Video Biographies of Bing:

BING CROSBY REDISCOVERED (American Masters series, PBS, 90 min. 2014)

Bing's second family cooperated in the production of this sympathetic biography of Bing. The show included excerpts from Bing's home videos and audio diary. The early alcoholism of Bing and later of his first wife is discussed, as well as the self-destructive behavior of his first 4 children. Bing's extramarital affairs, however, were never mentioned. Excerpts from Bing's 1977 Barbara Walter's interview included his opinion that marijuana should be legalized, but omitted his threat to disown his second family if they chose to live with their lovers out of wedlock. The highlight of the show was the contrast between Bing's recording of Brother Can You Spare a Dime with that of Al Jolson and Rudy Vallee. Errata: Bing made 6 Sennett short films, not 8. The golfing video in the closing scene recounting Bing's death on a Spanish golf course was not from Bing's fatal game, although video from Bing's final game exists and was included in a 1983 BBC biography. Perhaps the most bizarre claim in this biography was that Bing's twins, Phillip and Dennis, were born victims of fetal alcohol syndrome in 1934. This claim was based solely on their appearance. The reality is that the twins developed in an abnormal position within Dixie's womb and were born 6 weeks premature weighing less than 4 pounds each. (Giddins, A Pocketful of Dreams, page 403)

BING: GOING MY WAY [KSPS Spokane, Washington, 60 min, 2003]

Rich Little narrates this exceptional one-hour centennial salute to Bing for Spokane's public television station. Sad the biography did not get wider airing over PBS stations. The biography explores the influences of Bing's early years in Spokane on his later successes. Included are rare video clips from the collection of Bob DeFlores.

THE SOUTH BANK SHOW / BRAVO PROFILES (BBC / BRAVO, 60 min, 1999)

The BBC traces Bing Crosby's career from Spokane to Madrid, including interviews with Mrs. Crosby and daughter Mary. Bing is shown as a multi-media star whose world-wide fame never went to his head. The program documents how Bing exploited technology, popularized jazz, overcame alcoholism and became a respectable parent. The program was produced for release in the United States by Bravo.

BING CROSBY (E! Entertainment Television, 30 minutes, 1999)

The E! cable channel takes a superficial, tabloid look at Bing's troubled first family. Phillip Crosby, Bing's only surviving son from his first marriage, is interviewed and defends his father against the child abuse charges leveled by brother Gary.

THE ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD: 1925-1933 (Festival Films, 83 min, 1997)

Here is the story of Bing's rise to fame from 1925 to 1933, his years with Paul Whiteman and The Rhythm Boys, his stint at the Cocoanut Grove and his early radio, recording and film careers. Included are Bing's first film appearances, "Reaching for the Moon," "Check and Double Check," "Hollywood on Parade," the Mack Sennett shorts and more. In rare interviews Bing and Al Rinker talk about their early days. A special bonus is Bing's extremely rare Paramount short "Please," unseen since its original release in December 1933.

BING CROSBY: AMERICA'S CROONER (A&E Biography, 50 minutes, 1995)

He was one of the most popular and successful entertainers in history, yet perhaps the one we knew least. Bing Crosby sold almost half a billion records, won an Academy Award for Best Actor, and was a top radio and television star. His business empire included horse tracks, a major corporation and a baseball team. But since his death a darker side of Crosby has emerged: he has been accused of being a cold man, an absentee husband, and an abusive father. Here, both his public and private sides are revealed as never before. Interviews with close associates, feature film footage, archival newsreels, sound recordings and family photographs paint a compels portrait of this multifaceted man.

BING: HIS LEGENDARY YEARS (MCA Video, 75 minutes, 1993)

A sassy, hip look at the king of all media of 1930s and '40s America. MCA spared no expense in digging out first-generation Crosby clips and highlights. Dennis Miller hosts what is far-and-away the most entertaining biography of Bing.

HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST ENTERTAINER (Goodtimes Video, 105 min, 1991)

Harry "Bing" Crosby was the most successful entertainer in Hollywood history. This documentary featuring rare movie trailers, photos and newsreel clips traces his extraordinary career from his days in Paul Whiteman's Rhythm Boys to his final Christmas special with David Bowie.

THE MAGIC OF BING CROSBY (A*Vision Entertainment, 55 min, 1991)

This moving celebration in both black-and-white and color showcases the famous "Crosby Croon" thorough the ages, giving insight into his life and loves through exclusive interviews with his most respected peers. This program includes performances with Louis Armstrong, Robert Goulet, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney and Dean Martin.

HOLLYWOOD GREATS: BING CROSBY (BBC, 55 min, 1983)

Barry Norman narrated this honest and incisive biography of Bing for the BBC. The program included new and candid interviews with sons Gary and Harry, as well as Bob Hope, Rosemary Clooney, Bing's butler, Carroll Carroll (Bing's long-time comedy writer), Artie Shaw, Phil Harris and Rise Stevens.

BING CROSBY - HIS LIFE AND LEGEND (ABC TV, 2 hours, 25 May 1978)

Marshall Flaum wrote, produced and directed this retrospective of Bing's career that featured narration by William Holden and interviews with more than 2 dozen celebrities and friends.

THE ONE AND ONLY BING (David Wolper Productions, 30 minutes, 1963)

Joseph Cotten narrates this half-hour biography of Bing, which includes much newsreel footage of Bing at play. Among the highlights are Bing and Bob clowning on the golf course, Bing and Sinatra singing together for the first time, and Bing speaking at the dedication of a building at Gonzaga University. The bio was first broadcast Dec. 23, 1963, over the NBC TV network. The show is available to collectors on videotape from Festival Films.


Reviews of
BING: HIS LEGENDARY YEARS (MCA Video, 75 minutes, 1993)
BING CROSBY: AMERICA'S CROONER (A&E Biography, 50 minutes, 1995)

by JOHN J. O'CONNOR

Long before he died at 74 on a golf course in Spain in 1977, Bing Crosby had become a cultural artifact, his career whittled down to lifeless Christmas specials on television. Bing was in effect dethroned when Elvis became king. For a new generation, the veteran performer was hopelessly old-fashioned. Now, helped in large measure by digitally remastered recordings of his early work, Crosby is riding a richly deserved revival.

Two video biographies help explain why. The first is 'Bing! His Legendary Years,' narrated with unabashed hero worship by the comedian Dennis Miller, his usual scattershot irony discarded for the occasion. The other is from the Arts & Entertainment Network's 'Biography' series, 'Bing Crosby: America's Crooner,' a documentary that peeks beneath the image at some troubling aspects of the performer's private life.

"His Legendary Years" accentuates only the positive. Some of Miller's accolades: 'Hip? I think he embodied the word. The Mick Jagger of 1926. Mr. Cool. The guy did it all.' And indeed, in the history of show business, there are few careers to rival Crosby's.

His recordings hit the sales charts 340 times. Forty of them were No. 1 hits. Miller says that in all, a billion of his records were sold worldwide. He was a radio superstar for decades. The Kraft Music Hall alone accounted for 10 years. He was a movie star, placing in the box-office Top 10 for 20 years and winning an Academy Award for Going My Way. Little wonder that Life magazine's 1990 list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century listed only two pop performers: Crosby and Presley.

And Crosby managed to make it all seem incredibly easy. He was always, as Miller says, 'the Everyman lover with average-Joe looks and a fabulous voice.' Exuding an almost cocky self-confidence, he clearly enjoyed making fun of his image as a sex symbol and great lover. Again Miller: 'He had the magical ability to make it seem as if he wasn't acting at all.' He didn't act; he reacted. Crosby's movie career began in Mack Sennett comedy one-reelers based on songs he had recorded. His sense of humor would serve him well, not least in the classic 'Road' movies with Bob Hope.

His early singing style, partial to fast-paced syncopation, was heavily jazz influenced, and Crosby, though hardly a social activist, would be instrumental in getting movie work for great black jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong. But the expanding Crosby repertory was broad, encompassing everything from romantic ballads to country to novelty ditties. Miller describes the typical Crosby experience: 'When he sang, oh baby, he felt it. And when he felt it, so did we.'

'His Legendary Years' has some curious gaps. Crosby's famous theme song, The Blue of the Night is neither heard nor even mentioned. And while carefully eliminating or rigorously playing down the negative, the script gets entangled in questionable analyses. Commenting on a decline in Crosby's popularity, for instance, Miller speaks of 'a new generation rejecting the family values Bing represented.' If that is so, the new generation should be congratulated. Crosby's family values seem to have been wretched. At least, that's what is indicated in A&E's 'America's Crooner.'

Including interviews with two Crosby biographers, Gary Giddins and Robert Slatzer, 'America's Crooner' touches on all the highlights of the performer's extraordinary career, on the surface an enviable exercise in easygoing affability. But it also reveals the darker side of that career. Early on, Crosby had a drinking problem. He was, as one colleague remembers, a 'fall-down drunk,' given to brawls. Crosby would eventually control his drinking, but his wife, Dixie Lee, would not control hers. She would simply be kept out of the public eye until her death of cancer in 1952, supposedly raising their four sons in an ideal family setting.

Gary Crosby, the oldest son, recalls how in private life 'the kids were scared all our lives.' The genial performer, it seems, was a fierce disciplinarian at home, when he managed to spend any time there. Gary says he and his brothers were beaten with straps and chains, sometimes to the point of blood being drawn. Meanwhile, the Crosby family was being portrayed in fan magazines as the very embodiment of the American dream.

None of which detracts from the splendid accomplishments of Crosby the entertainer, the superstar, the voice of America in World War II. Even son Gary, dismissing the word 'love' as 'a little strong' in describing his feelings for his father, has to admit that 'he made a lot of people happy and he did good.' And what is called Crosby's natural aptitude for singing is very much alive on the old recordings. Crosby the singer would never be better.


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