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Holiday Inn (1942) : Abraham Minstrel Show

by Nicholas Sammond

In this scene, the Holiday Inn performs a tribute for Abraham Lincoln's birthday, performing Irving Berlin's "Abraham" musical number as a blackface minstrel show. Not only are the two performers, Jim (Bing Crosby) and Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) in blackface, so too is the entire band and staff of waiters/waitresses, who serve an entirely white audience. The song details Lincoln's freeing of black American slaves. Of particular interest is the ironic and distinctly separated segment of the scene showing the inn's housekeeper Mamie, shown in the kitchen singing part of the song to her two children. Her exclusion from the economic, physical and entertainment space of the official performance, while singing of black freedom, highlights the racist irony of the scene.

Black Face = Throw Away?

by Judy Kurzweil

This movie has been my favorite Holiday movie for decades, but it is very confusing on the subject of racism. As you have probably already read, the holiday of Lincoln's Birthday is celebrated by all employees and performers being in blackface while a song celebrating President Lincoln's life, including the freeing of the slaves, is being sung. The way Marjorie Reynolds is made up is completely unacceptable, and I find it grotesque. However, everyone else has "black" skin but no exaggerated facial features or "hair-do's." In the context of the story this is done to disguise Jim's girlfriend from his nemesis, who is expected that night. Frankly, I am uncomfortable with this because I know it hurts a lot of people; not because I feel the subject of race is being dealt with in a comical way.
The only spoken racial slur, which I think is too revolting to mention, is made by Mamie (no doubt written by a white writer). The slur is made during Lincoln's song. Mamie is a very important character played by Louise Beavers who is an African American Actress. Although she has very little screen time, Ms. Beavers character of "Mamie" is shown to be smart, funny and a warm and loving mother to her two children. During the New Years Eve celebration it is insinuated that Mamie is a stockholder in the business, in addition to being the housekeeper. In fact, without Mamie, as the story develops, the lead character would have never made a decision that completely changes the direction that the story takes. (no spoilers here ;-) ).
So here is how I decided to handle all this..... I will not dispose of the movie. I will continue to watch it on Thanksgiving and Christmas because it is just that great. I do not think the writer's meant any harm in the Lincoln's Birthday section of the movie, they were men of their time (1941\42) idiots, and men ahead of their time making Mamie far more than a stereotype. For me, this movie is the best example of why we should use a fast forward button on a remote or for why we should get software to cut that out. Because the integrity of the story does not suffer without it. While I will lose a little in carefully removing that section of the movie, I gain so much more by having a movie that my granddaughter can watch and doesn't make me cringe.

Holiday Inn - Abraham Scene

This scene features a rendition of Irving Berlin's "Abraham," which Jim (Bing Crosby) and Linda (Marjorie Reynolds), as well as the entire band, perform as a minstrel show in blackface.

from Holiday Inn (1942)
Creator: Mark Sandrich
Posted by Nicholas Sammond