Saturday movie review: Bing Crosby Rediscovered

The holiday season is upon us, and no movie — or song — enscapsulates Christmastime better than WHITE CHRISTMAS. This review isn't about that movie or song; it's about the man who brought both to life and placed them forever in our hearts: Bing Crosby.

Bing Crosby Rediscovered 

BING CROSBY REDISCOVERED, an American Masters presentation, premieres on PBS Tuesday, Dec. 2. 

There's so much I had no inkling of regarding the man whom, for many, symbolizes Christmas. I didn't recall the gossip or revelations regarding his parenting skills or lack thereof, so the many mentions of such surprised me a little. I also had no idea about the degree of his fame back in the day. Fifty million weekly radio listeners?! Crazy. I didn't know about his extensive support of the troops during wartime, his loss of children, his topping Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and the Beatles as the top-selling performer in history, with more than 400 hit singles (charting more than Sinatra and Elvis combined). Even now, 37 years after his death, Crosby remains the top recorded singer ever. 

Bing Crosby's first familyBing Crosby with his first wife, Dixie Lee, and three of their four sons: Phillip, Dennis and Lindsay. Photo credit: Courtesy of Bing Crosby EnterprisesI knew none of that. I did know about his Road films with Bob Hope. But sheesh... AMERICAN MASTERS: BING CROSBY REDISCOVERED opened my eyes in surprising ways to the man who, to me, was defined by Christmas cheer and crooning. Never-before-seen home movies and film archives reveal much about his struggles with his first wife, Dixie, and their four sons, including an interview with his son Gary, who wrote the scathing memoir that put Crosby in a negative light with his adoring public.

Bing Crosby and family(l to r) Nathaniel, Mary and Harry with their parents Kathryn and Bing Crosby as seen in "American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered." Photo credit: Courtesy of Bing Crosby EnterprisesNew interviews with all his surviving family members — wife Kathryn, daughter Mary and sons Harry and Nathaniel — further reveal intimacies about Crosby's personal side that many — not just me — likely never knew.

This year celebrates the 60th anniversary of the movie WHITE CHRISTMAS, which makes this a perfectly fitting documentary to enjoy before the annual season's viewing of the iconic holiday film. To whet your appetite, here's a brief interview with Bing Crosby's surviving family on why he had such appeal with the public (a web exclusive from PBS, not included in the documentary):

Plus — how can I not share such wonderful material? — an interview with Robert Trachtenberg, director of the documentary:

AMERICAN MASTERS: BING CROSBY REDISCOVERED (not rated) premieres nationwide Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), with a holiday encore on Dec. 26 at 9 p.m. A DVD of the program also releases Dec. 2.

Disclosure: I received an advance screener for this film with no obligation to review; opinions are my own.