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Classic Hollywood: The sound of the season in Bing Crosby's Christmas specials

The singer's family opens his archives to release 'Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 — The Christmas Specials' on DVD and 'Bing Crosby: The Crosby Christmas' on CD.

December 13, 2010|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Bing Crosby, left, and Frank Sinatra on the set of "Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank" from 1957.
Bing Crosby, left, and Frank Sinatra on the set of "Happy Holidays… (Bing Crosby Enterprises )

Since he introduced Irving Berlin's Oscar-winning tune "'White Christmas" in 1942's "Holiday Inn," Bing Crosby and the yuletide have become synonymous. Crosby, who died in 1977, performed the song again in the 1954 holiday movie perennial "White Christmas."

But even holiday traditions change. Though "White Christmas" may be the bestselling single of all time, the recording is no longer the most popular Christmas song this season, according to Billboard. That honor belongs to Mariah Carey's 1994 "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Der Bingle and "White Christmas" have dropped to No. 7

"For a certain generation that would be totally astounding," says Ron Simon, a curator for the Paley Center for Media. "I think this is an appropriate time to rediscover Bing Crosby."

The Bing Crosby Archive has opened its vaults and recently released "Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume Two — The Christmas Specials" on DVD. It features his first two holiday-themed specials from 1961 and 1962, 1971's "Bing Crosby and the Sounds of Christmas," which features his second family — wife Kathryn Crosby and children Mary, Harry and Nathaniel, and his last special, 1977's "Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas," which features the now-iconic duet with David Bowie, "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth." There's also a bonus, the trippy 1957 special "Happy Holidays With Bing and Frank" — the "Frank," of course, being Sinatra.

The archive also has released a new holidays CD, "Bing Crosby: The Crosby Christmas," and there are more DVDs and CDs planned for next year.

On Wednesday, the Paley Center in Beverly Hills is saluting Crosby and his holiday specials with special guest Mary Crosby (Kathryn Crosby is recovering from injuries from an auto accident and won't be attending). On the same day, the MLB Network is going to show Crosby's recently discovered recording of the long-thought-lost television broadcast of the memorable final game of the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates — Crosby was a part owner of the team — and the New York Yankees. (The Pirates won with a ninth-inning home run by Bill Mazeroski.)

Mary Crosby explains why it took so long for the family to mine Bing's vault in the basement of the family's Bay Area home.

"We followed Dad's lead," says the actress best known for shooting J.R. on "Dallas." "Dad was very much under the radar. It was part of who he was. We were raised to be under the radar and not to work to get things out. So I think it took us 30 years to figure it out. Then we realized there is this whole generation that has no idea who he is. As a family doing whatever we can now to get his name out there."

The archive is immense, says Robert S. Bader, vice president, marketing and promotion, for Bing Crosby Enterprises. For the last couple of years, he's been sifting through the archive master by master, tape by tape.

"There's thousands of reels of tape and film," Bader says. "After his association with Decca Records ended, he became the owner of his master materials. He was also the owner of his masters for his radio show that he produced. There is in the neighborhood of 2,000 song masters. He made around 2,000 commercial recordings and about 4,000 radio shows."

Crosby also was a pioneer in using tape. Before World War II, recordings were made on record. But in 1947, he was shown a demonstration of tape technology that had been brought over from Germany. And on Aug. 15, 1947, Crosby recorded a radio show on tape. "He was anxious to record his radio shows in advance so he wouldn't have to do it live," says Bader. "It was a lot of pressure and a scheduling thing. He was making movies full time and making records."

Though Crosby doesn't have the hip factor of his peers such as Sinatra and Dean Martin, Mary Crosby believes that her father's music remains relevant.

"The thing that made him different was he wasn't just limited to one area," she says. "He could do jazz. He could do country. He could do Irish. He could do Christmas. He sang with such truth. I think if you are authentic and you are honest, it doesn't matter if was 50 years ago or tomorrow. So it's up to us to get him out there. All people have to do is listen and they will connect. I think his music translates perfectly today."


What star of "Singin' in the Rain" appeared with Bing Crosby in 1938's "Sing You Sinners"?

Donald O'Connor


susan.king@latimes.com

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