In 1937, Bing started a little golf tournament to assist struggling, underpaid professional golfers elevate their game and earn a little extra money and notoriety between tournaments. The event, which paired Hollywood hackers with golf pros, eventually became large enough to provide funds not only to golfers but a number of charities associated with golf and education. Dozens of colleges and universities became the recipients of “seed money” to be used as revolving loan funds to assist student athletes at schools across the United States. Schools like Gonzaga University, Bing’s alma mater in Spokane, Washington, and Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, DC, had loan funds named after Bing Crosby. And today, nearly 35 years after Bing’s death, four colleges still have loan funds for student athletes – Rice, Quincy, Wheaton and Wabash. The funds were initially contributed by Bing Crosby’s annual golf tournament. Bing also supported a number of causes throughout his lifetime. One of the earliest known contributions was a donation to the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black men accused of raping two white Alabama women. His increased radio presence allowed him to promote different causes with ease – the Red Cross, the United Appeal (now the United Way), Sister Kenny’s Polio Fund, the March of Dimes, and youth programs such as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, Boys Clubs, and 4-H Clubs.
He even recorded a number of public service announcements for radio and television, ranging from conservation (Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Save the Atlantic Salmon Campaign, U. S. Forest Service) to causes of social import (the U.S. Olympic Team, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Toys for Tots, the Christophers, the Family Rosary Crusade, the Shriners Hospital).
The profits from Bing’s earliest Christmas recordings – such as “Silent Night” – were earmarked for charity. Countless other contributions were made quietly to support a number of friends and family members who had fallen upon hard times.
With the start of World War II, and with Bing being a married father of four, aged 38 and unlikely to be drafted, Bing put forth heroic efforts to support the boys called away to war. Beginning with a request from General MacArthur to arrange to shortwave his Kraft Music Hall programs to GIs, Bing began a tireless campaign of his own to support the war effort. From the most-called-upon host of Armed Forces Radio Services (AFRS) broadcasts (Mail Call, GI Journal, Command Performance, Jubilee, V-Discs) to one-half of the most popular golfing duo (along with friend Bob Hope) on the USO and Red Cross fundraising circuit, Bing never slowed in his efforts. Opening his home to fundraisers, auctioning off personal items, joining the Hollywood Victory Caravan with other Hollywood celebrities, selling kisses, signing thousands of autographs daily, and kicking off a number of War Bond drives via radio and personal appearances kept Bing busy – as if his other commitments to movie making, his weekly radio program, and making records left him any free time.
Bing also found the time to entertain Allied troops in England and France during the late summer of 1944.
He opened the London branch of the Hollywood Canteen while there.
He’d have a drink with the officers, but he’d “mess” with the men as they took their meals.
He visited countless wounded soldiers and airmen, and even took time to visit civilians (including children) hospitalized because of war. In England, he broadcast in German to the enemy. In France, on route from one camp to another, his jeep wound up behind enemy lines for a few moments before correcting its route. Bing quipped later that even though the Allies technically lost the village to the Axis, he and his driver had “held it for a little while” that fateful day.
After the war, Bing, who’d contributed not only “White Christmas” but “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” to the songbook of the Greatest Generation, was awarded a “GI Oscar” in recognition of his wartime entertainment of the Allied troops. His personal efforts contributed to the direct sale of millions of dollars in war bonds, as well as hundreds of thousands for various war-related charitable organizations. He traveled extensively to entertain the troops and also made dozens of weekend visits to West-coast based military camps.
Perhaps closest to his heart, however, was Gonzaga University. Although he chose to leave the college during his law studies to pursue an opportunity in show business, he always credited his success to the education he received while a student there.
Some of his classmates remained at the school, and later became administrators there, helping Bing retain his Gonzaga connection. Among Bing’s many charitable gifts to his alma mater is the school library, which was built using the revenue from Bing’s 1957 Edsel Show television special.