Hardest hit on ‘White Christmas’ movie set? The dancers. 12

Dance · Film

The lyric may be “iconic,” but it’s also “ironic.” Robert Alton’s sumptuous dance duet, “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” a classy, flowing number for Vera-Ellen and Danny Kaye, in White Christmas (1954) reveals the choreographer’s signature moves. Alton [Easter Parade, There’s No Business Like Show Business, White Christmas] could move bodies around a soundstage like no other — in solos, duets or in hordes as in the Finale of There’s No Business Like Show Business or “Mandy” in White Christmas. He loved whirling, swirling, movement, with velvety invisible transitions. He was a master of complex partnering including multiple turns, in place or in motion, and he loved to speed things up, double and triple timing tempi.”The Best Thing” transitions from Alton’s signature cheek-to-cheek waltzing to athletic tap to faux flamenco to aerial tricks, all using stage sets and props. It makes you really believe the lyric!

But the truth is, of the litany of personal injuries accrued during the making of this movie, some of the worst things happened while people were dancing. It was the dancers, exclusively, who checked into the Paramount Pictures hospital, not the actors. Even stars Danny Kaye (a non-dancer) and Vera-Ellen got whacked, hit, banged, and bruised, bumping into sets and suffering bad landings. Other dancers were snagged by stairs or costumes. Alton himself, while directing a number, smacked into a lighting device. Owww!!

Ernie Flatt, Asst Dance Dir & Dance-in
During dance rehearsal, fell and struck chest on raised dance platform. Injured – thought nothing of it at time it happened, as time went on chest became sore and bothersome – Stage 13

Jimmy Brooks, Dancer
Tripped on steps, fell onto other steps, injured left arm during rehearsal – Stage 13

Ernie Flatt, Asst Dance Director and Dance in
Doing dance routine was struck in mouth inside lower lip out, bruised and sore – Stage 13

Ann Mauldin, dancer
Struck left leg on platform while rehearsing dance routine

Buddy Bryan, Dancer
Shooting dance number – coming down steps – caught foot in girl’s dress – fell backwards on steps – injured back and arm

Robert Alton, Dance-Director
While directing a rehearsal on the test stage, Mr. Alton stepped onto the set. The camera was moved into position – Mr. Alton bent down and when he straightened up struck his head on a camera light just above his left temple. A nurse came onto the set and treated him.

Les Clark, Dance-in, pay $150/week
Complained of sore, hoarse throat from singing and dancing in rehearsal of musical numbers — said he felt this condition coming on and getting worse for about 2 to 3 weeks before reporting to hospital

Vera Ellen, Actress
Rehearsing dance routine and slide on monorail with Danny Kaye, injured finger on right hand. Nothing known or reported on injury until reporting for recording 12-2-53 and reporting to hospital. Finger placed in splint by hospital at 11 a.m sent by car to have finger x-rayed.

Danny Kaye, Actor
Rehearsing dance routine, BEST THINGS – doing aerial turn on bar – swinging – landed on side of right foot – turned over on his right ankle.
Witness Sam Ledner, Studio
Refused to go to studio hospital – went to his own doctor

Source: WHITE CHRISTMAS – production 1952-1954, 236-f-8, Paramount Pictures Production records, Special Collections, Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences

Addendum: artsmeme concurs with the Verdon Fosse Legacy’s assertion that Bob Fosse had no involvement — as dancer, choreographer, choreographer’s assistant, or dance-in — in White Christmas. The choreographer of that film, as stated above, was Robert Alton.

WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954), (wrongly) included in “Fosse, Fosse, Fosse!” | UCLA Film and Television Archive | Aug 25

12 thoughts on “Hardest hit on ‘White Christmas’ movie set? The dancers.

  1. Susan m Dec 24,2023 8:18 pm

    Peggy McKim is listed as the child ballerina but it is reported that she was born in 1931, so she would have been 23. Unless she was a little person, playing a child role, there isn’t much else on the child dancer.

  2. R Hamby Nov 27,2023 9:52 pm

    I agree the ballerinas were too young to be on full pointe. Were they little people. And I cannot find any information about them, only Peggy McKim and there isn’t alot of information about her.

  3. Mary Cameron Nov 16,2023 1:46 pm

    I’d love to know more about the young ballet dancers in the finale of White Christmas. They were surely too young to be on full pointe? Are any of them still living?

  4. Denise R Dec 26,2021 3:38 pm

    One of the dancers in the “Choreography” number looks like she could be related to the Cusak family (John, Joan, Ann, etc). Anyone know if this could be?

  5. Mike Dec 23,2021 8:36 pm

    Who were the little girl ballerinas…this seems a big secret…why? Are any still alive, we’re they actors or just hired extras?

  6. Joe Del Castillo Dec 13,2019 6:33 am

    Hi Debra,

    Thank you. That clears that up. None of the dances look anything like Fosse’s, not even a hint.

  7. debra levine Dec 12,2019 10:15 pm

    Hello Joe. Thank you for your note.
    No. Definitively not. Alton staged all the dances … he choreographed. Ernie Flatt was involved in staging tap, perhaps in support of Vera-Ellen. The Fosse rumor was based on a listing on IMDB which has since been removed. I have personally researched this question. The Fosse/Verdon Legacy also denies that Bob Fosse worked on White Christmas.

  8. Joe Del Castillo Dec 12,2019 6:27 pm

    On White Christmas, I keep reading that dances were staged by Robert Alton with uncredited choreography by Bob Fosse. Not sure how to understand that. Did Fosse do some fo the dances? Thanks.

  9. debra levine Dec 10,2018 3:09 pm

    Hi Lynn, Fosse did not actually dance in White Christmas, or choreograph it. That is a rumor that has been spread, wrongly, on the Internet. Debra

  10. Lynn Roman Dec 8,2018 10:51 am

    I’m wondering what part did Bob Fosse play in the dancing here…and if he was injured or replaced?

  11. debra levine Aug 7,2018 10:27 am

    Isn’t that something, Marilyn? I did research in the “White Christmas” production file at the Motion Picture Academy library and this injury-documentation came popping out!

  12. Marilyn Klaus Aug 7,2018 10:19 am

    This post is so instructive. I watched this wonderful dance routine with new eyes after reading these hospital reports!

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