American actor/singer Bing Crosby acquired his nickname as a child in Washington state. As the legend goes, little Harry Lillis Crosby's favorite comic strip was "The Bingville Bugle," in which the leading character was called Bingo. Hence, the boy was "Bingo" Crosby, with the "O" dropping off as he got older. A restless youth, Crosby tried studying law at Gonzaga University, but spent more time as a drummer and singer in a Spokane band. He and his pal Al Rinker worked up a musical act, and were later joined by Harry Barris. As the Rhythm Boys, the three young entertainers were hired by bandleader Paul Whiteman, who featured them in his nightclub appearances and his film debut, The King of Jazz (1930). Crosby managed to score on radio in 1931, and a series of two-reel comedies made for Mack Sennett helped him launch a screen career; his starring feature debut was in 1932's The Big Broadcast. During this period, he married singer Dixie Lee, with whom he had sons Gary, Dennis, Philip and Lindsay. As one of Paramount's most popular stars of the '30s, and with his carefully cultivated image of an easygoing, golf-happy, regular guy, generous contributor to charities, devoted husband, father, and friend, Crosby became an icon of American values.
In 1940, he made the first of several appearances with his golfing buddy Bob Hope, ultimately resulting in seven "Road" pictures which, thanks to the stars' laid-back improvisational style, seem as fresh today as they did at the time. Another milestone occurred in 1944, when director Leo McCarey asked Crosby to play a priest in an upcoming film. Crosby, a devout Catholic, at first refused on the grounds that it would be in bad taste. But McCarey persisted, and Crosby ended up winning an Oscar for his performance in Going My Way (1944). He ushered in a new technological era a few years later when he signed a contract to appear on a weekly ABC variety show provided that it not be live, but tape recorded -- a first for network radio -- so that Crosby could spend more time on the golf course. With the death of his wife Dixie in 1952, the devastated entertainer dropped out of the movie business for a full year; but his life took an upswing when he married young actress Kathryn Grant in 1957. His film roles were few in the '60s, but Crosby was a television fixture during those years, and could be counted on each Yuletide to appear on just about everyone's program singing his signature holiday tune, "White Christmas." Burdened by life-threatening illnesses in the mid-'70s, the singer nonetheless embarked on concert tours throughout the world, surviving even a dangerous fall into an orchestra pit. Crosby died from a heart attack in 1977, shortly after he had finished the 18th hole on a Spanish golf course. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi