Thursday, January 10, 2019

BING DESERVES A BIRTHDAY BASH

Here's an interesting article that I found online about how Bing deserve a birthday bash each year...

Yesterday was Elvis Presley’s birthday.

Because I once lived in Memphis, that sometimes makes me wonder.

Should Bing Crosby be a bigger deal in Spokane than he seems to be?

Oh, I realize Bing is and always will be an iconic figure here in the city where he grew up. Rightly so. He is a long, long way from being forgotten, here or elsewhere.

But here’s the thing. Elvis is practically an industry in Memphis. And though my memories of how that Tennessee city regarded the late singer are of the long-ago variety now, I remember that celebrations of his life were almost inescapable there.

Some of the reasons might be obvious.

Though both singers died in 1977, Elvis was much younger and closer to the height of his fame at that time.

His fan base was/is younger.

Though he spent a lot of time in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Elvis never stopped living in Memphis. Crosby had a lake place in Idaho, but Southern California was his adult home.

For those in Britain or Nova Scotia planning a pilgrimage, Memphis is easier to get to.

Because Elvis lived in Memphis as an adult, there are more people still alive there with relevant brush-with-fame stories.

And so on.

I’m not really sure what a heightened level of Crosby appreciation would look like here in Spokane. Beyond the acknowledgements our city already has in place, I mean. Everybody pretending to smoke a pipe on a designated Bing Day? Everybody dressing like Father O’Malley from “Going My Way”?

Maybe it would suffice if more people read the biography of the crooner by Gary Giddins. (The first volume has lots of Spokane stuff.)

Or perhaps we should just be satisfied to let time march on. Spokane has occasionally been accused of living in the past, after all...



Wednesday, January 2, 2019

NEW CD: HOLIDAY IN EUROPE AND POINTS BEYOND

The folks at Sepia Records have done it again. Another Bing CD is coming out on Feburary 8, 2019!




BING CROSBY: HOLIDAY IN EUROPE (AND POINTS BEYOND!)


An entertaining musical journey of 26 captivating Bing Crosby vocals from 1953-1961, including the complete stereo album 'Holiday in Europe'.Also included are some performances taped for his General Electric radio shows and new to CD, delightful collaborations about other locales with Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Clooney, and Bob Hope, and, as a final bonus, an endearing recording session rehearsal for the song C'est Si Bon (It's So Good).

Tracks:
1. April in Portugal
2. C'est Si Bon (It's So Good)
3. Never On Sunday
4. More And More Amor
5. Moment In Madrid
6. Morgen (One More Sunrise)
7. Two Shadows on the Sand
8. Under Paris Skies (Sous Le Ciel De Paris)
9. Domenica
10. Pigalle
11. My Heart Still Hears the Music (A Letter to Pinocchio)
12. Melancholie
13. Hawaiian Paradise
14. The Belle of Barcelona
15. Tobermory Bay
16. Along The Way To Waikiki
17. Down Among the Sheltering Palms
18. Road to Hong Kong
19. Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
20. Let's Sing Like a Dixieland Band
21. Paris Holiday
22. Medley: Pagan Love Song/Cuban Love Song
23. Medley: Down Argentina Way/What a Diff'rence a Day Made
24. Calcutta
25. Around the World
26. C'est Si Bon (It's So Good) (Rehearsal Track)

Check out the great Sepia website HERE

Sunday, December 23, 2018

BING ON FILM: WHITE CHRISTMAS - PART TWO


The song "Snow" was originally written for Call Me Madam with the title "Free," but was dropped in out-of-town tryouts. The melody and some of the words were kept, but the lyrics were changed to be more appropriate for a Christmas movie. The song "What Can You Do with a General?" was originally written for an un-produced project called Stars on My Shoulders.

Trudy Stevens provided the singing voice for Vera-Ellen, who did not have a suitable singing voice. It was not possible to issue an "original soundtrack album" of the film, because Decca Records controlled the soundtrack rights, but Clooney was under exclusive contract with Columbia Records. Consequently, each company issued a separate "soundtrack recording": Decca issuing Selections from Irving Berlin's White Christmas, while Columbia issued Irving Berlin's White Christmas. On the former, the song "Sisters" (as well as all of Clooney's vocal parts) was recorded by Peggy Lee, while on the latter, the song was sung by Rosemary Clooney and her own sister, Betty.

Berlin wrote "A Singer, A Dancer" for Crosby and his planned co-star Fred Astaire but when he was unavailable, Berlin re-wrote it as "A Crooner – A Comic" for Crosby and Donald O'Connor, but when O'Connor left the project so did the song. Another song written by Berlin for the film was "Sittin' in the Sun (Countin' My Money)" but because of delays in production, Berlin decided to publish it independently.] Crosby and Kaye also recorded another Berlin song ("Santa Claus") for the opening WWII Christmas Eve show scene, but it was not used in the final film. Their recording of the song survives though, and the song is cute but not great.


One of the greatest moments of the film is a bit Bing and Danny Kaye did off the cuff. According to Rosemary Clooney, Bing and Danny’s “Sisters” performance was not originally in the script. They were clowning around on the set, and director Michael Curtiz thought it was so funny that he decided to film it. In the scene, Crosby’s laughs are genuine and unscripted, and he was unable to hold a straight face. Clooney said the filmmakers had a better take where Crosby didn’t laugh, but the version with Crosby laughing was one that they used.

I find myself always comparing White Christmas to Holiday Inn, and I think that is unfair. The movies were done a decade apart and movie musicals were much different in 1954 than 1942. I prefer Holiday Inn, but I have a much better appreciation for White Christmas now that I have seen the film in a move theater. From the understated performance of Dean Jagger as the retired general to the superb dancing of Vera-Ellen to the banter of Crosby and Kaye, White Christmas is really a great film. Yes, the film is sentimental and cheesy at times. While I went to see the film in a theater my wife and kids ran errands, and I am glad. I had tears in eyes at the end when the general was recognized and realized he was not forgotten. I think that is a sign of a great movie that a movie made more than 60 years ago can still evoke emotion in 2017. At the end of the movie screening, the audience stood up and applauded, and I smiled to myself and thought of what a great Christmas gift this film was and is. Thanks again Bing!

MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10






Tuesday, December 11, 2018

BING ON FILM: WHITE CHRISTMAS - PART ONE

I had the the great opportunity to see 1954’s White Christmas in a movie theater a couple of days before Christmas in 2017. I actually fulfilled one of my bucket list items by seeing a Bing Crosby movie in a theater. I had never had the pleasure of seeing one like that before. I have to admit that White Christmas has never been my favorite Crosby film. I thought the story was contrite, and I did not care for the pairing of Bing with funny man Danny Kaye. However, upon seeing this movie in the theater, I have a completely new appreciation for the film.

The beloved classic that everyone watches during the holiday season is a lot different from what was proposed in the beginning. At first, Bing Crosby turned down the role due to the recent death of his wife Dixie Lee. However, Bing knew working on a musical with Irving Berlin tunes was destined to be a hit so he signed. Bing had co-star approval, and had wanted Fred Astaire for the role of his Army buddy. Crosby and Astaire had previously starred in Holiday Inn (1942) and Blue Skies (1946) earlier. Astaire read the script, but he then turned it down. The last movie that Astaire had made for Paramount was the 1950 disastrous musical Let’s Dance with Betty Hutton, and by 1954 Astaire was really being choosy on what roles he was accepting at that point. Next Bing wanted to work with dancer Donald O’ Connor again. Donald had played Bing’s younger brother in an earlier Paramount musical Sing You Sinners in 1938, and Bing and Donald had work together on radio shows since then. O’Connor was all set to be in the film, until he broke his ankle right before film rehearsals were set to begin. This sent Paramount scrambling, and they came up with the idea of pairing Bing with comedian Danny Kaye.


Even though Kaye was third choice for the film, he had this to say about Bing:

"I loved to work with him. I had the feeling he was my close personal friend. The real truth is that everybody knows Bing, but no one knows him. Through the years, he has created a legendary character that is so vivid, no one knows where the legend begins and the real Crosby leaves off. I thought I knew Bing--thought I knew all about him until we started to make White Christmas. Then I realized I actually didn't know the man at all. The truth of the matter is, there isn't a lazy bone in Bing's body. He works harder than any man I've met--but he does it with an easy casualness that makes him look lazy." (The Danny Kaye Story pg 198).

The movie plot, as flimsy as it may be, does has some serious overtones. By 1954, World War II had been over for almost a decade, and the film touches on what happens to soldiers after the fighting is over. Like many of Irving Berlin’s movie musicals, the plot of White Christmas is basically a vehicle to move from song to song. Many of Berlin’s standards are present like “Blue Skies”, “Heat Wave”, “Abraham” and of course the title song that was sung in the first minutes of the movie by Bing, and then by the group at the end. The new songs that Berlin wrote for the film were good but not up to par with the songs he was writing two decades earlier. My favorite of these new songs was the torchy number “Love You Didn’t Do Right For Me” which was sung in the movie by Rosemary Clooney. Other new songs like “Snow” and “Sisters” have also become standards....  TO BE CONTINUED...


Friday, December 7, 2018

BING CROSBY'S MOST BELOVED YEARS

Bing Crosby was one of the most popular figures of the 20th century. His record sales were in the hundreds of millions, his movies were blockbusters, his weekly radio show topped the ratings. The way Crosby sang paved the way for Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin and many others. A new biography called Swinging on a Star: The War Years 1940 -1946, out now, focuses on Crosby's life and career in the 1940s when the crooner's star shone the brightest. Written by jazz and film critic Gary Giddins, the book is the second in a multi-volume project chronicling Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby Jr.

Crosby was a singer first and foremost; his appeal started with his voice. "He had wonderful high notes. He had amazing low notes. He was like a cello when he was really in good voice," Giddins says.

Early in the decade, Crosby created the template for the multimedia entertainment superstar. He was seemingly everywhere, but despite the singer's enormous fame, he was humble and self-effacing, which made audiences embrace Crosby as one of their own.

"He really did come across as somebody — even though he's smarter than you are, and more talented than you are — as somebody that you really might know. As somebody who might live down the block," Giddins says. "That was one of the things he did on radio. He really gave the vernacular American voice back to Americans at a time when the networks wanted these mid-Atlantic 'How Now Brown Cow' kind of speakers."


In 1972, Crosby told a British television interviewer that when he began acting in movies, producers tried to improve his looks. They said that Crosby's ears stuck out too far, and got the makeup artist to pin them back with glue. Nevertheless, Crosby became a matinee idol. He won an Oscar for best actor in the 1944 film Going My Way. In the film, Crosby plays a parish priest in New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood who works miracles with the human heart, transforming a gang of street toughs into a boys' choir.

In his 1942 film Holiday Inn, Crosby sings an Irving Berlin song that would solidify his fame for years to come. "White Christmas," which remains the best-selling single of all time, struck a nerve with millions of Americans whose husbands, sons and lovers were fighting on a distant continent and dreaming of spending the holidays at home. Three years later, Crosby made a song, "It's Been A Long, Long Time," about the end of World War II, without explicitly mentioning war.


Crosby recorded between 50 and 70 singles per year in the 1940's. During World War II, he hosted golf tournaments and gave benefit concerts to sell war bonds and recorded special programs for the Armed Forces Radio Network. Just months after the D-Day invasion, Crosby traveled to France to entertain the troops wherever they were. Giddins says the singer's devotion to those fighting was tireless, and the public loved him for it. In a 1948 poll, Americans declared Bing Crosby the "most admired man alive."

"Nothing moved me more than when I was sitting in the Crosby house, going through his letters, and seeing how many parents, wives, siblings of dead soldiers felt they had to write to Crosby," Giddens says. "'How much my son or brother or husband loved you. How happy you made him when you went over there. I just want to say God Bless you.' Crosby was beloved."

Monday, November 26, 2018

SPOTLIGHT ON BOB BURNS

According to my wife, I like anything that was made before 1950. I guess to a degree, that is true. I do gravitate to anything nostalgic or sentimental, but there are some older stars that I just never really get. It's not that I do not like them, I just do not understand their appeal. One of those forgotten so-called nostalgic stars was radio comedian Bob Burns. Burns played a novelty musical instrument of his own invention, which he called a "bazooka". During World War II, the US Army's handheld anti-tank rocket launcher was nickamed the "bazooka".

He was born Robin Burn on August 2, 1890 in Greenwood, Arkansas. When he was three years old, his family moved to Van Buren, Arkansas. As a boy, Burns played trombone and cornet in the town's "Queen City Silver Cornet Band". At 13, he formed his own string band.  Practicing in the back of Hayman's Plumbing Shop one night, he picked up a length of gas pipe and blew into it, creating an unusual sound. With modifications, this became a musical instrument he named a "bazooka" (after "bazoo", meaning a windy fellow, from the Dutch bazuin for "trumpet"). A photograph shows him playing his invention in the Silver Cornet Band. Functioning like a crude trombone, the musical bazooka had a narrow range, but this was intentional. Burns also studied civil engineering and worked as a peanut farmer, but by 1911 was primarily an entertainer.


During World War I Burns enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He sailed to France with the Marine 11th Regiment. As a sergeant, he became the leader of the Marine Corps's jazz band in Europe. Burns made another "bazooka" from stove pipes and a whiskey funnel, which he sometimes played with the Corps band. After the war, Burns returned to the stage, often playing the bazooka as part of his act. He used it as a prop when telling hillbilly stories and jokes. Burns became known as The Arkansas Traveler and The Arkansas Philosopher. His stage persona was a self-effacing, rustic bumpkin with amusing stories about "the kinfolks" back home in Van Buren.

In 1930, Burns auditioned for a major Los Angeles radio station. He had prepared a 10 minute performance, but was asked to do 30 minutes, which he filled out with improvised stories and bazooka tunes. The managers did not care for his prepared material, but were impressed by his improvised material. Burns was hired. He appeared on an afternoon show, "The Fun Factory", as a character called "Soda Pop".


In 1935, on a visit to New York, Burns asked bandleader and radio star Paul Whiteman for an audition. Whiteman put Burns on his nightly show, the Kraft Music Hall, which was broadcast nationally; Burns was a big hit. Burns also became a regular on Rudy Vallee's show The Fleischmann Hour. Burns returned to Los Angeles in 1936, where Kraft Music Hall was now hosted by Bing Crosby. Burns was a regular, playing the bazooka and telling tall tales about his fictional hillbilly relatives, Uncle Fud and Aunt Doody.

Bob Burns was the host of The 10th Academy Awards held on March 10, 1938 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Originally scheduled to be held on March 3, 1938, the ceremony was postponed due to heavy flooding in Los Angeles. In 1941, Burns was given his own radio show, called The Arkansas Traveler (1941-43) and he followed that up with The Bob Burns Show (1943-47).

His last performance was on January 30, 1955, on The Ed Sullivan Show (then called Toast of the Town). Bob left show business in the earlt 1950s though. A wealthy man from his land investments, Burns spent his final years on his 200-acre model farm in Canoga Park, California. Married three times, Bob Burns also had three children. (At one time he was married to entertainer Judy Canova). Burns sadly died of kidney cancer in Encino, California on February 2, 1956, at the age of 65. He is not very well remembered today, but his homespun humor was part Will Rogers and part Jed Clampett. Even though I never thought he was overly funny, he was a popular fixture, especially in radio in the late 1930s and early 1940s...

Friday, November 16, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: BING CROSBY - SWINGING ON A STAR

On October 30th I got an early Christmas present when author Gary Giddin's long awaited second volume of his biography of Bing Crosby came out. It took me about two weeks to finish, but it was a great biography. It took a long time for Gary to come out with this second volume. The first volume, Pocketful Of Dreams came out in 2001. The reading community has changed a lot in 17 years, and I worry that this new volume will not do as well as it deserves to do. The life of Bing Crosby is quite remarkable, and Bing Crosby deserves to be remembered more than he is.

The positive parts of "Swinging On A Star - The War Years" is the amount we learn about Bing Crosby. I pride myself in knowing a lot about Der Bingle, but Gary Giddins wrote about things I never knew about. He eluded to an affair Bing had with singer Trudy Erwin, but he doesn't really delve into that. Towards the end of the book he writes about the affair Bing had with actress Joan Caulfield, which I knew about but did not know the personal details about. What amazed me the most was the amount of work Bing tirelessly did for the war effort during World War II. Audiences knew about the work that Bob Hope during the war, mostly because Hope probably told everyone, but Bing Crosby kept a lot of his work for the soldiers to himself. I also never knew about the struggles Bing was having at home during the 1940s. His wife Dixie Lee was destroying herself with alcohol, and to read Bing's own words in regards to his wife is both eye opening and touching.


There is not much wrong with the 600 plus page book on Bing, but at some points author Gary Giddins could have benefited with a better editor. Some of the long stories on people such as director Leo McCarey were way too long and slows down the book. Director McCarey is important to Bing's career, but I don't think he deserves the pages he got in this book. The only other complaint I have is the ending of the book. It ends abruptly like the publisher just picked a point and made Gary end it there. I know there are hopes for a third volume, but a better ending would have been more gratifying for the reader.

However, Gary Giddins has a way to make you truly feel like you are a part of his books. I read an online review, and the particular reviewer complained about the amount Giddins devoted to the diary of two Crosby fans that literally followed Bing around through the years. I wished there was more from the sisters, and their diaries on Bing would make a fascinating book. At times I felt anger towards Bing when Gary wrote about Bing's parenting of his sons or his affair with Joan Caulfield. I felt sadness when Gary wrote about Bing's wife drinking herself to death and to some of the dying soldiers Bing entertained overseas. Any book that Gary writes is not only enlightening but truly engrossing.


Gary Giddins was asked recently about a third volume of Bing Crosby's life, and he basically says it depends on sales of volume 2, which makes me nervous. Is there an audience for Bing Crosby in 2018? I wish there was but I am not optimistic. You do not really have to be a Bing Crosby fan to love the book. My wife likes Bing Crosby, because I introduced her to him but she is hardly a major fan. Every day when I read another chapter of the book, I would tell my wife something I learned, and she actually got really into it. So please spread the word about this book, and please support Gary Giddins' writings. The book is pretty close to a masterpiece!

MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10

NOTE: You can purchase the book here.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: BING AND LOUIS ARMSTRONG

Bing had a lifelong admiration for jazz great Louis Armstrong (1901-1971). Despite the racial tensions in Hollywood back then. Bing tried to work with Amrstrong as much as possible. These photos show there was definitely a mutual admiration society going on...
















Saturday, November 3, 2018

AVAILABLE NOW: BING CROSBY - SWINGING ON A STAR

I received my copy of Gary Giddins 2nd biography of Bing Crosby earlier this week, and I am on page 200 of the 700 page book. I will write a review when I am done, but please pick your copy up now!




"The best thing to happen to Bing Crosby since Bob Hope," (WSJ) Gary Giddins presents the second volume of his masterful multi-part biography

Bing Crosby dominated American popular culture in a way that few artists ever have. From the dizzy era of Prohibition through the dark days of the Second World War, he was a desperate nation's most beloved entertainer. But he was more than just a charismatic crooner: Bing Crosby redefined the very foundations of modern music, from the way it was recorded to the way it was orchestrated and performed.

In this much-anticipated follow-up to the universally acclaimed first volume, NBCC Winner and preeminent cultural critic Gary Giddins now focuses on Crosby's most memorable period, the war years and the origin story of White Christmas. Set against the backdrop of a Europe on the brink of collapse, this groundbreaking work traces Crosby's skyrocketing career as he fully inhabits a new era of American entertainment and culture. While he would go on to reshape both popular music and cinema more comprehensively than any other artist, Crosby's legacy would be forever intertwined with his impact on the home front, a unifying voice for a nation at war. Over a decade in the making and drawing on hundreds of interviews and unprecedented access to numerous archives, Giddins brings Bing Crosby, his work, and his world to vivid life--firmly reclaiming Crosby's central role in American cultural history.


To purchase a copy click HERE

Sunday, October 28, 2018

BING AND BOLOX MOVIE CAMERAS

I've said this before but just the name Bing Crosby could sell anything. Here is a 1956 ad where Bing is hawking Bolox movie cameras. It also publicized Bing's upcoming musical Anything Goes...