Usually the far-left political bias of PBS makes much of their programing simply unwatchable for me. But like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day, PBS offers some worthy programing every now and then. A case in point would be the new documentary American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered, which is premiering nationwide Tuesday, December 2 at 8 p.m. (check local listings) as the series' Season 28 finale.
File this one under "It's About Time."
Bing Crosby has been ignored and by and large forgotten for much of the 37 years since his passing. Of course none of us over the age of 55 or so will every forget him, but too many younger people, if they know of him at all, think of him only in terms of old Christmastime movies and songs. Little do they realize just how important an entertainer Bing was, how much he contributed as a groundbreaker in recorded music and popular songs, and how much influence he had on the many singers who came after him.
The documentary will explore the life and legend of perhaps the greatest performer of the 20th Century, revealing a man far more complex than his public persona. According to the PBS press release, Bing Crosby's estate, HLC Properties, Ltd., granted American Masters unprecedented access to the entertainer's personal and professional archives, including never-before-seen home movies, Dictabelt recordings, photos and more.
The show is narrated by Stanley Tucci, and features new interviews with all surviving members of Bing's immediate family wife Kathryn, daughter Mary and sons Harry and Nathaniel. Other new interviews include singers Tony Bennett and Michael Feinstein, record producer Ken Barnes, biographer Gary Giddins, and writers Buz Kohan and Larry Grossman.
After nearly four decades after his death, Bing Crosby remains the most recorded performer in history with nearly 400 hit singles, an achievement no one not Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley nor the Beatles has come close to matching. His trademark bass-baritone voice made him one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th century, with over half a billion records in circulation.
In 1962 Crosby was the first recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. A brilliant entrepreneur, Bing played an important role in the development of the postwar recording industry.
Bing was definitely the 20th Century's first multi-media entertainer. His celebrity was solidified through all the avenues of show business; recordings, movies, radio, television, and live performance. He sang on 4,000 radio shows from 1931 to 1962 and was the top-rated radio star for eighteen of those years.
Yank magazine recognized him as the person who had done the most for American G.I. morale during World War II and, during his peak years, around 1948, American polls declared him the "most admired man alive", ahead of Jackie Robinson and Pope Pius XII.
He was one of Hollywood's most popular actors, appearing in 55 features and a dozen short subjects. He won an Oscar in 1944 for "Going My Way" and the "Road" pictures he made with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour are still great fun today. I grew up watching them on TV and still throw one on the DVD player whenever I feel the need for pure escapism.
The thing that is so wonderful and pure about Bing's music and movies is that there was never any political agenda, no messages, no attitude, and no sense of ego. The man possessed enormous talent and musicality and yet he managed to project a humbleness and self-deprecating persona which audiences loved. What he did was hard work, yet he made it look like it all came easy. Bing set the style of the laid-back, intimate, easy-going crooner that others like Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, and Pat Boone emulated.
American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered is most definitely an early Christmas present to all Crosby fans and by the way, it will have a holiday encore presentation that will air on Friday, December 26 at 9 p.m. on PBS as well. A soundtrack recording, featuring all the songs heard in the documentary, including 16 never-before-released tracts is also available from the Bing Crosby Archive and Universal Music Enterprises.
Let's hope that this overdue tribute to a true master showman is only the beginning of resurgence in the music and legacy of Bing Crosby. There was no "faking it" when Bing sang a song. It's about time today's people find out what real honest to goodness singing was all about.