Early in his career, Bing Crosby was a very erotic figure. And the film industry recognized his power. It wasn’t his naked torso. It was his voice — warm, entreating, rich, sensitive, full of yearning.
Before he became more “fatherly” in his films; before he became grandfatherly on television (the man with a narrow tie and a hairpiece, singing Christmas songs alongside David Bowie and Michael Buble), he was a genuine all-purpose wooer.
A chick magnet, to put it plainly.
In many of his early films, the setup is simple: a lovely blonde, splendidly dressed (often in white) is reserved, cool, or even sullen. Bing aims that voice at her, in a yearning love ballad, and she melts in a series of reaction shots. Once the song is over, she has fallen for him. One can imagine tuxedo and gown being shed . . .
In some of the later films, Bing is moved from the more formal environment to more working-class environments: once a pianist / singer or a college professor teaching crooning, he is a sailor dangling from a rope, a man building a shelter for the castaways, a cowboy. Yes, he’s in blackface for ABRAHAM and pretends to play the clarinet for THE BIRTH OF THE BLUES.
I don’t think I have to make a case for Bing’s easy rhythmic suppleness, that his “boo-boo-boo” runs parallel to scat singing, that he is one of the influences on a segregated America that made Caucasians receptive to African-American jazz, even when Louis was not in the picture. He swings, even at ballad tempo.
And for those theoretically-minded, Bing is deep in meta-consciousness of a post-modern sort, singing songs about his own singing. But enough of that.
These thoughts were provoked by an accidental YouTube discovery — thanks to 1926VictorCredenza — his generous offering of a nearly two-hour videocassette of Bing’s musical moments from his 1932-42 films. The Sennett shorts aren’t here, nor is PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, but I saw performances new to me. You’ll also see Martha Raye, Carole Lombard, Louis Prima, Jack Teagarden, Harry Barris, Mary Martin, Eddie Lang. And for Ralf Reynolds: Bing plays a washboard in that last film. Watch for it!
And those songs!
I offer this as a prelude to Valentine’s Day. Learn to croon — if you want to win your heart’s desire! (And she’ll take off her shoes.)
BIG BROADCAST 1932: Dinah / Here Lies Love / Please (Eddie Lang) /
COLLEGE HUMOR 1933: Just An Echo In The Valley / Learn To Croon / Please / I Surrender Dear / Just One More Chance / Moonstruck / Learn To Croon (reprise)
TOO MUCH HARMONY 1933: Boo Boo Boo / The Day You Came Along / Thanks
WE’RE NOT DRESSING 1934: May I? / Love Thy Neighbor / May I (reprise)
SHE LOVES ME NOT 1934: Straight From The Shoulder / I’m Hummin’, I’m Whistlin’, I’m Singin’
TWO FOR TONIGHT 1935: From The Top Of Your Head / Without A Word Of Warning / I Wish I Were Aladdin
ANYTHING GOES 1936: Sailor Beware / Moonburn /
RHYTHM ON THE RANGE 1936: I Can’t Escape From You / Mr. Paganini / I’m An Old Cowhand
WAIKIKI WEDDING 1937: Blue Hawaii / Sweet Leilani / Sweet Is The Word For You
DOUBLE OR NOTHING 1937: Smarty / All You Want To Do Is Dance / It’s The Natural Thing To Do / The Moon Got In My Eyes
EAST SIDE OF HEAVEN 1939: Hang Your Heart On A Hickory Limb / East Side Of Heaven
HOLIDAY INN 1942: Abraham / Song Of Freedom
BIRTH OF THE BLUES 1941: Goin’ to the Jailhouse / The Waiter, The Porter, and The Upstairs Maid / Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines Nellie / St. Louis Blues / Birth Of The Blues.
May your happiness increase.