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Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby (May 3, 1903 – October 14, 1977) was an American singer and actor. Crosby's trademark bass-baritone voice made him one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th century, with over half a billion records in circulation.
A multimedia star, from 1934 to 1954 Bing Crosby was a leader in record sales, radio ratings and motion picture grosses. Crosby's early career coincided with technical recording innovations; this allowed him to develop a laid-back, intimate singing style that influenced many of the popular male singers who followed him, including Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. Yank magazine recognized Crosby as the person who had done the most for American G.I. morale during World War II and, during his peak years, around 1948, polls declared him the "most admired man alive," ahead of Jackie Robinson and Pope Pius XII. Also in 1948, the Music Digest estimated that Crosby recordings filled more than half of the 80,000 weekly hours allocated to recorded radio music.
Crosby exerted an important influence on the development of the postwar recording industry. Crosby worked for NBC at the time and wanted to record his shows, however, most broadcast networks did not allow recording. This was mainly because of the quality of the recording at the time. While in Europe performing during the war, Crosby had witnessed tape recording, on which The Crosby Research Foundation would come to have many patents. The company also developed equipment and recording techniques such as the Laugh Track which are still in use today. In 1947, he invested $50,000 in the Ampex company, which built North America's first commercial reel-to-reel tape recorder. He left NBC to work for ABC, because NBC was not interested in recording at the time. This proved beneficial because ABC accepted him and his new ideas. Crosby then became the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings onto magnetic tape. He gave one of the first Ampex Model 200 recorders to his friend, musician Les Paul, which led directly to Paul's invention of multitrack recording. Along with Frank Sinatra, Crosby was one of the principal backers behind the famous United Western Recorders studio complex in Los Angeles.
During the "Golden Age of Radio," performers often had to recreate their live shows a second time for the west coast time zone. Through the aegis of recording, Crosby constructed his radio programs with the same directorial tools and craftsmanship (editing, retaking, rehearsal, time shifting) being used in motion picture production. This became the industry standard.
Crosby won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Father Chuck O'Malley in the 1944 motion picture Going My Way, and was nominated for his reprise of the role in The Bells of St. Mary's the next year, becoming the first of four actors to be nominated twice for playing the same character. In 1963, Crosby received the first Grammy Global Achievement Award. Crosby is one of the 22 people to have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Crosby was born in Tacoma, Washington, on May 3, 1903, in a house his father built at 1112 North J Street. In 1906, Crosby's family moved to Spokane, Washington. In 1913, Crosby's father built a house at 508 E. Sharp Ave. The house now sits on the campus of Bing's alma mater Gonzaga University and formerly housed the Alumni Association.
He was the fourth of seven children: brothers Larry (1895–1975), Everett (1896–1966), Ted (1900–1973), Harry 'Bing' (1903–1977), and Bob (1913–1993); and two girls, Catherine (1904–1974) and Mary Rose (1906–1990). His parents, Harry Lincoln Crosby (1870–1950), an English-American bookkeeper, and Catherine Helen (known as Kate) Harrigan (1873–1964), who was a second generation Irish-American. Bing's paternal ancestors had emigrated to what would become the U.S. in the 17th century, and included Patience Brewster, the daughter of the Pilgrim leader and Mayflower passenger William Brewster, (c. 1567 – April 10, 1644).
In 1910, six-year-old Harry Crosby was forever renamed. The Sunday edition of the Spokesman-Review published a feature called "The Bingville Bugle". Written by humorist Newton Newkirk, The Bingville Bugle was a parody of a hillbilly newsletter filled with gossipy tidbits, minstrel quips, creative spelling, and mock ads. A neighbor, 15-year-old Valentine Hobart, shared Crosby's enthusiasm for "The Bugle" and noting Crosby's laugh, took a liking to him and called him "Bingo from Bingville". Eventually the last vowel was dropped and the nickname stuck.
In 1917, Crosby took a summer job as property boy at Spokane's "Auditorium," where he witnessed some of the finest acts of the day, including Al Jolson, who held Crosby spellbound with his ad libbing and spoofs of Hawaiian songs. Crosby later described Jolson's delivery as "electric".
By 1925, Crosby had formed a vocal duo with partner Al Rinker, brother of Mildred Bailey. Mildred introduced Al and Bing to Paul Whiteman,who was at that time America's most famous bandleader. Hired for $150 a week, they made their debut on December 6, 1926 at the Tivoli Theatre (Chicago). Their first recording was "I've Got The Girl," with Don Clark's Orchestra, but the Columbia-issued record did them no vocal favors, as it was inadvertently recorded at a speed slower than it should have been, which increased the singers' pitch when played at 78 rpm. Throughout his career, Bing Crosby often credited Mildred Bailey for getting him his first important job in the entertainment business.
Even as the Crosby and Rinker duo was increasing in popularity, Whiteman added a third member to the group. The threesome, now including pianist and aspiring songwriter Harry Barris, were dubbed "The Rhythm Boys". They joined the Whiteman touring act, performing and recording with musicians Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, and Eddie Lang and Hoagy Carmichael.
Crosby soon became the star attraction of the Rhythm Boys, and in 1928 had his first number one hit with the Whiteman orchestra, a jazz-influenced rendition of "Ol' Man River". However, Crosby's reported taste for alcohol and his growing dissatisfaction with Whiteman led to the Rhythm Boys quitting to join the Gus Arnheim Orchestra. During his time with Arnheim, the other two Rhythm Boys were increasingly pushed to the background as the emphasis was on Crosby. Harry Barris wrote several of Crosby's subsequent hits including "At Your Command," "I Surrender Dear", and "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams. But the members of the band had a falling out and split, setting the stage for Crosby's solo career.
On September 2, 1931, Crosby made his solo radio debut. By the end of the year, he'd signed with both Brunswick Records and CBS Radio. Doing a weekly 15 minute radio broadcast, Crosby quickly became a huge hit. His songs "Out of Nowhere", "Just One More Chance", "At Your Command" and "I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store)" were all among the best selling songs of 1931.
As the 1930s unfolded, Crosby became the leading singer in America. Ten of the top 50 songs for 1931 featured Crosby, either solo or with others. A so-called "Battle of the Baritones" with singing star Russ Columbo proved short-lived, replaced with the slogan "Bing Was King." Crosby signed a long-term deal with Jack Kapp's new record company Decca, and starred in his first full-length feature, 1932's The Big Broadcast, the first of 55 films in which he received top billing. He would appear in 79 pictures.
Around this time Crosby co-starred on radio with The Carl Fenton Orchestra on a popular CBS radio show. By 1936, he'd replaced his former boss, Paul Whiteman, as the host of NBC's Kraft Music Hall, the weekly radio program where he remained for the next ten years. "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)", which also showcased one of his then-trademark whistling interludes, became his theme song and signature tune.
Crosby's much-imitated style helped take popular singing beyond the kind of "belting" associated with boisterous performers like Al Jolson, who had been obliged to reach the back seats in New York theatres without the aid of the microphone. As Henry Pleasants noted in The Great American Popular Singers, something new had entered American music, a style that might be called "singing in American," with conversational ease. This new sound led to the popular epithet "crooner".
Crosby made numerous live appearances before American troops fighting in the European Theater. He also learned how to pronounce German from written scripts, and would read propaganda broadcasts intended for the German forces. The nickname "Der Bingle" for him was understood to have become current among Crosby's German listeners, and came to be used by his English-speaking fans. In a poll of U.S. troops at the close of World War II, Crosby topped the list as the person who had done the most for G.I. morale, ahead of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower, and Bob Hope.
The biggest hit of Crosby's career was his recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", which he introduced through a radio broadcast during the 1942 Christmas season, and the movie Holiday Inn. Crosby's recording hit the charts on October 3, 1942, and rose to #1 on October 31, where it stayed for 11 weeks. A holiday perennial, the song was repeatedly re-released by Decca, charting another 16 times. It topped the charts again in 1945, and for a third time in January 1947. The song remains the best-selling single of all time. According to Guinness World Records, Crosby's recording of "White Christmas" has "sold over 100 million copies around the world, with at least 50 million sales as singles." Crosby's recording was so popular that he was obliged to re-record it in 1947 using the same musicians and backup singers; the original 1942 master had become damaged due to its frequent use in pressing additional singles. Though the two versions are very similar, it is the 1947 recording which is most familiar today. Crosby was dismissive of his role in the song's success, saying later that "a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully."
Crosby (1942) with golf balls for the Scrap Rubber Drive during World War II
With 1,077,900,000 movie tickets sold, Crosby is by that measure the third most popular actor of all time, behind Clark Gable and John Wayne. The Quigley Publishing Company's International Motion Picture Almanac lists Crosby in a tie for second on the "All Time Number One Stars List" with Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, and Burt Reynolds. Crosby's most popular film, White Christmas, grossed $30 million in 1954 ($245 million in current value). Crosby won an Academy Award for Best Actor for Going My Way in 1944, and was nominated for the 1945 sequel, The Bells of Saint Mary's. He received critical acclaim for his performance as an alcoholic entertainer in The Country Girl, and received his third Academy Award nomination. He co-starred with Bob Hope in seven Road to musical comedies between 1940 and 1962, cementing the two entertainers as an on-and-off duo, despite never officially declaring themselves a "team" in the sense that Laurel and Hardy or Martin and Lewis were teams. Appearing solo, Crosby and Hope frequently made note of the other, typically in a comically insulting fashion, during their various radio and film appearances.
Crosby with Bob Hope in Road to Bali (1952)
By the late 1950s, Crosby's singing career had evolved into that of an avuncular elder statesman, and his albums Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings and Bing With A Beat sold reasonably well, even in the rock 'n roll era. In 1960, Crosby starred in High Time, a collegiate comedy with Fabian and Tuesday Weld that foretold the emerging gap between older Crosby fans and a new generation of films and music.
The Fireside Theater (1950) was Crosby's first television production. The series of 26-minute shows was filmed at Hal Roach Studios rather than performed live on the air. The "telefilms" were syndicated to individual television stations.
Crosby was a frequent guest on the musical variety shows of the 1950s and 1960s. He was especially closely associated with ABC's variety show The Hollywood Palace. He was the show's most frequent guest host, and appeared annually on its Christmas edition with his wife Kathryn and his younger children. In the early 1970s he made two famous late appearances on the Flip Wilson Show, singing duets with the comedian. Crosby's last TV appearance was a Christmas special filmed in London in September 1977 and aired just weeks after his death. It was on this special that Crosby recorded a duet of "Little Drummer Boy" with the flamboyant rock star David Bowie. It was first released as a single five years later, and has since become a staple of holiday radio, and the final popular hit of Crosby's career. At the end of the century, TV Guide listed the Crosby-Bowie duet as one of the 25 most memorable musical moments of 20th century television.
Bing Crosby Productions, affiliated with Desilu Studios and later CBS Television Studios, produced a number of television series, including Crosby's own unsuccessful ABC sitcom The Bing Crosby Show in the 1964–1965 season (with co-stars Beverly Garland and Frank McHugh). The company produced two ABC medical dramas, Ben Casey (1961–1966) and Breaking Point (1963–1964), the popular Hogan's Heroes (1965–1971) military comedy on CBS, as well as the lesser-known show Slattery's People (1964–1965).
Singing style and vocal characteristics)
Crosby was one of the first singers to exploit the intimacy of the microphone, rather than using the deep, loud "vaudeville style" associated with Al Jolson and others. Crosby's love and appreciation of jazz music helped bring the genre to a wider mainstream audience. Within the framework of the novelty singing style of The Rhythm Boys, Crosby bent notes and added off-tune phrasing, an approach that was firmly rooted in jazz. He'd already been introduced to Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith prior to his first appearance on record. Crosby and Armstrong would remain professionally friendly for decades, notably in the 1956 film High Society, where they sang the duet "Now You Has Jazz."
During the early portion of his solo career (about 1931-1934), Crosby's emotional, often pleading style of crooning was extremely popular. But Jack Kapp (manager of Brunswick and later Decca) talked Crosby into dropping many of his jazzier mannerisms, in favor of a straight-ahead clear vocal style.
Crosby also elaborated on a further idea of Al Jolson's: phrasing, or the art of making a song's lyric ring true. His success in doing so was influential. "I used to tell Sinatra over and over," said Tommy Dorsey, "there's only one singer you ought to listen to and his name is Crosby. All that matters to him is the words, and that's the only thing that ought to for you, too."
Vocal critic Henry Pleasants wrote:
" the octave B flat to B flat in Bing's voice at that time is, to my ears, one of the loveliest I have heard in forty-five years of listening to baritones, both classical and popular, it dropped conspicuously in later years. From the mid-1950s, Bing was more comfortable in a bass range while maintaining a baritone quality, with the best octave being G to G, or even F to F. In a recording he made of 'Dardanella' with Louis Armstrong in 1960, he attacks lightly and easily on a low E flat. This is lower than most opera basses care to venture, and they tend to sound as if they were in the cellar when they get there."
Crosby's was among the most popular and successful musical acts of the 20th century. Although Billboard Magazine operated under different methodologies for the bulk of Crosby's career, his chart numbers remain astonishing: 383 chart singles, including 41 #1 hits. Crosby had separate charting singles in every calendar year between 1931 and 1954; the annual re-release of White Christmas extended that streak to 1957. He had 24 separate popular singles in 1939 alone. Billboard's statistician Joel Whitburn determined Crosby to be America's most successful recording act of the 1930s, and again in the 1940s.
For 15 years (1934, 1937, 1940, 1943–1954), Crosby was among the top 10 in box office drawing power, and for five of those years (1944–1948) he was tops in the world. He sang four Academy Award-winning songs – "Sweet Leilani" (1937), "White Christmas" (1942), "Swinging on a Star" (1944), "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" (1951) – and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Going My Way (1944).
He collected 23 gold and platinum records, according to the book "Million Selling Records." The Recording Industry Association of America did not institute its gold record certification program until 1958, by which point Crosby's record sales were barely a blip; prior to that point, gold records are awarded by an artist's own record company. Universal Music, current owner of Crosby's Decca catalog, has never requested RIAA certification for any of his hit singles.
In 1962, Crosby was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been inducted into the halls of fame for both radio and popular music. In 2007 Crosby was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame, and in 2008 into the Western Music Hall of Fame.
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Crosby's radio career took a significant turn in 1945, when he clashed with NBC over his insistence that he be allowed to pre-record his radio shows. (The live production of radio shows was also reinforced by the musicians' union and ASCAP, which wanted to ensure continued work for their members.) In On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, historian John Dunning wrote about German engineers having developed a tape recorder with a near-professional standard:
" an enormous advantage in prerecording his radio shows. The scheduling could now be done at the star's convenience. He could do four shows a week, if he chose, and then take a month off. But the networks and sponsors were adamantly opposed. The public wouldn't stand for 'canned' radio, the networks argued. There was something magic for listeners in the fact that what they were hearing was being performed, and heard everywhere, at that precise instant. Some of the best moments in comedy came when a line was blown and the star had to rely on wit to rescue a bad situation. Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Phil Harris, and, yes, Crosby were masters at this, and the networks weren't about to give it up easily."
Crosby's insistence eventually factored into the further development of magnetic tape sound recording and the radio industry's widespread adoption of it. He used his clout, both professional and financial, to innovate new methods of reproducing audio of his performances. But NBC (and competitor CBS) were also insistent, refusing to air prerecorded radio programs. Crosby walked away from the network and stayed off the air for seven months, creating a legal battle with Kraft, his sponsor, that was settled out of court. Crosby returned to the air for the last 13 weeks of the 1945–1946 season.
The Mutual network, on the other hand, had pre-recorded some of its programs as early as the 1938 run of The Shadow with Orson Welles. And the new ABC network, which had been formed out of the sale of the old NBC Blue network in 1943 following a federal anti-trust action – was willing to join Mutual in breaking the tradition. ABC offered Crosby $30,000 per week to produce a recorded show every Wednesday that would be sponsored by Philco. He would also get an additional $40,000 from 400 independent stations for the rights to broadcast the 30-minute show, which was sent to them every Monday on three 16-inch lacquer/aluminum discs that played ten minutes per side at 33? rpm.
Crosby wanted to change to recorded production for several reasons. The legend that has been most often told is that it would give him more time for his golf game. And he did record his first Philco program in August 1947 so he could enter the Jasper National Park Invitational Golf Tournament in September, just when the new radio season was to start. But golf was not the most important reason.
Though Crosby did want more time to tend his other business and leisure activities, he also sought better quality through recording, including being able to eliminate mistakes and control the timing of his show performances. Because his own Bing Crosby Enterprises produced the show, he could purchase the latest and best sound equipment and arrange the microphones his way; the logistics of mic placement had long been a hotly debated issue in every recording studio since the beginning of the electrical era. No longer would he have to wear the hated toupee on his head previously required by CBS and NBC for his live audience shows (he preferred a hat). He could also record short promotions for his latest investment, the world's first frozen orange juice, sold under the brand name Minute Maid. This investment allowed Crosby to make more money by finding a loophole whereby the IRS couldn't tax him at a 77% rate.
The transcription method posed problems, however. The acetate surface coating of the aluminum discs was little better than the wax that Edison had used at the turn of the century, with the same limited dynamic range and frequency response.
But Murdo MacKenzie of Bing Crosby Enterprises had seen a demonstration of the German Magnetophon in June 1947—the same device that Jack Mullin had brought back from Radio Frankfurt, along with 50 reels of tape, at the end of the war. It was one of the magnetic tape recorders that BASF and AEG had built in Germany starting in 1935. The 6.5mm ferric-oxide-coated tape could record 20 minutes per reel of high-quality sound. Alexander M. Poniatoff ordered his Ampex company, which he'd founded in 1944, to manufacture an improved version of the Magnetophone.
Crosby hired Mullin to start recording his Philco Radio Time show on his German-made machine in August 1947, using the same 50 reels of I.G. Farben magnetic tape that Mullin had found at a radio station at Bad Nauheim near Frankfurt while working for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. The crucial advantage was editing. As Crosby wrote in his autobiography:
"By using tape, I could do a thirty-five or forty-minute show, then edit it down to the twenty-six or twenty-seven minutes the program ran. In that way, we could take out jokes, gags, or situations that didn't play well and finish with only the prime meat of the show; the solid stuff that played big. We could also take out the songs that didn't sound good. It gave us a chance to first try a recording of the songs in the afternoon without an audience, then another one in front of a studio audience. We'd dub the one that came off best into the final transcription. It gave us a chance to ad lib as much as we wanted, knowing that excess ad libbing could be sliced from the final product. If I made a mistake in singing a song or in the script, I could have some fun with it, then retain any of the fun that sounded amusing."
Mullin's 1976 memoir of these early days of experimental recording agrees with Crosby's account:
"In the evening, Crosby did the whole show before an audience. If he muffed a song then, the audience loved it – thought it was very funny – but we would have to take out the show version and put in one of the rehearsal takes. Sometimes, if Crosby was having fun with a song and not really working at it, we had to make it up out of two or three parts. This ad lib way of working is commonplace in the recording studios today, but it was all new to us."
Crosby invested US$50,000 in Ampex with an eye towards producing more machines. In 1948, the second season of Philco shows was taped with the new Ampex Model 200 tape recorder using the new Scotch 111 tape from the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) company. Mullin explained how one new broadcasting technique was invented on the Crosby show with these machines:
"One time Bob Burns, the hillbilly comic, was on the show, and he threw in a few of his folksy farm stories, which of course were not in Bill Morrow's script. Today they wouldn't seem very off-color, but things were different on radio then. They got enormous laughs, which just went on and on. We couldn't use the jokes, but Bill asked us to save the laughs. A couple of weeks later he had a show that wasn't very funny, and he insisted that we put in the salvaged laughs. Thus the laugh-track was born."
Crosby had launched the tape recorder revolution in America. In his 1950 film Mr. Music, Bing Crosby is seen singing into one of the new Ampex tape recorders that reproduced his voice better than anything else. Also quick to adopt tape recording was his friend Bob Hope.
Mullin continued to work for Crosby to develop a videotape recorder. Television production was mostly live in its early years, but Crosby wanted the same ability to record that he had achieved in radio. 1950's The Fireside Theater, sponsored by Procter and Gamble, was his first television production. Mullin had not yet succeeded with videotape, so Crosby filmed the series of 26-minute shows at the Hal Roach Studios, and the "telefilms" were syndicated to individual television stations.
Crosby did not remain a television producer, but continued to finance the development of videotape. Bing Crosby Enterprises (BCE), gave the world's first demonstration of videotape recording in Los Angeles on November 11, 1951. Developed by John T. Mullin and Wayne R. Johnson since 1950, the device aired what were described as "blurred and indistinct" images, using a modified Ampex 200 tape recorder and standard quarter-inch (6.3 mm) audio tape moving at 360 inches (9.1 m) per second.
A Bing Crosby led group purchased KCOP-TV station in 1954. NAFI Corporation and Bing Crosby purchase together the television station, KPTV, for $4 million on September 1, 1959. In 1960, NAFI purchased KCOP from Crosby's group.
Thoroughbred horse racing
Crosby was a fan of Thoroughbred horse racing and bought his first racehorse in 1935. In 1937, he became a founding partner of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and a member of its Board of Directors. Operating from the Del Mar Racetrack at Del Mar, California, the group included millionaire businessman Charles S. Howard, who owned a successful racing stable that included Seabiscuit. His son, Lindsay Howard, became one of Crosby's closest friends; Crosby named his son Lindsay after him, and would purchase his 40-room Hillsborough estate from Lindsay in 1965.
Crosby and Lindsay Howard formed Binglin Stable to race and breed thoroughbred horses at a ranch in Moorpark in Ventura County, California. They also established the Binglin stock farm in Argentina, where they raced horses at Hipódromo de Palermo in Palermo, Buenos Aires. A number of Argentine-bred horses were purchased and shipped to race in the United States. On August 12, 1938, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club hosted a $25,000 winner-take-all match race won by Charles S. Howard's Seabiscuit over Binglin's horse Ligaroti. In 1943, Binglin's horse Don Bingo won the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
The Binglin Stable partnership came to an end in 1953 as a result of a liquidation of assets by Crosby, who needed to raise enough funds to pay the hefty federal and state inheritance taxes on his deceased wife's estate. The Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap at Del Mar Racetrack is named in his honor.
Crosby was also a co-owner of the British colt Meadow Court, with jockey Johnny Longden's friend Max Bell . Meadow Court won the 1965 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and the Irish Derby. In the Irish Derby's winner's circle at the Curragh, Crosby sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."
Though Crosby's stables had some success, he often joked about his horseracing failures as part of his radio appearances. "Crosby's horse finally came in" became a running gag.
Crosby the sportsman
Crosby had an interest in sports. In the 1930s, his friend and former college classmate, Gonzaga head coach Mike Pecarovich appointed Crosby as an assistant football coach. From 1946 until the end of his life, he was part-owner of baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates. Although he was passionate about his team, he was too nervous to watch the deciding Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, choosing to go to Paris with Kathryn and listen to the game on the radio. But Crosby had the NBC telecast of the game recorded on kinescope. The game was one of the most famous in baseball history, capped off by Bill Mazeroski's walk-off home run. He apparently viewed the complete film just once, and then stored it in his wine cellar, where it remained undisturbed until it was discovered in December 2009. The restored broadcast was shown on MLB Network in December 2010.
Crosby was also an avid golfer, and in 1978, he and Bob Hope were voted the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship. He is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Since 1937, the 'Crosby Clambake' as it was popularly known—now the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am—has been a leading event in the world of professional golf.
He conceived his tournament as a friendly little pro-am for his fellow members at Lakeside Golf Club and any stray touring pros who could use some pocket change. The first Clambake was played at Rancho Santa Fe C.C., in northern San Diego county, where Crosby was a member. He kicked in $3,000 of his own money for the purse, which led inaugural champion Sam Snead to ask if he might get his $700 in cash instead of a check. Snead's suspicions notwithstanding, the tournament was a rollicking success, thanks to the participation of Lakeside's membership, which was heavy in North Hollywood entertainment figures. The 1937 event set the precedent that the tournament was as much about partying as it was about golf. But there is also a serious side. The tournament, revived on the Monterey Peninsula in 1947, has as of 2009 raised $93 million for local charities.
Crosby first took up golf at 12 as a caddy, dropped it, and started again in 1930 with some fellow cast members in Hollywood during the filming of The King of Jazz. Crosby was accomplished at the sport, with a two handicap. He competed in both the British and U.S. Amateur championships, was a five-time club champion at Lakeside Golf Club in Hollywood, and once made a hole-in-one on the 16th at Cypress Point.
Crosby was married twice, first to actress/nightclub singer Dixie Lee from 1930 until her death from ovarian cancer in 1952. They had four sons: Gary, twins Dennis and Phillip, and Lindsay. The 1947 film Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman is indirectly based on her life. After Dixie's death, Crosby had relationships with actresses Inger Stevens and Grace Kelly before marrying the actress Kathryn Grant in 1957. They had three children: Harry (who played Bill in Friday the 13th), Mary (best known for portraying Kristin Shepard, the woman who shot J.R. Ewing on TV's Dallas), and Nathaniel.
Kathryn converted to Catholicism in order to marry the singer. Crosby was also a Republican, and actively campaigned for Wendell Willkie in 1940, arguing that Franklin Roosevelt should serve only two terms. After Willkie lost, Crosby decreed that he would never again make any open political contributions.
Crosby reportedly overindulged in alcohol in his youth, and may have been dismissed from Paul Whiteman's orchestra because of it, but he later got a handle on his drinking. Village Voice jazz critic and Crosby biographer Gary Giddins says that Louis Armstrong's influence on Crosby "extended to his love of marijuana." Crosby smoked it during his early career when it was still legal, and "surprised interviewers" in the 1960s and 70s by advocating its decriminalization. According to Giddins, Crosby told his son Gary to stay away from alcohol ("It killed your mother") and suggested he smoke pot instead. Gary said, "There were other times when marijuana was mentioned and he'd get a smile on his face." Gary thought his father's pot smoking had influenced his easygoing style in his films. Crosby finally quit smoking his pipe following lung surgery in 1974.
After Crosby's death, his eldest son, Gary, wrote a highly critical memoir, Going My Own Way, depicting his father as cold, remote, and both physically and psychologically abusive. Two of Crosby's other sons, Lindsay and Dennis, sided with Gary's claim and stated Crosby abused them as well. Dennis also stated that Crosby would abuse Gary the most often.
Gary Crosby wrote:
"We had to keep a close watch on our actions... When one of us left a sneaker or pair of underpants lying around, he had to tie the offending object on a string and wear it around his neck until he went off to bed that night. Dad called it "the Crosby lavalier." At the time the humor of the name escaped me...
"Satchel Ass" or "Bucket Butt" or "My Fat-assed Kid." That's how he introduced me to his cronies when he dragged me along to the studio or racetrack... By the time I was ten or eleven he had stepped up his campaign by adding lickings to the regimen. Each Tuesday afternoon he weighed me in, and if the scale read more than it should have, he ordered me into his office and had me drop my trousers... I dropped my pants, pulled down my undershorts and bent over. Then he went at it with the belt dotted with metal studs he kept reserved for the occasion. Quite dispassionately, without the least display of emotion or loss of self-control, he whacked away until he drew the first drop of blood, and then he stopped. It normally took between twelve and fifteen strokes. As they came down I counted them off one by one and hoped I would bleed early...
When I saw Going My Way I was as moved as they were by the character he played. Father O'Malley handled that gang of young hooligans in his parish with such kindness and wisdom that I thought he was wonderful too. Instead of coming down hard on the kids and withdrawing his affection, he forgave them their misdeeds, took them to the ball game and picture show, taught them how to sing. By the last reel, the sheer persistence of his goodness had transformed even the worst of them into solid citizens. Then the lights came on and the movie was over. All the way back to the house I thought about the difference between the person up there on the screen and the one I knew at home."
It was revealed that Crosby's will had established a blind trust, with none of the sons receiving an inheritance until they reached the age of 65.
However, younger son Phillip vociferously disputed his brother Gary's claims about their father. Around the time Gary made his claim, Phillip stated to the press that "Gary is a whining...crybaby, walking around with a 2-by-4 and just daring people to nudge it off." However, Phillip did not deny that Crosby believed in corporal punishment. In an interview with People Magazine, Phillip stated that "we never got an extra whack or a cuff we didn't deserve." In an interview conducted in 1999 by the Globe, Phillip said:
"My dad was not the monster my lying brother said he was; he was strict, but my father never beat us black and blue, and my brother Gary was a vicious, no-good liar for saying so. I have nothing but fond memories of Dad, going to studios with him, family vacations at our cabin in Idaho, boating and fishing with him.
To my dying day, I'll hate Gary for dragging Dad's name through the mud. He wrote Going My Own Way out of greed. He wanted to make money and knew that humiliating our father and blackening his name was the only way he could do it. He knew it would generate a lot of publicity. That was the only way he could get his ugly, no-talent face on television and in the newspapers.
My dad was my hero. I loved him very much. He loved all of us too, including Gary. He was a great father."
Gary Crosby died in 1995 at the age of 62, and 69-year-old Phillip Crosby died in 2004.
Lindsay and Dennis Crosby each committed suicide, shooting themselves with shotguns in 1989 and 1991, respectively. Nathaniel Crosby, Crosby's youngest son from his second marriage, was a high-level golfer who won the U.S. Amateur at age 19 in 1981, at the time the youngest-ever winner of that event (a record later broken by Tiger Woods). Harry Crosby is an investment banker who occasionally makes singing appearances.
Widow Kathryn Crosby dabbled in local theater productions intermittently, and appeared in television tributes to her late husband. Denise Crosby, Dennis Crosby's daughter, is also an actress and is known for her role as Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and for the recurring role of the Romulan Sela (daughter of Tasha Yar) after her withdrawal from the series as a regular cast member. She also appeared in the film adaptation of Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary. In 2006, Crosby's niece, Carolyn Schneider, published the laudatory book "Me and Uncle Bing."
Failing health and death
Following his recovery from a life-threatening fungal infection of his right lung in 1974, Crosby emerged from semi-retirement to produce multiple albums and concert tours. In March 1977, after videotaping a concert for CBS to commemorate his 50th anniversary in show business, Crosby backed off the stage and fell into an orchestra pit, rupturing a disc in his back and requiring a month in the hospital. His first performance after the accident was his last American concert, on August 16, 1977; when the power went out, he continued singing without amplification. In September, Crosby, his family, and singer Rosemary Clooney began a concert tour of England that included two weeks at the London Palladium. While in England, Crosby recorded his final album, Seasons, and his final TV Christmas special with guest David Bowie. His last concert was in The Brighton Centre four days before his death, with British entertainer Dame Gracie Fields in attendance. Crosby's last photograph was taken with Fields.
At the conclusion of his work in England, Crosby flew alone to Spain to hunt and play golf. Shortly after 6 p.m. on October 14, Crosby died suddenly from a massive heart attack after a round of 18 holes of golf near Madrid where he and his Spanish golfing partner had just defeated their opponents. It is widely written that his last words were "That was a great game of golf, fellas." In Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair With Golf, the comedian recounts hearing that Crosby had been advised by a physician in England to only play nine holes of golf due to his heart condition.
He is a member of the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in the radio division.
The family launched an official website on October 14, 2007, the 30th anniversary of Crosby's death.
In his 1990 autobiography Don't Shoot, It's Only Me! Bob Hope wrote, "Dear old Bing. As we called him, the Economy-sized Sinatra. And what a voice. God I miss that voice. I can't even turn on the radio around Christmas time without crying anymore."
Calypso musician Roaring Lion wrote a tribute song in 1939 entitled "Bing Crosby", in which he wrote: "Bing has a way of singing with his very heart and soul / Which captivates the world / His millions of listeners never fail to rejoice / At his golden voice..."
Crosby co-wrote lyrics to 15 songs. His composition "At Your Command" was no.1 for three weeks on the U.S. pop singles chart in 1931, beginning with the week of August 8, 1931. "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You" was his most successful composition, recorded by Duke Ellington, Linda Ronstadt, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey, among others. The songs Crosby co-wrote are: