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It’s The Holidays When All Thoughts Turn To South American Polo Players, Bathing Beauties, Xavier Cugat And Mistaken Identities

How’s that?  Here’s how:  It starts with all-American beauty Esther Williams and Latin lover Ricardo Montalban.  In the 1940’s Hollywood paired them in series of madcap musicals in which she would sing and swim in tight bathing suits, and he would sing and dance in tight pants.  In 1949, MGM rolled out “Neptune’s Daughter” with Williams playing a bathing suit designer (naturally) and Montalban an Argentine polo player (claro).  Her sister, played by Betty Garrett, mistakes him for his masseur, played by Red Skelton.  Throw in Mel Blanc as dopey sidekick Pancho and Keenan Wynn as a local mobster, and what you get is…a thoroughly forgettable formula flick.

Were it not for THE SONG.  It was written by Frank Loesser (of Guys and Dolls fame), and he would sing it with his wife at parties.  Much to her chagrin, Loesser sold the rights to MGM for use in the movie.  The studio also convinced Xavier Cugat and his orchestra to temporarily quit their gig as house band at the Waldorf-Astoria and appear in the film.  What resulted was a musical masterpiece, with Williams and Montalban performing the song romantically, and Garrett and Skelton performing it for laughs.  The song went on to win an Academy Award.

That was just the beginning.  In March and April of 1949, no less than four different versions were recorded and released, and they ALL reached the top 20 almost simultaneously.  More versions rolled out throughout the 50’s.  Perhaps the oddest version was a live duet between Rock Hudson (pretending to be straight) and Mae West (pretending to be young and interested) at the 1958 Oscars.

But the song was still just a song, until Dino nailed it.  Dean Martin included it on his 1959 album “A Winter Romance” (bonus trivia: there are no credits given for the female singers on the track).  A year later, the album was re-released as “Holiday Cheer.” And THAT turned the song into a holiday standard.

Yep, it’s the classic sweet-but-sexy Christmas duet covered by just about everybody.  Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Dionne Warwick and Ray Charles, K.T. Oslin and Barry Manilow, Ann-Margaret and Al Hirt, Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone, Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart, Bette Milder and James Caan.  And no matter the pairing – Miss Piggy and Rudolf Nureyev in a steam bath? You bet! – it always works.  There’s one holiday sentiment everyone agrees upon.

Baby, it’s Cold Outside.

Cold indeed.  To all our friends, family, colleagues and readers, enjoy your holidays and let’s all bid 2010 a fond good riddance!  The days grow longer, and 2011 is already warming up.  Cheers!

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