Bing Crosby (May 3, 1903-October 14, 1977) was, without doubt, the most popular and influential multi-media star of the first half of the 20th century. For more than three decades, through radio, film, television and records, he reigned supreme.
The new documentary American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered, premiering nationwide Tuesday, December 2 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) as the series’ Season 28 finale, explores the life and legend of this iconic performer, revealing a man far more complex than his public persona. The film is available December 2 on DVD from PBS Distribution. A holiday encore presentation airs Friday, December 26 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).
Crosby’s estate, HLC Properties, Ltd., granted American Masters unprecedented access to the entertainer’s personal and professional archives, including never-before-seen home movies, Dictabelt recordings, photos and more. Narrated by Stanley Tucci, the film features new interviews with all surviving members of Crosby’s immediate family — wife Kathryn, daughter Mary and sons Harry and Nathaniel. The film reveals Crosby’s struggles with his first wife, Dixie Lee, and their sons Gary, Dennis, Phillip and Lindsay. Mary addresses accusations of abuse first published in Gary’s 1983 memoir, which tarnished their father’s legacy. Gary speaks candidly about both his and his mother’s alcoholism as well as his difficulties with his father in a never-before-seen 1987 interview. Other new interviews include singers Tony Bennett and Michael Feinstein, record producer Ken Barnes, biographer Gary Giddins, and writers Buz Kohan and Larry Grossman, who both share the story behind Crosby’s Christmas special duet with David Bowie.
American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered – The Soundtrack features songs heard in the documentary, including 16 previously unreleased recordings, and is available November 24, 2014, via Bing Crosby Archive and Universal Music Enterprises.
“I’ve never seen an entertainer more comfortable in his own skin, more certain of who he was,” says Emmy-winning director Robert Trachtenberg, whose past films for American Masters include Mel Brooks: Make a Noise, On Cukor, Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer and Cary Grant: A Class Apart. “With the new material I’ve found, I think the breadth, depth and candor of his story will hopefully allow people to see him in a new light.”
Thirty-seven years after his death, Bing Crosby remains the most recorded performer in history with nearly 400 hit singles, an achievement no one — not Sinatra, Elvis or the Beatles — has come close to matching. A brilliant entrepreneur, Crosby played an important role in the development of the postwar recording industry. As one of Hollywood’s most popular actors, he won the Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way and starred in the iconic “Road” films with Bob Hope.
“We naturally think of Bing at Christmastime, but with more No. 1 recordings than anyone, it is easy to overlook all of his other achievements. Thankfully, this film delves deeply into all of his remarkable work, and will surprise many viewers with a unique perspective on his private life,” says Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters.
Launched in 1986 by series creator Susan Lacy, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. Now in its 28th season on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations, and operator of NJTV. For more than 50 years, THIRTEEN has been a partner with the tri-state community, using its rich resources to inform and inspire the passionate people of New York and the world to better understand and address the issues that challenge our diverse communities.
American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’s American Masters for WNET. Robert Trachtenberg is writer, director and producer. Gillian McCarthy is editor. Junko Tsunashima is supervising producer. Julie Sacks is series producer. Susan Lacy and Michael Kantor are executive producers.
American Masters is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, Anne Ray Charitable Trust, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers.