Saturday, August 17, 2019

BING'S TEN FAVORITE PERFORMERS - PART TWO

Here are the rest of Bing Crosby's choices for his favorite performers that he picked in 1977...




6. LOUIS ARMSTRONG (1901-1971)
Bing once said “I’m proud to acknowledge my debt to the ‘Reverend Satchelmouth’ … He is the beginning and the end of music in America”

It is impossible to overstate the influence and importance of Louis Armstrong to the development of jazz and popular music. Indeed, it is the subject of books and documentaries, not of blog entries. Such was Armstrong’s fame and incredible impact as a performer and musician, that I did find a surfeit of quotes by people much more qualified than I to add something meaningful to the dialogue about Armstrong’s legacy.

“(Armstrong was) the key creator of the mature working language of jazz. Three decades after his death and more than three-quarters of a century since his influence first began to spread, not a single musician who has mastered that language fails to make daily use, knowingly or unknowingly, of something that was invented by Louis Armstrong.” – Dan Morgenstern, Oxford Companion to Jazz


7. NAT “KING” COLE (1919-1965)
Nat “King” Cole remains one of the most beloved entertainers and recording artists of the 20th-century. He rose to fame as a jazz pianist in the 194os as the leader of the Nat “King” Cole Trio, before becoming one of the most successful singers of the 1950s and early-1960s and a cornerstone of Capitol Records roster. He died tragically from cancer at the age of 45 in 1965, but not before becoming the first black man to host a TV show and introducing a stunning string of hit songs, including “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “When I Fall in Love,” “Too Young,” “Nature Boy,” “Route 66,” “L-O-V-E,” and “Unforgettable.”



8. MEL TORMÉ (1925-1999)
Mel Tormé was a jack of many trades but a master of them all: preeminent vocalist of standards (known as “The Velvet Fog”), composer (“The Christmas Song,” a.k.a. “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”), musical arranger, actor, and author of five very well-written books.


9. JUDY GARLAND (1922-1969)
Judy Garland was a child prodigy who was performing from the time she could walk. So much has been written about Judy Garland that it is hard to separate fact from fiction. No matter what your feelings about the entertainer, one thing is certain: she meant (and to some extent, continues to mean) a great deal to many people. Though she never had the hip factor of a Sinatra, or the mystery of a Peggy Lee, Garland’s gifts were undeniable and. In terms of raw talent, Judy Garland was inarguably in the most elite group of all-time greats, an opinion shared by most all of her peers, including Mr. Crosby.


10. VICTOR BORGE (1909-2000)
Victor Borge is not well-remembered today, but the Danish comic, conductor, and pianist was a major star of radio and television. He lived a very long life and died in his 90s, after 75 years of entertaining. In addition to his musical accomplishments, he wrote several books and was a shrewd businessman. He was apparently responsible for popularizing rock Cornish game hens, a business in which he invested. Who knew?

SOURCE

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

NEW CD: BING CROSBY - IMMERSED IN MR. MERCER'S VERSE

It is so nice that we are starting to see a few more new Bing CDs out there. Here is one where Bing sings Johnny Mercer.

You can purchase the CD through Amazon, and here are the track details. Some of the recordings are from radio, but I do not know which ones yet...



Track Listing
1. Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean
2.  I’m an Old Cowhand
3.  Too Marvellous for Words
4  .Bob White (Whatcha Gonna Swing Tonight?)
5.  You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby
6.  On Behalf of the Visiting Firemen
7.  Mister Meadowlark
8.  The Waiter and the Porter and the Upstairs Maid
9.  Dearly Beloved
10. Blues in the Night
11. Skylark
12. On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe
13. Accentuate the Positive
14. There’s a Fella Waiting in Poughkeepsie
15. The Yodel Blues
16. The Big Movie Show in the Sky
17. Autumn Leaves
18. Lazy Bones
19. In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening
20. The Glow Worm
21. P.S. I Love You
22. Jeepers Creepers
23. That Old Black Magic



Wednesday, August 7, 2019

DIXIE LEE TO GET HISTORICAL MARKER

PRESS RELEASE - HARRIMAN NATIVE AND ACTRESS DIXIE LEE TO RECEIVE STATE HISTORICAL MARKER...

Harriman, Tennessee – The Tennessee Historical Commission recently approved an application to honor Harriman native and Actress of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Dixie Lee. Dixie was born in the Walnut Hill neighborhood in Harriman near the intersection of Oak and Maple Streets, where the marker will be installed later this year. Unfortunately, the modest wooden frame house that was located on the property was destroyed by fire in 1959. Dixie Lee was born on Nov. 4, 1909 as Wilma Winifred Wyatt, although she later claimed to have been born in 1911. Wilma was the youngest of three daughters born to East Tennessee natives, Evan Wyatt and Nora Scarborough Wyatt.

Throughout her youth her family moved several times due to her father’s career as an insurance agent, eventually ending up in Chicago, Illinois where Wilma entered and won an amateur singing contest at the Sherman Hotel in 1928. This led to her being offered a part in a Broadway play and ultimately to her being discovered by Fox Film Corporation. Her name was changed to “Dixie Lee” to avoid confusion with another actress with a similar name. She made her big screen debut in Fox’s Movietone Follies of 1929. She went on to have major and minor roles in at least 17 known films. In 1930, she met and married a little known up-and-coming crooner by the name of Harry Lillis Crosby, Jr., or “Bing Crosby” as he would later become known. She retired from acting in 1935, and helped Bing raise their 4 boys. She died on Nov. 1, 1952, from ovarian cancer. Over the years, she has been largely forgotten and become a footnote in her famous husband’s story.

However, this talented Harriman native will now be remembered for who she was and the talent she possessed. Details for a public dedication will be released later this year.

The City would like to thank Dixie Lee’s granddaughter in California and Chris Hammond from Powell, Tennessee without whom this application would not have been successful...


Saturday, August 3, 2019

BING'S TEN FAVORITE PERFORMERS - PART ONE

Bing Crosby is often considered one of the greatest singers of all time. It is interesting as to who was some of his favorite performers.  Mr. Crosby contributed this list of his 10 favorite all-time performers to the first edition of The Book of Lists in 1977. As the years go by and some of these great artists fade from the collective consciousness, I think it important and well worth the time to use Mr. Crosby’s list as a reason to revisit their work. After all, these entertainers were the Jay Z and Katy Perry of their own time.

Crosby states: “These are not listed in order of preference, and include no actors, only performers. I could, of course, list hundreds more.”



1. AL JOLSON (1886-1950)
The cantor’s son was considered one of the greatest performers of the 20th-century. He was beloved by millions and a great influence on later performers like Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. In fact, in the 1930s he was the highest paid performer in the United States.


2. ETHEL WATERS (1896-1977)
Ethel Waters was one of the best-loved performers of the last century. A blues, jazz, and gospel vocalist who is associated with many standards, including “Am I Blue?,” “Dinah,” and “Stormy Weather” (a song later associated with Lena Horne). As an actress, she starred in many films including Cabin in the Sky (1942) and Pinky (1949), for which she became only the second African American woman nominated for an Oscar.



3. JAMES BARTON (1890-1962)
Barton is, perhaps, the most obscure performer on Mr. Crosby’s list. He was a lauded vaudevillian and star of film and television. He began in minstrel shows and, according to Wiki, his years working with black performers led him to becoming one of the first white jazz dancers in the country. He played the Palace Theater, the apex of vaudeville, eight times. He later became recognized as serious actor, performing on Broadway in Tobacco Road (1934) and The Iceman Cometh (1946).

Barton was featured as the emcee (and last dancer) in the 1929 Paramount short After Seven. The film also featured the Chick Webb Orchestra and Shorty George Snowden, whom I learned in my research was one of the most famous lindy hop dancers of the period.



4. FRANK SINATRA (1915-1998)
In his superb book Why Sinatra Matters (1998, Little, Brown and Company), Pete Hamill wrote:

“His finest accomplishment, of course, was the sound. The voice itself would evolve over the years form a violin to a viola to a cello, with a rich middle register and dark bottom tones. But it was a combination of voice, diction, attitude, and taste in music that produced the Sinatra sound. It remains unique. Sinatra created something that was not there before he arrived: an urban American voice.”

Of course Frank Sinatra remains one of the most admired, imitated, and absolutely essential performers of all-time. Even if he hadn’t presided over 20th-century popular culture so intensely and for so long—by the 1990s there were t-shirts that said, “It’s Sinatra’s World, We Just Live in It”—he would still have earned a place on this list by dint of his prolific body of work. From 1940s crooner to Oscar-winning actor, Sinatra was an entertainer par excellence and a uniquely American phenomena. His Capitol Records with arrangements by artists like Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and Gordon Jenkins, remain the high watermark of mid-century cool; a different kind of cool from the concurrent sound of rock ‘n roll, but in some ways more timeless.


5. LENA HORNE (1917-2010)
Lena Horne was many things: one of the biggest African American film stars of her generation, a sex symbol, a civil rights crusader, and one of the greatest singers of her time. Like Ethel Waters before her, she began as a Cotton Club dancer before transitioning to films. A victim of the intense racial politics of the mid-century, her studio MGM could not fully exploit her talent and she languished, primarily doing specialty numbers in all-star revues or the occasional all-black musical (Stormy Weather) before becoming one of the greatest nightclub performers of the 1950s and 1960s. (For more on her fascinating life, read my friend James Gavin’s riveting Horne biography Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne, which was published in 2009 by Simon and Schuster.)


TO BE CONTINUED...

SOURCE


Thursday, July 25, 2019

BING AND DRINKING

Interesting Bing story from an unlikely source...

A popular young entertainer jeopardized a promising career with his out-of-control drinking. Sometimes he missed singing engagements while he went on binges lasting several days. One time when he did try to appear on stage when he was drunk, according to his biographers, “he stood pale and unsteady at the mike while the orchestra played the introduction to his song.” When he opened his mouth to sing, “he vomited—on his suit front, his shoes, and on several members of his socialite audience, who had gathered close to the bandstand to hear him sing.”

If this singer were performing today, he would be rushed immediately to the Betty Ford Center for treatment, after which we would read in People magazine of his gratitude to the treatment center and its twelve-step A.A. program for showing him he was a lifelong alcoholic who could never drink again. We might read later about his various relapses, but these could be handled by A.A. and the treatment center, which would always be there for him.

Actually, the singer’s name was Bing Crosby, nicknamed “Binge” Crosby early in his career. His hard-drinking days occurred more than half a century ago, when alcohol abuse was regarded as a problem in living rather than a lifelong disease. Life could still take its natural course; in this case, Crosby stopped drinking self-destructively when he began to socialize with the prominent people he previously had only entertained. As biographers Donald Shepherd and Robert Slatzer tell it, “It was during Bing’s Gatsby period that he stopped drinking himself into unconsciousness. He quit drinking entirely for a while, and when he resumed, he would drink occasionally, but never let the bottle get the best of him again.” Crosby simply found that public drunkenness was not in keeping with his emerging image as a superstar.

No alcoholism treatment center in America today would turn down someone like Crosby. If they accepted Betty Ford, they would hardly turn down a man who went on three-day benders and appeared in public falling-down drunk! But what would Crosby have gained from deciding he was an alcoholic for the rest of his life instead of mastering his destructive drinking habits as he matured?



Wednesday, July 17, 2019

NEW CD: BING SINGS BURKE AND VAN HEUSEN

Here is a new Bing Crosby CD that will be coming out soon. Some nice items on the CD, and you can purchase the CD on Amazon...



BING SINGS BURKE AND VAN HEUSEN:

TRACKS:
1. Humpty, Dumpty Heart from “Playmates” with Woody Herman Orchestra, July 30th 1941.
2. Ain’t Got A Dime To My Name from “The Road To Morocco” with Vic Schoen Orchestra, June 10th 1942.
3. Moonlight Becomes You from “The Road To Morocco” John Scott Trotter Orchestra, June 12th 1942.
4. Sunday, Monday Or Always from “Dixie”with the AFRS Orchestra, Treasury Star Parade, 1945.
5. If You Please from “Dixie”, with The Ken Darby Singers, Los Angeles, July 2nd 1943
6. It Could Happen To You from “And The Angels Sing”. John Scott Trotter Orchestra, December 29th 1943
7. Swinging On A Star from “Going My Way”, with The Williams Brothers Quartet and John Scott Trotter Orchestra, February 7th 1944.
8. The Day After Forever from “Going My Way”, John Scott Trotter Orchestra, February 7th 1944.
9. Going My Way from “Going My Way”, John Scott Trotter Orchestra, Los Angeles, February 7th 1944
10. Welcome To My Dream from “The Road To Utopia”, John Scott Trotter Orchestra, Los Angeles, July 17th 1944.
11. Put It There, Pal from “The Road To Utopia”, with Bob Hope, Vic Schoen Orchestra, December 8th 1944.
12. The Road To Morocco from “The Road To Morocco”, with Bob Hope, Vic Schoen Orchestra, December 8th 1944.
13. Yah-Ta-Ta, Yah-Ta-Ta with Judy Garland and Joseph Lilley Orchestra, Los Angeles, March 9th 1945.
14. Aren’t You Glad You’re You? from “The Bells of St. Mary’s”, John Scott Trotter Orchestra, September 10th 1945.
15. Personality from “The Road To Utopia”, with Eddie Condon Orchestra 3 and Wild Bill Davison, cornet, January 16th 1946.
16. But Beautiful from “The Road To Rio”, John Scott Trotter Orchestra, radio broadcast, 1948.
17. You Don’t Have To Know The Language from “The Road To Rio”, with The Andrews Sisters, Vic Schoen Orchestra, November 25th 1947.
18. Apalachicola, FLA with The Andrews Sisters, Vic Schoen OrchestraLos Angeles November 25th 1947.
19. To See You Is To Love You, John Scott Trotter Orchestra, radio broadcast, Los Angeles 1952.
20. “The Bells of St. Mary’s”, a radio adaptation of the movie, Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman and Joan Carroll, Screen Guild Theatre, August 26th 1946.

Note that the final track is of a full radio show extending to over 25 minutes!

Friday, July 12, 2019

BING AND SWANEE RIVER

Here is an excellent excerpt of a story on the song Swanee River. It was written by Leonard Kress, an excellent writer...

I recently listened to several recordings of “Swanee River.” The most moving and powerful by far was the version by Paul Robeson; it carries within it a deep and weary sadness that is as beautiful as it is hard to listen to. The other memorable version was by Bing Crosby, from the 1935 film, Mississippi

The scene opens with a group of dressed-up and dolled-up Black children performing the song for their families and relatives. They seem to be in some sort of parlor while wearing their best clothes and a boy and a girl try earnestly to reach the high notes without screeching. They are clearly meant to be seen as cute and precious, ardently trying to please the adults gathered in the doorway, outside looking in. They quickly join in, singing the song as if it were a spiritual, solemn anthem, and we quickly learn that this is some sort of evening entertainment for a group of well dressed (tuxes and crinoline) white men and women. One woman, Bing’s love-interest, played by gorgeous, hyper-sensitive, and brooding Joan Bennet, is shown in profile, a sentimentalized vision of melancholy until the other party-goers urge Bing to join in the singing. 

At first, he demurs — “Why spoil it?” he says, but soon he does sing. Everyone is transfixed, spellbound — much in the way I was in Chatlins. The Black cast disappears as if the doors had been shut, and only an older kerchiefed house servant momentarily looks down approvingly from a balcony, presumably experiencing her own version of the Stendhal Syndrome. What’s interesting about Crosby’s version of the song is that he sings it with his customary intimate jazzy phrasing, avoiding the deep and loud vaudeville style usually associated with minstrel shows. Moreover, the Crosby character is a northern Quaker who gets into trouble when he refuses to take part in a duel. Even though issues of race are not treated directly in the film, he clearly comes from an abolitionist background — as did Stephen Foster, who supported the North during the Civil War and was known to support the abolitionist cause. Moreover, the song itself, with its questionable lyrics and use of artificially stereotypical slave dialect (as in “Oh, darkeys, how my heart grows weary,/Far from de old folks at home”), is clearly about the hardship, sadness, and despair of families separated by slave traders and plantation owners...



Thursday, July 4, 2019

THE STAR MAKER: A 1939 REVIEW

The Star Maker is a seldom seen Bing Crosby film that would turn 80 years old this year. It's a pretty good flick, and here is the original movie review from the NY Times of August 31, 1939...

"The Star Maker," the new Bing Crosby film at the Paramount, was inspired (to employ a euphemism) by the career of Gus Edwards, a show-minded Pied Piper who used to swing around the old vaudeville circuits followed by precocious little song and dance teams—the girls in sunbonnets, the boys in newsies' tatters—who grew up, or at least some of them did, to become Walter Winchell, George Jessel, Eddie Cantor and Mervyn LeRoy. So it is possible that among the tiny tots, the not-so-tiny-tots and the not-tots at all recruited by Paramount for its interminable Gus Edward revue there may be a future Fred Astaire, Alice Faye, Vera Zorina or even a Bing Crosby. And if so, what of it?

Mightn't it have been better to have waited a few years to see?If we have to take a stand on the problem of talented children, and "The Star Maker" demands it, it is this: we think it is perfectly marvelous for a 5-year-old to be able to toe-dance, for a 6-year-old to be able to do a buck and wing, for a group of under-tens to be able to do a shuffle-off-to-Buffalo together, but if you don't mind we'll give our seat to a proud parent and go somewhere to watch the professionals do it. We believe the young should be encouraged, encouraged to rehearse and practise and grow up in private so that no one will have to say, as we must, "aren't they remarkable for children!"There isn't much more to the picture.


Mr. Crosby sings in his usual lullaby manner and hasn't many good lines to play with. Ned Sparks sneaks away with a comic scene or two as the child-hating press agent who has to tell bedtime stories and spins a grim whopper about the mean old wolf who gobbled up the little kiddies. Linda Ware, 14 years old, sings with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Walter Damrosch conducting) in a clear, if slight, soprano which probably is better than its recording and projection: the sound gadget wheezed in the higher register. But it is all, if Mr. Edwards will pardon us, too much like a Gus Edwards revue and far too much of that.



THE STAR MAKER, screen play by Frank Butler, Don Hartman and Arthur Caesar based on a story by Mr. Caesar and William A. Pierce suggested by the career of Gus Edwards; directed by Roy Del Ruth; produced for Paramount by Charles R. Rogers.

Larry Earl . . . . . Bing Crosby
Mary . . . . . Louise Campbell
Jane Gray . . . . . Linda Ware
"Speed" King . . . . . Ned Sparks
Carlotta Salvini . . . . . Laura Hope Crews
Stella . . . . . Janet Waldo

Saturday, June 22, 2019

MAYOR BING CROSBY

A famous photograph of Bing Crosby and Elko Mayor Dave Dotta appeared in newspapers and magazines world wide in 1948. Dotta is supervising Crosby while the singer/actor sweeps the street in front of the Ranch Inn at Ninth and Idaho streets.

Crosby bought several ranches in the North Fork area and spent summers there to get away from his hectic schedule. His first family, wife Dixie, and four sons Gary, Philip, Lindsay and Dennis shared those times with Bing.

He frequently came to town where he was treated just like one of the locals. In fact, he was so comfortable in Elko he didn't wear his hair piece. He became one of "us," not one of "them." It was a place where he could literally let his hair down and he sincerely appreciated his acceptance by the townspeople.

Crosby, in his book, Call Me Lucky, said he wasn't asked for an autograph, to give to a charity, do a benefit appearance, or to do anything but "mind my own business." Bing fit right in.

He loved the town and the town loved "Der Bingle." As a publicity stunt, but an appropriately serious one, Bing was asked to be Honorary Mayor of Elko and he accepted.

February 7, 1948 was the big day. Ceremonies were held at the Ranch Inn and the Commercial Hotel.

Mayor Dotta read the declaration: "In humble recognition of your outstanding contributions to high standards of American citizenship, sportsmanship, clean living, parenthood, et. al.; and finally your substantial additions to community life in the City and County of Elko, I am privileged and proud to herewith appoint you by official proclamation, Honorary Mayor of Elko, Nevada to serve ad infinitum. We are grateful that you have seen fit to accept this honor."


Elko Mayor Dave Dotta presents the Key to the City at the ceremony designating Bing Crosby (without his hair piece) Honorary Mayor of Elko on February 7, 1948. Photo from the Northeastern Nevada Museum Collections.

Dotta told Bing that the townspeople would make sure the singer carried out his duties which included getting the snow plows out, directing traffic, and street cleaning. His training began immediately and that's when the famous photograph was snapped.




In his acceptance speech, he promised to close down all the saloons - but not until everybody was inside.

Bing Crosby remained Honorary Mayor of Elko until 1977 when he died of a heart attack in Spain following a round of golf. Elkoans sincerely mourned the loss to the town and to the world. Part of his limitless acting and musical legacy was his 1944 Academy Award for Best Actor (Going My Way) and for White Christmas, the song forever associated with him, the 1942 Academy Award for Best Song. But in town, he was just Bing...

Saturday, June 15, 2019

FLASHBACK: 1967

On April 1, 1967, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong sang a medley of “Let’s Sing Like a Dixieland Band” and “Muskrat Ramble” on The Hollywood Palace. This episode was originally telecast by ABC...



Saturday, May 25, 2019

SPOTLIGHT ON AL RINKER

A forgotten player in the early years of Bing was Al Rinker. Rinker was an American musician who began his career as a teen performing with Bing Crosby in the early 1920s in Spokane, Washington in various musical groups. In 1925 the pair moved on to Los Angeles, eventually forming the Rhythm Boys trio with singer/songwriter/pianist Harry Barris.

Barris wrote the songs "Mississippi Mud", "I Surrender, Dear", and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" among others. The singing group worked with Paul Whiteman's Big Band for three years. They went out on their own for a year until Crosby effectively dissolved the group to go solo. The Rhythm Boys were filmed for the Paul Whiteman movie The King of Jazz (1930) singing "Mississippi Mud", "So the Bluebirds and the Blackbirds Got Together", "A Bench in the Park", and "Happy Feet".

According to a filmed interview of Rinker, Crosby performed the first two weeks on his first film while on daytime work release from jail after crashing his car into a telephone pole while driving drunk. After the Rhythm Boys broke up, they reunited only once, to appear together on the Paul Whiteman Presents radio broadcast on July 4, 1943.

In 1952, a song for which Rinker wrote the music with lyrics by Floyd Huddleston, "You Can't Do Wrong Doin' Right", appeared in the films Push-Button Kitty and The Affairs of Dobie Gillis. He also wrote the song "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" also with Floyd Huddleston for the Disney animated children's movie The Aristocats (1970). Rinker had also written the songs for the MGM musicial The Duchess Of Idaho starring Van Johnson in 1950.

Rinker was born on December 20, 1907 in Tekoa, Washington; his mother, Josephine, was an enrolled member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and a devout Roman Catholic. He and his siblings grew up on the Coeur d'Alene Indian reservation near DeSmet, Idaho.

It was a musical family: their father, Charles, played fiddle and called square dances, and their mother played piano every evening after supper. His younger brother Charles Rinker became a lyricist who worked frequently with composer Gene de Paul. Rinker married Elizabeth Neuberger on October 25, 1938.


Their older sister Mildred, under her married name of Mildred Bailey, had embarked on a musical career in Los Angeles before Rinker and Crosby became known. She became a well-known jazz singer after the Rhythm Boys arranged for Paul Whiteman to "discover" her singing at a party; he hired her to sing with his band. For a time she was known as "Mrs. Swing."

Julie Rinker is Al Rinker's daughter. Julie Rinker was one of Dean Martin's original Dean's Girls on The Dean Martin Show. Julie Rinker is also the female voice of the Three's Company Theme Song. Al died suddenly at on June 11, 1982 at the age of 74. In later years, Al appeared to be bitter towards to Bing Crosby. He seemed to say that Bing forgot his Rhythm Boy roots and discarded his former partners. Bing did give numerous movie roles to Harry Barris, and he recorded a couple of Rinker's sons, so whether or not the bitterness was deserved is beyond me. Al Rinker was talented in his own right, and he was a part of an exciting time in popular music...


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

REMEMBERING: TIM CONWAY (1933-2019)

Funny man Tim Conway (1933-2019) made us laugh for decades. Here he is with Bing from his appearance on the Hollywood Palace. Rest in peace...






Wednesday, May 8, 2019

SWINGING ON A STAR

SWINGING ON A STAR
By Charles Apple - THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

Seventy-five years ago today, the movie “Going My Way” was released in theaters. The musical featured Spokane’s own Bing Crosby in a role that would win him an Academy Award and that featured him singing a song that would win an Oscar.


This would be Crosby's first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and the only time he’d win an Oscar. He’d be nominated again the next year for “The Bells of St. Mary’s” and then one more time in 1954.

But Crosby, in fact, was well- acquainted with the Oscars. Even by 1944, Crosby had sung songs in movies that had been nominated five times for Academy Awards.

Crosby did a lot more than just star in movies and sing in musicals. He recorded 50 to 70 records a year during the 1940s. He pioneered the use of prerecorded radio shows on reel-to-reel magnetic tape — reportedly, so he could spend more time playing golf. In 1963, Crosby would receive the first Grammy Global Achievement Award.

Crosby gave benefit concerts to help sell war bonds and did special programs for the Armed Forces Radio Network. He traveled to France to entertain troops just months after the D-Day invasion.

And he took his golf seriously. He worked his way to a 2 handicap and played in both the British and U.S. Amateur Championships. He started a tournament in 1937 that has evolved into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Crosby was born in Tacoma but his family moved to Spokane when he was 3 years old. He attended Gonzaga University and would perform between films in Spokane’s Clemmer Theater — which is now named after Crosby.

Crosby died in 1977 after playing a round of golf at La Moraleja Golf Course near Madrid, Spain. He was 74...

Friday, May 3, 2019

THE FIVE BEST BING CROSBY MOVIES

Five years ago I published a list of my five favorite Bing Crosby movies, and in honor of what would have been Bing's 116th birthday, I figured I would update my list. I did not look at the 2014 list when writing this to see if there are any changes...


5. JUST FOR YOU (1952) - This Crosby film is not widely remembered today, but it should be. It is probably the closest Bing ever got to a biographical film about himself. In the film, Bing is a father to two children (Natalie Wood and Robert Arthur), but he is also trying to juggle fame and stardom. This was the second pairing of Bing with actress Jane Wyman, and the duo got to introduce the new song "Zing A Little Zong", which is a personal favorite.
2011 ranking:#7     2014 ranking: NA

4. HOLIDAY INN (1942) - This movie cemented Bing Crosby as a Hollywood movie superstar. This film was destined to be a classic with Bing, Fred Astaire, and an Irving Berlin song track. Bing got to sing countless Irving Berlin standards like "Easter Parade", "Be Careful It's My Heart", but it was in this movie that Bing got to introduce his signature song "White Christmas". This movie would be the first movie Bing would make with Fred Astaire, and it was also his first movie with songs by Irving Berlin.
2011 ranking:#3     2014 ranking:#3



3. BLUE SKIES (1946) - This was the second pairing of Bing, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin. It almost did not happen because Broadway dancer Paul Draper was supposed to be in the Astaire role, but due to his stutter and his disagreements with Bing, Draper was replaced. This was also supposed to be Fred Astaire's "swan song" from movies. Bing got to sing countless great Irving Berlin tunes like: "Blue Skies", "All By Myself" and the new "You Keep Coming Back Like A Song". The story was corny spanning the time between two World Wars, but this has always been one of my favorite Crosby films.
2011 ranking:#2     2014 ranking#2

2. HIGH SOCIETY (1956) - After Bing would leave Paramount Studios in 1956, after 24 years he moved to MGM for this great Cole Porter musical. Bing was paired with Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm, and Louis Armstrong, and the result is film magic. Bing had a hit with Grace Kelly on the song "True Love", and I named my daughter after the Grace Kelly character and Cole Porter song "I Love You, Samantha". Bing and Sinatra were great together, and they got to duet on the great number "Well, Did You Evah". In my opinion, this is one of the last truly great MGM movie musicals made.
2011 ranking:#4     2014 ranking:#4



1. THE COUNTRY GIRL (1954) - I would always have a debate with my Grandfather about this movie. He hated this movie, because Bing played a different role that he was used to. The film was dark, and Bing played an alocholic actor who gets one last chance to make a comeback. Bing was nominated for the third time for this film, but lost to Marlon Brando. Grace Kelly won though for playing Bing's lost suffering wife. Reportedly for the one drunken scene, Bing paced and stayed up all night to get a more haggard look. Watch this movie, and I dare you to say that Bing Crosby was not a great actor!
2011 ranking:#1     2014 ranking:#1

Thursday, April 25, 2019

BING IN HOLLYWOOD: PENNIES FROM HEAVEN - PART TWO

The big draw of the film was the music. The entire score was written by the great team of Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke, who wrote many of Bing’s mid 1930s films. The title song “Pennies From Heaven” was nominated for an Oscar for best song, but it lost out to Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” from the Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s film Swing Time. The July 24, 1936, recording by Bing Crosby on Decca Records topped the charts of the day for ten weeks in 1936 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004. Bing Crosby also recorded the song in a performance with Louis Armstrong and Frances Langford with Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra on Decca and issued as a 12" 78rpm recording.

Crosby recorded the song again for his 1954 album Bing: A Musical Autobiography. The other songs fit well into the Bing mold of songs with the optimistic “One Two Button Your Shoe” and the romantic ballads: “So Do I” and “Let’s Call A Heart A Heart”. Next to the title song, my favorite number from the film was the Louis Armstrong solo “Skeletons In The Closet”. Do yourself a favor and listen to Armstrong’s Decca recording of the song. It is pure audio gold!


Looking back at the reviews from 1936, I am surprised they were not more positive. Variety wrote: 
"Pennies from Heaven may qualify as a fair grosser because of Crosby’s name, but basically it’s a weak picture with a story that has little movement and only a scattered few mild giggles. It’s spread pretty thin over 80 minutes, despite a good tuneful score which should be no handicap… Film won’t advance Crosby although Crosby may overcome its faults to some extent. Best individual impression is by Louis Armstrong, Negro cornetist and hi-de-ho expert. Not as an eccentric musician, but as a Negro comedian he suggests possibilities. He toots his solo horn to a nice individual score, plus his band chores. Crosby has a couple of songs that will be reprised into fair popularity..."


Despite what the critics thought of the film, the movie holds a special place in my heart. A generation divided my Grandfather and I, but when he played me Bing Crosby music, that age gap disappeared, and my Grandfather was one of the best friends I ever had. He instilled in me a love of Bing Crosby, and I can still remember where the scratches were on his Decca 78 of “Pennies From Heaven”. Sitting and watching the film with him in the early 1990s was a simple memory but one of my favorite times. Watching 1936’s Pennies From Heaven not only displays Bing Crosby rise to the top of his performing ability, but it brings back fond memories of my Grandfather. I consider a movie that does that 80 plus years after it was released to be a great movie indeed!

MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10



Thursday, April 4, 2019

BING IN HOLLYWOOD: PENNIES FROM HEAVEN - PART ONE


This past December, my Grandfather would have turned 90. As a tribute to him, I watched his favorite Bing Crosby movie 1936’s Pennies From Heaven. I remember for the longest time this film was not available on video and DVD, and my Grandfather was overjoyed when it was released. I personally think that this is the first Bing movie that showed the depth of Bing’s acting. The title song was also a favorite record of both my Grandfather and myself. Being raised in the Great Depression, to my Grandfather the song and the movie represented hope and optimism for better times to come.

This was Crosby’s first independent production jointly with Emanuel Cohen’s Major Pictures and he had a share in the profits. The film was distributed by Columbia Pictures. The movie was Bing’s most dramatic effort to date. In the film, Bing plays a sort of roving vagabond. The opening scene in the movie, find Bing incarcerated (not sure why), and he was visited by a fellow inmate going to the electric chair for a murder he committed. For a man on death row, the warden and guards are pretty relaxed on how they are treating this murderer. Anyways, he hands Bing a letter to deliver, and being a man of his word, Bing promises to deliver the letter. 


The letter is for the family of the man that convict murdered. The only family left is the murdered man’s daughter (Edith Fellows) and her grandfather (Donald Meeks). To make up for killing a man, the death row inmate gave the family keys to his rundown hideout. Being that the daughter and grandfather are pretty much homeless they decide to move into the house of the man that murdered their father/son. Bing wants to cut out as soon as he delivers the letter, but he gets involved in the life of the daughter and grandfather and the social worker (Madge Evans) that tries to make sure the daughter is cared for.

Of course, the star of the film is Bing; whose singing makes one forgets that he basically plays a hobo in this film! The great scene stealer in the film though was child star Edith Fellows. A noted child star of the 1930s, she later had a long second career on stage and television. Abandoned at age two months she was raised by her grandmother, initially in Charlotte, North Carolina, and pushed into show business early. She appeared with many of the greats of the 1930s like Bing, WC. Fields, and Tony Martin, but by the 1950s, stage fright had consumed her. She retired to roles in television and movies in the 1970s. However, seeing Edith in 1936’s Pennies From Heaven, you would never imagine she would have problems in life. Bing starred with many child stars through the years, but the relationship and chemistry between Bing and Edith Fellows was by far the most believable.


The whole cast of Pennies From Heaven was strong. Bing fought for his idol Louis Armstrong to have a role in the movie, and more than the normal stereotypical roles that African-Americans had to take in Hollywood in the 1930s. Although this was not the first time that a black performer was given prominent billing in a major Hollywood release (Paul Robeson had been billed fourth in that same year's Show Boat), special billing was given to Armstrong at the insistence of Bing Crosby, who also insisted on Armstrong's being hired for the movie. Rounding out the cast was the beautiful Madge Evans as the uptight social worker. It seems like that was the love story aspect of all Bing’s early films: laidback crooner falls for uptight socialite. Donald Meeks as the grandfather was perfectly cast. Meeks never made a bad appearance in a movie, and he appeared in over 100 films! TO BE CONTINUED...



Wednesday, March 20, 2019

BING AND FRED ASTAIRE: TOP BILLING

Here's a great article from Steve Lewis' "Bing Crosby Internet Museum"...

Virtually all the polls at the end of the 20th century placed Fred Astaire at the top or near the top of professional dancers.

Astaire made some 30 memorable movie musicals, including 10 highly-acclaimed films with co-star Ginger Rogers. The Astaire-Rogers collaboration included "The Gay Divorce," "Roberta," "Top Hat," "Follow the Fleet," "Swing Time," "Shall We Dance?," "Carefree," "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" and "The Barkleys of Broadway."

Astaire's success in the movies seemed as improbable as Bing Crosby's. He had a face the shape of a bartlett pear, a beanpole figure and a weak voice. In his first attempt at a movie career a Paramount executive wrote that Astaire "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little." Astaire succeeded nonetheless. He sweated his way to the top. "He was a dictator who made me work harder and longer than anyone," said Nanette Fabray, one of his female costars.


Astaire introduced 36 hit songs in his movies from 1929 through 1951. According to Joel Whitburn, author of Pop Memories, eight Astaire recordings topped the pop charts: "Night and Day," "Cheek to Cheek," "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket," "The Way You Look Tonight," "A Fine Romance," "They Can't Take that Away from Me," "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "Change Partners."

In 1942 Astaire and Crosby were paired in the Irving Berlin musical Holiday Inn. In the movie Bing wins the girl (Marjorie Reynolds) to whom he sings what turned out to be the most successful movie song of the century, White Christmas. Bing also dances with Astaire, who later said that "Bing's the kind of dancer that I am a singer." Nevertheless, for many years Fred would answer "Bing Crosby" when asked to name his favorite dance partner -- to avoid alienating any of his female co-stars.

Astaire's best dance scene in Holiday Inn was not with Crosby but when he hot-footed alone on stage to the accompaniment of a 4th of July firecracker display. The famous scene took 38 takes during which Fred lost 14 pounds. The large number of takes were at Fred's insistance. According to Crosby: "Fred's a perfectionist .... Every step, every movement there was a firecracker let off. Some he'd throw down like torpedoes and some he'd kick-off. He had to be in certain positions all the time to hit the right firecrackers so he'd be on camera.... It was pretty elaborately contrivied and had to be done perfectly. I thought the first take he did was great. They all looked alike to me, but there was a little something he didn't like in each one. He about wore out the director and wore out the crew and the sequence took two or three days." (Thompson, pages 93-94)

The success of Holiday Inn led to another Astaire-Berlin-Crosby musical called Blue Skies in 1946. A third collaboration of the ABC boys was supposed to be White Christmas. But when Astaire read the script he found other work. Instead, Danny Kaye was hired to fill Astaire's dancing shoes. "White Christmas" became the leading box office attraction of 1954 and a perennial Christmas holiday tradition.


Astaire appeared several times on Bing's radio and TV shows through the years and they shared mutual interests in golf and horse racing. During World War II their paths crossed while entertaining the troops in Europe. At one point they feared for their safety when trapped for 45 minutes in a Glasgow railway baggage room while surrounded by 35,000 fans demanding a performance. (Crosby, 197-99)

Ken Barnes, Bing's last album producer, persuaded Bing and Fred to record an album of duets in London in 1975. Barnes later recalled the contrasting styles of the two stars:

"Once the material had been decided upon, we paid only one visit to Bing's house which consisted of one hour and a half around the piano during which time Bing would sing each song through no more than twice -- once for the key and then once again for the tempo.... That solitary visit to Crosby's house was in no way comparable to the nine visits we made to Fred's house, each lasting a minimum of three hours. Whereas Crosby would approach each song in a casual, seemingly off-hand manner, Astaire went to the other extreme. He would plan each song routine as though it were an intricate piece of choreography."


When Bing and Fred arrived in London in July, their contrasting styles posed a problem. According to Barnes:

I rang the Connaught and got through to Fred. His first question could not have been more direct. "What time do we meet with Bing tomorrow?" There was no beating around the bush with Astaire either and I plunged straight in. "Bing can't make it tomorrow. He's tied up all day." I waited for Fred's comment but there was only silence from the telephone. "But he'll meet you a half hour before the session," I went on, "and run down each of the songs individually."

For a moment I thought we had been disconnected but after a few seconds Fred spoke and his comments about Crosby were anything but complimentary. He accused Bing of being totally irresponsible and unprofessional, but eventually, after he had got the initial anger out of his system, Fred conceded that this was Bing's way of working and it was too late to expect him to change. "But," added Fred, "it's not my way of working. It may be OK for the great Crosby to stroll into a studio and turn on the magic, but I can't work that way. I've got to rehearse with somebody." (Barnes, pages 47-53)

The Crosby-Astaire duet album turned out to be a hit. Apparently, Astaire held no grudge against Bing, for he agreed to be Bing's guest on his 1975 Christmas TV special, recorded in November. The TV special would be the last time the two worked together. Fred died of pneumonia at age 88 in the wee hours of June 12, 1987, in a Los Angeles hospital, where he had been admitted 10 days earlier for a bad cold...