Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby Jr. (May 3, 1903 – October 14, 1977) was an American singer and actor whose trademark warm bass-baritone voice made him the best-selling recording artist of the 20th century, having sold over one billion records, tapes, compact discs, and digital downloads the world over. Suffice it to say, this means that very few people agreed with his own self-deprecatory assessment of his singing skills.
Crosby started his career in the late 1920s as one of The Rhythm Boys, a vocal trio that accompanied bandleader Paul Whiteman's orchestra. He broke out as a solo singer in the early 1930s, recording several hits for the Brunswick label before starting a long association with Decca Records in 1934. His rise to fame coincided with advances in recording technology, and he became known for tailoring his singing style to the microphone, allowing for a more personal and intimate way of singing; this in turn made his records enormously popular and influenced many other singers in America and around the world, more or less setting the template for the pre-rock pop "crooner".
In 1942 he recorded what would become perhaps his most famous legacy: the Irving Berlin standard "White Christmas", which stayed at #1 on the charts for over 11 weeks when it was first released, and has remained a perennial Christmas favorite in the United States ever since. In fact, Crosby recorded a great many Christmas Songs through the years, which is primarily how the younger generation is familiar with him. His album Merry Christmas (1945), a Cover Album full of Christmas-themed songs, has sold over 15 million copies worldwide and is the second-best-selling Christmas album of all time, behind Elvis Presley's Elvis' Christmas Album (1957). Other than "White Christmas," Crosby's best-known holiday songs are probably "Do You Hear What I Hear?", released in 1963, and "Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy," an unlikely duet with British rock star David Bowie that was recorded for a posthumously-aired television special in 1977; the latter was subsequently released as a single in 1982, whereupon it became a huge international hit.
He also maintained a successful secondary career as an actor, appearing in almost 80 different films over six decades; in the '40s, he was surpassed as a box-office draw by only Clark Gable and John Wayne. Among Crosby's best-known movies are the Road to ... series (in which he teamed with Bob Hope), Going My Way (which earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor), High Society (which co-starred Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra), and of course White Christmas.
Crosby pioneered pre-recorded radio shows, and was an astute businessman. His investment in the Ampex Corporation spurred the development of videotape, and he also invested in a little company called Minute Maid. At one time he was a part owner of baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates. And in the '60s he started his own television production company, which had hit series with Ben Casey and Hogan's Heroes.
Crosby helped popularize the sport of golf in the US, and sponsored several early tournaments. He also competed in both the British and American Pro-Amateur Tournaments. He also died of a heart attack shortly after playing a game of golf with some of his friends. Reputedly, his last words before his fatal heart attack were, "That was a great game of golf, fellas."
- Merry Christmas (1945)
Notable film roles:
- Bing, of "The Rhythm Boys," King of Jazz (1930) — His first film.
- Billy Crocker, Anything Goes (1936) — A not very faithful adaptation of the stage Musical; Bing and Ethel Merman duet the title song.
- Larry Poole, Pennies from Heaven (1936) — He sings the title song, a big hit.
- Tony Marvin, Waikiki Wedding (1937) — He sings "Sweet Leilani," which won the Academy Award that year for Best Song.
- Josh Mallon V, Road to Singapore (1940) — The first of his seven "Road" pictures with Bob Hope.
- Chuck Reardon, Road to Zanzibar (1941)
- Jim Hardy, Holiday Inn (1942) — In which he first introduced the song "White Christmas".
- Geoffrey Peters, Road to Morocco (1942) — Frequently considered the best of the "Road" pictures; its title Hope and Crosby duet is often parodied.
- Father Chuck O'Malley, Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) — Both of which earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, making him the first actor to be nominated twice for playing the same character. He won for Going My Way.
- Duke Johnson and Junior Hooten, Road to Utopia (1946)
- Scat Sweeny, Road to Rio (1947)
- Virgil Smith, The Emperor Waltz (1948)
- The Narrator, Brom Bones, and Ichabod Crane, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
- Hank Martin, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949)
- George Cochran, Road to Bali (1952) — The only "Road" picture in color.
- Bob Wallace, White Christmas (1954)
- Frank Elgin, The Country Girl (1954) — Which earned him his third and final Best Actor Academy Award nomination.
- C. K. Dexter-Haven, High Society (1956) — The Musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. Bing plays the Cary Grant part.
- Harry Turner, The Road to Hong Kong (1962) — The last of the "Road" pictures.
- Allan A. Dale, Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964) — A Roaring Twenties re-telling of the Robin Hood legend, with Frank Sinatra as the lead.
- Dr. Josiah Boone, Stagecoach (1966) — A remarkable performance in the role originally played by Thomas Mitchell in the 1939 John Ford Western. Crosby was painted in character by Norman Rockwell for the film's poster art.
Tropes invoked by his works:
- The Cameo: In the '40s Crosby became so associated with Bob Hope that he made cameos in Hope's films My Favorite Brunette and The Princess and the Pirate. Both men also pop up in The Greatest Show on Earth and Scared Stiff.
- Can't Live with Them, Can't Live without Them: Happens in several of his movies.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: One of his trademarks. The cover of his album New Tricks (1957) featured an illustration of a basset hound at the microphone in studio, smoking a pipe and donning Crosby's usual trilby hat.
- Expressive Ears: According to legend record executives were bothered by Crosby's large ears, fearing they would distract the audience from listening to his music. So they tried taping them against his head. Eventually it was decided that it was better to keep them the way they were. Seeing that no audience member ever complained about Crosby's ear length, they were absolutely right.
- Friendly Rivalry: With Frank Sinatra.
- Homesickness Hymn: A couple of Christmas-related examples.
- Composer Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" is about Dreaming of a White Christmas back home instead of in Los Angeles with its sunny weather. Bing's version of the song is the greatest-selling single of all time.
- "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is about a soldier in World War II singing about wanting to be back home rather than being at war.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Crosby was a favorite target for parody by cartoon artists, particularly in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. Animated expies of him appear in "Let It Be Me" (1936), "Bingo Crosbyana" (1936), "Slap-Happy Pappy" (1940), "Hollywood Steps Out" (1941), "Catch as Cats Can" (1947), and "What's Up, Doc?" (1950), and many years later he was transmogrified into Hugh on Taz-Mania.
- He was royally pissed at WB for the cartoons "Let It Be Me" and "Bingo Crosbyana", and it's easy to see why. The former portrayed him as a sleazy radio crooner who seduced a naive country girl and then ditched her. The latter portrayed him as a braggart who turned cowardly at the first sign of trouble, then showed up after everything was all over and tried to take credit. He considered those to be personal attacks and tried to sue. For the record, he never objected to portrayals close to his onscreen persona, such as "Hollywood Steps Out".
- The Parson, an acquaintance of Rev. Lovejoy from The Simpsons, is based on Bing Crosby's Father O'Malley character from Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's, including the golf.
- He was also more darkly parodied in Family Guy. Being the Black Comedy it is, most of these gags targeted the allegations of him being an Abusive Parent.
- Sugar Bear, the cartoon mascot for Post Sugar Crisp (now Golden Crisp) cereal, has a voice based on Crosby's.
- Step Up to the Microphone: At the time when Crosby was starting out, convention was that bands didn’t employ singers, who weren’t entirely considered proper musicians; an instrumentalist would just step up when a voice was needed. But Crosby, who had no particular instrumental skills, was hired by bandleader Paul Whiteman specifically for his voice. So he was required to pose with a violin, with rubber strings so he couldn’t make inconvenient noises.note
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Supposedly with Bob Hope. (In reality the two men were not particularly close offstage.)