Western Wanderings: The Voice of Christmas
Fish, Peter, Sunset
* SPOKANE, WASHINGTON--In our house, the December ritual goes like this. We gather around the VCR, eggnogs in hand, and fidget until the movie begins. Opening scene: Christmas Eve 1944, the European theater, not far from the front lines. On an impromptu stage, two song-and-dance men in Santa hats soft-shoe for their fellow GIs. Then the dance number ends, and one of the hoofers steps forward. In a baritone of almost ethereal purity and strength he begins to sing, "I'm dreaming of ..."
The dream is of a white Christmas; the singer is Bing Crosby. At one time, such identifying information would have been superfluous. But in the quarter century since his death, the singer has been pushed aside in favor of flashier entertainers. Now he is being rediscovered.
"I could listen to him for hours," says Stephanie Edwards Plowman, curator of the Bing Crosby Collection at Gonzaga University in Spokane.
The Bing Crosby Collection is here because Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby was a Spokane boy; he studied with the Jesuits at Gonzaga High School and later at Gonzaga University. He was pondering law school when he realized his weekend passion--singing with a local five-piece band known as the Musicaladers--mattered more to him than being an attorney. In 1925, at the age of 22, he hotfooted it to Los Angeles and tried to break into show business.
He hit it big. He toured with jazz band leader Paul Whiteman, made a movie, sold records and more records (although his first gold record, Sweet Leilani, did not come until 1937). By the late 1930s he was among the nation's most popular radio personalities; by the 1940s he was one of Hollywood's top stars. And all the time he was singing in a voice that friend Louis Armstrong likened to "gold being poured out of a cup."
Mementos from this career fill the Crosbyana Room: sheet music and gold records, posters from Crosby's Road movies with Bob Hope, and the Oscar he earned in Going My Way. …