By Howard Crosby
Pictured above, Bing and family pause for a photo at Ted Crosby’s home in the Spokane Valley in 1967. From left to right: Harry, Bing, Mary, Ted, Howard, Edward, and Nathaniel Crosby. Photo courtesy of the Howard Crosby Family Archives.
People often ask me exactly how I’m related to Bing Crosby, and I often reply, “Well, his parents were my grandparents.” That usually gets a funny stare, and then I explain that Uncle Bing was the younger brother of my Dad, Ted Crosby. They were very close in age, just over a year apart – Irish twins really. They slept in the same bed on the sleeping porch on East Sharp Avenue in the house my Grandfather built across from College Hall at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Gonzaga, I might add, has purchased the house, and they have now converted it into a wonderful museum dedicated to their own most prominent alum, Bing Crosby!
As boys growing up, Dad was the student, a real bookworm and an “A” student, while Bing was the family athlete. Bing excelled in swimming, baseball, and golf, and he started as a caddy at Downriver Golf Course when it opened for play in 1915.
Many years later, I learned from my aunts and uncles that Dad never had any chores around the house, nor did he have to get any outside jobs like mowing lawns, shoveling snow or babysitting to help with the household bills, as all of his brothers and sisters did. When the others would complain, “Why doesn’t Ted have to do anything?” my Grandmother Kate would reply, “Leave Ted alone and let him study! He’s going to be a priest!” Somehow that never quite panned out.
By the time Uncle Bing became a star, Dad was already an executive with Washington Water Power in Spokane. Good jobs weren’t that plentiful during the depression, so there was never any thought of pulling up stakes and leaving Spokane. So except for a couple of brief stints in Washington D.C. and California, Dad remained in town. Spokane is where I grew up. As a boy, I knew there was something special about my uncle (other kids in school whispering and pointing at me) but we only saw him on occasional visits to California, or when he would come to Spokane to visit Gonzaga. Then golf happened.
By my late teens, I had become a pretty fair golfer, playing off a 1 handicap. In fact, I earned a golf scholarship to the University of Idaho. I first played golf with Uncle Bing as a fifteen year old, at the San Francisco Golf Club in the summer of 1967. He was, as everyone knows, an avid golfer and a very good player. I was a big, strong kid, and I could hit the ball a long ways. He took an interest in my game, and over the next decade, I played a number of rounds of golf with Uncle Bing at some great places like Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Burlingame Country Club, Bel Air Country Club, and the Olympic Club, to name a few.
Even in his later years, Bing was a solid single digit handicapper, with an easy rhythm and a good short game. He had been playing since he was 12, and I remember one time we had finished a morning round and were eating lunch in the clubhouse grill. A friend of his spotted him and came over to say hello, and he asked Bing if he was playing much golf. Bing’s reply: “Just days.”
After Dad died in December 1973, Uncle Bing seemed to take an even more profound interest in me and my golf, and he sent me all expense paid invitations to play as an amateur competitor in the prestigious Bing Crosby National Pro-Am in 1975, 1976 and 1977. Those trips remain some of the best memories of my life. And it was because of golf that I really got to know my Uncle, and not just as an entertainment legend, but also as a man.
For a very public figure, and for someone who lived in the glare of the spotlight for nearly fifty years, Bing Crosby was a very private person. He loved quiet days on the links, or fishing or hunting, either all alone or with a few close friends. He was not an entertainer who lived for the adulation of the crowd (like his friend Bob Hope), and in fact, he was positively embarrassed by those who talked of him as being some kind of legend or great man. This kind of talk grated against a deep-seated humility that was both genuine and immovable. He never really believed that he was a great singer or actor, and often attributed his success to extraordinary good luck!
Of course, the overwhelming statistics of his unparalleled career tell a different story: Over 2,000 commercial recordings, 38 #1 hit songs, starring roles in 63 feature films, over 1 billion tickets sold at the box office, and on and on. These are unmatched by any other entertainer, to this day!
I never really realized I had a talent for singing until I was in my late twenties, but over the last twenty years or so, I’ve had a lot of fun with music. I’ve recorded a couple of albums, and I’ve been privileged to entertain audiences not only locally here in the Pacific Northwest, but also in far flung places like London, Dublin, Boston and Texas. When people tell me they think I sound like Bing, I tell them to have their hearing aid checked! At least, I usually sing his songs in the same key.
When I do perform, I usually share some of my personal stories about Uncle Bing. It’s impossible to completely do justice to his unequaled career in a short concert, but I really hope to give the audience at least a good sampling of the music that made Bing Crosby the most successful, most admired, and most idolized entertainer of the twentieth century.