirmed the existence of Area 51, but would say no more!) he recounted witnessing the Christmas Island "shot," as atomic test blasts are called. Ernie is a living treasure, and is cited in this article which gives a pretty good overview of the sorts of things you see on the tour. Video of the Christmas Island shot is below.
Christmas Island, along with Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sister's recording of Mele Kalikimaka, plays perfectly into the South Seas Exotica, or tiki craze of mid-century, another thing that was probably made popular by returning servicemen. Side note: When in Las Vegas, intrepid travelers must visit Frankie's Tiki Room for a faithful take on a mid century tiki bar. It was designed by the grandson of Eli Hedley, who designed many of the best tiki rooms, including Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room.
For those who are interested in some holiday fare that doesn't bear the stigma of our atomic heritage, might I suggest "It Happened In Sun Valley" from the 1941 film "Sun Valley Serenade," a film featuring Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, which Netflix unfortunately does not carry.
See you in about six months, which is probably the next time I'll post here!