[Dixielandjazz] Bing Crosby

Robert Ringwald rsr at ringwald.com
Thu Jun 3 10:12:10 PDT 2010

Bada Bing: Crooner Bing Crosby Left a Valley Legacy
by Bruce Fessier
Palm Springs Desert Sun, June 1, 2010

A push is on again to return Bing Crosby to his rightful place in pop culture history.
Crosby was a superstar and a scion to such pop icons as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley,
the Beatles and Michael Jackson.
Bing Crosby Enterprises and Collectors' Choice have just released six deluxe CDs
of his solo recordings from 1931 until his death in 1977, acknowledging, as music
critic Will Friedwald wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "while the estates of Sinatra
and Presley have taken steps to make sure the catalogs of these iconic artists remain
accessible, the only Crosby music that has been readily available (has been) Christmas
albums and basic greatest-hits collections."
Crosby's grandson, Phil Crosby, also is performing songs of the 1930s and '40s with
an eight-piece band and telling stories about his grandfather. Palm Springs-based
promoter Les Michaels has him playing Vitello's in Studio City on Sunday and says
he may bring him to the desert on a subsequent Sunday.
Of course, Bing Crosby's Restaurant and Piano Lounge was christened in Rancho Mirage
less than three years ago by his widow, Kathryn Crosby.
Crosby, who was called "the first hip white person born in the United States" by
the late big band leader Artie Shaw, also deserves to come out from the shadows of
Sinatra and Presley as a significant desert pioneer.
He wasn't the first superstar singer to retreat here. His idol, Al Jolson, spent
his honeymoon with Ruby Keeler at the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs in 1929. Crosby
continued the Coachella Valley honeymoon tradition with his second wife, Kathryn,
in 1957. Elvis and Sinatra followed in 1967 and 1976, respectively.
The late Bob Hope once told me Crosby wasn't much of a desert person. But his wife,
Dolores, said one reason Bob agreed to host his golf tournament was because Crosby
had one in Pebble Beach.
Crosby also:
- Was one of the first residents of Thunderbird Country Club, the oldest 18-hole
golf course in the Coachella Valley.
- Hosted President John F. Kennedy at his Palm Desert home in a move that helped
break up Sinatra's Rat Pack.
- Co-founded one of the nation's first luxury mobile home parks in Rancho Mirage,
which he named after his Irving Berlin hit "Blue Skies."
Early jazz influences
Crosby, born in 1903 in Tacoma, Wash., was the first white singer with a major band
to synthesize the sounds of jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke.
After going solo in 1927, Crosby charted 368 records under his name, plus 28 as a
vocalist with various bandleaders. By comparison, Sinatra had 209, Elvis had 149
and the Beatles had 68.
Jazz critic Gary Giddins says no one came close to his number of studio recordings.
Crosby was also a radio star longer than anyone, from 1931 to 1962, and the No. 1
film star at the box office five times.
He was at his peak of popularity when he rang in 1940 at the Palm Springs Racquet
Club. He also hung out with such local friends as band leader Phil Harris, songwriter
Jimmy Van Heusen, and that fellow Hope, with whom he had performed at the Paramount
Theatre in New York, and who he'd soon star with in their legendary "Road" movies.
Crosby's first wife, Dixie, died in 1952 and Bing bought a home at the new Thunderbird
Country Club.
He was seen as something of a desert recluse living across Highway 111 from Harris,
but Kathryn told me the reason he bought that home was to be near the golf course
and not in the line of fire of golf balls.
"He would scoot across the main highway on his little golf cart and play golf," she
said. "He'd smile at Phil because golf balls would come in his glass windows every
Kathryn met Bing while he was living at Thunderbird. They were engaged to be married
in Hidden Lake, Idaho, in 1956, but the wedding was canceled when Kathryn let it
become a media circus.
"The church was full of reporters and photographers," Kathryn said a couple years
ago. "I had confided our plans to 10 or 12 close friends in strict confidence, and
you know how that is."
They didn't speak for a year.
Kathryn went to Spain to make the film "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," and Crosby
began writing her notes. He also began building a more reclusive house in Palm Desert.
They were married in Las Vegas in October 1957 and returned that afternoon to Bing's
new house near what is now Ironwood Country Club.
"He had a wonderful builder-designer, Howard Lapham," Kathryn said. "All there was
outside was pyracanthas, smoke trees, sand, cacti and two palm trees at the end of
the swimming pool."
Their primary home was in Holmby Hills, near Beverly Hills, but Kathryn said Bing
was so enamored by architecture and construction that he wanted to build homes everywhere
they went.
"Every time we went on vacation, he would come back with architects' plans and lot
availabilities," she said. "It was always, 'No, you don't really want a home in Jamaica.
No, visiting Hawaii is great, but let's don't build there.' He loved to plan buildings.
He loved to build homes."
In 1955, Bing took an idea by Pete Petito, road manager of his four sons' singing
group, and built the luxury Blue Skies Village mobile home park in what is now Rancho
It didn't feature cookie-cutter designs, like many of the mobile home parks built
after World War II. The streets were named after movie stars.
"The idea of having a community center in the middle for everybody to be part of
-- to make a community out of this instead of just a lot of mobile homes stacked
one after another was a new concept," said Kathryn. "It was fun."
Bing and Kathryn had three children. When they got old enough to go to school, they
moved to Baja California so Bing could fish and be around his children, too.
"What happened was, (Bing) found a place he loved to fish in Baja California," Kathryn
said. "Huge marlins went right outside your door. So when the children got to be
school age, we could take them out of the country. Since I was a teacher, we could
teach them there. I was one of the early home-school girls. If we had gone down to
Palm Desert, we would have had to put them into school there."
The Crosbys were in Baja when President Kennedy decided to visit former President
Dwight Eisenhower in the Coachella Valley. Sinatra, who had helped get Kennedy elected,
was so looking forward to the visit, he expanded his compound for Kennedy to use
as a Western White House.
But Kennedy's brother, Bobby, the attorney general, was wary of the president staying
with a man known to have ties to organized crime. JFK instead stayed at Crosby's
vacant Palm Desert home.
When his brother-in-law, Rat Pack member Peter Lawford, told Sinatra of JFK's plans,
Sinatra erupted and never spoke to Lawford again.
Sinatra had idolized Crosby. He wouldn't lash out at him. But, when filming began
on Sinatra's next film, the 1963 Chicago Mafia spoof "Robin and the Seven Hoods,"
Crosby replaced Lawford as the articulate "do-gooder," Alan A. Dale. They finished
shooting after President Kennedy was assassinated in November.
Kathryn said if Bing had known his hospitality would cause Sinatra such distress,
"I don't think he would have opened his house to the president," she said.
"But when the president's people call and say, 'May he stay at your house?' Of course
he can. You can't say no to the president."
But when the Crosbys tired of Baja California in 1964, they moved to Hillsborough
instead of Palm Desert.
Crosby made only one more film, "Stagecoach," in 1966. But he never stopped recording.
The Bing Crosby Enterprises series shows the breadth of his music, from jazz to traditional
pop with inflections of Latin and Hawaiian styles. You can check it out at

--Bob Ringwald
Amateur (ham) Radio call sign K6YBV
Fulton Street Jazz Band

"Critics can't even make music by rubbing their back legs together."
--Mel Brooks

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list