Happy 114th Birthday, Bing Crosby!

Crooner-actor-comedian-show biz immortal Bing Crosby was born Harry Lillis Crosby was born 114 years ago today (or thereabouts—there’s some debate about the actual date, though the date now most widely agreed upon is May 3) in Tacoma, Washington. Here are 10 BC Did-You-Knows:

  • A true middle child, Crosby was the fourth of seven children. His father, a bookkeeper, was of English descent and his mother was a second-generation Irish-American. The family relocated to Spokane, Washington, when Crosby was three. When Crosby was seven, a neighbor, inspired by the Bingville Bugle, a popular humor feature in the Sunday edition of Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper, nicknamed him “Bingo from Bingville.” The name stuck (though the -o was soon dropped).
  • Crosby attended Gonzaga University for three years, playing on the school’s baseball team as a freshman. He never graduated, but in 1937, the university gave him the benefit of the doubt, awarding him an honorary degree.
  • At 20, Crosby was asked to join a group of younger musicians in forming a combo called the Musicaladers (as to how that name was pronounced, your guess is as good as ours). One of the members of that group was Al Rinker, brother to Mildred Bailey, who would go on to great success as a jazz and swing vocalist.
  • In 1925, Crosby and Rinker headed for Los Angeles, where Bailey’s show-biz contacts helped them find work. They were eventually hired by the star-making orchestra leader Paul Whiteman. During a stint in New York City, the pair’s prospects were bolstered by the addition of pianist and songwriter Harry Barris. They became known as the Rhythm Boys and their collective star was on the ascent.
  • Extensive touring with the Whiteman organization allowed the Rhythm Boys to hone their skills and they became stars in their own right, with Bing being singled out for solo work on record and over the radio airwaves. They soon left the Whiteman group and signed on with Gus Arnheim, whose orchestra was featured nightly at the Cocoanut Grove night club at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel.
  • Bing Crosby was increasingly the focus of the act and he eventually made the logical move toward being a solo performer. Both his recordings and his radio program became huge successes. Crosby performed on 10 of the most popular 50 recordings of 1931. He began in films making shorts for Mack Sennett and his first feature-length picture, The Big Broadcast (1932), made him all the more successful. He would be a top recording, radio and motion picture star throughout the 1930s and ’40s and in the 1950s, he conquered television, too.
  • From the 1940s to the 1960s, Crosby was a minority owner (15%) of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
  • Crosby was the first choice to portray Lieutenant Columbo on the popular television series Columbo. After Crosby declined, he role eventually went to Peter Falk.
  • It could be said that, as Elvis Presley was to rock ‘n’ roll, Crosby was to jazz. He was one of the first—and certainly the most popular—white vocalists to embrace the new form of music. Jazz legend Louis Armstrong was an admirer of Crosby, describing his voice as being “like gold being poured out of a cup.”
  • Crosby notched 38 No. 1 singles over the course of his career, topping even Presley and the Beatles in the category.

Happy birthday, Bing Crosby, wherever you may be!

Bing Crosby

A Journey Through 1937 Los Angeles

One of our favorite aspects of the historic lore of Los Angeles is the novelty architecture that’s long been so closely associated with the city. So we enjoyed this sequence from Stand-In (1937), starring Humphrey Bogart, Leslie Howard and Joan Blondell.

In this clip, Howard, playing a buttoned-up bean-counter from back east who’s just arrived in L.A. on a mission to oversee a struggling movie studio, is picked up at the train station by a company car. On a memorable ride through the city, he encounters an eatery shaped like a hat (the Brown Derby), a bakery shaped like a windmill (one of the stores in the once-prominent Van de Kamp’s chain), a service station shaped like an airplane, complete with spinning propellers, and several others.

There’s not an establishment in this thirty-plus-second journey that we wouldn’t eagerly patronize, if only someone would perfect a functioning time machine.

Let us know if you have memories of any of these establishments. We’d love to learn more about them.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … Happy New Year!

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve Eve. Just two more days, and we’ll all be cursing ourselves for writing 2011 on our checks.

With just a few hours remaining till the ball drops in Times Square, toasts are raised, and midnight smooches are shared, we thought we’d make a present to the Cladrite community of All Star New Years Dancing Party, an hour-long radio program that originally aired on the Armed Forces Radio Service on December 31st, 1945.

The program, which is hosted by Harry James, features performances from across the country and around the world by such legendary big bands as the Count Basie Orchestra in New York City, Freddy Martin‘s outfit performing from Los Angeles’ Cocoanut Grove night club, Woody Herman and His Orchestra in New Jersey, Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars from Club Zanzibar in Manhattan, and many more.

It’s a fine way to welcome in a brand new year.

All-Star New Year’s Eve Dancing Party—12/31/1945 (1 hr., 4 sec.)