DIXIE LEE CROSBY
When Wilma Winnifed Wyatt, born on November 11, 1911 in Harriman, Tennessee, wed Bing Crosby on September 30, 1930, the occasion was heralded by the headline, ”Well Known Fox Star Marries Bing Croveny.” Although the groom’s name would never again be mistaken, his bride was, at the time, the more prominent personality. Spurred by zealous stage parents, Wilma entered a competition to find “the girl who could most sing like Ruth Etting.” She easily won that distinction and became understudy to that legendary torch singer. Wilma landed a part in the hit Broadway musical, Good News, and caught the attention of Fox Studios. Renamed Dixie Lee, she sang and danced in films such as Fox Movietone Follies of 1929, The Big Party, and Cheer Up and Smile.
In 1929 a friend introduced Dixie to Bing Crosby. Bing recounted in his autobiography Call Me Lucky, “The first time I ever heard the name Dixie Lee I rolled it on my tongue like honey.” They would rendezvous at the Cocoanut Grove, where Bing was becoming a singing sensation – and sowing many a wild oat. A hectic courtship ensued, and Bing’s many proposals were turned down. She finally accepted his proposal over a chicken dinner at the Cocoanut Grove.
Bing told an interviewer, “Her love and the family she gave me slowed me down very much.” Gary was born in 1933; twins Dennis and Phillip in 1934; Lindsay in 1938. Her professional guidance was also a great asset to her husband’s burgeoning career. Upon her recommendation Bing hired John O’Melveny, a lawyer whom Dixie knew from Fox. He became a vital member of the Crosby organization for the next forty-five years. While Dixie appeared in three more films, as well as recorded “The Way You Look Tonight” and “A Fine Romance” with Bing in 1936, she let her career recede. Bing explained: “She was very timid, terribly shy. It was awfully difficult to get her to make any kind of public appearance and that was the reason she never did anything more in show business. She just hated the exposure and the necessity to work with strangers and people she did not know. And she could really sing, too, and I often regretted that she didn’t sing more. She had a great style and a marvelous voice, a voice that was terribly pleasant to listen to.”
Tragedy was averted in 1943 when Dixie and the boys emerged unscathed after a Christmas tree fire destroyed the Crosby estate at Toluca Lake. Bing had been at work; a fact of life which had become painfully familiar to Dixie. Her shyness had gradually turned her into a recluse and she abused alcohol to cushion her chronic depression. Dixie died on November 1, 1952 of ovarian cancer. In Call Me Lucky Bing wrote, “I’m going to miss her love, her steadfast and constructive support. She was the most completely honest person I’ve ever known, and one of the most courageous. I don’t ever want anything more in life than the memory of all she did for me.”
Gary Evan Crosby, born June 25, 1933 and named after his father’s friend Gary Cooper, was often referred to by his father as “number one son.” In 1941 he auditioned for the part of the young boy who grows up to be Bing’s character in Birth of the Blues, but his screen debut occurred the next year in Star Spangled Rhythm. Gary next appeared in 1945 along with his brothers in two more movies identified with Bing: Duffy’s Tavern and Out of this World. Like all of his brothers, Gary was educated at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, later enrolling at Stanford University where he studied animal husbandry (having spent summers at the family cattle ranch in Elko, Nevada) and played football. He did not graduate.
Gary became a teen sensation in 1950 when, credited as “Gary Crosby and Friend”, a two-sided hit boasted of back-to-back million sellers: “Sam’s Song” and “Play a Simple Melody.” The duo waxed several more recordings: “Moonlight Bay,” “When You and I Were Young, Maggie Blues,” and “Down by the Riverside.” By now a Bing look-alike, Gary appeared regularly on his father’s radio show; and even hosted his own series as a summer replacement for Bing’s show in 1954. Gary made several solo records and albums, showing promise as a jazz vocalist. In 1955 he recorded “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” with his father’s friend, Louis Armstrong.
Gary was inducted into the Army in 1956, serving in Germany. Upon discharge in 1958, Gary and his brothers formed “The Crosby Boys,” headlining at several top nightclubs and appearing on the cover of Life magazine. After internecine quarrels and disputes, Gary left to pursue a movie career; and through the intercession of his father, secured a Fox contract, appearing in Mardi Gras, Holiday for Lovers, and Girl Happy, among others. But major stardom eluded him, and Gary, along with his brothers, constantly struggled with alcoholism and had embarrassing scrapes with the law. He appeared on television, frequently joining his father; and made guest appearances on a variety of programs (most famously as the bedeviled troubadour Floyd Burney on “Come Wander with Me,” a 1964 episode of The Twilight Zone.) Gary was a semi-regular on The Bill Dana Show from 1963-64. He was perhaps best known as Officer Ed Wells on the police series, Adam 12, running from 1968-75.
Several years after Bing died, Doubleday approached Gary to write an autobiography. To guarantee success, he was asked to wildly exaggerate Bing’s self-acknowledged paternal strictness. Going My Own Way, published in 1983 and co-authored by Ross Firestone, was Gary’s controversial attempt to transfer his professional and personal shortcomings onto his father; and to achieve the long desired leading role – playing Bing, no less – should his book be adapted to the screen. This wasn’t to be, as the book created considerable turmoil within the Crosby family. Subsequently, Gary recanted large portions of his unfortunate memoir. To further the rehabilitation Gary decided in 1995 to record an album overdubbing his father’s classic recordings. This came too late. With one side complete, a persistent cough interfered with the endeavor. A doctor’s visit confirmed that he had advanced lung cancer. Gary died on August 24, 1995. Twice divorced, he was survived by his third wife and his adopted son.
Phillip Lang Crosby, born on July 13, 1934, was the twin of Dennis. His middle name was given in tribute to Bing’s close friend, guitarist Eddie Lang. Phillip’s first recording was the Decca two-side medley, A Crosby Christmas, on which the twins sang a duet, “The Snowman.” He attended college with Dennis at Washington State College at Pullman and was inducted into the Army on January 5, 1955.
Before the formation of The Crosby Boys, the twins sang “The Jones Boy” on Bing’s Oldsmobile special of March 2, 1959. Gary’s early departure from the group did not deter the others, and the act recorded an album for their father’s Project Records label, which was distributed by MGM. The Crosby Boys had many successful nightclub bookings, and appeared often on television. After a guest spot on Sgt. Bilko, the group followed on two episodes of Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall and five episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show. They revealed a flair for dynamic harmonizing while blending with Bing on “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” on his Oldsmobile special on February 29, 1960 and also appeared on another Oldsmobile outing on October 5, 1960. In 1960 Phillip also recorded a rhythm & blues version of Bing’s classic, “Thanks,” which featured a cameo appearance by Bing approving at song’s end: “By George, I think he’s got it!”
In 1961, Phillip’s affiliation with the Rat Pack began when the Crosby Boys appeared in Sergeants Three, and continued when he appeared solo in Robin and the Seven Hoods in 1964. In one scene he offers a chair to a startled Allen A. Dale, played by Bing. The Sinatra connection continued in 1965 with a role as Private Magee in None but the Brave. In 1964 Phillip appeared on the Bing Crosby production, Ben Casey (as would all his brothers). His final appearance with his father took place on The Hollywood Palace show of April 5, 1969 where they reprised songs which Bing had previously recorded with Gary. Phillip would later remark, “Dad was always there when we needed him.” Phillip gave his final performance at an Elk’s Club party in Burbank in 1983.
Four-times divorced and having lost a teenaged son, Phillip died January 13, 2004. He was survived by two daughters and two sons.
Dennis Michael Crosby, twin brother of Phillip, was born on July 13, 1934. Of all his brothers, Dennis preferred behind-the-scenes work to performing, serving as assistant producer for Bing Crosby Productions.
Dennis was deeply grieved when his younger brother Lindsay committed suicide. The divorce from his second wife worsened his fragile emotional state. Dennis killed himself on May 7, 1991. Dennis was survived by three sons and four daughters, one of whom was adopted. In 1958 Dennis had been sued by Marilyn Miller Scott over the paternity of her daughter, Denise, and Dennis was ordered to pay Scott child support and legal fees. (Denise appeared on the television show, Star Trek: the Next Generation from 1987-94).
Lindsay Harry Crosby was born on January 5, 1938. His name was inspired by Bing’s close friend and thoroughbred horse racing partner, Lindsay Howard. “The smallest of the small fry” also appeared on A Crosby Christmas, singing “I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus.” Lindsay, the closest to his mother, was distraught by her death. To help console him, Bing took him out of school in March 1953. They went on an extended tour of Europe, including an audience with Pope Pious XII.
Before their departure, Bing and Lindsay recorded several duets that were broadcast on Bing’s General Electric Show during their travels. Although the radio broadcasts announced that the recordings were made in France, they were actually recorded in Palm Springs. The series also spotlighted several Lindsay solos. The following year, Lindsay joined Bing and Gary for several nostalgic barbershop routines on the General Electric Show. Lindsay also contributed several solos and duets to The Bing Crosby Show (1954-56) where his radio banter with his father revealed a keen sense of comedy timing. In addition, Lindsay was a special guest on Bing’s legendary Edsel Show in 1957. Lindsay would later remark, “I don’t know of many fathers who gave more consideration to their children.”
With Bing’s help, Lindsay got a recording contract with RCA in 1958, and enjoyed a modest hit with “Friendship Ring.” He went on to appear in a slew of B movies such as The Girls from Thunder Strip and Zebra Force. Lindsay, never fully able to overcome his mother’s premature death, suffered from depression as she had. Three divorces and a turbulent breakup with his girlfriend led to his suicide on December 11, 1989. Lindsay was survived by four sons.
Although Bing demonstrated an active involvement in his sons’ professional careers, he once expressed to an interviewer his most ardent aspiration for his boys. “I just want them to be nice guys. I don’t care how big they are or how important. I’d just like them to be the kind that other people would like to have around. And I want them to be thoughtful of other people. I hate rudeness, thoughtlessness, and arrogance.”
George Robert Crosby was born August 25, 1913. Known as Bob, he was the youngest of Bing’s six siblings. In the early 1930s, he followed in his brother’s footsteps and became vocalist with the bands of Anson Weeks (1931-34), The Dorsey Brothers (1934-35), and Clark Randall (1935). When the jazz orchestra led by Ben Pollack broke up in 1934, most of its members sought to form a new cooperative band in which each player would own an equal share. Eager to find a front man with good looks and name value, they heeded Bing’s recommendation that Bob be hired. Sax player Gil Rodin was the actual leader, as Bob couldn’t read, arrange, nor direct music. Bing paid for his voice lessons as he began his career.
The Bob Crosby Band played a unique brand of big band Dixieland jazz which found international acclaim and paved the way for the traditional jazz revival of the forties. Legendary musicians Eddie Miller, Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Irving Fazola, Matty Matlock, Nappy Lamare, Jess Stacy, Ray Bauduc and Bob Haggart all played in the band as well as the popular aggregation, The Bobcats. They had many hit recordings, such as “Summertime” (the band’s theme song), “South Rampart Street Parade,” and “Big Noise from Winnetka.” Bob sometimes supplied the vocalizing, sounding like Bing but lacking his rhythmic finesse. Without Bob’s knowledge, Bing helped to both promote and finance the band and on several recording dates was featured as guest singer: “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “New San Antonio Rose,” “Yes, Indeed,” “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” and “I’m Walking the Floor Over You,” for example. Bob returned the favor, hosting The Kraft Music Hall when Bing took vacations. The Bob Crosby Band broke up in 1942, but not before playing on the soundtrack of Holiday Inn.
Between 1941 and 1944 Bob appeared in several movies: Let’s Make Music, Presenting Lily Mars, Reveille with Beverly, Thousands Cheer, and See Here, Private Hargrove. During World War II, Bob spent eighteen months serving with distinction in the Marine Corps and toured with bands in the Pacific. On radio he hosted The Bob Crosby Show, aired on NBC and CBS between 1943 and 1950, and Club 15 on CBS between 1947 and 1953. Among Bob’s vocalists were Johnny Desmond, Kay Starr, and Doris Day; and he was the first to hire Nelson Riddle as an arranger.
In 1952, Bob Crosby replaced Phil Harris as Jack Benny’s radio band leader and remained on his broadcasts until Benny retired from the medium in 1955. Bob’s easily parried jokes with Benny, often ribbing his older brother. Bob continued to make cameo appearances in films, notably in Two Tickets to Broadway, Road to Bali, and The Five Pennies. Bob also enjoyed television success. From 1953-57 he hosted a daily variety series on CBS. He was also regularly featured on Shower of Stars from 1954-58 on CBS, on the 1955 summer series, America’s Greatest Bands on CBS, and during the summer of 1958 on his own summer replacement for The Perry Como Show on NBC. In the sixties, Bob hosted a late evening television show in Australia.
Into his later years, Bob Crosby kept a busy schedule leading reunions of both his orchestra and The Bobcats. Bob died of cancer on March 9, 1993. He and his wife June had three sons and two daughters.
Everett Nathaniel Crosby was born on April 5, 1896. Despite his color blindness, he served in the Army during World War I. Everett was already a truck salesman in Los Angeles when Bing arrived in 1925. Bing relied on his big brother for all kinds of necessities, including borrowing a dress shirt when he secured an audition to perform at a popular LA café. When Bing was arrested for reckless driving during the filming of King of Jazz, it was Everett who got him moved from a downtown Los Angeles jail to one in more convenient Hollywood. As Bing became more established in show business, he asked Everett to promote him.
When Everett learned that William S. Paley, owner of the CBS radio network, was in search of a new singer, Everett sent him Bing’s recordings of “I Surrender, Dear” and “Just One More Chance.” An impressed Paley contacted Everett, who secured Bing’s first solo radio series. Bing also had Everett to thank for booking his record-breaking 1931 engagement at the New York Paramount and for negotiating his lucrative contracts with Paramount Pictures. Everett was put in charge of Bing Crosby Enterprises, established to oversee his brother’s multi-facetted business enterprises. An Everett brainchild was “Bing’s Things”, a company devoted to the manufacture of unique household products and gadgets.
In Call Me Lucky, Bing reflected on his brother’s influence on his extraordinary success and knack for getting things done. “Everett fired me with a spirit of git-up-and-go at a time when things were static for me. He came into my picture when I was disgusted and had little faith in my future. He supplied the ambition I seemed to lack. I’m glad I went along with him for the ride. He’s a hustler. He knows how to deal with people. He’s tireless at negotiating with motion picture producers, radio sponsors, advertising agencies – anyone who feels that he needs my services and with whom it is necessary to strike a contract or revise one already made. He seems fond of bickering with these people, and he’ll drag the discussions out happily for days, weeks, months, even years, if he thinks he can get me a better shuffle. As a result, he is sometimes called ‘The Wrong Crosby.’”
Bing regularly joked about Everett on his radio broadcasts, making him a household name and an essential part of the Crosby legend.
In 1962 Everett purchased Fair Acres, a farm in Connecticut where he and his wife Florence raised Morgan and Arabian stallions. Everett died from throat cancer in Salisbury, Connecticut on July 13, 1966. He was survived by Mary Sue, a daughter from his first marriage.
Laurence Earl Crosby, the eldest of Bing’s siblings, was born on January 3, 1895. He served in the Army during World War I. As Bing’s stardom grew, he relied upon Larry for assistance and advice. During the filming of The Big Broadcast, many of Bing’s drinking and gambling cronies visited the set, and Larry was asked to take care of this nuisance. In 1975 he told Charles Thompson, Bing’s biographer. “I tried to keep some of his pals off his back, because he was taking it seriously at that time. In fact, Bing gave me a thousand dollars and told me to take the gang away and keep them away as long as possible, so he could get on with the picture.” When Bing refused to record “Silent Night” because he thought it would be improper to profit from such a sacred song, Larry devised a way to overcome his reluctance. He arranged for all the royalties to be distributed to charity.
In 1937 Larry was involved in the arrangements Bing made to finance Del Mar Race Track. Larry recalled, “…we sold stock. Bing had to come up with a hundred thousand dollars in advance for a five year lease on the track; we never owned it.” After months of cost-overruns, Larry arranged for financing through Bing’s insurance policy, which led to the track’s successful opening.
With his career in full swing, Bing’s brother Ted offered to handle publicity for the Crosby organization. Larry recalled, “Ted got the Hollywood urge, and during Del Mar we brought him down to do publicity. But he didn’t get along with the then manager, so Ted quit.” The public relations job then went to Larry. It was Larry who wisely advised Bing to keep private his political affiliations. “Why antagonize the fans?” he wisely questioned.
Bing imposed his views on Larry, as well. “Father was always a tidy dresser and Everett was considered a dandy and always pretty fancy. But Bing gave me orders to look like a businessman, so I don’t go unconventional.” The name of Larry Earl, Bing’s character in The Star Maker (1939) was a fraternal reference.
Larry also ran the Bing Crosby Research Foundation to encourage frustrated inventors. The Government enlisted the foundation to solicit and develop ideas for the war effort. Some outlandish and not-so-outlandish inventions were actually considered by the military!
Larry was also the Crosby family genealogist, often uncovering distant links dating back to the Vikings and the Mayflower. After a coma which lasted two months, Larry died from cancer on February 7, 1975.
EDWARD (TED) CROSBY
Ted, born July 30, 1900, was a businessman who dreamt of being a writer. He wrote a highly fictionalized “biography” of his famous younger brother that only touched on bits of truth. The book, while not a best-seller, was the start of years’ worth of light-hearted “anecdotes” provided by recording, radio, and film publicity offices during most of Bing’s career. Ted died in 1973.
One of two Crosby sisters, Catherine was born October 3, 1904. She was a housewife and mother, and died in 1988.
MARY ROSE CROSBY
Mary Rose, a favorite playmate of young Bing, was born May 3, 1906. A Crosby family “tradition” occurred when the young Mary Rose refused to share her birthday with her older brother, so Bing acquiesced, and the family celebrated his day one day earlier his entire life – and that date was woven into his “biography” from the beginning. Mary Rose, a housewife and mother, died in 1990.
Olive Kathryn Grandstaff was born on November 25, 1933 in West Columbia, Texas. Her love of acting began at age 3 in Toymaker’s Dream and later in Henry’s Hired Aunt and Mama’s Baby Boy when she was a teenager. Kathryn enrolled in the University of Texas, where she demonstrated a talent for writing. After graduating with a BFA degree, Kathryn won first prize in a beauty pageant: a contract with Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. Under her new name, Kathryn Grant, she showed promise in Forever Female, Rear Window, Living it Up, Arrowhead, and Casanova’s Big Night.
Kathryn also began writing a column for a local paper back home. For “Texas Gal in Hollywood” the astonished cub reporter interviewed William Holden, Bob Hope – and Bing Crosby – at Paramount. One afternoon, while returning a petticoat to the wardrobe department, Kathryn was stopped in her tracks by a very familiar voice. “Hiya, Tex. What’s the hurry?” said Bing on a break from filming White Christmas. She had lunch with the man she would later describe as “your average, run of the mill superstar.”
Their first real date was the Academy Awards on March 30, 1955, as Bing had been nominated for his lead performance in The Country Girl. Kathryn was under contract to Columbia Pictures, where she had roles in a number of films, including The Phenix City Story, Mister Cory, and Operation Mad Ball. She also often maintained a busy schedule of live television performances such as Lux Video Theater, Damon Runyon Theater, and Ford Television Theater.
Kathryn and Bing’s relationship during this period would best be described as “on and off” as they canceled wedding dates, Bing wrote apologetic letters and Kathryn refused to see him for a time. While Kathryn was in Spain filming The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Bing wrote to her, offering to marry her “any time, any place you wish.” On October 24, 1957 they married at St. Anne’s Church in Las Vegas.
On August 8, 1958 Harry L. Crosby, Jr. was born. In 1959 Kathryn appeared in The Big Circus and Anatomy of a Murder, after which would she devoted herself to raising a family. On September 14, 1959, Mary Frances was born and on October 29, 1961 Nathaniel Patrick arrived. Kathryn became a registered nurse and primary and secondary school teacher.
She continued to appear on stage in productions like Peter Pan, Arms and the Man and Sabrina Fair; while also appearing on television in the annual Crosby Christmas specials and occasionally on other shows.
In 1970 Kathryn appeared with Bing in a Sherman Brothers musical, Goldilocks, featuring Mary Frances in the title role. In the seventies The Kathryn Crosby Show was broadcast locally in San Francisco. From March 1976 to October, 1977 Kathryn toured the United States and Europe with Bing Crosby and Friends.
After Bing’s death, Kathryn starred in the made-for-television film, The Initiation of Sarah and returned to the stage. She made her Broadway acting debut in 1996 in State Fair. Kathryn received the Shimkin Award from the Russian Ministry of Culture for “her outstanding contribution to Russian Theater” when she acted in The Seagull, The Matchmaker, and The Lion In Winter, all in native dialect. Kathryn has also won recognition for her oil paintings which have been exhibited in leading galleries. Three memoirs chronicle her life: Bing and Other Things (1967), My Life with Bing (1983) and My Last Years with Bing (2002).
Recently, she has starred in Roberta and has portrayed Irving Berlin’s daughter Mary Ellin Barrett in a musical review, The Melody Lingers On. For many years Kathryn has been performing a popular cabaret tribute, My Life with Bing. In 2010, Kathryn returned to the big screen with a role in Henry Jaglom’s Queen of the Lot, which also featured Mary Crosby.
Harry Lillis Crosby III, born August 8, 1958, is the first of Bing’s children with his second wife Kathryn. Born in Hollywood, he showed natural musical tendencies, teaching himself how to play guitar by listening to musicians near his father’s getaway in Baja California. He, along with his two younger siblings and their mother, became part of a holiday tradition, appearing in the annual Christmas television broadcasts with their father. After dabbling in films, he settled on college and is now a successful investment banker, having earned an MBA from Fordham. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children and occasionally accompanies his mother on guitar when she performs her cabaret act.
MARY FRANCES CROSBY
Now known simply as Mary, she was born September 14, 1959. Passing the Level One Red Cross swimming test at age 2, Mary was a precocious child. She graduated from high school at 15 and dropped out of college a year later to work on acting, a love she had since getting her equity card at age 3, accompanying her mother on stage. Her first dramatic role on television was on a 1967 episode of The Danny Thomas Theater in which she appeared alongside her father in the drama, The Demon Under the Bed. Landing a guest role on the popular TV program “Dallas”, she now jokingly refers to herself as “simply the answer to the trivia question: who shot J.R.?” In addition to her family’s appearances on the annual Crosby Christmas television specials, she’s appeared in a number of television programs and films, most recently sharing the screen with her mother, Kathryn, in Queen of the Lot. Mary, her husband, and their two sons live in California.
Born October 29, 1961, Nathaniel Patrick Crosby had the distinction of being the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Amateur golf tournament at age 19, until Tiger Woods came along. Less interested in performing than his two older siblings, Nathaniel bonded with his father over sports, accompanying him to countless baseball and football games when they lived near San Francisco. Graduating from the University of Miami in 1984, he moved from the game of golf to the business of golf, first at Nicklaus Golf, and then as president of Orlimar Golf and Toney Penna Golf. Working now as a consultant, Nathaniel and his second wife have a family of six children and live in Florida.