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Westwood seniors learn about Bing Crosby

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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Just days after Lady Gaga was lauded at the Academy Awards for her performance in “A Star is Born,” former film salesman for the Walt Disney Company Bruce Hambro taught the seniors of the Westwood Council on Aging all about Bing Crosby, the “first multimedia star of the 20th century.”

Using a variety of video clips, songs, and still images, Hambro presented a “chronological overview of Bing’s life and career in music and movies.” He began by asking if anyone in the crowd knew Bing’s real name. Many knew it was Harry, but nobody could answer the follow-up question of why he was called “Bing.”

Interestingly, the answer is that young Harry Crosby loved the comic strip “The Bingville Bugle.”

From there, Hambro spoke of Crosby’s jazz beginnings, which would ultimately lead to him becoming “the most recorded voice in history.” Crosby played a huge role in popularizing jazz in America through his work in “Going Hollywood,” leading a fellow musician to call Crosby “the first hip white person born in America.” Crosby’s unique voice and his adoption of the microphone as a “tool of intimacy,” as Hambro called it, led to the creation of the word “crooner” to describe Crosby’s style.

Unlike Lady Gaga, Crosby won an Oscar for his acting, as well as his songs.  Photos by James Kinneen

Unlike Lady Gaga, Crosby won an Oscar for his acting, as well as his songs. Photos by James Kinneen

Crosby’s movies were “a beacon of optimism” during the Great Depression, despite wealth that saw him buy the Del Mar racetrack, and essentially invent pro-am in golf with what were known as “Crosby’s Clambakes.” Later in life, the former college baseball player would buy part of the Pittsburgh Pirates, which would inspire longtime friend and costar Bob Hope to buy a piece of the Cleveland Indians.

Perhaps Crosby’s most lasting impact was on Christmas.

Hambro explained that “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn” both helped to secularize the holiday, and Crosby’s Christmas special repeats remain a mainstay of the Christmas season.

But while Hambro was informing the crowd, he made sure everyone stayed on their toes with a few singalongs to Crosby classics like “White Christmas,” “Swinging on a Star,” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

Crosby had two sets of children, one with Dixie Lee and one with second wife Kathryn Crosby, but he had his eyes on another woman at one time. Crosby proposed to Grace Kelly, but was shot down. Apparently, being the most recorded voice in history, the man for whom the term “crooner” was invented, and the one-time most respected man among US servicemen still couldn’t compare with being a prince.

Crosby isn’t Bruce Hambro’s only presentation subject; he gives talks on the life of other icons, such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Irving Berlin, usually to local libraries and councils on aging. Check them out if you feel like learning a lot - and singing a little.

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