Thursday, June 30, 2011


Child actress Edith Fellows had made about 30 films when she starred at 13 in a heart-wrenching high-profile, 1936 custody case driven, she later said, by "my money - past, present and future."

Abandoned as an infant by her mother, she was being raised by her paternal grandmother, who brought Edith, then 4, to Hollywood from South Carolina after a "talent scout" guaranteed her a screen test for a $50 fee.

The address they were given led to a vacant lot, and her grandmother responded to the con man's ruse by cleaning houses so that they could afford to stay. Within two years, Edith was cast in her first film, the 1929 short "Movie Night."

She had appeared in such movies as "The Rider of the Death Valley" (1932) with Tom Mix and "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch" (1934) with W.C. Fields when the mother she had not seen for most of a decade came knocking on the door.

When her mother sued her grandmother for custody, Edith testified, "I might be willing to be friends with her if she'd leave me alone, but I'm not used to loving strangers."

Once the two sides agreed that Edith would remain in her grandmother's care, her mother sought an allowance from her daughter. The judge advised taking it up with probate court.

Fellows died of natural causes Sunday at the Motion Picture and Television Fund's retirement home in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, said her only child, Kathy Fields Lander. She was 88.

Yet not everything was as it appeared to be during Edith's courtroom testimony, which ended months before the release of "Pennies From Heaven," a film featuring Edith as an orphan who is befriended by Bing Crosby.

Her off-screen life was tightly controlled by her domineering grandmother, Elizabeth Fellows, who once had stage ambitions and essentially forced her into show business, the actress later recalled.

When Edith was signed by Columbia Pictures in the mid-1930s, studio chief Harry Cohn strongly suggested that her grandmother buy the teen actress some decent clothes.

Forced to choose in court between her grandmother and her mother, Edith had "mixed emotions," she told People magazine in 1984.

Her mother seemed "cold and a little tough," Fellows said in the article, so she chose to stay with the stern hand she already knew.

As a result of the court case, Edith's earnings was placed in a trust. In 1939, the Los Angeles Times reported that her estate might end up worth $150,000 - the equivalent of about $2.3 million today - when she turned 21 and could claim the money.

Instead, her tale took another cinematic turn when she returned from acting in New York theater to collect her childhood income.

When the California bankers handed her a check for $900.60, Fellows thought it was a joke and later recalled asking, "OK, now where's the rest of it?"

Her grandmother wasn't around to ask; she had been dead for several years.

Fellows always blamed the missing thousands on her mother, who said of Edith during the court case: "I saw her in a picture once, but I didn't know she was my daughter."

Edith Marilyn Fellows was born May 20, 1923, in Boston and by 2 months old was under her grandmother's care.

Repeatedly cast as a spoiled brat and a street urchin in the movies, Edith especially enjoyed playing oldest sibling Polly Pepper in the "Little Peppers" film series released in 1939 and 1940, her daughter said.

At 17, Edith was dropped by Columbia and made a handful of films before turning to stage roles that included Broadway.

While performing with the USO, she met talent agent and future studio executive Freddie Fields. They married in 1946, had a daughter and divorced in the mid-1950s.

"She was 4-foot-10, a feisty kind of pixie with a bubbly personality," her daughter said, "and she could sing."

During a 1958 benefit performance in New York, Fellows suffered a physical breakdown that a psychiatrist attributed to "acute stage fright," partly due to being forced into a life of performing, she recounted in 1984 in People.

Her second marriage, to a management consultant, ended after several years when he tried to push her back into show business, she told the magazine.

Penniless and depressed, Fellows spent several years as an operator for answering services, dependent on alcohol and tranquilizers, she later recalled.

After she returned to Los Angeles around 1970, a friend wrote a play, "Dreams Deferred," based on Fellows life and asked her to star in it. It helped her return to acting, onstage and in television and film.

Opening in it "was like going through a doorway," she told People in 1984. "I just knew that I was home."

Fellows is survived by a family of actors - her daughter Kathy, who is married to David Lander, who played Squiggy on TV's "Laverne & Shirley"; and her granddaughter, Natalie Lander...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Today, June 29th in Bing Crosby history - his frequent co-star Rosemary Clooney died of cancer at the age of 74 in 2002. She had starred with Bing as his leading lady in WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954). They also recorded numerous radio shows together, and she appeared with Bing in some of his last concert shows in 1976 and 1977.

Beginning in 1977, she recorded an album a year for the Concord Jazz record label, which continued until her death. This was in contrast to most of her generation of singers who had long since stopped recording regularly by then. In the late-1970s and early-1980s, Clooney did television commercials for Coronet brand paper towels, during which she sang a memorable jingle that goes, "Extra value is what you get, when you buy Coro-net." Clooney sang a duet with Wild Man Fischer on "It's a Hard Business" in 1986, and in 1994 she sang a duet of Green Eyes with Barry Manilow in his 1994 album, Singin' with the Big Bands.

She guest-starred in the NBC television medical drama ER (starring her nephew, George Clooney) in 1995; she received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. On January 27, 1996, Clooney appeared on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio program. She sang "When October Goes" -- lyrics by Johnny Mercer and music by Barry Manilow (after Mercer's death) -- from Manilow's 1984 album 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe, and discussed what an excellent musician Manilow was.

In 1999, Clooney founded the Rosemary Clooney Music Festival, held annually in Maysville, her hometown. She performed at the festival every year until her death. Proceeds benefit the restoration of the Russell Theater in Maysville, where Clooney's first film, The Stars are Singing, premiered in 1953.

Clooney was diagnosed with lung cancer at the end of 2001. Around this time, she gave her last concert, in Hawaii, backed by the Honolulu Symphony Pops; her last song was "God Bless America". Despite surgery, she died six months later on June 29, 2002, at her Beverly Hills home. Her nephew, George Clooney, was a pallbearer at her funeral, which was attended by numerous stars, including Al Pacino. She is buried at Saint Patrick's Cemetery, in Maysville, Kentucky...

Sunday, June 26, 2011


A fellow Bing Crosby fan and collector, is working on cataloging all of Bing Crosby's appearances on the Kraft Music Hall, but he needs your help. He has some gaps in his work, and if anyone can help him it would be greatly appreciated:

"I'm working on a project to catalogue all of Bing's surviving Kraft Music Hall performances ... not just the shows but individual songs.

So far many different versions of songs have been identified (did you know that the three versions of KKK-Katy have survived?). In addition several unknown rehearsal recordings have been revealed such as Play Fiddle Play from 5 June 1941.

With respect to the half hour shows which were broadcast between 1943-46 most have survived, if not as a complete Kraft show then as an edited AFRS program. Unfortunately I haven't been able to track down all the shows yet.

From 1943 the following shows are missing from my collection:

From 1944
440127 (second half)

from 1945
450222 (first half)

from 1946

I have, however, been able to locate all but 33 songs which were recorded on Kraft between 1943 and 46. Interestingly, several recordings from the rehearsals for the Kraft shows have also survived.

Regarding the shows in the full hour format recorded between 1935 and 1942, far less have survived.

45 minutes of a show from 1936 has survived. I'm only aware of one complete show from 1937, two from 1938, none from 1939 or 1940. About a dozen or so shows seem to have survived from 1941 and the same for 1942.

Many songs from these shows have however survived. We have over 125 songs from 1942, over 115 from 1941 (including the first rendition of White Christmas), over 110 from 1940, over 105 from 1939, over 133 from 1938, over 45 from 1937, over 38 from 1936 and 6 from 1935.

While there are many hundreds of songs that I have not been able to locate, many which are unknown to me must exist in various collections around the world. It would be nice to think that one day that they will see the light of day. While this may seem like wishful thinking only 2 days ago I came across 2 songs from 1939 which were previously unknown to me ... a barbershop version of In the Evening by the Moonlight with banjo backing and a brilliant version of Silent Night. So I'm still hopeful that more will come to light."

Again, this is a very worthwhile project. If anyone has knowledge of the Kraft Music Hall performances with Bing and can help, please drop me a line and I will put you in touch with this project organizer...

Friday, June 24, 2011


Bob Hope on road again in memorabilia exhibition
by Larry Bohannan

Bob Hope is going on the road again. Well, at least a lot of Hope's golf memorabilia is hitting the road.

An exhibit called “Bob Hope: Shanks for the Memories” has been drawing huge crowds to the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., for the last 2 years. Considering the exhibit was only planned to run for a year, it's fair to say it has been the most successful exhibit at the Hall.
Now the Hall of Fame, along with the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, is converting “Shanks for the Memories” into a 2,500-square-foot traveling exhibit that will criss-cross the country in the coming years.

“Bob Hope is a transcendent figure not just in golf, but in American history,” said Jack Peter, World Golf Hall of Fame senior vice president and chief operating officer.

“His story is so compelling that we felt it was the ideal candidate to build into our first traveling exhibition. We are honored to have the support of the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation in this exciting venture.”

The exhibit will debut Oct. 1 in Green Bay, Wis., before moving on to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a Feb. 8-June 10 run. Those are the only two locations booked for now, but it is estimated “Shanks for the Memories” will visit about 14 to 16 cities before the tour is done. You have to assume the exhibit will make it to Los Angeles at least, if not the desert.

There is a desert connection to the exhibit beyond just Hope's involvement with the Coachella Valley and the local golf tournament. At the 2008 Bob Hope Classic, officials of the World Golf Hall of Fame and Hope's daughter, Linda, announced plans for the exhibit, which was to debut in November of that year for a one-year run. Previous exhibits at the Hall of Fame had honored Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

At the announcement of the exhibit, Linda Hope said her father would have chuckled at having an exhibit in a golf Hall of Fame.

“This is something I know would bring a great smile to his face, to know that his treasured items are going to be with the golf Hall of Fame,” Linda Hope said at the announcement.

But Hope one-upped all of the other big-name golfers. Hope's exhibit was so popular that it was extended for a second year.

The exhibit is described as a series of themed modules, each honoring a different part of Hope's remarkable career, such as his contributions to comedy, achievements in entertainment, his relationship with presidents and of course his passion for golf.

There may be no Bing Crosby or Dorothy Lamour on this particular trip to the road for Hope, but golf fans should enjoy this trip as much as Hope's cinematic trip to Morocco. And they can only hope this road winds through the desert.


Thursday, June 23, 2011


Many people do not know that Bing Crosby had his own sitcom during the 1964-1965 television season. It has yet to be released officially. However, I found these three great reviews of the short-lived series:

F Gwynplaine MacIntyre - review on February 19, 2003:

I have a standing rule: you can expect a sitcom to be pretty dire if the star of the show plays a character who has the same first name as the star. So far, this rule has proven to be true far more often than it hasn't been. (Got that, Lucy?) 'The Bing Crosby Show' was a sitcom starring Bing Crosby as a guy named (wait for it) Bing ... which is implausible enough on its own, but made more so by the fact that the Bing character in this tv series is NOT in show business!

Bing Crosby plays Bing Collins, a former crooner who gave up show-biz stardom for the easy-going life as a professor at a community college, teaching electrical engineering! It seems unlikely that a crooner would ever have had time to learn electrical engineering ... although, in real life, Bing Crosby financed the research to develop electronic recording tape. Professor Collins's wife Janice (played by the cult actress Beverly Garland) dislikes the dull existence of a campus wife, and she wants Bing to go back into show-biz, which she always found more glamorous. For Mrs Collins, the campus life is not a college bowl of Bing cherries.

The Collinses have two daughters: the older is a typical TV teenager, whilst the younger daughter is a genius. This is the most original aspect of 'The Bing Crosby Show', as in Television-Land the rules state that child geniuses on sitcoms are always little boys, not girls.

In every episode, somebody would have some sort of problem which only wise old Bing could sort out. After putting everything to rights, Bing would warble a tune whilst everybody else sat about admiring Bing's tonsils. There's no more boo-hooing when Bing starts buh-booing.

I'm deeply a fan of Bing Crosby, and this low-budget sitcom is enjoyable because of the sheer strength of Bing's talent and presence. But he's done much better work elsewhere. The camera work is quite good: typically, for a Desilu production of this period. And Bing's suits are nice. Not much else happening here, though.

Bruce Kogan - review January 3, 2006:

I pretty much agree with the previous viewer. But one thing that he forgot to mention. Bing was color blind. It was the reason he wore so many pieces of loud clothing during the Thirties and Forties when he was at his height. His choice of garment apparel was much fodder for Bob Hope's monologues.

The one episode I remember is with son Gary guest starring as a would-be teen idol. He's in fact composed an "original" song that he's sure will rocket him to the top.

Of course it's old melody master Bing who uncovers the fact that Gary has plagiarized Night and Day. Of course since Bing did his own record of it back in the day it would be only natural that he would spot it.

Bing's best small screen work was as the most featured host of the Hollywood Palace. I wish someone would get those shows over on the TV Land channel.

I remember when this show was on and reviewers were struck by the fact that the Greatest Entertainer Ever would be doing something as ordinary as a TV situation comedy.

It's not that the show was bad, but that it was so beneath him.

Sue Horn - review on June 30, 2006:

Objectively, everything that the other reviewers have said is true, but it's still Bing. I love seeing him in previously undiscovered settings, and this is one of them.

If you can get a hold of these episodes, they are fun to watch. Beverly Garland was a good match for Bing, before she became the step-mom on "My Three Sons."

The stories do all wrap up nicely in the time of the episode, but that's how TV worked back then. It's nice to see guest stars appearing on the show. All in all, I can think of worse ways to spend your time!

Now if any of you have a source for the old "Hollywood Palace" shows, that would be the best compliment to this show.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Throw out Jones and Palmer, and Bing Crosby may be the person most responsible for popularizing the game of golf. Since 1937 the Crosby Clambake-which now carries the heftier title AT

Born Harry Lillis Crosby in 1903 in Tacoma, Wash., Crosby first took up the game 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." Although he made his name as a singer, vaudeville performer and silver screen luminary, he would probably prefer to be remembered as a two handicap who competed in both the British and U.S. Amateur championships, a five-time club champion at Lakeside Golf Club in Hollywood, and as one of only a few players to have made a hole-in-one on the 16th at Cypress Point.

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 edition of the Clambake was played at Rancho Santa Fe C.C., in northern San Diego county, where Crosby was also 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 merry membership of Lakeside, an entertainment industry enclave in North Hollywood. That first tournament set the precedent for all that followed as it was as much about partying as it was about golf.

Of course, the competitors were sodden in more ways that one. The first Clambake was played in such a deluge, an on-course bridge was washed out, and this foul weather would also become a hallmark. "One thing about Crosby weather, there's lots of it," the host once said. Relocating to Monterey Peninsula after World War II only made it worse. In 1962, snow postponed the event for a day, and 34 years later rain wiped it out altogether.

Still, moving up north was the best thing that ever happened to the Clambake. Rotating among Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Cypress Point Club and Spyglass Hill, the tournament finally had golf courses that could match the star power of the golfers. The climactic final round was always played at Pebble, helping to establish the course not only as a major championship venue but also the one track that every duffer dreams of playing.

Crosby died in 1977 of a heart attack while on a golf course in Madrid, having just played 18 holes with Spanish professional Manuel Pinero. His tournament continued to thrive under the watchful eye of his son, Nathaniel, the U.S. Amateur champion in 1981. Among the reasons to tune in every year were to witness Jack Lemmon's increasingly quixotic quest to make the cut and more recently Bill Murray's hilarious antics. Though it no longer carries his name, the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am will always be Bing Crosby's tournament. As he once said, "If I were asked what single thing has given me the most gratification in my long and sometimes pedestrian career, I think I would have to say it is this tournament."


Friday, June 17, 2011


In honor of Father's Day coming up, I wanted to feature some great pictures of Bing with his children. He had seven children, and although not all of his children's lives turned out great, Bing was a typical father that made mistakes but only wanted the best for his children:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Front Royal has long been known as a baseball town. But until 1950, it provided no formal playing field for its favorite spectator sport. The fifty acres, along Happy Creek, was purchased at $250 an acre.

The Front Royal - Warren County Recreation Association undertook the project of raising funds to develop the stadium. Besides playing fields, the stadium needed a wall, bleachers, dugouts and lighting.

A goal of $10,000 was set for accomplishing all that needed to be done. Local citizens and businesses were invited to purchase bonds in denominations of $10 per bond to finance the project. Fund raising projects were undertaken.

A break for the community and its fund raising efforts came in the spring of 1949, the year Bing Crosby was grand marshal of the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Va. Raymond R. Guest, Sr., a personal friend of the late entertainer, prevailed upon him to make an appearance in Front Royal on behalf of the recreation association.

Mr. Crosby appeared before a sell-out crowd in Warren County High School and during the ensuing year, plans were made for a Bing Crosby Day celebration to benefit the recreation association. Bing Crosby Day, April 1, 1950, drew crowds from everywhere, as Mr. Crosby entertained and captivated the huge audience with his expert blending of friendliness and informality. Highlight of the evening was his rendition of "I feel like I'm on my own soil, when I'm down in Old Front Royal," his own version of "Dear Hearts and Gentle People".

A grateful community named its new stadium in honor of a nationally known Hollywood figure that had taken time and given money to forward one of its dreams.


Sunday, June 12, 2011


Bruce Kogan is back with his usual in-depth look at Bing Crosby's filmography...

Paramount made the first of its Big Broadcast films, the first and best of them. This first one gave Bing Crosby his first role in a feature film, previously he had done guest appearances and also short subjects for Mack Sennett. Not wanting to mislead anyone about who was numero uno in this film, Paramount had him play a radio crooner named Bing Crosby. Eleven years later Frank Sinatra would make his feature film debut as Frank Sinatra.

Bing's the star attraction of this one horse town radio station, appearing for Griptight Girdles on the Griptight Girdle Hour. That is when he can get to the studio. His job is being threatened and he's also coming between Stu Erwin who buys the station and Leila Hyams who's manager George Burns's secretary.

It's a thin plot, but nicely done and it's to show off some of radio's greatest talents of that year. In addition to Bing Crosby, appearing are Kate Smith, Arthur Tracy, the Boswell Sisters, Burns and Allen, Cab Calloway and Vincent Lopez with their respective orchestras, the Mills Brothers and tenor Donald Novis.

Bing gets to sing three numbers, Please and Here Lies Love which were written for this film and Dinah. Crosby made a classic recording of Dinah with the Mills Brothers and I wish they'd reprised that for the movie. Instead it's done with a black shoeshine boy giving him a beat with the rag while Bing is scatting like Ella Fitzgerald. Bing was great, but the staging is something that black people would find offensive. Please became a great early hit for him.

Here Lies Love is sung by Crosby, but he reprises it after it's been introduced by Arthur Tracy. Tracy, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, was billed as the Street Singer and had an almost operatic quality to his voice. He rivaled Crosby, Russ Columbo, Rudy Vallee, and Morton Downey in popularity as a radio singer, but American movie audiences didn't take to him. He went to Great Britain in the mid-30s and there he became a movie star. He went back to the US after World War II and only appeared sporadically after that. Tracy was fabulously wealthy due to good investments and lived to the age of 97. He did a cameo appearance in Crossing Delancey, you'll see him briefly discussing issues of the day over the pickle barrel there.

For Kate Smith, radio was a godsend. That beautiful and powerful voice was also trapped in an elephantine body like a Wagnerian opera soprano. She was never going to be a film star. But she was radio's most popular female vocalist, no one else was ever even close and she sings a great rendition of It Was So Beautiful in The Big Broadcast.

Burns and Allen did surreal comedy that was probably only equaled by Monty Python years later. Gracie Allen was in her own world and the ever patient George gave up trying to deal with her reasoning. They did some great guest bits in films like this one and two more with Bing Crosby. But they never really carried a film by themselves with the exception of Here Comes Cookie. I did a review of that and it's the best example of their work.

Donald Novis was a popular radio tenor, totally forgotten now. He also was on the Broadway stage and in Rodgers&Hart's Jumbo introduced their classic, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. They give him Trees to sing, Joyce Kilmer's poem put to music. I wish he'd sung something more popular.

With all these radio stars it's hard to remember that the nominal star of the film is Stu Erwin. Erwin did a fabulous job in creating some great milquetoast characters from the early talkies. The climax of the film involves a long running gag with him trying to get a recording of Bing singing Please to the studio to substitute for Crosby who's AWOL. It's done almost without dialog and it is interspersed with several of the stars previously mentioned. It's a hilarious bit of slapstick.

The Big Broadcast is enjoyable nostalgic fun and a piece of history since it's the feature film debut of America's greatest entertainer, Bing Crosby...

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Les Paul had one of the most colorful and diverse careers in the history of the entertainment industry. During his 80 years on stage and screen and in the studio, Paul was a solo performer, jazz bandleader, big band guitar chair, virtuoso sideman, pop tunesmith, radio personality, TV star, engineer producer, six-string eminence and inventor. In the latter role, the solid body guitar model that bears his name, multi-track recording and the harmonica holder are among his best-known creations. But Paul, who was born Lester Polfuss on June 9, 1915, was also a master of evolution as a guitarist. Many players start in one style and stay there for their entire career. Paul’s arc of technique runs from kid-with-a-cowboy-guitar to country picker to jazzman to pop player to textural genius and, ultimately, a distillation of all of the above.

Paul moved to California in 1943 to take his career up a notch. He soon formed another trio and succeeded in getting his group hired as staff musicians for NBC. Paul determined to begin recording with Bing Crosby, who was a gigantic star at the time and had a weekly show on the network, but was thwarted by the draft. In a turn of good fortune, and with a little string pulling by NBC music director Meredith Wilson, Paul was pressed into the Armed Forces Radio Service. There, he honed his studio chops, editing recorded variety shows for distribution to the military. He also recorded for the network and formed yet another trio as he developed his skills in recording and other aspects of the engineer’s art.

Thanks to a medical discharge, Paul was in command of his own time again by June 1944, when Nat Cole invited him to play the historic Jazz At the Philharmonic concert in Los Angeles. There, he played with Cosby and was invited by the star to appear regularly on Crosby’s radio show. Paul and his trio backed Cosby in the studio as well, playing on the number one hit “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” and other charters. Crosby was among those who encouraged Paul to build his own studio in his garage, where Paul invented the concept of home recording well before the D.I. Y. revolution.

Paul’s work as a sideman from this era is nothing short of stellar. His chordal work, decorated with melodic fills, perfectly supports the vocal performances of Cosby and the Andrews Sisters. He and Cosby, two great improvisers, had an especial supple musical relationship that made for great chemistry.

Paul’s visibility on the Los Angeles scene led to many TV and radio appearances for the Les Paul Trio, and after the group supported the Andrews Sisters in the studio they were invited to tour as the Sisters’ opening act.

While Paul’s group were exceptional, he noted that the Andrews Sisters’ pop music killed audiences at a level his jazz couldn’t attain. Thus motivated, Paul aspired to make his music more accessible to the average listener. He moved from jazz to a less sophisticated, melodically direct manner of playing. And he worked on overdubbing guitar tracks in his studio to create a sweet, unique sound that would be his alone. In took 500 tries until he recorded a version of “Lover” (with eight guitar tracks) that was to his liking in 1947. The song was a smash, affirming Paul’s plan for ascendance.

In 1951 and ’52, Les Paul and Mary Ford had more Top 10 hits than Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters collectively, and tied with Patti Page as the nation’s top selling artists. But even as they rode their success to the pinnacle of American entertainment, rock ‘n’ roll was being born in New Orleans and Memphis, and by 1957, their run as chart-ruling hit-makers would cease.

As their record sales and concert draw shrank, Paul moved more into technology. He developed the eight-track tape machine in cooperation with the Ampex corporation and developed a controller mounted on his guitar that allowed him to blend in and control pre-taped guitar tracks during his live performances. He called the mechanism his “Les Paulverizer” and it was subject of several of his and Mary’s TV shows.

Paul remained a sonic experimenter for the rest of his life. He developed low-impedance pickups and a host of other devices and was working on digitizing the sound of his old television and radio performances at the time of his death on August 12, 2009...


Tuesday, June 7, 2011


No revolution has shaped the modern mass media more profoundly than the recording revolution. To record is the ability to create an exact duplicate of an act of communication, to preserve and replicate this act quickly and cheaply, and distribute countless copies of this act to consumers everywhere, so they can replay it over and over whenever they so desire. Johannes Gutenburg birthed the revolution in 1454 with his movable-type printing press. Louis Daguerre used chemistry to permanently fix a photographic image in 1839 and William Fox Talbot replicated positive prints from a single negative.Thomas Edison added the recordability of sounds in 1877 with his phonograph and of motion in 1893 with his kinetoscope. The man who would have the greatest impact on the mass media in the 20th century was not an inventor or scientist, but a crooner.

A crooner, you say?

Yes, it was Bing Crosby who was the leader of the revolution. The 1600 records he made during his 51-year career as a pop singer have never been equaled in number or influence. Bing sold 500 million copies during his career and only Elvis would sell more. His White Christmas was the No. 1 recorded song in total sales (35+ million) for over 50 years. He sang on 4000 radio shows from 1931 to 1962 and was the top-rated radio star for 18 of those years. He appeared in 100 movies and was the first popular singer to win a Academy Award for Best Actor (Going My Way, in 1944). He appeared in 300 television programs from 1948 through 1977, ending with his 42nd consecutive Christmas special taped before his collapse and death Oct. 14 after 18 holes on the La Moraleja Club golf course in Spain. The show was broadcast on CBS Nov. 30, 1977.

He was not the first singer-crooner. "Whispering" Jack Smith and Rudy Vallee had early in the 1920's discovered that a softer, natural style sounded better through the microphone than the live-stage Tin Pan Alley style. Crosby became the most famous crooner when he adapted the jazz-scat rhythmic style of Louis Armstrong to his own superb baritone voice. The new electrically-amplified condenser microphones of the mid-1920's favored a voice like Crosby's and he learned how to manipulate his voice to project a distinctive audio image onto a shellac disc. Radio also favored his voice (called "phonogenic" by Charles Henderson). CBS gave Bing his first big network contract in 1931 when William S. Paley heard his voice on a portable phonograph playing on the deck of an ocean liner. It was a voice that reproduced well.

By 1935, the year Elvis was born, Bing Crosby had become a star in several media. He was earning $5000 per week for the Kraft Music Hall on radio and $100,000 per film from Paramount. He was the first artist signed by new Decca Records and his soaring record sales made it possible for Jack Kapp to create the 35-cent cheap 78 rpm record. Over the next 5 years he would invest his growing wealth in racetracks such as the Del Mar Turf Club, stables, real estate, music publishing, fish packing (he would become the most famous spokesman in the 1960's to Save the Salmon), philanthropy, the annual Clambake pro-am golf tournament, and his trademark loose sweaters. In 1940, his annual income of $750,000 put him at the top of his profession. He was a rare independent powerhouse in the midst of the corporate radio, film, and music powers that dominated the mass media.

He used his power to innovate new methods of reproducing himself. In 1946 he wanted to shift from live performance to recorded transcriptions for his weekly radio show on NBC sponsored by Kraft. But NBC refused to allow recorded radio programs (except for advertisements). The live production of radio shows was a deeply-established tradition reinforced by the ASCAP union. The new ABC network, formed out of the sale of the old NBC Blue network in 1943 to Edward Noble, the "Lifesaver King," was willing to break the tradition. It would pay Crosby $30,000 per week to produce a recorded show every Wednesday sponsored by Philco. He would also get $40,000 from 400 independent stations for the rights to broadcast the 60-minute show that was sent to them every Monday on three 16-inch aluminum discs that played 10 minutes per side at 33-1/3 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 Gold Torunament in September when the new radio season was to start. But golf was not the most important reason. Crosby was always an early riser and hard worker. He sought better quality through recording, not more spare time. He could eliminate mistakes and control the timing of 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 (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 (Bing preferred a hat). He could also record short promotions for his latest investment, the world's first frozen orange juice to be sold under the brand name Minute Maid.

The transcription method however had problems. The 16-inch aluminum program discs were made from master discs running at 78 rpm and holding only 4 minutes per side. This presented editing and timing problems that often caused gaps or glitches in the flow of the 60-minute program. Also, 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. In June of 1947, Murdo MacKenzie of Crosby Enterprises saw a demonstration of the German Magnetophone that Jack Mullin had brought back from Radio Frankfurt with 50 reels of tape at the end of the war. This machine was one of the magnetic tape recorders that BASF and AEG had built in Germany starting in 1935. The 1/2 inch ferric-coated tape could record 20 minutes per reel of high-quality sound. Alexander M. Poniatoff ordered his Ampex company (founded in 1944 from his initials A.M.P. plus the starting letters of "excellence") to manufacture an improved version of the Magnetophone.

Bing Crosby hired Mullin and his German machine to start recording his Philco show in August 1947 with the same 50 reels of German magnetic tape that Mullin had found in Frankfort. The crucial advantage was editing. As Bing 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 Bing'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 rehersal 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 also invested in Ampex to produce more machines. In 1948, the second season of Philco shows was taped with the new Ampex Model 200 tape recorder (introduced in April) using the new Scotch 111 tape from the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing company. Mullin explained that new techniques were invented on the Crosby show with these machines: "One time Bob Burns, the hillbilly cominc, 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 can be 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, who would make the famous "Road to..." films with Bing and Dorothy Lamour.

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. The Fireside Theater sponsored by Proctor and Gamble was his first television production for the 1950 season. Mullin had not yet succeeded with videotape, so Crosby filmed the series of 26-minute shows at the Hal Roach Studios. The "telefilms" were sent to television stations and projected into a camera using a film chain. This would be the same method used by Desi Arnaz in 1951 for the production of the I Love Lucy sitcom and Desilu became the industry model for the independent syndication of filmed episodic series. Crosby did not remain a television producer but continued to finance the development of videotape. Mullin would demonstrate a blurry picture on December 30, 1952, but he was not able to solve the problem of high tape speed. It was the Ampex team led by Charles Ginsburg that made the first videotape recorder. Rather than speeding tape across fixed heads at 30 mph, Ginsburg used rotating heads to record at a slant on tape moving at only 15 ips. The helical scan model VR-1000 was demonstrated at the NAB show in Chicago on April 14, 1956, and was an immediate success. Ampex made $4 million in sales during the NAB convention and by 1957 most TV production was done on videotape. Ampex developed a color videotape system in 1958 and recorded the spirited debate between Khrushchev and Nixon on a demonstration model at the Moscow trade Fair September 25, 1959.

By this time, Crosby had sold his videotape interests to the 3M company and no longer played the role of tape recorder pioneer. Yet his contribution had been crucial. He had opened the door to Mullin's machine in 1948 and financed the early years of the Ampex company. The rapid spread of the tape recorder revolution was in no small measure caused by Crosby's efforts.

The decade following the end of World War II witnessed what has been called the "revolution in sound." The Decca Company introduced FFRR 78 rpm records (Full Frequency Range Recording) that had the finest frequency response (80-15,000 cps) of any recording process before magnetic tape recording. Decca's method of reducing the size of the groove and designing a delicate elliptical stylus to track on the sides of the groove would be the same innovation of the new microgroove process introduced by Columbia in 1948 on the new 33-1/3 rpm LP vinyl record. Crosby's sponsor Philco would join Columbia in selling a new $29.95 record player with jeweled stylus (not steel) tracking at only 10 grams (not 200) for these LPs.

No longer would records wear out after 75 plays. Crosby's Ampex Company would be joined by Magnecord, Webcor, Revere, and Fairchild in selling one million tape recorders to a rapidly growing consumer audio component market by 1953. The 1949 Magnecord tape recorder had stereo capability eight years before any vinyl record had it. These components soon began to feature the transistor invented by Bell Labs in 1948. Crosby's 1942 film Holiday Inn (where he first sang his most famous song) would be remade in 1954 as White Christmas, the first film to use Paramount's new VistaVision wide-screen film process with multi-channel magnetic sound.


Monday, June 6, 2011


Kathryn Crosby recently made an appearance at the Crosby Scholars Invitational Breakfast of Champions at North Carolina State University. The pictures appeared in Winston-Salem Journal on June 5, 2011, and Kathryn looks fit and healthy in the pictures. Also in some of the pictures is daughter Mary Crosby:

Friday, June 3, 2011


The Rhythm Boys was a vocal trio that was far ahead of its time. For the few years the group was in existance, the Rhythm Boys were a very popular feature of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. There were three members of the trio - with the most famous member being Bing Crosby, of course. However there were two other talented members. One was Al Rinker, who was the brother of blues singer Mildred Bailey, and Harry Barris. Barris was a gifted and talented song writer, who unfortunately faded into obsecurity with the passages of time.

Harry Barris was born in New York City on November 24, 1905. Barris was a professional pianist at 14 and touring with his own group by 17. In 1926 Paul Whiteman, at the suggestion of his violinist Matty Malneck, hired Barris to join the vocal duo of Bing Crosby and Al Rinker, and the Rhythm Boys were born. For the next three years they were featured with Whiteman’s band, which included legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. Bix was prominently featured along with the Rhythm Boys on Whiteman’s successful 1928 recording of Barris’ “Mississippi Mud”. A 1930 feature film on Whiteman and his band, the King of Jazz, was the first film appearance for Crosby and the Rhythm Boys.
In May 1930 the trio joined Gus Arnheim’s popular orchestra, appearing with the group at the prestigious Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. It was with Arnheim’s band that Crosby had his first big hit as a soloist, in 1931, with the Barris/Gordon Clifford composition “I Surrender Dear.”

When Bing left to pursue a solo career, Barris married Arnheim vocalist Loyce Whiteman (Paul Whiteman's daughter), and the two toured as a duo. Barris continued to work with a number of bands, but he had developed a drinking problem which caused him to curtail his composing in 1935. Partly due to Crosby’s help, he appeared in small roles in dozens of films, often without credit, as a musician or bandleader, and he entertained troops during WWII along with comedian Joe E. Brown.

Barris wrote a number of early hits for Crosby, including “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” with lyrics by Ted Koehler and Billy Moll and recorded by Bing in 1931.
In 1943, after a hiatus of 13 years, The Rhythm Boys were reunited for the last time on the radio program Paul Whiteman Presents.

Barris appeared in 57 films between 1931 and 1950, usually as a band member, pianist and/or singer. In The Lost Weekend (1945), he is the nightclub pianist who humiliates Ray Milland by singing "Somebody Stole My Purse". An unusual change of pace for Barris was his comedy role in The Fleet's In (1942), as a runty sailor named Pee Wee who perpetrates malapropisms in a surprisingly deep voice. Many of the roles Barris had were in Bing movies such as "Birth Of The Blues" (1941),"Holiday Inn" (1942), and "Here Comes The Waves" (1945).
Offscreen, Barris successfully composed songs including "Mississippi Mud", "I Surrender, Dear", and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams". However, alcohol took over Barris' life in the 1950s. After three failed marriages and even more failed business ventures, Harry died virtually a pauper on December 13, 1962 at the age of 57.

Barris was the uncle of game show host and producer Chuck Barris who, among other things, not only co-created and hosted The Gong Show in the second half of the 1970's but was also the subject of the George Clooney film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Fans of Der Bingle are following some disheartening news. With the switch of management at Collectors Choice Music, many of the Bing issues that they co-produced are being discontinued. While a lot of great Bing material has been released in the past two years, Bing fans have witnessed the closing of Redmond Nostalgia and other smaller outlets that specialized in rare Bing material. This quick disappearance of many Bing CDs is yet another blow to Bing Crosby fans.

Richard Baker, famed Bing discographer and moderator of THE CROSBY FAN WORLD had this to say about suddenly hard-to-find CDs:

"I've had a couple of e-mails which indicate that Bing & Rosie: The Crosby-Clooney Radio Sessions (2-CD set) is proving hard to get. I've done a browse around of my own and I cannot find it in the Collector's Choice on-line listing, and both Amazon US and UK are out of stock, though they both give their standard indication about notification when they obtain new stocks. The Amazon sites seem to show very low stocks of some of the other CCM issues with the Seasons CD being shown as having a very long delivery delay by Amazon US and only one currently in stock at Amazon UK, whilst I cannot find it on the CC website at all, so that even the long delivery quoted by Amazon might be optimistic.

One contact has told me me that he has had a notification from CCM verifying that The Crosby-Clooney Radio Sessions has been discontinued but also adding that if it becomes available again it will be found in their catalog(!!!). I cannot find much reassurance in that.

Presumably the remaining issues might await the same fate, so for those who have not already got the CDs I suggest you get buying such of them as you can find.

The only reassurance seems to be that some (all?) are now available from iTunes as downloads.

A desperate shame. The future was looking good. After the strong flow of new issues through 2010 we have had an ominous silence, only partly broken by the two exclusive downloads from iTunes."

I have done my own investigation, and the Bing Crosby-Rosemary Clooney CD "Radio Sessions" has been discontinued or on back order with every outlet I could find from Best Buy and Borders to Deep Discount, World Records, and Amazon. Whoever was lucky enough (or smart enough) to buy a copy may have a collector's item on their hands.

However, like Richard said it is a desperate shame. The CDs are well produced and are introducing a whole new audience to Bing Crosby. Hopefully, a new producer will step up to replace CCM. If any news comes out, I will post it on here...