He was beloved by so many people.
Except maybe a child or two.
Bing Crosby was, without doubt, the most popular and influential multimedia star of the first half of the 20th century. For more than three decades, through radio, film, television and records, he reigned supreme.
And so PBS Distribution has decided that Der Bingle needs to be rediscovered, so Bing Crosby Rediscovered from American Masters arrives on DVD on December 2.
Thirty-seven years after his death, he remains the most recorded performer in history with nearly 400 hit singles, an achievement no one–not Sinatra, Elvis or the Beatles–has come close to matching. A brilliant entrepreneur, Crosby played an important role in the development of the postwar recording industry. As one of Hollywood’s most popular actors, he won the Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way and starred in the iconic Road films with Bob Hope. Bing Crosby Rediscovered explores the legend of an iconic performer, revealing a personality far more complex than the public persona he so carefully cultivated.
Crosby’s estate granted American Masters unprecedented access to the entertainer’s personal and professional archives, including never-before-seen home movies, Dictabelt recordings, photos and more. Narrated by Stanley Tucci, the film features new interviews with all surviving members of Crosby’s immediate family–wife Kathryn, daughter Mary and sons Harry and Nathaniel–as well as singers Tony Bennett and Michael Feinstein, record producer Ken Barnes, biographer Gary Giddins and writers Buz Kohan and Larry Grossman.
Crosby died at 73 of a heart attack on a Madrid, Spain, golf course. During a career that spanned five decades, he was acclaimed by LIFE magazine as “incontestably the No. 1 Big Family Man of Hollywood.” The National Father’s Day Committee honored him as “Hollywood’s Most Typical Father.” To an admiring public, the portrayal of a wise, warm, Irish Catholic patriarch was Bing Crosby’s longest-running, most convincing role. That his four sons became notorious for drinking and squabbling scarcely tainted Bing’s image; instead, he became the object of public sympathy, the good father afflicted with unruly and sometimes ungrateful children. (Bing’s first wife, Dixie Lee, the mother of his first four sons, died in 1952.)
Then son Gary opened his mouth and wrote a book.
He was playing tennis at a Los Angeles club when Bing croaked. “A lady came up to me,” Gary recalls. “I could see she was crying. She said, ‘I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but your father just passed away.’ ” Pausing for only that moment, Gary then continued his game. “I thought, ‘Am I supposed to act like I loved him all my life?’ ” At the funeral, Gary looked down at the body and said, “Well, now you’re in a place where you can understand it all.”
In 1983, Gary wrote Going My Own Way, a book that shattered his dad’s “perfect” image: “I dropped my pants, pulled down my undershorts and bent over. Then he went at it with the belt dotted with metal studs he kept reserved for the occasion. Quite dispassionately, without the least display of emotion or loss of self-control, he whacked away until he drew the first drop of blood, and then he stopped. It normally took between twelve and fifteen strokes. I counted them off one by one and hoped I would bleed early. To keep my mind off the hurt, I would conjure up different schemes to get back at him, ways to murder him. “
Gary was 62 when he died, in 1995, from the complications of lung cancer at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
But PBS doesn’t focus on the child abuse, so well documented.
“Bing’s remarkable appeal, which continues to this day, was in his seemingly effortless ability to pull an audience in to his intimate, laid-back voice,” says Emmy-winning director Robert Trachtenberg. “With the new material I’ve found, I think the breadth, depth and candor of his story will hopefully allow people to see him in a new light.”
Adds Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters: “Much like his talent, Bing Crosby is a natural for the series. With more No. 1 recordings than anyone, it is easy to overlook all of his other achievements. Thankfully, this film delves deeply into all of his remarkable work, and will surprise many viewers with a unique perspective on his private life.”
A companion soundtrack including many previously unreleased recordings heard in the American Masters film will be available this fall.
He was beloved by so many people.