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Bing Crosby
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Bing Crosby Profile

When out featured star was born in 1903, he was, officially, Harry Lillis Crosby but everyone called him "Bing" from the time he was a small fry. Why? Because of his fondness for a then-popular comic strip entitled "The Bingville Bugle." Later came more nicknames, "Der Bingle," "The Crooner," "The Groaner," the latter tagged on him by his pal and frequent costar Bob Hope, who once said the thing that struck him most when he first heard Crosby sing was "the wart on Bing's larynx." That wart-or whatever it was-certainly helped the pride of Tacoma, Washington (where Harry Lillis was born), and Spokane, Washington (where he was raised), become numero uno among all singers until the era of Elvis and the Beatles.

Der Bingle also became the movies' number one box-office draw for five years (1944-48) and was among the top 10 audience-pullers for ten others, consistently drawing more paying customers to movie theaters during that time than anyone, including Bogart, Grant, Hepburn, Stewart and Wayne. All this makes it particularly astounding that Bing's so little known today. What happened? How could such a staggeringly high-profile career now be so overlooked and underappreciated? Only at Christmastime does he seem to reemerge, like mistletoe, thanks to his recording of "White Christmas."

We're going to try to make up for some of the short shrift B.C. has been given of late by presenting a quartet of Crosby movies that run the gamut in years (1936-1956) and genres (frothy musicals to comedies), each one giving a good indication of why he was so beloved in his heyday-the casual charm, the laid-back persona, the acting prowess which he always made look easy and natural.

Our Bing quartet will include his Oscar®-nomination for Best Actor for the 1945 sequel to Going My Way (1944), The Bells of St. Mary's . We'll also be showing one of his spirited and daffy Road romps with Hope and Dorothy Lamour - Road to Bali (1953) - as well as his teaming with Frank Sinatra in High Society, something which caused big waves in 1956 because-for the first time in any film-the world's two favorite pop singers were sharing scenes and musical notes.

We'll also be showcasing one of Crosby's early big-screen appearances, Pennies From Heaven (1936), where he teams up with Louis Armstrong and his band on the number "Let's Call a Heart a Heart." (Armstrong, of course, appears with him in High Society as well). Despite his output of work (over 2100 recordings, 70-plus movies, and more than 4000 radio shows), Crosby always claimed he was basically lazy, only interested in golf and horseracing-making it poignantly fitting that he died just after finishing a round of golf in Madrid, Spain, in 1977.

He was, apparently, much more complex than his publicists ever wanted us to believe and few knew what really made him tick in real life. However, when he stepped in front of a camera lens, everyone in the world felt they knew him like a beloved brother, spunky dad or favorite uncle. What a legacy! He was a major force in numerous mediums, a man who created an entirely new singing style, someone who influenced every singer who followed him (including Sinatra); he was also the first pop singing star to become a major movie magnet. High time there should be some hurrahs for him in the 21st century, and we'll be leading the cheering section here on TCM on December 11th.

by Robert Osborne
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