How’d ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
How’d ya like to spend the holiday away across the sea?
Summer weather has me singing Christmas Island, and I’d thought I’d like to learn more about the history of this song. The song has a brief origin story, but the story of the songwriter is interesting as well.
The songwriter is Lyle L. Moraine, and he was a GI in WWII when he got the inspiration for this song. But let’s start a little further back.
Lyle was born 7 Feb 1914 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. His parents were Adrian Moraine and Olga Norgard. Five years after Lyle was born, his sister Virginia May came along.
Lyle was apparently one of those people who always knew he was going to be a musician and songwriter. After he graduated from high school in 1931, he moved to California to pursue his career in music. While attending a junior college in Santa Monica, he also sang in front of a big band and immediately began publishing songs. Still, it seems that songwriting wasn’t paying the bills, and in 1936 he took a job as a day laborer to earn some more money. He suffered a minor injury at his job, and when he went to the doctor, the doctor made a comment along the lines of, “Gee, you oughta be in pictures.” Lyle responded with sarcasm, but agreed to meet with an agent that the doctor knew. The agent immediately got Lyle signed to a contract with Warner Bros.
Lyle started appearing in films, mostly with bit parts. However, the connections did him good and he was able to sell more songs. In 1941, he wrote a song for Bob Hope called I’ve Been Drafted, Now I’m Drafting You. Lyle appeared on a radio show and sang the song, then announced he himself had recently received his own orders from the army. Lyle was drafted into the 354th Anti-Aircraft Battalion. He served in Italy, where he met and befriended a young child named Sophia Loren. She would later report that she had been suffering from malnutrition, and Lyle offered her food. (Sophia and Lyle would be reunited in Hollywood in 1957 when Sophia said she still remembered him and was grateful to him.) In 1945 Lyle’s battalion was sailing from Italy to the Phillippines and spotted an island, which one sailor told them was called Christmas Island. A GI leaned over to Lyle and said, “How’d ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?” Lyle heard it as a song in his head, and wrote it down. In January 1946, Lyle was discharged and returned home to Burbank. He had written many songs while deployed, but he said his favorite was the Christmas song and it was published right away. The Andrews Sisters immediately recorded it and by Christmas 1946 it was a hit.
Lyle continued to write songs and work in films. By 1950 he was working for Bob Hope as a stand-in, songwriter, and dialogue coach. Lyle wrote There’s A Cloud In My Valley of Sunshine for Bob Hope.
Later in the 1960s Lyle would end up working as a personal assistant and stand-in for Burl Ives. Perhaps Lyle was intimidated by Burl Ives, because he didn’t volunteer the fact that he was an accomplished songwriter. In 1965, Ives reported that Lyle was “reticent” to talk about his songwriting talent and that Ives had basically found out about it by accident. But once he discovered Lyle’s talent, Ives recorded 2 songs of Lyle’s right away. They were I Found My Best Friend In The Dog Pound and Two Car Garage.
The last time I find Lyle referenced in the newspaper is 1975, when Burl Ives has recorded another song of his called Along The Oregon Coast. 1975 is also the last year that he appeared in a Hollywood film.
Lyle died in Los Angeles in 1988 just a few days after his 74th birthday. It appears that he never married. His gravestone was provided by the Army in recognition of his service.
Where is Christmas Island? The one that Lyle saw is in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia. It was named Christmas Island by explorers who landed there on Christmas day 1643. You can learn more about the geography and naming in this interesting, short, YouTube video that explains there are actually 2 islands named Christmas Island.
Christmas Island is difficult to get to. It remains a tropical destination for tourists and is famous for its wildlife, especially its red crabs. In 2001 was also made the site of a detention facility and has been a controversial site ever since.
Here is Kristin Chenoweth singing Christmas Island in 2008. The sheet music she’s reading from in the video doesn’t appear to be credited to Lyle Moraine. That’s too bad.
The Jimmy Buffet recording is featured on a 2019 album called Christmas In July. Sounds great!
My favorite recording is by Leon Redbone. It’s the most island-style, in my opinion. This video is really cute, too, with lots of photos and Christmas island images.
Do you have a favorite version of the song?
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