“There’s no labor a man can do that’s undignified-if he does it right.”
In his heyday, Bing Crosby was about as big a star the entertainment industry had ever seen, often regarded as the first real multimedia celebrity. He was as known for his radio singles and albums as for his leading roles in motion pictures, and he broke records on every front. And in those days, absolutely no car would do for such an icon but a Cadillac, and in Bing’s case, it had to be a custom-built 1947 convertible.
The Fourth of Seven Children
Bing Crosby was born in Tacoma, Washington on May 3, 1903, growing up in a home built by his father in Spokane, which still stands today, serving as a museum to the life and times of the performer. It was a crowded house, Bing growing up with four brothers and two sisters, but he recalls his childhood fondly. Born Harry Lillis Crosby, Jr., Bing Crosby, in true Bing Crosby fashion, spun a yarn that “Bing” came from childhood games of cops and robbers. Crosby would stroll the streets with a wooden toy pistol on either hip, and when he saw his adversaries, he would draw both guns, play-firing and shouting “Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing!” In truth, the name came from a neighber who called him “Bingo from Bingville,” inspired by the title of the local paper, The Bingville Bugle. Harry loved the name all the same, shortening it to Bing and carrying it with him into his career as a showman.
Bing’s path towards stardom began with a summer job at the “Auditorium” theater in Spokane in 1917. Here he was able to catch all the nation’s hottest performers as they toured through the city. He was particularly fond of Al Jolson’s blend of song and comedy, and after graduating from Gonzaga High School, had his first taste of the performing arts as a drummer with local band The Musicaladers. The band was largely composed of high schoolers, and would mostly play at local clubs and high school dances. The group peaked with a performance on the KHQ radio station in Spokane. Once the band broke up, Crosby found work at the Bing Crosby Theater. Of course, at the time it was called the Clemmer Theatre.
Crosby was a singer with the vocal trio The Three Harmony Aces, singing to entertain crowds between films at the Clemer Theatre. By the mid-1920s, Crosby realized that he had achieved all one could hope to achieve in Spokane, and it was time to move out west to Los Angeles in his pursuit of stardom. Within a year he was performing at the Tivoli Theater, and the road to stardom lay before him.
In 1931, six years since moving to Los Angeles, Crosby finally had his shot at the big time, making his national solo debut. By the end of the year, Crosby had sung on ten of the year’s top fifty songs. He was now the king of radio music with singles like “Out of Nowhere” (1931), “At Your Command” (1931) and his weekly radio broadcast. In 1932, Bing’s film career would kick off with The Big Broadcast (1932). Over the coming years he would star in fifty-five films and feature in seventy-nine total.
“White Christmas” sold two million copies in the US alone, and the artist has sold more than sixty million records in total. He managed to maintain incredible sales throughout the Great Depression, when Americans were not very eager to part with their hard-earned money. He remained relevant well into his later years, partnering with none other than David Bowie for a performance of “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Peace on Earth” on a TV Christmas special, the duets being released as a single record in 1982 and hitting the third spot on the UK charts.
It is difficult to exaggerate the extent of Bing Crosby’s achievements in music and film. The biggest star of the 21st Century pales in comparison to the visibility and cultural impact of Bing Crosby in his prime.
A Car Fit For The King
In the 1940s, the Cadillac was the car for a big-time celebrity. Rita Hayworth drove a Cadillac, same with Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Richard Burton and everyone in the Rat Pack. If you weren’t driving a Cadillac, it was hard to convince anyone that you’d truly “made it,” and Bing Crosby was a particularly big fan of the carmaker. He drove a number of Caddies in his life, but the one with which he is most associated would have to be his 1947 convertible.
In terms of performance, the numbers may not be as impressive as those you see in newer cars. It would take around seventeen seconds to go from zero to sixty and you were lucky to get fourteen miles to a gallon, but a Cadillac was as comfortable and luxiours in 1947 as it is today. Bing’s was a two-door with that classic big-grille look stretching eighty inches across and sixty-three tall for ample elbow room. The 1942-47 models offered three-speed synchromesh manual transmission or four-speed Hydra-Matic automatic with those powerful V8 engines.
Classic Cadillacs are as treasured by car lovers today as they have ever been, and for good reason. A 1947 Cadillac wasn’t just a beautiful car, it was a luxury coach without the horses. If you were Hollywood royalty, it was simply shameful to be seen driving anything less.
“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.”