The holiday season comes with some time-honored traditions. Break out the tree or menora, hang garland, write out a wishlist, bake – a lot – and discuss the ethics and morality of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Each year, its emergence on or absence from the radio gets everyone debating if the song has a darker meaning.
While this feels like a recent development, this ongoing debate is, itself, something of a tradition; controversy has followed “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for decades, dating as far back as the 1940s. So, how did this tune get started and come under fire not long after its ascent to fame? Learn how history repeats itself here.
Baby, it’s quiet outside
No matter which side of the argument is correct, there’s no denying “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is memorable. So it’s no surprise a Broadway legend such as Frank Loesser is the man behind the tune. But that was only half of the formula. Loesser’s first wife, Lynn Garland, was apparently a woman of great charisma and presence, because she would perform the song with Loesser at housewarming parties.
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This tradition started in ‘44. By that point, Loesser had penned “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” a popular war song sung a lot to keep morale up during World War II, and the armed forces frequently sought Loesser out for new tunes. It was “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” that got a lot of repeat requests stateside, though, with Garland reminiscing, “We had to do it over and over again, and we became instant parlor room stars.” Soon, MGM was eyeing the song and it was all set for national fame – until it suddenly wasn’t any longer.
This isn’t the first time “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been canceled
Loesser sold the song to MGM in 1948. In 1949, it played as part of the soundtrack to Neptune’s Daughter, supplementing a very animated scene starring two couples, reinforcing the back-and-forth nature of song and scene alike. Despite the general public enjoying the song even when it was an informal parlor performance, NBC radio wanted to hear none of it; a TIME magazine article from ‘49 reveals that the song was banned from the radio because its lyrics were “too racy.” Back then, the condemnation referred to the general implication of sex. After all, this was when television shows could not show married couples lounging fully clothed in the same bed.
So, how did this decision hold up? “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and inspired recordings by Doris Day, Bob Hope, and more. The song quietly settled in as a holiday classic and did not receive much pushback after that until it appeared again in Elf, which grossed $220 million worldwide; that’s a lot of listeners leaning in and wondering what they just heard. That was enough to inspire discussions through a modern lens, with many different interpretations cropping up and just as many responses in opposition.
At this point, it’s just tradition.