By Paula Hendrickson
Forgive me for jumping ahead a few days. I know Thanksgiving isn’t quite upon us, but the Christmas season will soon be in full swing. Instead of marking the season with Black Friday shopping, I break out the Christmas tunes. Among my favorites are Bing Crosby classics like “White Christmas,” and his “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” duet with David Bowie.
Then again, Crosby also made some classic Christmas movies, two of which included the song “White Christmas.” Despite a black face routine that’s offensive by today’s standards, I prefer 1942’s Holiday Inn (with Fred Astaire) to 1954’s White Christmas (with Danny Kaye). And The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) might not be a Christmas movie, per se, but Crosby plays a priest, and there is a Christmas pageant at his parish.
Later in his career, Crosby made some Christmas variety specials, including the one with his duet with Bowie, which aired after Crosby’s death in 1977.
No wonder he’s so often associated with the holiday season.
That makes December the ideal time for PBS’s American Masters to focus an entire episode on the life and career of Bing Crosby.
Narrated by actor Stanley Tucci, the documentary shows Crosby was far more than the easy-going, golf-loving crooner he appeared as on screen. He was a complicated, private and, at times, difficult man.
His family gave the documentary’s producers access to Crosby’s home movies, photos and his professional and personal archives. His widow, Kathryn, and their sons Harry and Nathaniel and daughter Mary are interviewed. Footage from a never-seen 1987 interview with Gary Crosby, one of the crooner’s sons from his first tumultuous marriage (and whose 1983 memoir depicted his father in less-than-flattering light) is included, as is an interview with fellow performer Tony Bennett.
Few people realize that Crosby was one of the first entertainers to succeed in multiple media platforms — live performances, radio, film, records and television. He really set the bar for all who followed, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and The Beatles — none of whom managed to beat his astonishing record of 400 hit singles.
I’ll be tuning in, if only to learn the real story behind the Bing and Bowie duet. Such an unlikely pairing probably seemed ridiculous at the time. Bowie was popular, but not the musical icon he is today. Did either singer suspect they were recording a future classic? Or did they think it was little more than a gimmick to get younger viewers to watch a network Christmas special?
American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered airs on WHA-Madison Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 6, at 5 p.m., and on WTTW-Chicago Sunday, Dec. 7, at 5:30 p.m., and Friday, Dec. 26, at 9 p.m.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2014, issue