Sunday, January 29, 2012


When Bing married actress Dixie Lee in 1930, Dixie Lee was the bigger star. Crosby was just a struggling crooner. As Bing's fame grew, Dixie faded more into the shadows. Despite her beauty, I think that her life was a very sad and lonely one. Dixie would have turned 100 last November 4th, and she died three days before her birthday on November 1, 1952. Just looking at the pictures below, I am amazed at what a great beauty Dixie Lee was and is...

Friday, January 27, 2012


In the summer of 1993, the vocal group SWV was cruising along at number one with their song “Weak,” when a reggae band from England bumped them out of the top spot with a remake of a 60‘s classic. UB40 hit the top with a noted tune from a movie featuring a big name singer set in Hawaii from 31 years earlier. In turn, that movie drew its title and theme song from another movie featuring a big name singer which was also set in Hawaii, filmed 25 years before that.

Bing Crosby’s biggest hit of 1937 was a movie song, “Sweet Leilani.” It was the number three song of the year, behind Count Basie’s “One O’clock Jump” and Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing.” It was awarded the Oscar for Best Original Song that year, the only Academy Award taken by the movie Waikiki Wedding. Another song from that film was a 1937 top 5 for Crosby, “Blue Hawaii.”

“Blue Hawaii” became the launching pad for Elvis Presley’s eighth movie. Elvis made 33 films, and most would follow the template of the new feature. Big on scenery, lush with both flora and fauna; they may have been short on plot, but usually had a marketable soundtrack album, and with any luck, a hit single. In this case, the Blue Hawaii soundtrack spent 79 weeks on the charts, 20 at number one. As a matter of fact, by Billboard chart standards, it was the second most successful album of the decade of the sixties, topped only by the West Side Story soundtrack.

“Can’t Help Falling In Love” fell into line with those big post-Army Elvis hits, drawing melodic inspiration from a 1780 French love song, “Plasir D’Amour.” Songwriting cousins Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore teamed with Broadway song crafter George David Weiss to fit the melody to their romantic lyrics. At the time Blue Hawaii was hitting the theaters, this writing team already had the biggest single in the nation, with their adaptation of a 1920’s South African melody in the form of the Token’s single, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

The March, 1961 sessions for the “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack took place in Hollywood at Radio Recorders. The island sound required extra hands on the session; a couple of ukulele players, harmonica, and Alvino Rey on steel guitar. Two separate versions of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” were recorded, a movie version, and one for single release. Over the course of time, the song went platinum, but in early 1962, it peaked out at number two behind “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and the Starliters.

In the 70’s and 80’s, Al Martino, Andy Williams and Corey Hart charted with their cover versions of “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” UB40 had experience making hits out of other peoples catalog songs. Their first charted record was Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” entering the top 40 in 1984, but going all the way to number one in 1988 when they did a longer dance-oriented mix with an added rap. Five years later, UB40’s biggest success was their cover of “Can‘t Help Falling In Love,” and they did Elvis one better, taking it all the way to the top.

Songwriter George David Weiss worked on a number of movie scores and stage musicals, and co-wrote “What A Wonderful World,” recorded in 1968 by Louis Armstrong. The song was a hit in the UK, but in the US, the head of Armstrong’s label didn’t like it and wouldn’t promote it, so in its first release it sold fewer than 1,000 copies stateside. Another twenty years would pass before the movie Good Morning Vietnam introduced the song to new ears, and it hit the Billboard top 40.

Hugo and Luigi produced hits for RCA records, including Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ The Night Away” and “Another Saturday Night,” and “I Will Follow Him” by Little Peggy March. And whenever you get a little bit louder with the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” part of the credit goes to Hugo and Luigi...


Sunday, January 22, 2012


Many classic comedies do not transfer to modern audiences. Society changes and what is deemed as funny to one generation may not be be considered humorous to another one. One classic comedy team that I think is still as funny today as it was yesterday is the team of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Over a twenty year period, Bing and Bob made seven "Road" movies, and what keeps their humor timeless is they were just having fun. It seemed like there was no script and their jokes were just made up right there. That was the joy of the Crosby-Hope movies.

Most of the Road movies consisted of Bing and Bob fighting over Dorothy Lamour on some remote island. However, I think the bets movie os the series is one that does not take place on an island at all - it takes place in Alaska of all places! Road to Utopia, filmed in 1943 but not released until 1946, is the fourth film of the "Road to …" series.

After the credits we see Sal and Chester Hooton, (Lamour and Hope) an old married couple. They are visited by an equally old Duke Johnson (Crosby) and the three reminisce about their previous adventure in the Klondike.

The film flashes back to the turn of the century. A man is murdered and two thugs, McGurk (Nestor Paiva) and Sperry (Robert Barrat), steal a map to a gold mine. The map and mine belonged to a man named Van Hoyden and the dying man tells Sal (Van Hoyden's daughter) the mine is in Alaska and to find a man named Ace Larson. Sal manages to get on the last boat to Alaska before McGurk and Sperry.

To evade the police, the thugs duck into a theater, where Duke and Chester are performing vaudeville. They proceed to work the crowd with a "ghost scam" into to "gambling" their money in hope of doubling it. As the police find the thugs, they escape onstage and reveal Chester hiding under the table with the crowd's money. Duke and Chester are forced to flee the angry mob.

As Duke divides their money, Chester is fed up with having to jump from town to town. Duke convinces him to head north to Alaska to prospect for gold. Chester refuses on the grounds that every time Duke gets a "great idea", Chester is the one that gets the runaround. He even pulls out a black book with a list of every time Duke has taken advantage of him. Chester then takes all the money and tells Duke to go on without him.

As McGurk and Sperry get on the boat bound for Alaska, Duke and Chester prepare to part ways. As they bid a solemn goodbye, and picking each others pocket, Duke steals the money. Chester waves goodbye until he sees Duke counting the money and changes boats at the last moment. He's about to throttle Duke when he realizes the boat has left the dock, for Alaska. In Duke's cabin, Chester takes the money back and goes to put it in a safe, which turns out to be a porthole. With no money to pay for passage, they are forced to scrub the deck and shovel coal.

Sal arrives in Alaska and meets with Ace Larson (Douglass Dumbrille), a saloon owner and friend of her father. Instead of going to the police, Larson assures Sal that he'll take care of things. He gives her a job performing in his saloon, an act which infuriates Larson's girlfriend, Kate (Hillary Brooke). Larson tells Kate how he really plans to take Sal's gold mine for the two of them and passionately kisses her.

While doing housekeeping duties in a cabin, Chester finds the map to the gold mine. As the thugs enter behind them, Duke and Chester realize they've found the Van Hoyden map and the occupants are the killers. They overpower the thugs and take their place(and their beards) to get off the boat, only to find the entire town is terrified of the real thugs. Thinking they can get anything they want, Duke and Chester adopt the tough persona and head to the saloon. They argue over who gets to hold the map and decide to tear it in half and each man keep his for safe keeping.

While enjoying "free" champagne and lots of dancing girls, they see Sal's singing routine and are both instantly smitten. Thinking they are McGurk and Sperry, Sal plays up to both of them and sends a note to Chester. She doubts they are the real killers, but Ace's lackey, Lebec, reminds her that the map is the most important thing and to get it at all costs.

Chester(as Sperry) falls head over heels for Sal and confides in her about the map, even telling her how Duke hid his half in his hat. Sal sends him away but tells him to return at midnight. Meanwhile, Duke receives a note from Sal, and thinking he's McGurk, Sal plays up to him, allowing Lebec to take his hat and the map. She also sends him away telling him to return at midnight. Duke and Chester are at first shocked to be on a date with the same woman, but the night is cut short when the real McGurk and Sperry burst into the hotel. As they make a hasty exit, Sal learns she only gave half of the map to Ace. Duke and Chester manage to escape by dog sled.

Meanwhile, Ace is furious to only have half a map, and sends Kate to the get the other half, with Lebec as a backup plan. Kate tries to pull the "stranded girl in the snow" routine to attract Duke and Chester, but is interrupted by Sal's arrival. The four of them head to a nearby cabin. Kate tells Sal that they need to get the other half or the men will be killed.

After a failed attempt to get the map, Sal gets "McGurk" (Duke) to reveal "Sperry" (Chester) has hidden his half in his undershirt. She plays to "McGurk" and tells him that "Sperry" wants to steal his half and they should run away together. Duke then reveals his true identity and says he'll take care of "Sperry" as Kate walks in. Sal, now realizes how much she loves Duke, refuses to go along with the plan. But Kate warns her that only Ace can keep them from being killed and the only way to get to him is to give up the map. Sal reluctantly agrees to steal the map while the men sleep, and the two girls leave the next morning with Lebec. Duke and Chester are confronted by the real McGurk and Sperry and they realize the girls had stolen the map. They still manage to escape and the after a merry chase through the mountains head back to town.

Sal tells Ace she'll only give up the map if he refuses to kill Duke and Chester, but instead he forms a posse to dispose of them. Somehow they managed to steal the map back, rescue Sal, scare away the mob and get rid of McGurk and Sperry. They escape by dog sled with the mob after them but the sled overturns. The ice splits, leaving Sal and Chester on one side, and Duke on the side of the mob. He throws them map, wishes them well and turns to face the mob.

The movie flashes back into the present with aged Duke telling Sal and Chester how he escaped the mob. He is then surprised to hear Chester and Sal have a son. They call for him, and ironically he bears a striking resemblance to Duke. Chester looks into the camera and says, "We adopted him."

The film is the only Road to … film without a real place in its title though Alaska with its gold mines is referred to as "Utopia" several times in the film. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour starred, as they did in all but one of the series. The film is also the only "Road" film that did not take place in contemporary times though the film begins and ends with the cast made up to look older who flashback to the past.

As a “narrator”, humor essayist Robert Benchley provides some wry commentary that is interspersed throughout the movie. Benchley's drinking, already a problem ruined his health, and Benchley died in a New York hospital on November 21, 1945 before the movie was released.

There are also jabs at Paramount Pictures (the studio that originally released the film) and a reference to Frank Sinatra, not to mention many instances of "breaking the fourth wall" and general wackiness. In her autobiography, Dorothy Lamour said that the release of Road to Utopia may have been delayed by Paramount to not jeopardize the public's and Academy Awards committee's acceptance of Crosby as Best Actor for playing a priest in Going My Way.

If you want to watch a fun movie and are a fan of just good comedy, I recommend Road To Utopia. Watching Bing Crosby and Bob Hope at the top of their careers are definitely a type of utopia for me at least...

my rating: 10 out of 10

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Bing Crosby golf lesson
By Scott Harrison

Bob Hope admires Bing Crosby’s putting technique during a photo session for Los Angeles Times photographer Julian Robinson.

This image was not published until Dec. 8,1946, for a Times Sports section story promoting Hope and Crosby’s appearance at the National Blind Golf Tournament held at Inglewood Country Club.

Hope and Crosby appeared at countless charity golf events. For one such tournament, Times staff writer Charles Curtis dubbed Hope and Crosby as “the tee-time twins who always show up when the call of charity sounds for a golf exhibition.”

Since there was 10-month delay before publication, I’m guessing the image was taken to promote a now-unknown Hope and Crosby golf tournament appearance, only to be published later for a different event.


Friday, January 13, 2012


I just discovered this Bing Crosby advertisement from 1950. It is a little late for Christmas ads, but Bing is promoting a friendship tree. I have never heard of this custom before discovering this ad. Does anyone still do them?

Saturday, January 7, 2012



A Dublin record-shop owner tasted life in Hollywood when superstar Bing Crosby became a pen pal. Over the years, they exchanged over 400 letters and became firm friends, writes Declan Cashin.

Few singers have captured the sound of Christmas better than Bing Crosby. Think of 'We Wish You The Merriest', his 'Little Drummer Boy' with David Bowie and of course, 'White Christmas', still the best-selling single in history. Fewer people still could claim to be close pals with the Oscar-winning actor and multi-million-selling crooner, much less a man from Glasnevin, north Dublin.

But George O'Reilly was a long-time pen pal of Crosby's, exchanging some 400 letters throughout the decades. What's more, George and Bing met up several times in London and Dublin, before the Irishman jetted off to stay with the singer in his Hollywood mansion, and hang out in the recording studios with his famous pals, such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

George even gave Bing a Christmas song -- composed by two Irish men -- to record on an album.

Just how that remarkable friendship came about is explored by broadcaster Ronan Collins in a new radio documentary.

George, now in his mid-80s, was well-known in Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s as a showband manager, record-shop owner and manager of the Crystal Ballroom.

The pair's friendship started in the pre-rock 'n' roll years of 1953-1954, when George started writing fan letters to Bing, having obtained an address through his record store contacts. Luckily, Bing was an inveterate letter writer. He rarely spoke on phones, even for international calls, preferring instead to hand-write personal dispatches, or carry around a small recorder in his pocket to dictate missives to his secretary.

For whatever reason, Bing took a shine to George's fan mail, though as Ronan tells 'Weekend': "Bing was as much a businessman as he was an entertainer. He had a great feel for communications and keeping in touch with people from all over.

"His contact with and for Ireland was George O'Reilly."

Through his friendship with Bing, George soon pulled off an insanely glamorous coup: getting Nat King Cole to visit Dublin in 1955 to open George's new record store on Tara Street. Entrepreneurial George had asked Bing if he would do the honours, but the star was tied up filming 'High Society' with Grace Kelly.

So, instead, Bing wrote to Cole -- his favourite singer -- who was on tour in England, and asked if he would stand in instead. Sure enough, Nat King Cole agreed to pop over to Dublin to cut the tape. On the day, he signed records and had a meal upstairs with George. "Once I knew Nat King Cole was coming, I immediately closed my shop so I could put up signs reading, 'Grand Opening with Nat King Cole'," laughs George.

Bing later wrote to George saying Nat King had a great time in Dublin, and particularly liked a present George had given him of a clay pipe from Patterson's shop on College Green.

The letter exchanges between the pair continued for a number of years, until one day, in the late 1950s, George received a telegram from Bing asking to meet him in the Savoy hotel in London on a Saturday afternoon.

Needless to say, George made his way to London, and waited in the grand foyer of the hotel for his pen pal. As George recalls in the documentary: "There was a kerfuffle at the door and I saw Bing walk in and go to the counter to cash some American Express cheques.

"The next thing I knew, he comes over to me and says hello. 'How did you know?' I asked. 'You look Irish, first of all,' Bing replied. 'And secondly your initials are on your briefcase.' I had brought a briefcase full of records for him to sign, and 'GOR' was on the side of it."

They met again in 1961, when Crosby was in London making 'Road to Hong Kong' in Shepperton Studios. Sure enough, George has photos of himself and Crosby walking down Regent Street and Oxford Street, shopping and discussing the affairs of the world.

Crosby himself was of Irish extraction (his mother, Catherine Harrigan, was second-generation Irish-American), and indeed he recorded many a Blarney-ified 'Oirish' track in his day, including 'Galway Bay', 'Isle of Innisfree', and 'Did Your Mother Come From Ireland?'

George had been pestering Bing to make a visit to Ireland, but the singer's schedule never seemed to allow for it. Eventually, however, it worked, and Bing arrived here later in 1961. When word got out to the papers about George's friendship with Bing, the Dubliner found himself taking a call from the JFK-appointed American ambassador to Ireland, Grant Stockdale, saying he wanted Bing to stay at the US Embassy during his visit.

That night, George called Bing to relay the offer. After a short silence, Bing said: "I guess we can't refuse the ambassador."

As he was leaving Ireland, Bing insisted that his Irish friend come and visit him in Los Angeles, and in January 1962, George arrived at the Crosby residence in Holmby Hills, Hollywood. Usually, Bing preferred his guests to stay in nearby hotels -- at his expense, naturally -- but George was the exception.

The singer's secretary, Lillian Murphy, later told George that he was the only person ever allowed to stay in Bing Crosby's house. George stayed for two days on that occasion, but made several more visits to LA throughout the 1960s.

On one such visit, Bing asked George if he'd like to see Dean Martin recording in Universal Studios down the road. George's typically Irish response -- in the affirmative -- was, "Christ and his mother".

Bing wanted an early night, as he was due in studio the next day, so he asked his driver Leo to take George down to the studio and introduce him around.

Bing had called ahead to Dean to tell him about George, and soon after he took a seat near the orchestra at the back of the studio, the Rat Pack 'King of Cool' strolled over and said, "George, Bing told me to look after you tonight, so what-ever you want, just give me a call".

Just as Dean took to the stand to record, the door burst open and in came Frank Sinatra, his then-fiancée Julia Prowse and an entourage of about six or seven minders.

Frank ended up causing a commotion by accidentally knocking conductor Nelson Riddle off the stand. George joined them all for a drink afterwards.

Bing always put a lot of stock in his friendship with George, and indeed trusted him so much that, on George's recommendation, the singer hired an Irish girl, Bridget 'Bridie' Brennan, to be nanny to his three children with actress Kathryn Grant.

One of those children, Mary, would grow up to play Sue Ellen's sister Kristin in 'Dallas' -- the woman, as trivia fans will know, who shot JR Ewing in the infamous 1980 episode of the show.

Bridie, from Borrisokane in Co Tipperary, took up the position in California in 1961 and was considered a member of the Crosby family until her death in 1973.

George's friendship with Bing also transformed the fortunes of another Irish woman. He was staying in the singer's home one time when Bing told him he was recording a Christmas album, and asked if George knew of any material that might be suitable.

At the time, George was managing singer Maisie McDaniel -- who would go on to be a showband star -- and had with him a copy of a song she had recorded called 'Christmas Candles'.

Bing liked Maisie's track, which was written by Irish composers Fred O Donovan and Vincent O'Dea, and arranged to record a version of it for his album the next morning. Bing would later perform the song many times as part of his festive oeuvre.

George and Bing didn't see much of one another in the early 1970s, but in 1976, George convinced the singer, a late convert to concert performances, to come to Dublin for some live gigs. Bing went on to play a week of shows in the Gaiety Theatre.

In September 1977, the singer arrived in England for a series of farewell appearances. Though ill and frail, he still managed to record his Christmas special with David Bowie, as well as doing two weeks in the London Palladium. Bing then went on to the Brighton Centre for three nights. George says he saw him perform in Brighton on his first night. It was the last time he ever saw Bing alive.

After his last UK gig, Bing flew to Spain for a golfing holiday, where, just after 6pm on October 14, 1977, the singer died from a massive heart attack, age 74.

Today, George is still in regular contact with the Crosby family, and has assembled a personal collection of Bing's radio broadcasts with the family's express approval. These are not for sale, but stand rather as testament to an unlikely friendship, one that started, incredibly, from a simple fan letter...


Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Anyone looking to put a bid on Bing Crosby's old estate is out of luck. It is officially off the market...

A Toluca Lake home still referred to as the Bing Crosby Estate despite a succession of other entertainment industry owners has been bought for $4.02 million. The property came on the market two years ago at $10 million. The singer and actor lived on the property from 1936 until early January 1943, when the 20-room house there was gutted in a Christmas tree fire, according to Los Angeles Times archives. Crosby was out at the time of the fire. His wife, Dixie Lee, and their four sons escaped injury.

The damage to the structure and its contents was estimated at $200,000, and the family's cocker spaniel, a complete collection of Crosby's recordings, his golf trophies and his pipe collection were lost. Among items recovered from the ruins was $2,000 in cash in the pocket of one of Crosby's coats.

The rebuilt Southern Colonial that stands on the site has six bedrooms, 5 1/2 bathrooms and five fireplaces in 7,132 square feet. There is a living room with marble fireplace, a billiards room and a den with a wet bar.
The two acres of gated grounds include rose gardens, fruit trees, a tennis court with grandstands, a swimming pool, a 2 1/2-bathroom cabana with changing rooms, sitting area and a kitchen, and a two-bedroom, two-bathroom guesthouse with a kitchen.

The estate was a childhood home of Micky Dolenz, the Monkees' drummer and singer.

Subsequent owners included actor Andy Griffith in the 1980s and actor Jerry Van Dyke and his wife, Shirley, who sold the home in 1997 for $1.93 million, public records show.

Crosby won a best actor Oscar for "Going My Way" (1944) and was paired with Bob Hope in the "Road" movies from 1940 to 1962.

His recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," featured in the movie "Holiday Inn," became a No. 1 hit in late 1942 and stayed there for 11 weeks.


Monday, January 2, 2012


Everett Crosby, the older brother of Bing, was often the butt of jokes on Bing's radio show. However, Everett was really the mastermind behind most of Bing's business affairs. Everett Nathaniel Crosby was born on April 5, 1896. Despite his color blindness, he served in the Army during World War I.

Everett was already a truck salesman in Los Angeles when Bing arrived in 1925. Bing relied on his big brother for all kinds of necessities, including borrowing a dress shirt when he secured an audition to perform at a popular LA café. When Bing was arrested for reckless driving during the filming of King of Jazz, it was Everett who got him moved from a downtown Los Angeles jail to one in more convenient Hollywood. As Bing became more established in show business, he asked Everett to promote him.

When Everett learned that William S. Paley, owner of the CBS radio network, was in search of a new singer, Everett sent him Bing’s recordings of “I Surrender, Dear” and “Just One More Chance.” An impressed Paley contacted Everett, who secured Bing’s first solo radio series. Bing also had Everett to thank for booking his record-breaking 1931 engagement at the New York Paramount and for negotiating his lucrative contracts with Paramount Pictures. Everett was put in charge of Bing Crosby Enterprises, established to oversee his brother’s multi-facetted business enterprises. An Everett brainchild was “Bing’s Things”, a company devoted to the manufacture of unique household products and gadgets.

In Call Me Lucky, Bing reflected on his brother’s influence on his extraordinary success and knack for getting things done. “Everett fired me with a spirit of git-up-and-go at a time when things were static for me. He came into my picture when I was disgusted and had little faith in my future. He supplied the ambition I seemed to lack. I’m glad I went along with him for the ride. He’s a hustler. He knows how to deal with people. He’s tireless at negotiating with motion picture producers, radio sponsors, advertising agencies – anyone who feels that he needs my services and with whom it is necessary to strike a contract or revise one already made. He seems fond of bickering with these people, and he’ll drag the discussions out happily for days, weeks, months, even years, if he thinks he can get me a better shuffle. As a result, he is sometimes called ‘The Wrong Crosby.’”

In 1962 Everett purchased Fair Acres, a farm in Connecticut where he and his wife Florence raised Morgan and Arabian stallions. Everett died from throat cancer in Salisbury, Connecticut on July 13, 1966. He was survived by Mary Sue, a daughter from his first marriage...