by Ray Keating
November 26, 2020
(Note: Bing Crosby had links to Disney, including narrating the Ichabad Crane part of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. But there was much more, as Crosby and Walt Disney were friends, and they actually had entered into a business venture together to build the Hollywood Sports Garden in Los Angeles in the late 1930s. Meant to be far bigger than New York’s Madison Square Garden, the project eventually got derailed by zoning issues. (The Disney History Institute did a series on this in late 2013/early 2014, including this piece.) This article was first published at www.KeatingFiles.com.)
Bing Crosby (1903-1977) enters the American mind during each Christmas holiday season, as we listen to him sing “White Christmas” and perhaps watch him in the movie of the same name. Indeed, watching White Christmas, with Bing, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, is something of a Thanksgiving night tradition in the Keating home.
But Bing deserves more than being that guy who only shows up during the Christmas season each year and then disappears. Crosby rates as one of the leading entertainers of the 20th Century, as well as ranking as a great entrepreneur.
I’ve long had great admiration for Crosby who excelled in a variety of arenas. But the impetus for writing this piece came when spotting an article on the Gallup website that highlighted a poll from 1950 capturing the enormous popularity of Bing at the time.
Gallup found and reported that 33 percent of Americans in 1950 cited Bing Crosby as their favorite male singer, with second-place Perry Como only garnering 6 percent. That’s darn impressive, but here’s the real kicker: Crosby ranked number one among all age groups, i.e., among 21 to 29 year olds, those 31 to 49, and among those 50 and older. One cannot even imagine such an outcome, or anything close to it today.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised when it came to Crosby, as he was an enormous wide-ranging success as an entertainer and entrepreneur.
In addition to being a wildly successful singer for decades, Crosby’s variety show on radio stayed atop the ratings year after year. He was a movie star, including winning an Oscar for his performance of Father O’Malley in Going My Way. And Crosby would go on to conquer television as well, including annual Christmas shows. He ranks as America’s first multimedia star – leading as box office, ratings and record sales gold.
Bing also was an entrepreneur on the sports front. An excellent golfer himself, he started the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am in 1937, a stop on the PGA Tour, with professionals teeing off with celebrity amateurs. It also was known as the Crosby Clambake. Bing moved the tournament to the Monterey Peninsula in 1947, where it remains today as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Crosby was a founding partner in the Del Mar Racetrack, and a thoroughbred breeder and stable owner. He also became part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
In addition, Crosby was a venture capitalist, playing a key role in the development of fast-freezing technology, which led to Crosby’s success tied to Minute Maid orange juice – as a spokesman and investor. He also invested in and helped develop magnetic recording tape technology, with this particular investment being driven by a desire to record his radio show.
For good measure, Crosby made investments in real-estate development, television stations and oil exploration.
Crosby also worked tirelessly entertaining the troops during World War II, was a philanthropist, and quietly supported friends over the years who ran into assorted troubles.
Bing Crosby lived a full life that touched millions of lives in positive ways. He truly ranked as a top entertainer and top entrepreneur.
By the way, Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas,” which was written by Irving Berlin, remains the top-selling song of all time.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. Pre-order the latest thriller/mystery in the series – Vatican Shadows: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel – for the Kindle or signed books. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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