Monday, March 2, 2015

GUEST REVIEWER: WE'RE NOT DRESSING

Here is one of the great Bing Crosby guru Bruce Kogan with another Bing movie review. This time reviews the 1934 classic We're Not Dressing...

For those who've never seen Carole Lombard, but have heard about her genius for screwball comedy, go check out We're Not Dressing. Simple plot, Bing's a sailor on the Lombard yacht and he, Lombard, her uncle Leon Errol, her friend Ethel Merman and two princes/gigolos, Ray Milland and Jay Henry are shipwrecked after a drunken Leon Errol runs the yacht up on a reef. In order that they survive the sailor has to take charge and does. Oh, and also surviving is Lombard's pet bear, a creature named Droopy.

Droopy comes pretty close to stealing the picture, especially after Leon Errol persuades Crosby to put roller-skates on him while they're still on the ship. He also has another trick, he won't hear any other song but Goodnight, Lovely Little Lady one of the songs written for this film by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel.

Gordon and Revel's best known numbers from this are "May I" and "Love Thy Neighbor" which sold a few platters for Bing back in 1934. Soon after writing a score for another Crosby picture Two For Tonight, they moved over to 20th Century Fox where they scored some of Alice Faye's films.


Ray Milland in his autobiography "Wide-eyed in Babylon" recounts a tragic story during the filming of We're Not Dressing. The bear trainer gave specific instructions that any women whose time of the month it was were not to be on the set that day. One of them lied and the trainer was badly injured and later died of those injuries sustained at the paws of a super hormonally charged bear. He also said that Paramount signed him to a long term contract on the strength of that film.

The six castaways were not quite alone on the island. Burns and Allen were there also with their brand of surreal comedy. Hollywood never knew quite what to do with them. God knows they were funny as all get out, but rarely were asked to carry a whole film. 


Ethel Merman was another problem. Like her famous Broadway rival Mary Martin, she never quite made it in Hollywood. Her biggest success was always on Broadway. During the 1930s she would support, Crosby, Eddie Cantor, and most memorably Ty Power and Alice Faye and Don Ameche in Alexander's Ragtime Band. Her number "It's The Animal In Me" was cut from the picture, although it's briefly sung at the end. Paramount saved it and put it intact into their Big Broadcast of 1936 the following year.

At the time We're Not Dressing was shooting, Carole Lombard was romantically involved with Bing Crosby's singing rival crooner Russ Columbo. Columbo visited the set often and he and Crosby were friendly rivals and were known to do some impromptu singing during breaks. If only some sound man had left the microphone on. Columbo later died that year of a gunshot wound from an antique dueling pistol, a case that a lot of people felt was never satisfactorily solved.

So with Crosby, Lombard, Burns and Allen, Ethel Merman, Leon Errol just the sound of that casts spells some wacky wonderful fun...

BRUCE'S RATING: 8 OUT OF 10
MY RATING: 9 OUT OF 10


Monday, February 23, 2015

THE TRAGIC LIFE OF DENNIS CROSBY

Of all Bing Crosby's sons from his first marriage to Dixie Lee (1911-1952), there is the least information on the one twin - Dennis. In the new documentary on the legendary crooner, it is reported that twins Dennis and Phillip Crosby might have suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome due to their mother's alcoholism, which was common knowledge to Hollywood insiders in the 1930s and 1940s.

Sadly, Dennis ended his life. Bing Crosby's 56-year-old son Dennis turned a 12-guage shotgun on himself following a drunken night of heartbreak just two weeks after his divorce became final.

"It was drink and the disease of alcohol that caused him to do this," Dennis' ex-wife Arlene told STAR in an exclusive interview.

"Over the years, I'd urged him to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, but he had gone only a couple of times. Someone has to decide for themselves that they are going to make the effort to stop drinking."

The May 4, 1991  tragedy in a California boarding house where Dennis had been living mirrored the suicide of alcoholic younger brother Lindsay, who ended his life with a single shotgun blast to the head in 1989.

Arlene says Dennis moved to Novato, Calif, 18 months ago. She admits he walked out on her because she was "difficult to live with," but insists that her only desire had been to encourage him to stop boozing.


"I think he had his own pain about him," she says. "But you will not find anyone who would say a bad word about him. He was sweet, kind, gentle and a wonderful father. He had a wonderful sense of humor.

"But Lindsay's suicide devastated him. He was very close to him. For the last two years, he's been distraught. Everything builds up on him. His trust fund also ran out two years ago and he had been living on very little money."

According to Marin County Sheriff's Lt. William Donovan, Dennis was found late that Saturday night by his roommate. Arlene identified the roommate to STAR as Peter Murphy.

"They were old army buddies," she says. "They had been best friends since serving together in Germany."

Arlene met Dennis in 1963 when he worked for Bing Crosby Productions in Los Angeles. She was a secretary at the time. "We fell in love and married," she says. "We had been married for 27 years."

Dennis also had three daughters - who are now are 53, 47, and 43 respectively.

Arlene last saw Dennis a couple weeks before his death: "We had lunch together just one and half weeks ago, and he was saying how very glad he was that our three children were doing so well. But it was clear that, like me, he was also very sad about our divorce.

"It's very sad. I think we both felt alone, although we still saw each other and he knew that I would always be there to support him."

In addition to his three daughers with Arlene, Dennis was the father of Denise Crosby, 56, who played Security Chief Tasha Yar in the syndicated TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation.


On May 4, 1958, Crosby married Pat Sheehan, a Las Vegas showgirl and model who had once dated his father. She was also Miss San Francisco of 1950, Playmate of the month of October 1958, and part-time actress. Within days, Crosby was sued by another woman, Marilyn Miller Scott, over the paternity of her daughter, Denise Crosby. The sensational lawsuit lasted three years and ended with Dennis being ordered to pay Scott child support and legal fees. This and the marriage to Sheehan and other details caused deep embarrassment for both him and his famous father. Although Bing died when his granddaughter was 19, the two reportedly never met.


Crosby and Sheehan had two sons: Dennis Michael, Jr., and Patrick Anthony. In 1963, while working in Los Angeles for Bing Crosby Productions, he met Arleen Newman. On July 3, 1964, Crosby and Sheehan were divorced. Later that year, Crosby married Newman, with whom he had three daughters, including Kelly Lee Crosby and Erin Colleen Crosby. Dennis was the second of four sons born to the legendary crooner and his first wife, Dixie Lee Crosby. The quietest of the four, Dennis joined his brothers in a nightclub act during the late Fifties, often appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show.

But Dennis always had trouble coping with showbiz. "I guess I wasn't cut out to be an entertainer," he once acknowledged. "I was always painfully self-conscious out here in the spotlight with my brothers."

Bing Crosby died on October 14, 1977, at the age 74 while playing golf in Spain. On January 14, 2006, Dennis's former wife, Pat Sheehan, died at the age of 74. Their son Dennis Michael Crosby, Jr. died on January 15, 2010, and the other son, Patrick Anthony Crosby (born New Year's Eve 1960), died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, on September 19, 2011, after a lengthy illness. He was 50. Of all the Crosby sons, I think Dennis Crosby was probably the most tragic of all of them. They all deserved happiness in their life, but the shadow that Bing Crosby cast was impossible to overcome especially when you mix in depression and alcoholism...


Monday, February 16, 2015

BING ON 78

Here is a great story written by Bing Crosby guru, Steve Fay. Well written and well said...

The pages of the new Wiggins-Reilly Crosby discography have me looking through my Crosby 78s again, handling them, peering at the labels, worrying about their fragility...and more and more dying to play them again. I recall that when I grew up the first records I ever remember seeing in our house were about 21 78s my brother was given by our maternal grandmother. These were perhaps half of the records my mother and her younger siblings had grown up with on a tiny farm about 20 miles from Quincy, Illinois, where they played what records they had on a wind-up Edison player.

At the time, we had a single-speed (78-only) electric record player. We didn't have a three-speed record player until around 1958 or 59 when my father made one for my brother's birthday present. My father did construction and steel fabrication, but as a hobby tinkered with electronics. Sometimes people gave him radios and other equipment that was broken. My brother's "new" record-player-am-radio combination was made out of parts from two units that my dad repaired an mounted together in a painted wooden case he designed for it. It had a flip-over cartridge, and as mentioned before three speeds, so now we not only could play those 78s, but my brother (who was about 12 or 13) could start to buy and play rock-and-roll 45s and Mom could get that Guy Lombardo LP she saw on the small record rack at the grocery store.

I was a bit too young and butter-fingered to handle the records at that time, but I remember that around the time I was about 11 years old, I had become very interested in those 78s again. The old single-speed record player had migrated to a little table in the basement of a different house, in a different town, and I recall spending hours sometimes playing through that stack of old 78s from the farm. At least one platter was a Crosby: "God Bless America"/"The Star-Spangled Banner." There were other pop tunes, as well as novelty tunes and some country-western. I would play through the stack in order, over and over, but sometimes I would play certain sides again and again before moving on. Then I found a dusty table top Victrola at a thrift shop. It was about 10 or 12 dollars. The spring was broken. It could only play part of a record before running down.


When I got it home and tried to wipe the dust off of it, I found that it wasn't only dust. The outside finish was so worn that it was gray. But when you opened the lid, the inside was nearly pristine. Opening the lid was as dramatic as the scene where Dorothy steps out of black-and-white photography into the technicolor of Munchkinland inThe Wizard of Oz. But, in this case, it was like opening the door on musical history. It took weeks, but I repaired the spring, which had become unrivited on one end inside of its drum, and I restored the outside finish, and I found where I could still buy steel needles for it. Now, I could hear what those old 78s sounded like down on the farm in the 1930s and 40s. When they are not terribly worn out, the richness of 78s played on totally acoustic equipment is surprisingly rich and impressive. And if you want more power, just open those two little doors on the front of the Victrola farther!

Around the time I got the Victrola and was a freshman in high school, I started actaully collecting records. Let me be clear, I had a very few rock-and-roll 45's and Lps, but I couldn't afford to collect them. My pocket change was what I saved out of my school lunch money. It would take weeks of savings to buy an LP. But I could often get a 78 for a nickel, sometimes less, at a thrift store or garage sale. The 78s collection grew. By the time I was out of college and married, people were giving me 78s rather than throw them away. How many total were amassed? 600? 1200? Do I even know? 


Was it a Bing Crosby collection? No, not at first, but there were nearly always Crosby records among the records available, wherever it was I was finding more 78s. And I did form the habit of looking for more records by artists I already had on 78 and liked. Because of Bing's popularity in the 78 era, merely that practice made the Crosby collection segment explode, compared to any other artist or group in this very, very eclectic collection. So, now, maybe there are 70-80 or even somewhat more Crosby disks, with of course some duplication and a few not really playable anymore. Not at all impressive, if I had been focusing only on collecting Bing, true, but it means a lot to me. And while, a number of his hits are included, it is remarkable how many of the sides are songs that never appear on the usual CD compilations. But, I think, listening to them is a little like what you would hear if you could randomly go back into mid-American households during any of the years between the mid-1930s and very early 1950s and hear what they had been buying and listening to. If Bing sang a song, it didn't always have to be a big hit for people to want to hear it again, and more often than they could hear it on the radio.

So, I've caught the 78 bug again, not the measles or the flu. I just ordered a new needle the right size for 78s for the cartridge I now want to keep on my turntable, which does have the 78 rpm speed. The needle will be here in a few days. I can hardly wait. Will the 78s be a little noisier than the LPs? Sometimes, yes. It is helpful to imagine that's just the sound of someone frying bacon while you're listening, or to hear what's in the background as a sound created by ordinarly people, not always replacing worn phonograph needles on their old Victrola or Philco, loving that song to death, playing it over and over. Not to worry, though--Bing's voice never fails to penetrate any background sizzle. It's not like Rudy Vallee's...

Monday, February 9, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: THE ROAD TO BALI

I am not sure the name of the channel, but now that I switched cable providers, I get a nostalgia channel that shows some old movies and television shows. A few weeks ago they aired “The Colgate Comedy Hour” with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and the other night while going to bed I got to watch The Road to Bali again. The Road to Bali is a 1952 comedy directed by Hal Walker and starring Bing CrosbyBob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour. Released by Paramount Pictures on November 1, 1952, the film is the sixth of the seven Road to … movies. It was the only such movie filmed in Technicolor and was the first to feature surprise cameo appearances from other well-known stars of the day.
George (Bing Crosby) and Harold (Bob Hope), American song-and-dance men performing in Melbourne, Australia, leave in a hurry to avoid various marriage proposals. They end up in Darwin, where they take jobs as pearl divers for a prince. They are taken by boat to an idyllic island on the way to Bali, Indonesia. They vie for the favours of exotic (and half-Scottish) Princess Lala (Dorothy Lamour), a cousin of the Prince (Murvyn Vye). A hazardous dive produces a chest of priceless jewels, which the Prince plans to claim as his own.
After escaping from the Prince and his henchmen, the three are shipwrecked and washed up on another island. Lala is now in love with both of the boys and can't decide which to choose. However, once the natives find them, she learns that in their society, a woman may take multiple husbands, and declares she will marry them both. While the boys are prepared for the ceremony, both thinking the other man lost, plans are changed. She's being unwillingly wed to the already much-married King (Leon Askin), while the boys end up married to each other.
Displeased with the arrangement, a volcano god initiates a massive eruption. After fleeing, the three end up on yet another beach where Lala chooses George over Harold. An undaunted Harold conjures up Jane Russell from a basket by playing a flute. Alas, she, too, rejects Harold, which means George walks off with both Lala and Jane. A lonesome Harold is left on the beach, demanding that the film shouldn't finish and asking the audience to stick around to see what's going to happen next.



Among the celebrities who made token "gag" appearances in this film are bandleader Bob Crosby (Bing's brother), Humphrey Bogart, by way of a clip from The African QueenJerry LewisDean Martin, and Jane Russell, as her character from the 1952 film Son of Paleface. The cameo by Martin and Lewis was part of a 'comedy trade' whereby they made an appearance in this movie while Hope and Crosby appeared in Martin and Lewis's Scared Stiff the following year. Martin and Lewis also made films for Paramount at the time.
The movie is in public domain due to it not being registered properly by Paramount, Bing Crosby Enterprises, and Bob Hope Productions. The three companies co-financed the film. As a result, there have been at least a dozen DVD releases from a variety of companies over the years. However, both CPT successor Sony Pictures Television and what is now Fremantle Media hold ancillary rights to this film, and official video releases have been issued under license from Fremantle Media (and its predecessor companies All-American Television and Pearson Television), the most recent DVD and HD-DVD releases coming from BCI Eclipse.

By the time this Road movie was made, Bing and Bob were beginning to look long in the tooth to play swinging bachelors. The storyline on the film was flimsy at best, but it provided the backdrop for the singing of Bing Crosby, the laughs of Bob Hope, and the beauty of Dorothy Lamour. Bing and Bob sang a lot of duets in the film, but the best of their vocal pairings was the opening number “Chicago Style”. Bing sings one love song “To See You Is to Love You”, which is not the best song, but Crosby was in fine voice. It is great to see the trio in technicolor, and despite the movies failings I have a soft spot for this film. The Road to Bali was the first of the Road movies I saw growing up. So if you want to have a fun trip, by all means join Bing and Bob for this Road trip. You will not be disappointed…

MY RATING: 7 OUT OF 10






Monday, February 2, 2015

BING IN HOLLYWOOD: THE 1940s

Bing Crosby started the 1940s only increasing his fame and stardom. His radio and recording career was successful, and he was at the top in both of those genres. Regarding movies, he was getting more and more popular with film goers, and from 1945 to 1949 he was the most popular movie star in the country. No one before or since has matched that feat.

Crosby started off the decade being paired for the first time with comedian Bob Hope in Road to Singapore (1940). The film lacked a great plot, but it made up with the laughs and songs that Bing got to introduce in the films. Bing and Bob made five “Road” movies in the 1940s, and Bing got to introduce some popular love songs in the films like: “Too Romantic” in Road To Singapore, “It’s Always You” in Road To Zanzibar (1941), “Moonlight Becomes You” in Road To Morocco (1942), “Welcome To My Dream” in Road To Utopia (1946), and “But Beautiful” in Road To Rio (1947).

Back to the early 1940s, Bing Crosby kept on making successful films; the roles were getting better as well. In Rhythm on the River (1940) he played a ghost song writer and got to sing the beautiful ballad “Only Forever. In The Birth of the Blues (1941) Bing sang all old songs as he played a clarinetist trying to get jazz to the masses. Then a year later Bing hit the mother lode when he starred in Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn (1942). The union of Bing Crosby’s singing and Irving Berlin’s songs was a marriage made in musical heaven! Not only did Bing have the lucky pleasure of introducing “White Christmas” in the film (It almost was cut from the film!), but he sang a boat load of great Berlin songs like: “Be Careful It’s My Heart”, “Easter Parade”, and “Happy Holidays”. During this period of Bing’s singing and movie career, he really could do no wrong. Everything he touched was turning into musical gold.


Bing won an Oscar for playing Father O’ Malley, a priest that could sing in Going My Way (1944). A song Bing sang in the film also won the Oscar for best song (“Swinging on a Star”). It is the third time Bing introduced a song that won an Oscar. (He introduced “Sweet Leilani” which won in 1937 and “White Christmas” which won in 1942). The song “Swinging on a Star” was not really a great song by any stretch of the imagination, but because of Bing’s delivery it would become another one of Bing’s best remembered songs. Lightning almost hit twice in 1945 when he played Father O’Malley again in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945). Bing was nominated for another Oscar but lost. He introduced two more great songs in that film as well – “In the Land of Beginning Again” and “Aren’t You Glad You’re You”. At this point Bing was specializing in the philosophical songs that told everyone how to make it through life.


Bing’s first post-World War II musical was one of the best musicals he ever made. He was paired again with dancer Fred Astaire and songwriter Irving Berlin for the Technicolor lavish musical Blue Skies (1946). Even though the film was a postwar movie, it was pure sentimental and took place during the two World Wars. The plot was merely a backdrop for the music, and this film was filled with Irving Berlin standards – more than two dozen of them like: “I Got My Captain Working For Me Now”, “Blue Skies”, “All By Myself”, “Heat wave”, “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody”, “Puttin On The Ritz” and the list could go on and on. Bing got the chance to sing a few new Irving Berlin compositions with the best being “You Keep Coming Back Like A Song”. The song was one of the most recorded songs of 1946, and it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song, but it lost. It would be another decade before Bing would make a musical as big as Blue Skies. It was the biggest musical he ever made at Paramount, and it was one of the most successful.


Bing sort of coasted through the rest of his movies of the late 1940s. They were good, but they were not anywhere near the caliber of Holiday InnGoing My Way, or Blue Skies. Bing continued to introduce great songs in the film though like “My Heart Is A Hobo” and “As Long As I’m Dreaming” in Welcome Stranger (1947), “The Kiss In Your Eyes” from The Emperor Waltz (1948), and “Once And For Always”  in A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949). Bing still was a top movie star as the 1950s approached, but the music industry would be changing with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll. As a result the movie musical would change. Coupled with Bing’s personal problems in the early 1950s, he soon would see his movie star fade slightly. However, in the 1940s Bing was definitely the biggest movie musical star in the heavens that we call Hollywood…



Monday, January 26, 2015

BING AND THE JASPER BLUES

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...

SOURCE

Monday, January 19, 2015

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BING: SEPTEMBER 8, 1947

 
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...



SOURCE

Monday, January 12, 2015

BING VS SINATRA

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

BING IN HOLLYWOOD: THE 1930s

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

DEFENDING BING CROSBY


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…