Who’s the most popular musician on the radio today? Well, it’s December…so it’s Bing Crosby. His recordings of Christmas songs are perennial classics, so much so that nowadays he’s pretty much exclusively celebrated with the holiday. But in the mid-20th century, there was nobody bigger than Bing.
According to pre-computerized sales tracking systems, Crosby’s “White Christmas” is the bestselling holiday song of all time, with 50 million people buying a copy since 1942. It’s also the bestselling single of any kind, ever, according to Guinness World Records. Amazingly, some sources say that the third-most-popular single of all time is Crosby’s 1945 recording of “Silent Night.”
Crosby the Singer
Crosby got his professional start as a singer in 1927 with the popular band led by Paul Whitman. By 1930, Crosby was a superstar, having sung on a whopping 32 top 20 hits. Then he went solo…and amassed more than 300 top 20 hits. (The Beatles only ever racked up 42.)
Crosby the Actor
In addition to his highly successful musical career, he was an extremely successful film actor, appearing in seven “Road” pictures with Bob Hope. (An eighth movie to revive the series, Road to the Fountain of Youth, was planned for 1978, but Crosby died before production started.) In 1946, three of the top five highest-grossing movies of the year were Bing Crosby movies. From 1944 to 1948, he was Hollywood’s most bankable star.
Best Actor Oscar
In 1945, he won a Best Actor Oscar for Going My Way. The next year, he was nominated (but didn’t win) for The Bells of St. Mary’s, the sequel to Going My Way. Crosby played Kindly priest Father Chuck O’Malley in both, and he’s the first actor to ever get two Oscar nominations for playing the same role twice.
Crosby the Radio Star
As if that’s not enough, he was a radio star, too. He had regular shows on almost continuously from 1931 to 1962. That’s right — not even the advent and popularity of TV, which by and large destroyed evening entertainment radio, could supplant Crosby on the radio dial.
When the man born Harry Crosby was a child in Spokane, Washington, he loved a comics section feature called “The Bingville Bugle,” which was a fake bumpkin newspaper. One day his neighbor spotted him reading it and laughing and called him “Bingo from Bingoville.” Over time, Bingo turned to Bing.
He even had an impact on golf. Crosby was one of the first celebrity golfers, and his influence helped take the sport into the mainstream in the mid-20th century. He founded the annual tournament that would become the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he held memberships at 75 different golf clubs.
Crosby was offered the role of TV detective Columbo in the early ‘70s. He turned it down because when the pilot episode was scheduled to shoot, he was playing in a golf tournament.