Monday, January 26, 2009

Who Was This Guy Bing Crosby Anyway?

May 3, 1903 – October 14, 1977

It’s appropriate, I think, for my first contribution of original content to my first Blog to be devoted to Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby (image right), a multi-talented entertainer whose contributions to the world of entertainment are legion.
Bing, who was born on May 3, 1903 in Tacoma, Wash., began his unparalleled career in the late ‘20s, became an icon in radio and movies in the ’30s and was on top of the world throughout the ‘40s when he recorded the largest selling single of all time, “White Christmas,” starred in five of his seven “road” pictures with Bob Hope and won an Oscar for “Going My Way” (1944.)
But I don’t idolize Bing because he was extraordinarily successful for more than five decades. I am one of Bing’s many fans simply because I admire his melodic voice and his uncanny ability to bring a song to life. I admire his movies because his wonderful personality comes through unerringly and consistently making each one of his dozens of movies great to watch despite some flimsy plots.
Bing has been gone since Oct. 14, 1977, when he died of a massive heart attack following a round of golf at the LaMoraleja Golf Course near Madrid, Spain.
It’s understandable that today’s younger generations know Bing Crosby, if at all, only through his Christmas songs, particularly “White Christmas.” But it is sad that his reputation was maligned so viciously by his first son, Gary, when Gary authored his book, Going My Own Way in 1983, which portrayed his father as strict and cold-hearted. That book followed on the heals of an extremely negative book that totally lacks credibility, Bing Crosby: The Hollow Man published in 1982 by Shepherd and Slatzer.
Gary Crosby, I think, is best described by his cousin, Howard Crosby, a business executive, who addressed him on the now defunct "Bing Crosby Internet Museum" when he said, “My cousin Gary was a liar and a drunk. Period.”
Howard is the son of Bing’s brother, Ted, one of seven children of Harry and Catherine (Harrigan) Crosby.
Howard, commenting on the former Internet Museum: “I think Bing was the favorite of lots of the other singers who came before him. Of all of them, Dean Martin may have said it best, at the time of Bing’s death. He said something like, 'From now on, every time a popular singer steps in front of a microphone, he will have to pass through the shadow of Bing Crosby.' ”
Bing had seven children, four with his first wife, Dixie -- Gary (born 1933, died 1995), twins (born 1934) Phillip (who died in 2004) and Dennis (who died in 1991), Lindsay (born 1938, died 1989), and three children with his second wife, Kathryn -- Harry Lillis Jr. (born 1958), Mary Frances (born 1959) and Nathaniel (born 1961.)
Crosby picked up the nickname “Bing” as a boy when he was an avid reader of a comic, “The Bingville Bugle.” He also became known as the The Old Groaner, El Bingo, Le Bing and Der Bingle.
Just to mention a few amazing statistics about The Groaner: He charted 368 records from ’27 to ’62 under his own name and another 28 as a vocalist with numerous bandleaders – for a total of 396. For comparison, Paul Whiteman had 220, Frank Sinatra, 209, Elvis Presley, 149, Glenn Miller, 129, Nat “King” Cole, 118, Louis Armstrong, 85, the Beatles, 68.
You may have heard some of Bing’s 22 Gold Records: “Sweet Leilani,” “San Antonio Rose,” “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Sunday Monday or Always,” “Pistol Packin’ Mama” (with the Andrews Sisters,) “Jingle Bells” (with the Andrews Sisters,) "I'll Be Home for Christmas,” “Swinging on a Star,” “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral,” “Don’t Fence Me In” (with the Andrews Sisters,) “I Can’t Begin to Tell You,” “McNamara’s Band,” “South America Take It Away” (with the Andrews Sisters,") “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (with Al Jolson), “Whiffenpoof Song,” “Now Is the Hour” (Maori Farewell Song), “Galway Bay,” “Dear Hearts and Gentle People,” “Play a Simple Melody” (with Gary Crosby,") “Sam’s Song” (with Gary Crosby) and “True Love” (with Grace Kelly.)
Maybe you’ll recognize a few of Bing’s Top 40 hits: “Out of Nowhere,” Just One More Chance,” “At Your Command,” “Dinah (with the Mills Brothers.)” “Please,” “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me,” “Shadow Waltz,” “Little Dutch Mill,” “Love in Bloom,” “June in January,” “Soon,” “It’s Easy to Remember,” “Red Sails in the Sunset,” “Pennies from Heaven,” “Sweet Leilani,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” “The Moon Got in My Eyes,” “Remember Me,” “Bob White” (with Connie Boswell,) “I’ve Got a Pocketful of Dreams,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (with Connie Boswell), “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “Sierra Sue,” “Trade Winds,” “Only Forever,” “White Christmas,” “Moonlight Becomes You," “Sunday Monday or Always,” “San Fernando Valley,” “I Love You” (Porter,) “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Swinging on a Star,” “A Hot Time in the Town of Berlin” (with the Andrews Sisters,) “Don’t Fence Me In” (with the Andrews Sisters,) “It’s Been a Long Long Time,” “I Can’t Begin to Tell You,” “Now Is the Hour,” Far Away Places,” and “Play a Simple Melody” (with Gary Crosby.)
Bing Crosby captured the heart of America on radio, beginning in 1929 with his “Old Gold Presents Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra" from New York. He went on to broadcast from The Cocoanut Grove with Gus Arnheim in Los Angeles, with CBS in New York; he was the “Cremo Singer” and subsequently had radio shows for Chesterfield, Woodbury Soap, Kraft, Philco and General Electric
On the silver screen, Bing was a Top 10 box office star from 1944 to 1949. After winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1944 for his portrayal of Father Chuck O’Malley in Going My Way, he won nomination as Best Actor for his performances in The Bells of St. Mary’s, 1945, and The Country Girl, 1954.
While he played light comedy in many of his movies, including the seven “road” pictures with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, he also showed his dramatic acting ability in a number of films, such as Little Boy Lost, 1953, The Country Girl, 1955, Man On Fire, 1957, and Stagecoach, 1966. In addition to his feature films, Bing appeared in a number of short comedies and made numerous cameos and guest appearances. He was reluctant to get into television, but eventually had his own show, briefly, and then starred in several made-for-TV shows. The short-subject films he made with Mack Sennett, 1931-32, were classics and played a big role in bringing The Groaner to the attention of the public. The Sennett films were: “I Surrender Dear,” “One More Chance,” “Dream House,” “Billboard Girl,” “Sing Bing Sing,” and “Blue of the Night.”
Bing’s movies, starting with “King of Jazz” in 1930 and ending with “Stagecoach” in 1966, feature many of his songs. Here’s some of my favorites:
The Big Broadcast, 1932, with Stuart Erwin, George Burns and Gracie Allen
Going Hollywood, 1933, with Marion Davies, Fifi D’Orsay, Ned Sparks and Stuart Erwin.
We’re Not Dressing, 1934, with Carole Lombard, Leon Errol, Ethel Merman and Ray Milland.
Mississippi, 1935, with W. C. Fields and Joan Bennett
Rhythm on the Range, 1936, with Frances Farmer, Bob Burns and Martha Raye.
Pennies from Heaven, 1936, with Madge Evans, Donald Meek, Edith Fellows and Louis Armstrong.
Waikiki Wedding—1937 (black and white). A Paramount Picture directed by Frank Tuttle starring Bing Crosby, Shirley Ross, Bob Burns, Martha Raye, George Barbier, Leif Erikson, and Anthony Quinn. Songs include: “Sweet Leilani,” “Blue Hawaii,” “In a Little Hula Heaven” and “Sweet Is the Word for You.”
East Side of Heaven—1939 (black and white). An Independent Production for Universal Pictures directed by David Butler starring Bing Crosby, Joan Blondell, and Mischa Auer. Songs include: “Happy Birthday,” “Sing a Song of Sunbeams,” “Hang Your Heart on a Hickory Limb,” “That Sly Old Gentleman” and “East Side of Heaven.”
Rhythm on the River, 1940, with Mary Martin, Basil Rathbone and Oscar Levant.
Birth of the Blues, 1941, with Mary Martin, Brian Donlevy, Carolyn Lee and Jack Teagarden.
Holiday Inn, 1942, with Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale and Walter Abel.
Road to Morocco, 1942, with Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Anthony Quinn and Dona Drake.
Star Spangled Rhythm, 1942, with Betty Hutton, Victor Moore, Eddie Bracken and Walter Abel.
Going My Way, 1944, with Barry Fitzgerald, Frank McHugh, Stanley Clements, Jean Heather and Rise Stevens.
Here Come the Waves, 1944, with Betty Hutton, Sonny Tufts, Ann Doran and Gwen Crawford.
The Bells of St. Mary’s, 1945, with Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers, Dickie Tyler and Joan Caroll.
Blue Skies, 1946, with Fred Astaire, Joan Caulfield, Billy de Wolfe and Olga San Juan.
Welcome Stranger, 1947, with Barry Fitzgerald, Joan Caulfield and Wanda Hendrix.
Emperor Waltz 1948, with Joan Fontaine, Roland Culver and Richard Haydn.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1949, with Rhonda Fleming, William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke.
Top o’ the Morning, 1949, with Barry Fitzgerald, Ann Blyth and Hume Cronyn.
Riding High, 1950, with Coleen Gray, Clarence Muse, William Demarest, Frances Gifford and Charles Bickford.
Mr. Music, 1950, with Nancy Olsen, Charles Coburn and Ruth Hussey.
Here Comes the Groom, 1951, with Jane Wyman, Franchot Tone and Alexis Smith.
Just for You, 1952, with Jane Wyman, Bob Arthur, Natalie Wood, Cora Witherspoon and Ethel Barrymore.
Little Boy Lost, 1953, with Nicole Maurey, Claude Dauphin and Christian Fourcade.
White Christmas, 1954, with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen, Dean Jagger and Mary Wickes.
The Country Girl, 1954, with Grace Kelly and William Holden.
Anything Goes, 1956, with Donald O’Connor, Zizi Jeanmaire, Mitzi Gaynor and Phil Harris.
High Society, 1956, with Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Celeste Holm.
Robin and the Seven Hoods, 1964, with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Falk and Barbara Rush.
Stagecoach, 1966, with Ann Margret, Michael Connors, Alex Cord, Red Buttons, Van Heflin, Slim Pickens and Stephanie Powers.
Bing began dabbling in television in 1948, but broke through the medium when he hosted The Edsel Show with such guests as Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Rosemary Clooney. He contracted with ABC-TV and began making a couple of “specials” a year. He starred in a situation comedy in 1964 for just one season.
He played host frequently on the Hollywood Palace variety shows from 1964 to 1970. In 1971 he starred in a dramatic role in the TV movie Doctor Cook’s Garden. He made numerous newspaper and television advertisements, including those with Minute Maid and Shell.
Bing became a fixture on television in the 1960s and '70s when his Christmas “specials” soared to popularity. Many Bing fans in the United States probably don’t realize how popular Bing has been around the world. Der Bingle was cited by Yank Magazine as the entertainer who did most for morale of the troops during the World War II war effort. His popularity in the UK is unmatched.
Bing was an avid golfer, about a two handicapper, fisherman, hunter and horseman. He took his recreation seriously as he did his profession -- despite his apparent easy manner of singing and acting. Lee J. Cobb and Bing turned down the role of Lt. Columbo on TV, and the part was won by Peter Falk. Bing had other plans.
Bing’s legacy has suffered over the years, however, despite his great popularity and immense talent. Aside from Gary’s book, the publicity over his comments to Barbara Walters in her infamous 1977 interview with Bing added salt to the wound. For the uninitiated, Bing Crosby came from a devout Catholic family and took his religion seriously. When Walters asked him what he would do if one of his sons declared he was living with a girl without the benefit of marriage, Bing responded that he would never speak to him again. “Aloha on the steel guitar,” Bing said, memorably.
Most of Bing’s records, primarily 78 RPMs, and his movies, primarily filmed in black and white – although his “Holiday Inn” movie was just released in “colorized” format – are available on tapes and on CDs. Many clips can be found on and on many sites on the Internet.
“Santa Cros” has been featured for the two weeks preceding Christmas on an exclusive channel on “Crosby Christmas Radio” on Sirius and XM satellite radio.
“The Crooner” is remembered every year around Christmas time because he was so prominent for so long during yuletide, but he’s remembered all year ‘round by his many fans, particularly those in the United States, England, Canada and Australia.
There are several important organizations that keep Bing’s legacy alive, including The International Club Crosby which puts out Bing Magazine three times a year. The Bing Crosby Internet Museum established and maintained by Steven Lewis from 1996 to 2010 with the ascendance of the new The ICC is the longest continuously active fan club in America. Other Crosby organizations include Bing’s Friends and Collectors and The Victorian Bing Crosby Society (Australia.)
For everything you ever wanted to know about Bing Crosby (and don’t be afraid to ask), Gary Giddens has put out what Crosby fans consider “the bible:” Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams -- the Early Years 1903-1940 published by Little, Brown in 2001.
The Crosby family has come under some criticism over the years, often from avid Bing fans, for not promoting Der Bingle's legacy more than they have, but there seems to be a renewed interest among several family members. A new Website has been created by the family; Bing's widow, Kathryn, has been performing a show of Bing remembrances at various locations; a chain of Bing Crosby Restaurants was started in California but economic conditions forced their closing, and Bing's niece, Carolyn Schneider, has written her memories in two books, "Me And Uncle Bing" and "Bing: On the Road to Elko." Things are looking up!
I am thankful for the wonderful resources of the former Bing Crosby Internet Museum and its founder, Steven Lewis, for much of the information on this Blog. While my memories of Bing’s matchless voice and personality are vivid, my recall of dates, titles and details require this very reliable resource.
If you stop back at this Blog, you’ll likely see more about Bing Crosby in the days to come.


Shirley Anderson said...

Hi William!

I found your blog quite by accident through Pinkpackrat's. When I arrived on your page, I was not at all surprised to see your beloved Bing. :)

Congrats on a great blog!

Now, I'm going to check out your ezine articles.

Happy blogging!

William F. Torpey said...

Thank you, Shirley. I'm just starting to blog and already have another linked to this one, it's I'm close to beginning a family blog, which I'll be publishing soon,too. I'll be reading more of your hubs on HubPages as well.

Dottie said...

Wow Bill, your blogging about Bing was very impressive and so is this blog site. I read every single word and now it's way past my bedtime! BUT it was worth every minute! I learned so much about your idol Bing tonight and it was fun and very enjoyable. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Bill, glad to read this blog agian., and I'd like to maks what happened to Steven Lewis's Bing-centric page? It doesn't show up when I click the correct links on

Is the site again down? PS I've been to Hawaii, of which Bing sang plenty about, and just got back.
Steve J.Carras, registered member of Crosby forum.

William F. Torpey said...

I just found these comments, Dotti. Sorry, I thought I had an automatic notice of comments, but apparently not. I'm really glad you enjoyed the blog Dottie. I wish I had youtube videos on the more than 2,000 songs Bing recorded (and could put them on the blog for all of us to enjoy.)

William F. Torpey said...

I just found your comment, too, Steve. I love Bing's Hawaiin songs. I guess by now you know that the Bing Crosby Internet Museum has been shut down without explanation, but it appears the Crosby family's renewed interest in promoting Bing's legacy themselves has a lot to do with it. Maybe will develop the kind of encyclopedic resource that BCIM has been.