Saturday, February 8, 2014

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Sing a Song of Oscar

It's Oscar time.  A time of promotion for the motion picture industry.  A time of excitement and anxiety for the nominees.  And no less a time of interest and opinions on the part of film fans.  Classic fans enjoy 31 Days of Oscar on TCM and the second annual 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by the intrepid trio of Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled and Paula's Cinema Club.

My contribution to the blogathon is a revisit and a revamp of an article first posted on this blog in 2011 which looks at an amazing Oscar record.

During the course of his movie career Bing Crosby introduced fourteen original songs that were nominated for the Best Song by the Motion Picture Academy and four of these songs garnered statues for their composers.

Click on the song title links for YouTube performances from the films where available.

Bing Crosby, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Nugent

1934:  She Loves Me Not

The first of these songs was a tune we associate with another performer.  Jack Benny's theme Love in Bloom by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin was first sung by Bing and Kitty Carlisle in She Loves Me Not.  Miriam Hopkins stars as a nightclub singer on the lam from crooks being hidden by Bing and fellow student Edward Nugent at Princeton.  The comedy was remade as How to Be Very, Very Popular in 1955 starring Betty Grable, Sheree North and Robert Cummings.

Three songs were nominated in this first year of the category, along with Love in Bloom was Eliscu and Kahn's Carioci from Flying Down to Rio and the winner, Conrad and Magdison's The Continental from The Gay Divorcee.

Donald Meek, Madge Evans, Bing Crosby, Edith Fellows

1936:  Pennies from Heaven

The nomination for Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke's title song Pennies from Heaven must have been especially gratifying for Bing as he was co-producer as well as star of this Columbia Studios release.  Bing plays Larry Poole, an ex-con who sees himself as a modern day troubadour, footloose and fancy free.  His life becomes entangled with an orphan played by the extraordinary child actress Edith Fellows (Five Little Peppers), her doughty grandfather Donald Meek (Stagecoach) and an uptight social worker Madge Evans (Dinner at Eight).  Prominent in the cast was Bing's good friend Louis Armstrong in the first of four films together, plus many TV appearances and a 1960 album, Bing and Satchmo.  This Oscar year is truly a case where being nominated is honour enough as the winner for Best Song was Kern and Fields The Way You Look Tonight from Swingtime.

1937:  Waikiki Wedding (winner)

One of the top box office pictures of the year, Waikiki Wedding starring Bing, Shirley Ross, Martha Raye and Bob Burns is filled with breezy good humour and hypnotically sumptuous cinematography by Karl "Sunrise" Struss.  The lovely Blue Hawaii by Ralph Robin and Leo Rainger was introduced in this film, but surprisingly was not nominated in the Best Song category.  The honour went to bandleader and composer Harry Owen's Sweet Leilani.  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 and Brown's That Old Feeling from Vogues of 1938.  While I think it's a lovely little lullaby, surely Sweet Leilani's win over the Gershwin tune is worthy of debate usually reserved for Best Picture or the acting categories.

Bing Crosby, Mary Martin, Oscar Levant

1940:  Rhythm on the River

This very funny film directed by Victor Schertzinger stars Basil Rathbone as a famous composer who has lost his stuff and "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 on 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 James Monaco and Johnny 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, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale

1942:  Holiday Inn (winner)

Bing as Jim Hardy and Marjorie Reynolds as "I'm Linda Mason" (dubbed by Martha Mears) introduced Irving Berlin's White Christmas to the world in 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 quite a few goodies among the nominees that year: Jules Style and Sammy Cahn's It Seems to Me I've Heard That Song Before from Youth on Parade, Harry Warren and Mack Gordon's I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo from Orchestra Wives, Frank Churchill and Larry Morey's Love is a Song from Bambi, Burton Lane and Ralph Freed's How About You? from Babes on Broadway, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer's Dearly Beloved from You Were Never Lovelier and Ernesto Lucuono and Kim Gannon's title theme from Always in My Heart.

Irving Berlin called White Christmas one of his "round" songs. A tune which seemed to compose itself, it came to him so effortlessly. His enthusiasm for the song never wavered. It seems that way as well with the public who has placed it at the number one of the Billboard charts three times since its motion picture debut.

Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald

1944:  Going My Way (winner)

Leo McCarey's heartwarming episodic feature following the exploits of progressive Father O'Malley and the set-in-his-ways Father Fitzgibbon was an Oscar juggernaut winning 7 out of 10 nominations.  In the win column Best Picture, Leading Actor Bing Crosby, Supporting Actor Barry Fitzgerald, Director Leo McCarey, Original Story Leo McCarey, Screenplay Frank Butler and Frank Cavett and Best Original Song for Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke's Swinging on a Star performed by Bing as Father O'Malley with the Mitchell Boys Choir.

The perennial favourite won over such superb ballads as Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson's I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night introduced by Frank Sinatra in Higher and Higher, Styne and Cahn's I'll Walk Alone from Follow the Boys, and Kern and Gershwin's Long Ago and Far Away from Cover Girl.

Betty Hutton, Bing Crosby

1945:  Here Come the Waves

Here Come the Waves stars Bing as a Sinatra-type balladeer and Betty Hutton as twins, one of whom is crazy about the crooner, so guess which one the star falls for?  Perhaps due to a the films late in the year release (I can find no other reason), the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer song Accentuate the Positive, was nominated for Best Song for the 1945 awards presented in March of 1946.  The song in the film is presented in a rousing production number and sung by Bing and Sonny Tufts in blackface.  The Oscar that year was awarded to the lovely ballad It Might As Well Be Spring from Rodgers and Hammerstein's State Fair.
Ruth Donnelly, Ingrid Bergman, Bing Crosby

1945:  The Bells of St. Mary's

Father O'Malley is at it again in the charming Going My Way sequel The Bells of St. Mary's co-starring Ingrid Bergman.  When a student at St. Mary's, Patsy played by gifted Joan Carrol (Meet Me in St. Louis, Primrose Path) is in need of a confidence boost O'Malley sings another Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke hit Aren't You Glad You're You into the Best Song category.  The winner that year, as previously mentioned, was Rodgers and Hammerstein's It Might As Well Be Spring.

1946:  Blue Skies

Holiday Inn co-stars Bing, Fred Astaire and composer Irving Berlin reunited for Blue Skies, a Technicolor musical chronicling the career and romantic entanglements of a couple of song and dance men.  The pretty leading lady was Joan Caulfield and comedy support came from Olga San Juan and Billy De Wolfe.  Among the perennial Berlin favourites was a new song You Keep Coming Back Like a Song which received an Oscar nomination.  The winner that year was Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer's On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe from The Harvey Girls.

Click here to listen to the lovely ballad as sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald on her Grammy award winning album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.   

Charles Lane, Bing Crosby, Jane Wyman
Beverly Washburn, Jacques Gencel

1951:  Here Comes the Groom (winner)

Frank Capra's Here Comes the Groom stars Bing as a foreign correspondent who surprises his stateside fiance with a couple of war orphans.  A top-flight cast including Alexis Smith and Franchot Tone seem to be having great fun in this picture.  Bing and leading lady Jane Wyman duet on Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening which was recorded live on set instead of using playback.  A winning combination for the audience and a winner at the Oscars.  The last of Bing's four Oscar winning songs.

Bing Crosby, JaneWyman

1952:  Just for You

It's Bing and Jane again in the story of a widowed Broadway producer coping, not very well, with his children played by Natalie Wood and Robert Arthur, 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.  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.

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen

1954:  White Christmas

Michael Curtiz directed Christmas perennial White Christmas starring Bing and Danny Kaye as successful producer/entertainers falling for singing sisters Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.  Along the way the quartet help a retired General played by Dean Jagger and give us some favourite familiar Irving Berlin songs.  A new tune gets an Oscar nomination as Rosie and Bing sing 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 and Gershwin's The Man That Got Away from A Star is Born.  Did the Academy members not get just who Ira Gershwin was?

Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra

1957:  High Society

It was big news when Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra were paired in this musical update of The Philadelphia Story opposite Grace Kelly in her final film before becoming Princess Grace of Monaco.  The songs, by Cole Porter no less, included the Oscar nominated True Love presented as a charming duet by Bing and Grace.  Mr. Porter would have to content himself with the thought of the untold number of couples who have taken his gentle ballad to their hearts.  In the Academy's eyes the Best Song of the Year was Livingston and Evans' Que Sera Sera from The Man Who Knew Too Much.
1960:  High Time

Blake Edwards' comedy stars Bing as a retired millionaire taking the time to get a college degree and experience a life he had missed as a younger working man.  Fabian, Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer are fellow students in this okay-Sunday-matinee type of movie.  Bing falls for a lovely French teacher played by Nicole Maurey and introduces 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 from Never on Sunday.

The nature of film and of the music business being what they are in the 21st century, I feel safe in predicting that Bing Crosby's record of introducing 14 Oscar nominated and 4 winning songs will never be equaled.

Impressive though the line-up of songs may be, if I were in charge there would be even more nominees.  For your consideration:

1934:  Here is My Heart, Rainger and Robin's Love Is Just Around the Corner
1935:  Mississippi, Rodgers and Hart's It's Easy to Remember (And So Hard to Forget)
1936:  Rhythm on the Range, Johnny Mercer's I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)
1942:  Road to Morocco, Van Heusen and Burke's Moonlight Becomes You
1947:  Road to Rio, Van Heusen and Burke's But Beautiful 


  1. Wow! Impressive indeed. It's no wonder so many of the songs were nominated with der Bingel introducing them. A very informative post and I love the pictures you used to illustrate it too...especially that Here Comes the Groom photo. I had forgotten about that film and how entertaining it was. Each of these numbers deserved their little golden statuette ( except Sweet Leilani perhaps....I'd rather have seen That Old Feeling take away the Oscar that year - it's more timeless ).

    1. I think the song category tells us as much about the Academy and the different eras as the best picture category does. Personally, nothing tops the era of the "great American songbook" when folks like Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael ruled.

      Time to watch "Here Comes the Groom"!

  2. Wow! I had no idea that so many Oscar-nominated songs were sung by Bing Crosby! It's an impressive collection, when you see them listed together as you've done here.

    1. You can discover the coolest stuff digging around in Oscar history.

      What was fun for me was finding so many of the movie performances available on YouTube. It's as if Bing is the King of YouTube.

  3. After reading about all those snubs in week 1, it's so good to see someone actually getting recognized for their incredible talent! Though I agree—would've loved to see the songs from those "Road to..." movies get something.

    1. The Academy can't be wrong all the time, but It is surprising that those timeless ballads from the "Road" pictures missed Oscar nods.

  4. I wrote about Bing last year, and his Oscar record is impressive. Of, course, any song sounds better in his voice, right?
    My favorite in the list is In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening. Yet this wasn't an original song, I loved his rendition of Blu Skies.

    1. I'm surprised to hear that the Hoagy Carmichael song might have been performed before the film. I thought the Academy had strict rules about that - at least from the 40s onward. At any rate, it's a gem of a song.

      I'll have to check out your article on Bing as I don't recall it, but know I would like it.

  5. Wonderful post--one of your all-time best! I think a lot of people forget how huge a star Bing Crosby was. He was in a ton of musicals, which I think partially accounts for the number of song noms from his films. But his film song scores were also written by some of Hollywood's best composers. "True Love" should have won the Oscar. I take it you're not a fan of "Accentuate the Positive." I always thought it was a cute song; it pops today every now and then in surprising places.

    1. Thank you so much. It was a labour of love - and a lot of wonderful time spent on YouTube.

      Actually, I am a fan of "Accentuate the Positive", but wanted to alert people that some might have an issue with the presentation in the film. I'm sure Mercer and Crosby meant no disrespect, but hindsight can be judgmental.

    2. What a track record! I especially like your comment here: "I think the song category tells us as much about the Academy and the different eras as the best picture category does..." so true.

    3. I hope you found some old favourites among the selections. The quality of the film for the clip from "Pennies from Heaven" is dodgy, but I had forgotten how great Bing's performance of the song remains.

  6. Great article and information. He is an American icon in music and film. It's funny to look and see what seems like trends in the different categories. Several Christmas films did not come out at Christmastime. I happen to have done a post that's similar :) Some of the songs like everything can be timely and some can become classics.

  7. Enjoyed your article. Some songs become so ingrained as standards that it is easy to forget their film roots.

  8. Great post! I think that film scores are often so woefully overlooked - often more so than set and costume design, which are bound up in the aesthetic memory of a film.
    I doubt that Bing's record will ever be bettered...although I have to quibble the Academy's decision to favour Que Sera Sera over True Love

    1. Thanks so much.

      I echo your quibble. I'm surprised there aren't more impassioned internet arguments over this category.

  9. Loved your post Caftan Woman. I'm a big fan of movie (and Broadway) songs, and had thought of doing a post on the subject myself. That will wait as I savor yours.

    1. Thank you so much, Christian.

      I'll be looking forward to your future post on the songs we love so well.

  10. Great stuff here. I know Bing sang a lot of great songs, but seeing them listed all together like this is really something. I always thought the Academy nominated the wrong song from "Here Come the Waves." I always thought the song "Let's Take the Long Way Home" is a great song, and one my favorite Bing songs. Not as well known as some of his others, but a real gem of a song.

    1. Thanks, Kevni.

      I agree. Much as I enjoy and try to follow the philosophy of "Accentuate the Positive", the lovely and lilting "Let's Take the Long Way Home" deserves to be a more well known standard.

  11. Great post MissPaddyLee. Now I realize why Crosby got the girl - and not Bob Hope.

  12. A woman appreciates a man who can make her laugh, but when you've got a golden voice and the best songwriters in the business - it's a done deal!

  13. While Frank Sinatra has long been my favorite of the crooners, I have recently really come to love Bing. Perhaps that is because I've seen "White Christmas" on the big screen of my city's vintage theatre the past 2 Christmases. In such surroundings, his voice is even more beautiful, and I have found myself falling under its spell. My Amazon wish list has several of Bing's CD's just waiting to be purchased.

    1. Lucky you! I don't believe I've ever seen Bing on the big screen. I must add that to my wish list.

      I have so many Crosby albums and CDs that I used to keep him in his own section. I could tell my Perry Como albums and CDs were jealous, although too much of a gentleman to make a fuss.



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