Monday, January 26, 2015


Joyce Anne Rankin, a waitress at Jasper Park Lodge, and Irving Berlin had something in common: both wrote a song that was sung by American crooner Bing Crosby.

The difference is that millions of people have heard Crosby sing Berlin’s White Christmas.

Only people attending a JPL staff dance heard Crosby sing Rankin’s Jasper Blues. And he probably sang it just that one time.

The talented, 21-year-old Rankin, dubbed “Stevie” by her friends, proved her ability as a composer in the summer of 1948 when she wrote Jasper Blues for the annual staff musical production at the lodge. The song conjured visions of lofty snow-capped peaks, shimmering blue-green lakes, and turbulent rivers.

It received favourable comment from Crosby, who sang it in 1950, while a guest at the lodge. “I really don’t know much about music,” Rankin told the Journal, “but I like to write words. I wrote the words to Jasper Blues, thought up a tune, and got another lodge employee to write down the music.

“It’s hard to say exactly what inspired the song,” she continued. “They just needed something for the campfire scene in the show, so I wrote it.”

The words of the song described the way she felt about Jasper.

Rankin was in Edmonton on her way back home to Toronto after a motor trip to California and a summer’s work at Jasper.

She had worked three summers at JPL but having completed her English degree at the University of Toronto that spring, she didn’t expect to be back the following year.

Rankin had never written any other songs, but was credited for many parodies of popular songs, mostly written for staff shows at Jasper.

On returning home, she planned to take the song to a Toronto music publishing firm and have it published.

It appears that never happened. Joyce Anne Rankin and Jasper Blues, as arranged by Alan C. E. McKinlay, are listed in the Catalog of Copyright Entries 1949 Unpublished Music...


Monday, January 19, 2015


EDMONTON - American actor and crooner Bing Crosby won the 18th annual Totem Pole Golf Tournament at Jasper Park Lodge with a storybook final shot.

His caddy won too: four new suits.

During an early round of golf, “Der Bingle” (Crosby’s nickname), scored a birdie three on a tough par-four 18th hole and told Bruce McPhail of Ottawa, his caddy who was working at the lodge, that he would buy him a suit of clothes as a present.

“Every time I get a birdie on the 18th, it’s a new suit for you, Bruce,” he said
A week before the tournament, in a practice round with Dr. G. Bigelow of Victoria, Dave Herron of Pittsburgh, and Jasper greenskeeper Bill Brinksworth, Crosby put his second into the trap at the 18th. He blasted the ball into the cup for a birdie, but was on the hook for a second suit of clothes.

Days later, in his match with Matt Berry of Vancouver, he laid his second shot stiff in front of a large gallery and sank the putt for a 69.

“It’s swell to break 70 on this course, but that’s four suits of clothes for the kid since we started,” Crosby smiled.

On the final day of the tournament, the 44-year-old star was pitted against two-time tournament champion Gordon Verley of Victoria and scored a one-up win in a 36-hole duel that was the most bitterly fought in the history of the event.

“The manner of Crosby’s winning will long be remembered by those comprising the large gallery,” wrote the Journal’s Stan Moher.

Crosby was a regular guest at JPL starting with the filming of The Emperor’s Waltz in 1946 and 1947, with Jasper standing in for Austria.

Crosby also did some big game hunting when he stayed at the Rocky Mountain resort. A video on YouTube shows Crosby hunting mountain sheep with locals and shooting a ram.
Crosby Cabin on the JPL grounds is named in his honour.

The entertainer died in 1977 at 74. He had a heart attack after playing 18 holes on a course near Madrid, Spain...


Monday, January 12, 2015


From Steve Hoffman's message board...

My wife and I watched the recent American Masters on Bing Crosby, and we both enjoyed it very much. But we remarked to one another that we must have been among the youngest people watching the show (we are both in their 40s). We're not particular Crosby fans, but we certainly know his work. (While we are both pretty hip for middle-aged people, we are more aware of early and mid-20th century pop culture than are most Gen X-ers -- we watch a lot of TCM).

I found myself wondering about the relative stature today of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. (Christmas music is the one exception, where Bing still rules). I doubted any of my friends would identify as a Crosby fan, while I'm sure plenty of them like Sinatra. There's a Sirius XM channel devoted to Sinatra, but I can't imagine one for Crosby. I checked Facebook, and my suspicions were confirmed: 4 million Facebookers "like" Sinatra, and only 200,000 "like" Crosby. Why this disparity among the two most popular singers of their era?

Being a social scientist, I came up with a few hypotheses. Let me know what you think:

1. The most obvious -- Sinatra is a more contemporary figure, one who is within the living memory of most adults. He was born in 1915 and died in 1998, while Crosby was born in 1903 and died in 1977. Crosby's last non-Christmas hits were in the late 1950s, while Sinatra's Duets albums came out during the Clinton Administration. Even Crosby devotees would admit their icon did his best work early on, while Sinatra reached his artistic peak in the 1950s and 1960s.

2. Sinatra seems to have been a more active figure in his later years, often milking his "icon" status for all it was worth -- "My Way," "New York, New York," the arena concerts, the Reagan connection, "Duets." It was not his best work, but Baby Boomers and Gen-X-ers certainly knew he was around. I don't think Crosby was nearly as visible in the 1960s and 1970s as Sinatra would be later -- my impression is that his public presence was mostly orange juice commercials and the occasional variety show. I wasn't around then, so I could be wrong. One of the few Crosby moments known to younger people -- the Christmas duet with David Bowie -- was exactly the sort of "aging icon" moment Sinatra performed all the time.

3. Sinatra is a more "usable" figure than Crosby. He's seen as having been sexy and cool, while Crosby isn't. Every few years brings a Michael Buble or Harry Connick Jr., who patterns himself after Ol' Blue Eyes. Sinatra's "Rat Pack" lifestyle may have mostly kitsch appeal these days, but that's better than no appeal at all. Even Sinatra's records seem louder and brassier -- more "modern" -- than Crosby's.

4. Sinatra simply produced more work of a lasting quality. While he was no singer-songwriter, he pioneered the album-length statement, and he was known for his emotional interpretations of lyrics. Crosby was a fine interpreter as well, but he also became known for grinding out work of indifferent quality. Neither man was a great actor, but "From Here to Eternity" and "The Manchurian Candidate" outweigh the "Road" pictures.

Any thoughts?

Monday, January 5, 2015


Many movie goers these days consider the movie musical to be nothing more than fluff and fantasy. Most people in real life do not break out in song. That is true, but for moviegoers of the 1930s and 1940s the movie musical was an escape. It was an escape from the pain of poverty during the Great Depression, and it was an escape from the horrors of World War II. Of all the stars during that era, it was Bing Crosby that introduced the most standards. He was the voice of the times.

Bing started out as a singer with the Rhythm Boys in Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra, and then he moved on to making a series of film shorts for Mack Sennett. Those shorts were corny and really were only used to spotlight Bing’s singing, but it got him more popular exposure. Not only did he become a star on radio, but he was also signed to a long term contract with Paramount Studios. He would remain at the studio for almost 25 years.

The first movie Bing made for the studio was The Big Broadcast in 1932. The film was basically a spotlight of the popular radio stars of the day with a light plotline in between the songs. Crosby got to introduce some great songs like “Dinah”, “Please”, and the underrated torch song “Here Lies Love”. Bing basically played himself, and he did not really stretch his acting chops in this film. My favorite role in the movie was Bing’s friend, played by comedian Stuart Erwin. The movie catapulted Bing to movie stardom, and he followed it up with a more forgettable movie – 1933’s College Humor. The film was not bad, but even a young 30 year old Bing could not pass for a college student. He did get to sing the great song “Learn To Croon”, which became Bing’s unofficial anthem in those early years. More flimsy films followed in the 1930s, but he introduced a great standard in each of them. In She Loves Me Not (1934), Bing introduced “Love In Bloom”, in Here In My Heart (1935), Bing sang “June In January”, and in Two For Tonight (1935) Bing introduced “Without A Word Of Warning”.

Going back to Bing’s third movie in 1933, he was loaned to MGM Studios for the splashy musical Going Hollywood. It would be one of the best of the earlier Bing films. He was reunited with Stuart Erwin, his love interest was the older Marion Davies, and he got to sing some wonderful Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed tunes like: “Temptation”, “Our Big Love Scene”, and “Beautiful Girl”. Bing would not return to the studio until 1956, and it was the first of only four movies Bing made for the studio. With Bing Crosby being such a big and rising star, I am really surprised Paramount Studios loaned him out in the 1930s as much as they did.

The movie roles remained forgettable until Bing was loaned out again to Columbia Studios in 1936. For the movie Pennies From Heaven, Bing had his most dramatic role yet as an ex-convict who “adopted” a young child of another convict. It was still not Citizen Kane, but Bing had a lot more to do in this movie than just sing and play a crooner. He also introduced the title song, and a few other great songs like “So Do I”, and “Let’s Call A Heart A Heart”. When Bing went back to Paramount though, he went back to the flimsy musicals, which were quite popular with movie audiences.

Fast forwarding to 1939, Bing made a favorite movie of mine to end the decade. He played real life songwriter and kid show producer Gus Edwards in the movie “biography” The Star Maker. Bing sang some vintage songs, even vintage for 1939, like “School Days” and “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now”, while he got to sing the new song “Still The Bluebirds Sing”. The film was another example that Bing was feeling more sure of himself as an actor and could play roles other than a carefree crooner. By making movies like Pennies From Heaven and The Star Maker, Bing was paving the way for meatier roles in the 1940s and even roles that would recognized by the Academy Awards. Bing never could have imagined that back when he was making movies playing a 30 year old college co-ed…

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


The other day I was at the supermarket, and I had a Bing Crosby record playing from my CD player. A guy in his early 30s, maybe a few years younger than me asked who that was. I told him Bing Crosby happily, but my happiness was short lived when he said "Oh Bing is the guy that beat his wife and tried to kill his kids."

I am going to start out this article though by saying it is hard to raise children. There are so many outside pressures that societies places on parents as well as children. Those pressures are magnified when one is famous. The famous parent has an image that they must keep up for the public. Also, they are the real problems that “normal” parents have. In my opinion, famous people do not make good parents. Even if they try their best, their children also have to live up to their image. That image is nearly impossible to match, and the child cannot create a life of their own, because they are always compared to their famous and successful parent. Then after the child grows up and often after the famous parent is dead, they write the tell-all book. They do it for many reasons, but I think the two biggest is money and revenge. Two of the most famous instances of the children writing a book about their parents are when Christina Crawford wrote “Mommie Dearest” about her adopted mother Joan Crawford in 1978, and when Gary Crosby followed her book up with “Going My Own Way” about his father Bing Crosby in 1983.

Two be perfectly blunt and honest, neither Joan Crawford nor Bing Crosby were the greatest parents. As for Bing Crosby, he had the most widely recorded voice in the history of mankind. How can someone compare to that. When his son Gary was born in 1933, Bing was becoming the most popular star in the world. By the 1940s, Bing was the most popular icon in movies, on records, and in radio. Bing worked non-stop and pretty much was never home. Bing grew up with a strict mother himself, and he wanted to instill that strictness in his children. However, with Bing gone maybe 300 days a year, when he would come home and try to discipline the children and be a father, it would just make their relationship worse. If Bing was able to tell his sons, especially Gary, that he loved them more then Gary might have turned out differently. What compounded matters was the fact Bing’s wife Dixie Lee was becoming an alcoholic. She could not cope with the fame and the absence of a husband for long periods of time. Gary blamed Bing for Dixie’s problems, and when Dixie died of cancer in 1952 then Gary really started acting out. Gary got in public fights (some with brothers), got married and divorced numerous, and arrested on many occasions. All four sons suffered from alcoholism like their mother. However, even though one’s home life may not be ideal or may not have a father present, once one is an adult then their life is their own responsibility. Gary never took responsibility for his own life.

Gary wrote his book about his dad to ride the coattails of Christina Crawford. As source in the Crosby family says that Gary actually wrote two versions of his book. The publisher said it wasn’t juicy enough so he made Bing out to be an abusive and unfeeling monster. As Gary laid dying of cancer in 1995, he not only was planning on doing a duets album with old recordings of his father, but he recanted his whole book. He said Bing never beat him, and although he was absent for most of his childhood he admitted the book was mostly lies.

Whatever the truth actually is, the damage was done to the memory of Joan Crawford and even moreso to the memory of Bing Crosby. When one sees their names they instantly think of the abuse and not the talent the stars had. Maybe Joan and Bing were not the greatest parents, but isn’t that their own business behind closed doors. They both entertained millions of fans who needed it during the Great Depression and World War II. Even if they were the monsters that their children painted them as for financial gains, that does not diminish their talents. Both icons deserve to be remembered for their talents and not negative books written by their children…

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


It’s that time of year in the Bolen house when Christmas music has started to play and I get to hear all the little voices throughout the house singing along. The other night I was hanging out with my kids and Bing Crosby’s version of “The First Noel” came on and I about collapsed with excitement. As the ensemble began to gently play the opening notes of the song, Bing started to speak, not sing, but speak. It was a very different type of introduction to a song, yet as a worship pastor, very relatable in a strange way. Here’s what he said:
“Say friends wherever you are tonight, whether you’re in the snows of New England or up in the Northwest, or on the warm tropical beaches of the Florida coast, I really hope you’re getting into the spirit of this Christmas song. I don’t mean just sitting back in your easy chair listening to us having all the fun. I mean throwing back your head, opening up your hearts and singing as loud or as pretty as you know how. Gang singing is a lot more fun then you’ll ever know unless you give it a whirl sometime. So come on now, join me in the The First Noel. If you don’t know the words well, hum a little, tap your feet or gee whiz, do something! You ready?”
Um, yeah! Two things in what he said really stood out to me. First, the call he was giving people to sing was compelling and I imagined in my head my tone-deaf grandfather 50 years ago would have been pretty keen to join in. The second, I found it refreshing, (even if the recording is over 50 years old), that he would go through the work of casting a vision in such a way that anyone could participate, regardless of their ability. Now I don’t know all that Bing had in mind except to assume that his reasons for inviting people to sing was that he believed it was a good thing. It wasn’t a call to worship, although the song is about Jesus, it was in so many ways an invitation to do something that is natural...

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Along with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney - one of the most charming parts of the 1954 musical White Christmas was dancer Vera-Ellen. The movie was released 60 years ago, but since then rumors have persisted as to the health of Vera-Ellen during the making of the movie.

As you might notice, Vera-Ellen’s neck is covered in many pictures. In fact, her neck is covered up in the entirety of White Christmas. Vera-Ellen was an extremely thin woman who died in 1980 (at the age of 61). While never officially diagnosed during her lifetime (heck, the term itself was barely around during her lifetime), Vera-Ellen is alleged to have suffered from anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness pertaining to a distorted view of how skinny a person is that results in many different effects in people, most specifically, the physical problems of having their body waste away due to their belief that they are too fat.

Vera-Ellen was an EXTREMELY skinny woman for the rest of her life, and biographers of her have made it pretty clear that she suffered from the disease (it was perhaps exacerbated by studio weight requirements, something that afflicted Judy Garland, as well).

While it has not been proven, I do agree that the circumstantial evidence is probably there enough that I would tend to agree that she had SOME sort of eating disorder.

Bill Dennington, a friend of Vera-Ellen, had the following to say on the matter:
"Vera-Ellen was a friend for 20 years until her death. I was in L.A. and had lunch with her 2 weeks prior to her death. If you’ve read David Soren’s book Vera-Ellen: The Magic and The Mystery you would have seen my personal photographs of Vera-Ellen. The photographs were taken in the 60’s and 70’s and she looked fine. All of her life she wore something around her neck, a necklace,a choker, a scarf, a collar, etc., etc. It was her “trademark” like Van Johnson wore red socks. I saw her neck many times it was lovely… Audrey Hepburns. Hate that people think of her as “the dancer with anorexia” and not just the FABULOUS DANCER WHO HAS BEEN SO OVERLOOKED !!!!!!!!!!!!"
In any event, to the matter at hand – the story is that Vera-Ellen’s neck had to be covered up in White Christmas because the costumes were designed to cover her neck, which was aged beyond her years due to her eating disorder. If you search around, you’ll get that basic story in lots of places.

However, while I would agree that it seems to be too much of a coincidence that they happened to cover her neck in EVERY shot in White Christmas, I differ about the reason behind it. It may be none of our business what Vera-Ellen was suffering from, but regardless what is not disputed is that she was a wonderful and talented dancer...

Thursday, December 11, 2014


I was born in 1974, so my life was decades after the Great Depression and World War II. However, I learned to appreciate the music of that generation due to a close friendship I had with my Grandfather. He instilled in me a love of great music and more importantly a love of Bing Crosby. Young people today do not really know who Bing Crosby is. People in my generation barely know who he is. Thankfully PBS television on their "American Masters" program presented a great documentary on Bing called Bing Crosby Rediscovered. The documentary debuted on December 2nd, but it did not air in the Pittsburgh area until December 10th.

Of course the documentary presented the facts that Bing's fans have known for years: Bing Crosby was much more than the White Christmas crooner. Crosby established his name on radio and stage throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s, he had become a superstar. For more than two decades, his name was at or near the top of record charts, radio ratings and the movie box office. He won an Academy Award as best actor for his performance inGoing My Way (1944). He received an honorary Grammy in 1963. His later career included a series of highly rated TV specials, a format he helped to pioneer.

Half way through the documentary, it gets very interesting as Bing's private life is examined. As the documentary tells it, Crosby and his wife, actress Dixie Lee, were alcoholics, and, although he managed the disease, she did not. She died at age 40 after a battle with ovarian cancer. Crosby wasn’t around much for his family because of work, but when he was present, he was a strict father. Six years after Crosby’s death, son Gary Crosby published the memoir Going My Own Way, which claimed that Bing beat his kids severely. It is a claim that Gary later recanted on his deathbed.

For fans of Bing, the music is all familiar, but what is even more fascinating is some of the photos of Bing Crosby that I have never seen before. Even my wife was amazed at how Bing looked without his toupee. There are even sad pictures of Bing at the funeral of his wife Dixie Lee, deep in mourning. I believe the death of Dixie was a turning point for Bing, both personally and professionally. 

The documentary lets viewers draw their own conclusions about Bing Crosby’s personal life.

But the film’s perspective on his professional legacy is clear: He was a landmark entertainer, a technological maverick, a colleague who stood up for pals in need. He came to the aid of such fellow performers as Judy Garland and Mildred Bailey. Back to his sons, there is also audio showing how concerned Bing was with his boys, and how they were basically out of control.

Does Bing Crosby need rediscovered? He certainly does. Without Bing Crosby even many of these so-called singers would not be around today. Bing Crosby may have been the most widely recorded human voice in the history of mankind! The statistics are mind boggling, and although it is hard to cover Bing's career in a 90 minute documentary, Bing Crosby Remembered definitely does Bing justice...


Monday, December 8, 2014


But a new documentary called Bing Crosby Rediscovered – which aired on December 2nd at 8 p.m. ET on PBS as part of the American Masters series – sheds fresh light on Crosby's first family with Dixie Lee, a shy actress who drank herself to oblivion before succumbing to ovarian cancer in 1952 at the age of 41.

She and Crosby had four sons, two of whom were twins named Dennis and Phillip, who experts believe suffered from their mother's heavy drinking.

"I had been hearing about it and then the twins, they didn't look quite right," Robert Trachtenberg, the documentary's director, tells PEOPLE. "Something had told me that it was fetal alcohol syndrome, so I took existing photos of the twins and showed it to a couple of specialists at USC. When they’re born [with fetal alcohol syndrome], it affects their skull and their nose, and it manifests itself physically as well. The specialists looked at them and said 'Yeah, this is a like a textbook case of fetal alcohol syndrome.' "

It's not clear whether Crosby ever suspected that his first wife's drinking had an adverse affect on their twins, Trachtenberg admits. Dennis Crosby killed himself in 1991, and Phillip died of a heart attack in 1994. (The two other brothers, Gary and Lindsay, died in 1995 and 1989).

"I couldn't find anything where he blamed her," Trachtenberg says. "That's the other tragedy of this whole situation. She died at 41. Nobody really had any significant way to treat that. Kathryn, Bing's second wife, says in the film it was a terrible way to die. So to add insult to injury, you have this situation [with the twins] on the one hand and then she dies on the other. We could have done a whole other film just about that."

The rest of the documentary features interviews with Crosby's second family – including wife Kathryn and their daughter, Dallas actress Mary Crosby – and focuses on the singer's many contributions to the business, like how he revolutionized radio when he began taping his popular radio shows.

"I think people have this idea of him from those Christmas specials from the end of his life, which even Mary said was bad variety TV," Trachtenberg says. "But what they don’t remember was how cool he really was in the '30s and '40s and '50s. He is just so revered as a musician’s musician to this day … his timing, his phrasing. People still cite him as one of the most influential singers of the 20th century."


Monday, December 1, 2014


Just in time for Christmas, this company in the Czech Republic is producing a Bing Crosby marionette!

I am trying to contact the company to get more info and inquire about the costs...