If the term “American Idol” had been in use 80 years ago, Bing Crosby (1903-1977) could have easily claimed that title for several years. Crosby, one of the 20th century’s best selling recording artists, is profiled in the PBS special, “The Legendary Bing Crosby.” Produced in 2010, “The Legendary Bing Crosby” will be presented on KQED Channel 9 on Friday, July 8 at 9 pm, with a repeat showing on Saturday, July 9 at 6 pm. The 60 minute program is not a Crosby biography, but instead is a retrospective of Bing Crosby’s work on television, spanning the years 1954 to 1977. “The Legendary Bing Crosby” features over 20 songs by Bing, including several duets performed alongside many of his musical guest-stars. Kathryn Crosby, Mary Crosby and Leonard Maltin provide commentary and insights regarding Bing and some of his classic TV specials.
Born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Washington, on May 3rd 1903, Bing Crosby first gained notice as a member of a singing trio known as “The Rhythm Boys,” performing with Paul Whiteman’s band during the late 1920’s. Going solo, Crosby landed his own radio show on CBS in 1931, a weekly 15 minute broadcast that allowed Crosby to premier and promote all of his latest recordings. Within a short period of time, Bing Crosby became America’s number one recording artist, having 383 singles chart in Billboard Magazine, including 41 #1 hit records. Crosby also made his mark in motion pictures, winning an Academy Award in 1944 for Best Actor for his work in “Going My Way,” as well appearing in seven “Road To” pictures with co-star Bob Hope. Bing Crosby’s greatest legacy is that he among the first entertainers to take advantage of some of the technical advancements happening in the recording industry during his early career. Crosby realized that newly developed microphones allowed him to develop a laid-back, intimate style that would eventually be copied by later artists, including Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Dean Martin. Crosby also became interested in modernizing techniques in recording radio shows, and became the first radio star to have his programs pre-recorded, and broadcast at a later date.
Some of the footage used in “The Legendary Bing Crosby” has been unseen since their original showings, such as his duet with Carol Burnett from 1969, while others have become favorites on You Tube, particularly the 1977 performance of “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” that paired Bing with David Bowie. Other duets include Crosby performing with Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Of course,, no Bing Crosby special would be complete without a rendition of “White Christmas,” and through clever editing, Crosby is shown singing the song at three different points in his career. It should be noted that Bing Crosby’s final television special, which included his duet with Bowie and his last TV performance of “White Christmas,” was taped in September of 1977, and was shown on CBS on November 30, 1977, more than a month after Crosby’s death (October 14, 1977).
Trivia: Bing Crosby is one of five artists to have a number one single and an acting Oscar. The other four are Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Cher and Jamie Foxx. Crosby was the first choice for the role of TV’s “Columbo” which he turned down, feeling it would cut into his golf time. Bing Crosby and his family did numerous commercials for Minute Maid Orange Juice for one main reason…he owned the company.