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Friday, April 11, 2014


4 stars out of 5

I'm old enough to have accumulated lots of memories of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, starting when I was very young and my mother walked me a dozen or so blocks to the only movie theater in our small town for Saturday matinees. Crosby, who was rated "the most admired man alive" in 1948 (when I was 7 years old), was starring in movies at that time. "The Bells of St. Mary's," which I remember watching with mom, was made in 1945 but probably didn't make it to my neck of the southwestern Ohio backwoods for a couple of years after that.

We moved to a nearby farm when I was in third grade, and with nothing better to do, I remember putting a couple of my dad's old Crosby 78s on the turntable and singing along at the top of my lungs; my favorite was the "The Iowa Indian Song:/'Way Back Home" with Fred Warning and His Pennsylvanians released in 1949.

When I was in seventh grade, we got a TV set - a tiny black-and-white screen with rabbit ears  - and dad, mom and I watched movies starring Crosby and his buddy, comedian Bob Hope, most notably the "Road" series that started back in 1940 with "The Road to Singapore."

Later in life, when I married and moved to the northeastern part of Ohio, Hope became of more special interest since he grew up in Cleveland, about an hour away. And by then, we had lived through various TV specials and national golf tournaments featuring and/or sponsored by one or the other.

Given all that, when I got the chance to get this book free through eReader IQ, I jumped on it. As I write this, there were only six reviews - mostly good - but I figured what the heck? It's only 84 pages, photos included, so I figured I had little to lose even if it's terrible.

In fact, I enjoyed it and learned plenty. The authors, a group of editors from Harvard University and MIT, do jump around a bit - transition isn't a strong point. But the book is full of interesting facts about both men - some I already knew and many more I did not.

I knew, of course, that both Crosby and Hope were golfers, and both hosted national tournaments that continue to this day. I didn't know that Crosby played his first game somewhere around 1930 while he was filming "King of Jazz" - and subsequently got so good that he entered tournaments with a 2 handicap. I also didn't realize he was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates (a little over an hour's drive from where I live), or that he sold an estimated 500 million records in the 20th century. One of his most popular songs, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," is listed in the Guiness record book as the best-selling single of all time (which may in part be attributed to the fact that it was released in 1942 and re-released every year for the next 16).

And while I'd heard Crosby referred to as "Der Bingle" many times, I had no idea why; after reading this book, I know (but I won't spoil it for you here).

Hope, meanwhile, was born in England under the name of Leslie Townes Hope; he didn't change his first name to Bob until much later. When he reached his milestone 100th birthday, more than half of the U.S. states declared it "Bob Hope Day" in his honor; after all, he had made so many USO tours that Congress named him the "First and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces." In between, he enjoyed a successful career that included everything from vaudeville to radio to motion pictures to television. To put it in perspective time-wise, in 1978 he putted on stage with a then two-year-old Tiger Woods.

This book isn't likely to mean much to those who aren't familiar with these two entertainment legends; but if you remember them as I do, it's well worth the couple of hours it takes to read.

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope: The Golden Era of Hollywood's Most Popular Show Business Stars by Charles River Editors (January 2014); 84 pp.

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