By Sigurd Neubauer
He’s been part of Christmas for generations.
Bing Crosby’s (1903-1977) stands out as one of the greatest American cultural icons of all time. His unmatched musical legacy comes to life every holiday season as his Christmas songs, especially White Christmas – or for those who prefer a tropical Christmas in Hawaii – Mele Kalikimaka, with the Andrews Sisters, remain as popular as ever some four decades after his passing.
Bing Crosby was born Harry Lillis Crosby on May 3, 1903, in Tacoma, Washington.
After having struggled with alcoholism, his first wife, Dixie Lee (1909-1952), helped him overcome it and Crosby became the voice of the Depression and the recovery.
The father of four boys, including a set of twins, Crosby became rich, powerful, and beloved. He represented what Americans aspired to become and what they loved about their country. Crosby, the ever gentleman-entertainer, first on radio and then on screen, helped console a nation facing hardships, from the Depression and throughout World War II. During the 1950s, Crosby also represented optimism in the post-war era of nearly unlimited freedom and prosperity.
A devout Roman-Catholic, his personality was easy-going, and he was modest. He was nonetheless wealthy, powerful and admired. His hobbies including playing golf and fishing, and according to his biographer, Gary Giddins, “Bing lived like a king with relative disciplined appetites. He didn’t own a plane, a yacht, or a Rolls; had never been to Europe; kept no mistresses in hidden-away apartments; and thus far had erected no statelier mansions than the monument of Americana on Camarillo.”
The father of four boys, with the seemingly perfect wife, Dixie Lee, Crosby became rich, powerful and beloved
His wife, Dixie, “formerly a promising star in her own right, epitomized a rare combination: Hollywood-beautiful and girl-next-door-approachable. She was smart, charming, droll, athletic, fiercely loyal, and sometimes as sharp as a thorn,” according to Giddins.
He lived, seemingly, a perfect life. But behind the scenes, Dixie – who had helped her husband with overcoming alcoholism – herself suffered from it, and ultimately died of it at the age of 41.
For those seeking to learn more about the iconic American, whose music graces the radio stations this time of year, Giddins’s biography cannot be recommended highly enough.
Crosby’s White Christmas album of 1954 became the best-selling recording of all time. It’s composer, Irving Berlin (1888-1989), also stands out as another great American whose artistic contributions have become synonyms with the American experience. Berlin, along with Crosby, became quintessential Americans as their legacies are forever intertwined.