Harry Lillis Crosby was born May 3, 1903 (or May 3, 1903, or May 2, 1902, depending on who wrote the biography consulted), in Tacoma, Washington. He was the son of Harry Lincoln Crosby (1870-1950), a bookkeeper, and the former Catherine Helen "Kate" Harrigan (1873-1964), a homemaker. The Crosbys left the Seattle area and moved to Spokane shortly after Bing's birth. Bing was the fourth of seven children:
- Lawrence Earl "Larry" Crosby (1895?-1977)
- Everett Nathaniel Crosby (1895-1966)
- Edward John "Ted" Crosby (1900-73)
- Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby
- Catherine Cordelia "Katie" Crosby Mullin (1905-88)
- Mary Rose Crosby Pool (1907-90)
- George Robert "Bob" Crosby (1913-93)
(Bill's note: Like Bing, I have the same first name and middle initial as my father...I'm Billy Jack Long and he was Billy Joe Long. To avoid confusion, my parents called me "Jackie," from my middle name, Jack. I hated it, even before I started school. It caused all kinds of problems on government forms, even as an adult. And, when my dad died, some people thought I died, since I was living out of the country. Now I can be "Bill Long" without any confusion... I hope. And, when I write my full name, I always spell out my middle name, rather than write a middle initial. I hate those websites that won't allow anymore than one letter! Oh, read on and discover what other mistakes this can cause, with regards to his older son with his second wife!)
In 1917, Bing got a summer time job working as a property boy at the Spokane Auditorium. Working there, he saw many of the greatest performers of the day including Al Jolson and Billy Murray. He developed a profound fondness for Jolson and would imitate him, much to the chagrin of his family.
In 1920, Bing entered Gonzaga University in Spokane with intentions of becoming a lawyer. He maintained good grades but had a reputation for being a prankster. There is an urban legend floating around the campus that he pushed a piano out of his room from the top floor of DeSmet Hall. There are several reasons why this couldn't have happened... Bing didn't play the piano. Gonzaga didn't have a music program at the time. And DeSmet Hall wasn't built yet. Bing left Gonzaga in 1921. The dorm was built in 1922!
In 1921, Bing bought a set of drums from a mail order house and was encouraged to join a local band called the Musicaladers, made up of mostly high school students. Bing proved to be quite musical being a proficient singer and drummer. Eventually, he thought he was good enough that he decided to drop out of college and start a career in show business. The manager of the Musicaladers was Al Rinker, whose sister was Mildred Bailey. They went to Los Angeles together.
In 1926, Bing and Al got the notice of bandleader Paul Whiteman. They toured with the Whiteman orchestra and made a few popular recordings. After a few months, despite Bing and Al's popularity, Whiteman added Harry Barris, a composer and piano player. This group became known as the Rhythm Boys. They were featured in movies in which Whiteman's orchestra was playing, including the King of Jazz (1930). Later that year, Bing married Dixie Lee, a multi-talented star who was better known than he was at that time. With Dixie, Bing had four sons.
Bing's radio career started in 1931 over radio station KHJ in Los Angeles on a program that was carried over the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio network. In the following month, Bing had a regular program over the NBC Red Network, the Cremo Singer. Cremo was a cigar brand and Bing was a very devoted smoker of all kinds of tobacco products, as well as marijuana. After the Cremo program, he was on the Woodbury Soap Program on NBC Red and his longstanding program, the Kraft Music Hall. Bing would remain with that program until the late 1940s.
In 1940, Bing started his "buddy" movies with Bob Hope with the Road to Singapore, featuring Dorothy Lamour. It was one of his first really big motion pictures. In 1942 he introduced his most popular song, "White Christmas," in the film Holiday Inn (the title was the inspiration for the hotel chain of the same name.)
Because he was busy as an actor in motion pictures, and he still wanted to do the radio programs, he couldn't do them live. Bing tried to get the Kraft Music Hall to be recorded but they wouldn't do it. The program was then passed on to his idol, Al Jolson. His last Kraft Music Hall was aired on May 2, 1946.
The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) agreed that Bing could have a radio program and it could be recorded on the new Ampex tape recorder. The sponsor was Philco. Philco Radio Time premiered October 16, 1946. It was last heard on June 1, 1949.
During that time, Bing had an affair with Joan Caulfield and was ready to divorce Dixie over it. But this was during the time that Dixie was found to be dying of terminal cancer. Bing did have another affair before Dixie's death (and had many other affairs besides). Long before Bing starred with Grace Kelly in The Country Girl (1954), they had a torrid affair on which Dixie witnessed herself in Bing's home office, as they were having sex. Knowing that Dixie was close to death, he was totally insensitive about the whole thing. After this, Bing had an affair with Inger Stevens. Inger Stevens tried to rekindle the affair over the years, long after he married his second wife, and Inger committed suicide in 1970.
CBS sponsored Bing's next program, which was sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes beginning in October 1949. It would be Bing's last regular radio series.
In 1957, Bing married movie star Kathryn Grant (born Olivia Kathryn Grandstaff in 1933) was younger than Bing's oldest son Gary by five months and Bing was some 30 years older than Kathryn. Bing and Kathryn had three children:
- Harry Lillis Crosby, III (born 1958) [Investment banker in New York City, also an actor and singer] (although named Harry Lillis Crosby, III, his grandfather was actually Harry Lincoln Crosby, so this is a misnomer)
- Mary Frances Crosby (born 1959) [Film actress]
- Nathaniel Patrick Crosby (born 1961) [Professional golfer and golf executive]
Bing was involved with many businesses. He was an owner of several businesses, including the Minute Maid Company, which manufactured the first frozen orange juice. He owned several race horses and was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates professional baseball team.
Politically, he was a die hard Republican. He campaigned very openly for G.O.P. candidates until the 1940 election when Wendell Willkie was running against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Bing didn't think that it was right for anyone to be in office longer than two terms. When Willkie lost, Bing never did anything openly political again.
Bing was involved with television as a guest until he finally decided to appear on the Hollywood Palace in 1964. He would do the Christmas program on this show with his family. (See the picture above.)
Although he tried to portray the image of a happy family man, Bing Crosby was very covert in much of what he did in life. He never had a birth certificate and he always celebrated his birthday on May 3 and said he was born in 1904. However, some family members said that his birthday was actually May 2, 1902. May 3 was the same day as his sister Mary's birthday and the two always celebrated their birthdays together. Some biographers try to make Bing out to be a terrible man. His sons blamed their father for their failed lives. And Bing wasn't faithful to at least one of his two wives. When reading some of the resources to write this page, it was discovered that the negative entries came from people who disagreed with Bing politically. Also, when he died, he was reportedly worth $150,000,000 and is valued at $400,000,000 today. Those same people who were against him probably forget that he was for the decriminalization of marijuana and encouraged his sons (from his first marriage) to smoke pot instead of get drunk on alcohol, since that caused him so many problems with the law and ended his working relationship with Paul Whiteman. (Bill's Disclaimer: I personally am against the use of marijuana and do not endorse its use by anyone.)
His death occurred on a golf course in Madrid, Spain. It was some three years after a tumor, the size of an orange, was removed from Bing's right lung. He immediately stopped smoking cigarettes (he smoked three packs a day), pipes, and cigars. It was 6:00 pm on October 14, 1977, and he had just finished a golf game. Reportedly, his last words were, "That was a great game of golf, fellas. Let's go get a Coke." He then dropped dead of a heart attack. Bing was reportedly 74 years old.
Bing's funeral, as stated in his will was to be attended by family and close friends only, and held in a Roman Catholic church. Geraldo Rivera reported the event for ABC News and was the only reporter in attendance. Hating to wear a toupee (he preferred to wear a golf cap), his bald head showed for all to see.