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Everybody’s got a little larceny in them

On White Christmas and Christian media

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye talk on the set of White Christmas in Los Angeles on April 22, 1954. Associated Press

Everybody’s got a little larceny in them
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Let me begin by saying that I love White Christmas (1954, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye) without qualification. It is very corny and very 1950s (which, apparently, smart people are supposed to hate) and I love every second of it. That said, there’s a particular second that I love more than the others, and it’s the little scene in the first act when Bing Crosby’s character (a famous singer) explains to Rosemary Clooney’s character (a non-famous young singer) that “Everybody’s got a little larceny in them.”

What he means is that at his age—mid-career, successful—everybody he meets is working an angle. Everybody wants to pitch their project, meet his agent, or just spend an evening siphoning off his money or fame. Even the way he partnered with Danny Kaye’s character was emblematic of this—inasmuch as Kaye’s Phil Davis would never let Crosby’s Bob Wallace forget about how he “saved his life” in the war … by which I mean pulled Bob out of the way of a handful of bricks tumbling down from a few feet above his head (it was 1954, effects-wise, after all). He at least saved him from concussion protocol. But the point is that Phil leveraged that moment, rhetorically, for the balance of the story and Bob was well aware of it while still maintaining an ostensible friendship that made Phil famous.

Their relationship, like many media relationships, was complicated.

I love that scene because, at various points in my life, I’ve been both parties—the young, probably super-annoying, wide-eyed “I’m gonna make it in publishing and live my dreams!” guy, and the older, wizened, world-weary “I’ve made it but I’m not appreciably happier because in God’s economy success doesn’t make you happier” guy.

I also love it for how true it is, and how it stands as Exhibit A of how even though White Christmas scans as kind of corny, it’s actually a really thoughtful treatise on vocation (via Bob, the general, etc.), friendship (is Phil a careerist scold?), complications in friendship, meddling (desk lady anyone?), and ultimately love.

My only-in-spirit colleague Carl Trueman has been sounding warning bells about this particular brand of gross platforming and shameless fame-chasing for years now.

It’s true, also, in our business. In the 2022-2023 Christian media landscape, everybody definitely has (bare minimum) a little bit of larceny in them. There was a time in which I thought the guy sidling up to me at the conference or the guy writing me a fan letter just wanted to be friends. How silly I was. The guy actually wants to meet me so that he can meet my agent, maybe co-write a couple of books together, maybe do his own books, maybe join my podcast or do his own podcast, maybe co-write a movie that will never get made, etc. What he doesn’t realize is that none of those things will make him happy and none of them will really make him any money. He is also, for sure, a pastor, which further complicates things and makes them gradations more gross.

My only-in-spirit colleague Carl Trueman has been sounding warning bells about this particular brand of gross platforming and shameless fame-chasing for years now—to which most pastors and seminary types have replied by saying, “Hold my steaming mug of single-origin coffee while I tweet 23 times and pursue fame like it’s my literal job.”

The larceny line soon gets lost in the fact that a minute or two later, Bob and Phil are dressed up as women, which is part of a madcap plan to shake their new girlfriends free of the long arm of the law, and, like all madcap plans, involves climbing out a window into a taxicab and ultimately jumping onto a moving train. I love this movie.

Ultimately, White Christmas doesn’t deal with the “Is Phil Davis a careerist scoundrel?” question. Probably because the answer is too complicated for a feel-good Christmas movie. Just as it is sometimes too complicated for real life. The fact of the matter is, for every climber who has chatted me up just to use me and meet my agent, one or two have turned out to be non-climbers, great dudes, and friends for life.

But still, for pastors, for Christians, I think Crosby’s line is worth thinking about. Do I want to be known for my “hustle”—the fact that I have a little always-presenting larceny in me? Or do I want to be known for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but let’s face it, they usually are.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is screenwriter and co-producer on the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife Kristin have two children.

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