Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bing Sings the Oscar Songs

Each year at Bing's birthday (May 2nd? May 3rd? Oy!) I blog about my favourite entertainer of the 20th century. Today let's look at one of Bing Crosby's phenomenal show business records. During the course of his movie career, Bing introduced fourteen original songs that were nominated for the Best Song by the Motion Picture Academy and four of these were awarded statues.

The first of these songs was a tune we associate with another popular performer.  Jack Benny's theme Love in Bloom by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin was first sung by Bing in 1934s She Loves Me Not was one of three nominated songs in the first year of the category.  The others were The Carioca from Flying Down to Rio and the winner, The Continental from The Gay Divorcee.  In She Loves Me Not Miriam Hopkins stars as a nightclub singer on the lam from gangsters hiding out at Princeton University where she's helped by students Bing Crosby and Edward Nugent.  The movie was remade as How to Be Very, Very Popular in 1955 starring Betty Grable, Sheree North and Robert Cummings.

Next was a nomination for the title tune from 1936's Pennies From Heaven. Bing's character is this movie saw himself as a modern day troubadour, footloose and fancy free, until he got mixed up with a kid (the marvelous Edith Fellows), an old man (Donald Meek) and an uptight social worker (Madge Evans). Prominent in the cast was Bing's good friend Louis Armstrong. The nomination for Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke's song must have been especially gratifying because Bing was one of the producers of the movie released through Columbia Studios. Truly a case of being nominated is honour enough as the winner for Best Song was Kern and Fields The Way You Look Tonight from Swingtime.

1937's Waikiki Wedding, with its breezy good humour and sumptuous cinematography by Karl "Sunrise" Struss was a top box office draw the year it was released and featured the lovely Blue Hawaii by Ralph Robin and Leo Rainger. Blue Hawaii was overlooked by the Academy in favour of Harry Owens lullaby Sweet Leilani. Bing had heard the song by bandleader/composer Owens while on vacation in Hawaii in 1936. The song's inclusion in the film was at Bing's insistence and he set up a trust fund for the royalties to go to Harry's daughter Leilani for whom the song was written. Sweet Leilani won over competition that included the Gershwin's They Can't Take That Away from Me from Shall We Dance and Fain & Brown's That Old Feeling from Vogues of 1938.

I highly recommend 1940s Rhythm on the River to those who have yet to to see it. Basil Rathbone is an absolute hoot as a famous composer who has lost his stuff. He "collaborates" with a lyricist played by Mary Martin and a composer played by Bing. Eventually the two dupes discover the truth and set out on their own. Throw in Oscar Levant for the wisecracks and Wingy Manone for the trumpet and you have a winner.

Rhythm on the River features my all-time favourite Bing Crosby title track from a movie, but that peppy number didn't find favour with the Academy. It was Monaco and Burke's destined-to-become-a-standard Only Forever that was nominated. In another case of losing to a classic, the winner was Leigh Harline and Ned Washington's When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio.

Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds

Recognize the scene pictured above? Jim Hardy and "I'm Linda Mason" introduce Irving Berlin's White Christmas to the world in 1942s Holiday Inn. The song is such a part of our lives that I often forget that it also received the honour of an Oscar.

There were a few goodies among the nominees that year: Styne & Kahn's It Seems to Me I've Heard That Song Before from Youth on Parade, Warren & Gordon's I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo from Orchestra Wives, Churchill & Morey's Love is a Song from Bambi, Lane & Freed's How About You? from Babes on Broadway, Kern & Mercer's Dearly Beloved from You Were Never Lovelier and Lucuono & Gannon's title theme from Always in My Heart.

1944s Going My Way was an Oscar juggernaut winning Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Story, Screenplay and Best Song for Swinging on a Star performed by Bing as Father O'Malley with the Mitchell Boys Choir. The peppy favourite won over such perennial ballads as McHugh & Adamson's I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night introduced by Frank Sinatra in Higher and Higher, and Styne & Cahn's I'll Walk Alone from Follow the Boys.

The 1944 release Here Comes the WAVES starring Bing as a Sinatra-type balladeer and Betty Hutton as twins was nominated in the Best Song category for the Oscars of 1946. Perhaps this was due to the late December 1944 release of the movie. The song was the Arlen & Mercer rouser Accentuate the Positive. Among the competition was Aren't You Glad You're You from 1945's popular Going My Way sequel The Bells of St. Mary's. Both songs could have stayed home that night because the award went to Rodgers & Hammerstein's lovely It Might As Well Be Spring from State Fair.

In 1946 Holiday Inn co-stars and composer, Bing, Fred Astaire and Irving Berlin reunited for Blue Skies.  The Technicolor musical was a look at the career and romantic complications of two song and dance men and featured a lot of Irving Berlin favourites plus a new song, You Keep Coming Back Like a Song which was nominated for an Oscar.  The other nominees were Hoagy Carmichael's Ole Buttermilk Sky from Canyon Passage, Monaco and Gordon's I Can't Begin to Tell You from The Dolly Sisters and Kern and Hammerstein's All Through the Day from Centennial Summer.  The winner was Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer's On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe from The Harvey Girls.

The final winner in Bing's cannon of Oscar songs was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening rightfully became a standard and a lot of it may have to do with its staging in Here Comes the Groom. Director Frank Capra decided to forgo using playback and asked his stars to sing the song while cavorting live on set. Were Bing and Jane Wyman game? You bet they were. The number is only one of the highlights in an immensely enjoyable movie.

1952's Just for You reunited Bing and Jane in the story of a widowed Broadway producer coping, not very well, with his children and finding romance with a musical comedy star. Oscar nominated Zing a Little Zong by Harry Warren and Leo Robin tries to capture some of the joy of the previous year's In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening and comes pretty darn close. Worthy of the nomination, the song would lose to one of the most famous movie songs of all-time, Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington's theme to High Noon.

Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby

1954's Curtiz directed Christmas perennial White Christmas gave us some favourite familiar Irving Berlin songs and a nomination for a new one as Rosemary Clooney and Bing sang Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep. The Academy voters awarded Styne and Cahn's popular theme to Three Coins in a Fountain, overlooking not only Irving, but Arlen & Gershwin's The Man That Got Away from A Star is Born.

The 1957 Academy Awards saw another duet nominated for "Best Original Song" when Bing and Grace Kelly introduced Cole Porter's lovely True Love in High Society, the entertaining musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. Livingston and Evans were the winners with Que Sera Sera from The Man Who Knew Too Much.

The 1960 Blake Edwards comedy High Time saw Bing as a retired millionaire taking the time out to get a college degree and experience a life he had missed as a younger working man.  He falls for a lovely French teacher played by Nicole Maurey and sings the Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn Oscar nominated The Second Time Around.  Other tunes in the Best Song category were The Green Leaves of Summer from The Alamo, Faraway Part of Town from Pepe and the title song from The Facts of Life.  The winner was the very popular title track, Never on Sunday.

I feel pretty safe in saying that Bing's record of introducing 14 Oscar nominated and 4 winning songs will never be equaled.


  1. Love your entry on Bing! Bing would have been proud!

  2. I would LOVE to have that record! What a lovely tribute to Bing, and reminders of all those wonderful songs over the years.

    White Christmas was the obvious best for its year, but I have always loved "It Seems to Me I've Heard That Song Before." So haunting. I'd like to hear Bing sing it!

    I haven't seen many of these movies for a long time, and you have inspired me to look them up again. Good stuff, Caftan Woman!

  3. I've always liked Crosby, having listened to the surprisingly jazzy records of Bing with the Rhythm Boys from the late '20s and early '30s when I was a kid,(they were my Mom's 78s). Of his films, I'm very fond of We're Not Dressing, Pennies From Heaven and Sing You Singers, but a friend just recommended Birth of the Blues, which I'm not familiar with, are you? Apparently it is on DVD.

    I agree about Rhythm on the River. Basil is very funny as the composer. Have you read Gary Giddins' excellent bio, ""Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years, 1903-1940"? I loved it and hope that someday Giddins publishes a follow-up volume.

    This was a terrific article and reminder of how influential Crosby was as a performer. Thanks for posting this and reminding me of him.

  4. Classic Becky, I have seen "White Christmas" calm overheated shoppers in department stores in that last frenzied week before Christmas. That's magic!

    There are a couple of excellent Bing Crosby movie collections on dvd, if you want to have a Crosby marathon.

  5. Moira, I understand that Giddens second volume on Bing is scheduled to come out this fall. Hooray!

    What "Birth of the Blues" lacks in historically accuracy, it more than makes up for in its music. Nostalgic favourites like "My Melancholy Baby", "Tiger Rag", "By the Light of the Silvery Moon, "St. Louis Blues" and, especially Bing & Mary Martin's jazzy duet of "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie" (check YouTube). For the newer piece Johnny Mercer provided "The Waiter, the Porter and the Upstairs Maid" sung by Bing, Mary and Jack Teagarden. Good stuff! I do think you'll get a kick out of the trumpet player in the band played by Brian Donlevy. Yes, listen to that friend.

  6. There was something about Bing that didn't resonate with me. I have no idea what it was to this day.

    I do have to admit, he had a very soothing voice and he made some classic recordings.

  7. Brian, that's the way it goes. Some singers do it for you and some singers don't. It doesn't stand in the way of an appreciation that they may be good at what they do, but they're just not "your" guy or gal.

  8. Despite being sick on Bing's birthday with the flu, your blog entry made my day!

  9. By the way, could I use your post on my Bing Crosby blog. I would give you credit and everything. Let me know!

  10. I'm so sorry to hear you are under the weather. Prescription: drink plenty of Minute Maid and listen to Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings.

    I am extremely honoured that you would like to use my post. Certainly, my friend.

  11. Oh, CW, I love Bing! I am always "singing" his praises and am so happy when I see someone else who loves him, too. Great post and most enjoyable!

  12. Right back at ya', FlickChick, and thanks for the kind words.

  13. He had a remarkably successful career, and unlike a lot of professional entertainers, the heights he reached his early days sustained him in later decades. His voice, his manner and his charisma were perfectly suited to radio, and his popularity there brought him to the movies. I suppose few entertainers have ever parlayed their talent into such a gold mine. Really something, our Bing. I especially like his old Kraft Music Hall radio shows.

    Thanks for a great post.

  14. Those radio shows seem as vibrant as today. The knack for communication was something Bing always had in abundance.

    He sang in a lower tone in his later years. He really knew how to take care of his voice. Bing's last albums, made shortly before his death, are the work of a man still in control of his gifts.



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