Children of Classic Christmas Movie Stars Share Memories of Their Parents’ Beloved Films

It is both comforting and hopeful to watch our Christmas favorites every year. Why wouldn’t we want to invite George Bailey and the Smith family of St. Louis to drop in during the holidays year after year?

While these films mean a lot for us repeat viewers, it’s even more special to the children and grandchildren of the filmmakers and actors who made them. Some of the children shared their fond memories about these films with us.

Continue reading:These are the Best Christmas Movies You Can Watch Now and Every Season
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Christmas with white lights (1954)

Monsita Ferrer, actress and daughter of Rosemary Clooney who was a star in the film, and Jose Ferrer, recalled this fact.

Bing Crosby And Rosemary Clooney In 'White Christmas'
Paramount/Getty ImagesBing CrosbyAnd Rosemary Clooney in ‘Christmas with white lights’

There were two things that we’d always watch on TV as a family, the Wizard of Oz and Christmas with white lights. White ChristmasIt was produced before most of us were ever born. But, this film is just a piece of the Christmas fabric.

Bing and my mom were very close. We called each other Uncle Bing. We were family. Our families had become intertwined by the time we were both born. I vividly remember a time when I was watching the “Count Your Blessings” scene, and suddenly I’m realizing that they were kissing. I went to Mama and I said, “Why are you and Uncle Bing kissing?” She thought it was the funniest thing she had ever heard. However, I was still disturbed. Kissing my Uncle!

My mother was on holiday during the holidays, which meant that it was an important time for us. My siblings, and I, would keep an eye on my mother’s travels. Christmas with white lightsWith our grandmother, or with whoever took care of us. My mother was never on the job Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It was beautiful at Christmas. Three trees were planted, including a white one in tribute to Santa Claus. Christmas with white lightsThe entryway features a living room with a 15-foot and den trees, as well as a den with a 10-foot tree. The bannisters also had bows. My Uncle Nick, George’s [Clooney] dad, used to say, “Your mother had the worst case of Christmas I’ve ever seen.”

I’ve got Mama’s Christmas with white lightsI have this poster hanging in all of my homes. I particularly love it because it’s the one that belonged to my mom. She was proud that it was displayed in her office. It is my grandbaby. She is a music lover and she should continue that love. Christmas with white lightsIt was something I had and it was what my kids had. She points to my mom when she comes on screen, and says, “That’s my Grammy!” I can feel my Mama smiling. She’s just four and I’m going to make sure that she gets a good dose of it while I’m still on the planet.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Kelly Stewart Harcourt, an anthropologist who was also the daughter of Jimmy Stewart and Gloria Hatrick McLean, both recalled this fact.

Ist Das Leben Nicht Schoen?, It'S A Wonderful Life
FilmPublicityArchive/United Arch/GettyJames Stewart and Donna Reed in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’

I don’t remember when I first saw It’s a Wonderful LifeYou can find more information here IAWL), but I can’t remember a time in my life when I hadn’t seen it. The family gathered round the television in the library to watch it during Christmas.

Dad didn’t like watching his films usually. He was too anxious about it. He watched. IAWL. Although he might sometimes criticize the scene and suggest changes, I believe he enjoyed it. He was proud to watch it. He regarded it as his favorite film, and said it was up there with his greatest work. I am inclined to agree.

The scene at the bar where George Bailey is hanging on to his rope, I believe is the most depressing scenes in Hollywood. My mother and sister and I would swear we weren’t going to cry at the end, but it never worked. We would bawl our eyes out—I still do, damn it!—and Dad would sit there smiling.

When Dad came back from the war, he wasn’t really sure what he would do. After all that he’d been through, it seemed like the movies were trivial. What do you think? IAWLHe was the ideal vehicle. He was so loved [director Frank] Capra. The war transformed the movie industry. IAWLThis was much more than just a fun game. It was about giving up and serving others, and at the end was all about hope. Meaning in every day life. After the war, people had to have this. It is this that the movie has become so loved. George Bailey became everyone’s hero. When times are hard and divided in this country, it has been amazing to see George Bailey cross the aisle. Far left activists and racist Republicans all claim George Bailey to be theirs.

It is certain that I will watch the movie once more this Christmas. And, yes, it will make me laugh.

Continue reading: These are the 10 Best Christmas Movies on Netflix for Kids

Holiday Affair

Petrine Day Mitchum (daughter of filmmaker Robert Mitchum), who was a star in the film, recalled this fact.

Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum in Holiday Affair
Corbis via Getty ImagesJanet Leigh and Robert Mitchum in ‘Holiday Affair’

On July 1, 1997 my dad died. I felt very sad as Christmas approached. My family used to go caroling when I was young. Every year we would have a big tree with a gold-tinsel star on the top. It got more and more complicated each year. My teenage years were spent listening to Sinatra and drinking mimosas at breakfast. I also opened gifts after the departures of my elder brothers Christopher, James, and James. Dad loved to give gifts.

My dad died in December. I was so shocked that my first Christmas without him, I got up mid-night and switched the TV on. My father was young and handsome in the Christmas movie I hadn’t seen before. Holiday Affair. He was as charming, funny, and charismatic as could be.

Holiday Affair He was truly a surprise. Steve Mason’s character is charming, romantic, and very moral. He’s a war veteran with ambitions to be a boat builder and he is saving money to move from Manhattan to California. He is shown a train model to his children in the beginning of the movie. Enter war widow and struggling single mom, Connie Ennis, played the luminous Janet Leigh, who in a plot point that doesn’t bear close scrutiny, buys a train in her job as a comparison shopper.

Mason labels her a fake consumer, and fires her for not turning her over to the store managers. Mason quickly bonds with Connie’s 6-year-old son Timmy, the remarkable Gordon Gebert, who has a rubber face of fantastic expressions and holds his own in the talented ensemble. Mason’s act of kindness towards Timmy, who lost his father in a tragic accident, could have been interpreted as manipulation.

Hartman had instructed Leigh to keep in character, and to improvise when other actors went against the script. In the film’s sexiest scene, my dad took advantage of this. As Leigh told writer Lee Server, “I was in the kitchen and he’s supposed to come up and turn me around and give me a little kiss and I’m supposed to be a little surprised. He instead comes up to me and turns my face around. It was obvious that he wanted to make me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t doubt it. I was so shocked I couldn’t speak. And Don Hartman liked my reaction so much they kept it in the film.” Is it odd for me to watch my dad kissing a woman other than my mother? In that moment, I am watching Steve Mason kiss Connie Ennis and I’m as thrilled as any other viewer might be.

Watching Holiday AffairIt has been a holiday tradition. It’s a way for me to reconnect with the best aspects of my father: his humor, his kindness, his passion for life. It’s a feel-good movie with family values and yet it’s not treacly or overly sentimental. As it was for America coming out of the dark days of World War II, it’s still a wonderful escape into a simpler world where love conquers all. My brothers received a train set at Christmas 1949, yes. The train set was played with all day by our father, who didn’t live in a lavish childhood with lots of toys.

TIME has more

Continue reading: These Are America’s Favorite Christmas Movies

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Nicola Lubitsch, a former announcer, actor and radio host, was the director of this movie.

James Stewart And Frank Morgan In 'The Shop Around The Corner'
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty ImagesJames Stewart and Frank Morgan in ‘The Shop Around The Corner’

Christmas was an important holiday in our home. My mother, who was Church of England but was Jewish, was my father. He would dress up as Santa Claus, but the illusion didn’t last long because he had a German accent and I thought that was kind of weird. I wasn’t going to let on because I didn’t want the presents to go away.

Although my mother and father divorced when I was 4 years old, my family lived in Los Angeles all year. Growing up I didn’t watch movies with my father. The radio was the main source of entertainment. His music and work were all consuming to him. He would come home and I’d make him these awful little cookies and we would listen to Dr. IQ, who awarded silver dollars and boxes of Mars bars if you answered correctly.

He would be right next to me at the piano, and Daddy would make music for us. These stories were his creations. For each voice, he made different music. When I went to bed at night I would hear him playing the piano and it was kind of like being in what I imagined you would hear in a Viennese café .

I don’t know that I ever paid any attention to Daddy’s movies when I was little because the only movie that he showed me was Heaven Can WaitI was terrified. I ran screaming out of that projection room.

He chose to tell a Christmas story, which was quite interesting. It’s so unlike his other films. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I see my father in Mr. Matuschek [played by Frank Morgan]Possibly his first marriage.

So many of Daddy’s movies were in Lubitsch Land. There’s a kind of wonderful fictitious life of brocades and silks and waltzes and gorgeous people, and this one is real. It’s just a slice of life. It was something he really wanted to do. Because it was a very small film, nobody wanted it to be made. The movie was very boring. No dancing. It was a feat of great pride.

It’s a mood and a reality and a place. That person can you be in the shop. The shop can be a mirror of you. That’s a wonderful thing about Daddy’s movies. This movie is universal in its message and humanizing. It is any idea that you can leave to your imagination. You haven’t finished any sentences. I think Daddy is counting on your intelligence, and your fantasy and imagination and for you to fill in the picture or put up the fourth wall–the opposite of what people do today.

Continue reading: Netflix Christmas Movies Can Be Patently Exaggerated. They’re Also Occasionally Perfect

Meet me in St. Louis (1944)

Lorna Luft (actor, writer, producer, and singer), was the daughter of Judy Garland who appeared in the film.

Judy Garland & M. O'Brien Dance In 'Meet Me In St. Louis'
MGM Studios/Courtesy Getty ImagesJudy Garland (right) dances with Margaret O’Brien in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’

I was about 9 years old and it came on television and my mother said, “I had so much fun making this movie.” So then we watched it, and I was fascinated by Margaret O’Brien. Other children are always fascinating to children.

The film’s visual appeal was what I loved the most. I had to look at the chairs. The house looked like a vintage piece. It was stunning and beautiful. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to live in that house.

It wasn’t a family tradition to watch it. My mother traveled so often. Our family was a bit like Gypsies, and we didn’t have a lot in the way of traditions. Traditions were based on where we lived at that time. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has become a classic. It shocks me that a lot of people don’t know that song was written for my mother. Original lyrics were dark. I remember my mother telling me that she went to the writers and said, “I can’t sing that to this little girl.” So they changed the lyrics.

It is a masterpiece. The movie was beautifully shot by [director] Vincente [Minnelli]. He had the idea of adding the seasons. I thought it was a great movie and helped to tell the story of a family.

This was my mother’s first step from Andy Hardy child-next-door role to become a woman. It was a beautiful movie. Vincente and George Folsey shot this film so you can see how Vincente valued her beauty.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has incredible meaning for me. It was difficult for me to see that scene after my mother died. I would run. It was hard to see. It was difficult to watch, but I began to appreciate it. It’s heartbreaking because you don’t like to see little kids crying. My mother used to say that Margaret O’Brien had the best lower lip in the business. She loved her.

At 7 and 8, I first introduced the concept to my kids. It was important to me that they understood it. Three grandchildren are now mine, and there is a fourth. The grandchildren are watching their great grandma. I asked my grandchildren, “Do you want to watch something really fun?” Looking at it through their eyes was incredible. You’re watching another generation take in this great film. Now, I see the film and think that this movie is my favorite.

Continue reading: 11 Christmas Movies You Didn’t Know Were Christmas Movies

Miracle on 34ThStreet (1947)

Natasha Gregson Wagner (writer and producer) recalls that Natalie Wood’s daughter, Richard Gregson, starred in the film.

Scene from Miracle on 34th Street
Corbis via Getty ImagesNatalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’

That day, my parents purchased the VHS recorder of “VHS” for me. Miracle on 34ThStreet. It is possible that I may have been kindergarten age. My mother was very excited to share the film with me. Because she was so tiny, it was easy for me to see when she was feeling excited. Her whole body vibrated with excitement. Even as a child, she was very expressive and I could tell that it was important for her.

It was a film we would both watch every year. My sister and I. It doesn’t feel corny and fake and saccharine. I think there’s something about the reality of the performances of Edmund Gwenn and Maureen O’Hara and my mom. It’s so rooted in authenticity. You’re able to feel that you are her friend. [Wood’s character Susie]. She trusts her intelligence and you then trust her belief in Santa Claus. You go on the journey together.

My family had a small square-box television in their den. I remember my parents putting the thick VHS in the VCR. I just remember I couldn’t believe how much this little girl looked like me. I was watching her and then my mom to observe my reactions to my childlike nature. Then, it was me and my mom looking at each other, creating a strange circle. She kept asking, “Did you like it? Was Mommy a small girl to you? Doesn’t she look like you?”

Clover is nine and a-half years old. Clover was five when it first came to me. And I said, “That’s your Grandma Natalie when she was a little girl.” At that age, she just took it in because It’s impossible not to get taken with the story. When she does the monkey faces, blowing bubbles, and is such a cute mom.

In my family, Christmas was an important holiday growing up. The kids loved these huge Christmas Eve parties. Every year, they would get Santa Claus. My dad would go outside and ring these bells and my mom would say, “Girls, I think I hear the reindeer!” Then everyone would squeal with excitement.

Santa Claus would be the recipient of a personal note. And Santa would write a note to us that our parents would read in the morning telling each of us—Katie, Courtney and I—a little bit about why he was proud of us. I don’t know if making Miracle My mom’s love for Christmas was instilled by her father, a Russian immigrant. Christmas is an important holiday in Russia. It was just a joy for my mom to see us all happy.

I’m proud to have my mom in this film. I hope my daughter shows it to her children in the next 20-30 years. Everyone who has parents who are actors knows how blessed they feel because everything is immortalized on the big screen. So it’s a beautiful, lucky thing.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

Peter Lewis, founder of Moby Grape, was the son Loretta Young’s star in the film, as recalled by Lewis

Scene from The Bishop's Wife
Corbis via Getty ImagesCary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young in ‘The Bishop’s Wife’

I don’t consciously remember the first time I saw The Bishop’s Wife. When it was made, I was only two years old. David Niven visited my mom there, and he was very kind. This is one of my earliest memories.

There were no DVDs or videos back then. You could only see movies in theaters. This was my first experience of ever seeing a movie. The Bishop’s WifeThis is an image that I took when I was just a teenager. Our family lived in West Hollywood at the time, and our mother was hosting her television show. She was doing TV shows on Friday nights, and I remember watching them. The Bishop’s WifeIt was a great day.

As it turned out, it was Christmastime. I was delighted. It was over and my mother turned to me smiling after it was finished. She took much of her professional life with ease, but I remember feeling that this was one of the things she was most proud of. After thinking about this over the years, it seems to me that she was proud of her work. The Bishop’s WifeThese movies were closer to what she believed than her previous films.

Especially now that she’s gone, I watch it all the time and not only at Christmas. I guess it’s partly due to it reminding me of my younger days when the world seemed less troubled. Beyond that, the sermon by David Niven at the end is a timeless one. He says that any hope for the future we have must come from each other. I know it’s not a new message. But there’s a ring of truth to it that makes me feel better every time I hear it.

Jennifer Grant (author and actor), daughter of Cary Grant who was a star in the film, and Dyan Canon, recalled this.

As a kid, I loved the movie. To me, it seemed natural that Dad would do these magical things. His ability to have a supernatural impact on the world was something Dad had always displayed. He was a similar personality to Dudley. His ability of accepting others and then leaving with a smile on his face made him a great friend. In my mind he wasn’t playing an angel, he was just being himself.

Dad and I watched this tree dressing sequence many times throughout the years. It was, I believe, incorporated into Academy Awards programs and other tributes. How can one help but smile watching Cary Grant effortlessly orchestrate a tree’s dressing?

Dad never spoke much about his acting career. I wish I’d asked more. The rare time we watched a movie together, I saw the genuine smile Dad tried to hide. He was never proud of himself.

The skating scene is my favorite—when Dudley and Julia invite their taxi cab driver, Sylvester, to give it a whirl. Dudley invites everyone to his party no matter where he is. In the angel’s own words, when asked where he’s from, “I’m from my own little island. Aren’t we all? That’s what makes life fun.”

The Bishop’s WifeIt speaks in a way that is elegant and eloquent, of simple pleasures. Dad navigated the waters of those waters with an exquisitely delicate touch. It reminds us, in this season of holiday shopping, that we all have our noses on our screens and are rushing around town to buy unnecessary things.

All our efforts at self-aggrandizement—placing our faces on the cathedral’s edifice so to speak—may serve to make us more seen but it won’t scratch our deeper itch for connection. Loretta Young and Dad remind us not too much about the minutiae that we lose the real joy in being there for each other and just giving a helping hand. Sometimes, we just need reminders of this.

My children and I were able to hold our first ever annual viewing thanks to Time The Bishop’s Wife where, with Grandpa Cary’s inspiration, we dressed our tree. My Dad passed away in the middle of the film, and I now feel something different about him. When I was a kid, it was easy to just walk into my dad’s room. He now requires me to reach him more subtlely.


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