It's Time to Rehabilitate 'Baby, It's Cold Outside'

(Screencap courtesy of NBC.)

It’s been nearly two decades since “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” earned the ire of our finger-wagging, no-fun, culture scolds.

This week I saw the first sign that might finally be getting a break.


Before we get to that, though, the breezy seduction number with its blustery theme became a holiday (not Christmas!) classic shortly after MGM plugged it into Neptune’s Daughter as a double duet. First done the traditional way between Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams, and then in a spicy role reversal with Betty Garrett putting the moves on Red Skelton.

Neptune’s Daughter might be the most famous filmed version, although I’m also partial to this seriously campy performance between Sigourney Weaver and Buster Poindexter on SNL many years ago.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” got the heat turned up against it for the first time when snowflake millennials became aware of it from the movie Elf.

Here, the song is performed by Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell.

I don’t know whose idea it was to stage a mutual seduction number in a scene where the players can’t even see one another, but it really sucks all the charm out of the song. That, plus supposedly “outdated” notions about traditional gender roles made the song one of the early victims of cancel culture.

The heat was probably never more intense than it was four years ago when GenZ got into the act and demanded that radio stations stop playing it. The Wall Street Journal had the details in a piece headlined, “‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ Heats Up Culture Wars.


The actual history of the tune is that Frank Loesser wrote it for himself and his wife to perform as a duet. And not just sung, but to be performed, perfectly staged, live at parties. The Journal spoke with their daughter, Susan, who said that “the reference to what is in the woman’s drink was common at the time, signifying only that having an alcoholic beverage was cool.” When I was a young boy in the ’70s, I can remember on many occasions my grandmother asking the very same thing when my grandfather had poured her a stiff one, and him replying, “Nothing I didn’t make for you last night,” or words to that effect. The same generation as the Loessers, middle age didn’t make them any less playful with one another.

Dean Martin recorded the song in 1959, and his daughter Deana told Fox News on Tuesday that she’s “flabbergasted” by the controversy. “It’s just insane. When I heard it, I said, ‘This can’t possibly be.’ You know, it’s a sweet, flirty, fun holiday song that’s been around for 40 years.”

Susan Loesser backs up that interpretation, telling the Journal, “The female singer’s repeated insistence that she needed to go was halfhearted, as she too wanted to stay.” Which is exactly how every female performer in every version of this song has sung it. She isn’t threatened or out-of-control drunk; she showed up at his place knowing exactly what she wanted. Or as Loesser explained: “She’s flirting like crazy. She’s wanting to stay, but she’s worried about what people will think.”


In other words: a nice girl with a naughty side. Just what I wanted for Christmas!

But as a Twitter friend said to me the other day about millennial rage and this delightful little song: “I submit that one of the issues is they’ve been not just taught but incentivized to see each other as the actual enemy. That makes all action, all intent, suspect.”


But I’ve seen one glimmer of hope that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” might finally be getting the rehabilitation it deserves. MSN — nobody’s idea of a cultural conservative news outlet — published a piece by Kenneth Partridge last week on the “complicated, controversial history” of the song. I read the article, waiting for the eventual condemnation, but it never came.

There’s a brief mention of having “more substantive conversations about the very real issues underlying the discourse,” but that’s about it. There’s a discussion about John Legend’s sanitized version, but even Legend calls his reworked lyrics “a joke.”

For those of us who don’t need to make jokes — the ones who know how to be civilized grownups and take part in civilized grownup delights — I offer to you what is in my mind the definitive version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”


Recorded in 1962 by Ann-Margret and Al Hirt, to me, their performance most perfectly captures the seductive nature of the lyrics. And the music, performed by a small jazz group including Red Norvo on vibes and Gerald Hirt on trombone, is appropriately and perfectly sultry. It’s virtually foreplay with their clothes on, and it became my all-time favorite version the first time I heard it, almost 30 years ago.

I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

And if it is a little rapey… well, then the assault is mutual.

Baby, it’s hot in here.


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