"White Christmas." It's the ultimate holiday song. But did Irving Berlin really write this standard while poolside at Phoenix's Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa?
Long the playground of the Hollywood elite, the Biltmore played host to Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Ava Gardner, and Marilyn Monroe, among a studio-full of other Tinseltown players, since its grand opening in 1929. Berlin was among the Biltmore's regular Golden Age guests, a fan, as he once told a newspaper reporter, of the sun that allowed him to write musical scores out-of-doors as early as 4 in the morning.
The story goes that Berlin was staying at the Biltmore in late 1939, having gone there to write a film score. Lounging by the pool one day, scribbling moon-in-June couplets for some Hollywood dame to sing, he began to feel homesick for New York. The weather here was gorgeous, toasty warm even in December, but nothing in the desert looked like Christmas to Berlin, who was a fan of the holiday.
If it's true that Berlin, a Russian Jew, was inspired to write the most famous and most-recorded Christmas song ever while lying poolside at our best-ever resort, then he must have either considered our cowtown too unglamorous to include in the song's lyric, or else he couldn't think of anything to rhyme with Phoenix. Thus, the song's oft-excised sectional verse, which rhapsodizes about warm winter weather and then laments, in part, "There's never been such a day in Beverly Hills, L.A. / But it's December the 24th, and I'm longing to be up north / I'm dreaming of a White Christmas . . ."
Laurence Bergreen's biography of Berlin, As Thousands Cheer, has the composer completing the song in New York, with no mention of his frequent trips to the Biltmore resort; in Edward Jablonski's American Troubador, the author claims Berlin wrote the song while in sunny L.A.
We like to think they're wrong.