Wednesday, June 13, 2012

BOB CROSBY: ANOTHER TALENTED CROSBY

It is often hard for children to compete with their older siblings. They are constantly compared to their older counterparts. That happens in all families. However, it is even worse when an older sibling is a major legendary star. Bob Crosby had to face this comparison all his life. He was ten years younger than his older brother Bing, but he faced a life of being in Bing's shadows. However, Bob emerged from those shadows at a young age and became one of the best bandleaders of the big band era.

Bob Crosby was born on August 23, 1913 in Spokane, Washington. He was the youngest of seven children: five boys, Larry (1895–1975), Everett (1896–1966), Ted (1900–1973), Harry (1903–1977, popularly known as Bing Crosby) and Bob; and two girls, Catherine (1905–1988) and Mary Rose (1907–1990). His parents were English-American bookkeeper Harry Lowe Crosby (1871–1950) and Irish-American Catherine Harrigan (1873–1964), (affectionately known as Kate), the daughter of a builder from County Mayo in Ireland.

Bob Crosby began singing in the early 1930s with the Delta Rhythm Boys which included vocalist Ray Hendricks and guitarist Bill Pollard also with Anson Weeks (1931–34) and the Dorsey Brothers (1934–35). He led his first band in 1935, when the former members of Ben Pollack's band elected him as titular leader. He recorded with the Clark Randall Orchestra in 1935, led by Gil Rodin and featuring singer Frank Tennille, whose pseudonym was Clark Randall. Glenn Miller was a member of that orchestra which recorded the Glenn Miller novelty composition "When Icky Morgan Plays the Organ" in 1935. His most famous band, the Bob-Cats, was a Dixieland jazz group with members from the Bob Crosby Orchestra. Both the Bob Crosby Orchestra and the smaller Bob-Cats group specialized in Dixieland jazz, presaging the traditional jazz revival of the 1940s. Crosby's singing voice was remarkably similar to that of his brother Bing, but without its range.

The Bob Crosby Orchestra and the Bob-Cats included (at various times) Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Muggsy Spanier, Matty Matlock, Irving Fazola, Ward Silloway, Warren Smith, Eddie Miller, Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, Jess Stacy, Nappy Lamare, Bob Haggart, Walt Yoder, Jack Sperling, and Ray Bauduc. Arrangements for the orchestra were often done by a young trumpeter by the name of Gilbert Portmore who, during the time he was a decorated WWII fighter pilot in the South Pacific, started an Air Force swing band known as Cap'n Portmore's Hepcats.

Hits included "Summertime" (theme song), "In a Little Gypsy Tea Room", "Whispers in The Dark", "South Rampart Street Parade", "March of the Bob Cats", "Day In, Day Out", "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby", "Dolores" and "New San Antonio Rose" (last three with Bing Crosby). A bass and drums duet between Haggart and Bauduc, "Big Noise from Winnetka," became a hit in 1938-39.

The enduring popularity of the Bob Crosby Orchestra and the Bob Cats - whose biography was written by British jazz historian John Chilton, was evident during the frequent reunions in the 1950s and 1960s. Bob Haggart and Yank Lawson organized a band that kept the spirit alive, combining Dixieland and swing with a roster of top soloists. From the late 1960s until the mid-1970s, the group was known as The World's Greatest Jazzband. Since neither leader was happy with that name, they eventually reverted to The Lawson Haggart Jazzband. The Lawson-Haggart group was consistent in keeping the Bob Crosby tradition alive.

During World War II, Bob Crosby spent 18 months in the Marines, touring with bands in the Pacific. His radio variety series, The Bob Crosby Show, aired on NBC and CBS in different runs between the years 1943 to 1950, followed by Club Fifteen on CBS from 1947 through 1953 and a half-hour CBS daytime series, The Bob Crosby Show (1953–1957). He introduced the Canadian singer Gisele MacKenzie to American audiences and subsequently guest starred in 1957 on her NBC television series, The Gisele MacKenzie Show.

On September 14, 1952, Bob replaced Phil Harris as the bandleader on The Jack Benny Program, remaining until Benny retired the radio show in 1955 after 23 years. In joining the show, he became the leader of the same group of musicians who had played under Harris. According to Benny writer Milt Josefsberg, the issue was budget. Because radio had strong competition from TV, the program budget had to be reduced, so Bob replaced Phil. Prior to joining Benny on the radio, Crosby, who was based on the East Coast, would often play with Benny during Benny's live New York appearances, and he was seen frequently throughout the 1950s on Benny's television series.

In the 1950s, Bob grabbed headlines he never would like to be a part of when his wife was arrested for trying to stab Bob during a domestic fight at their home. Even though his wife threatened divorce, I believe the couple stayed married until his wife's death shortly before Bob passed away.

As a performer, Crosby had tremendous charisma and wit combined with a laid back persona. He was able to swap jokes competently with Benny, including humorous references to his brother Bing's wealth and his string of losing racehorses. An exchange during one of the popular Christmas programs ran thus: Crosby muses to Jack that he's bought gifts for everyone but bandmember Frank Remley. When Jack suggests "a cordial, like a bottle of Drambuie," Crosby counters that Drambuie is an after-dinner drink and adds, alluding to Remley's penchant for alcohol, that "Remley never quite makes it to after dinner."

Bob Crosby guest starred in the television series The Gisele MacKenzie Show. He also starred in his own afternoon variety show, The Bob Crosby show, that aired between 1953 and 1957.

In later years Bob grew closer to Bing, and he discovered that although Bing refused to give Bob money when he was starting out, Bing did pull strings to get Bob some of his first jobs in entertainment. Bing never told Bob this until later in life. After Bing died in 1977 though, Bob became estranged from Bing's second wife Kathryn.

Bob Crosby died on March 9, 1993 at his home in La Jolla, California.

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