16 A new book de­tails how le­gendary crooner Bing Crosby bat­tled the blues.

HE LIFTED AMER­ICA’S SPIR­ITS DUR­ING WORLD WAR II, BUT THE BELOVED CROONER BAT­TLED THE BLUES

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There may be no warmer and more com­fort­ing record than Bing Crosby’s 1942 ver­sion of “White Christ­mas,” which is why it’s the most pop­u­lar sin­gle in his­tory, hav­ing sold over 50 mil­lion copies. It’s even more mirac­u­lous when you re­al­ize that at the time he sang it, Bing was “in the dumps,” Gary Gid­dins, au­thor of the new bi­og­ra­phy Bing Crosby Swing­ing on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946, tells Closer. “He was in a pe­riod of tremen­dous de­spon­dency about his life.”

Bing felt trapped in his mar­riage to Dixie, the mother of his four sons. While the singer con­quered his drink­ing prob­lem af­ter they mar­ried in 1930, “she be­came an al­co­holic,” says Gid­dins. “It was a very un­nerv­ing home life. He was able to es­cape it through work, and she wasn’t.”

His pun­ish­ing sched­ule meant Bing was of­ten away from home. “He was trav­el­ing all over the coun­try on tour, mak­ing three films a year and do­ing a weekly one-hour ra­dio show,” says Gid­dins. “When he would come home, Bing would try to make up for his ab­sence by putting in all these rules and too much dis­ci­pline.”

At the same time, Bing “ex­pressed

some doubts about his singing, which was cer­tainly the most im­por­tant thing in his life,” says Gid­dins. “He tried to keep that a se­cret, but I was able to doc­u­ment it.” Even af­ter he won an Os­car for play­ing a priest in 1944’s Go­ing My Way, Bing suf­fered from low self-es­teem. “This is the only coun­try in the world where an old bro­ken-down crooner can win an Os­car for act­ing,” he said in his ac­cep­tance speech.

“Hon­estly, I be­lieve I’ve stretched a tal­ent so thin it’s al­most trans­par­ent.”

— Bing

MAN ON A MIS­SION

Still, Bing’s ded­i­ca­tion to Amer­ica’s ser­vice­men and women at home and abroad “gave him a mis­sion and a rea­son to value his tal­ent be­cause he was never more needed or in de­mand than he was dur­ing the war,” Gid­dins says. “It grabbed him out of that border­line self-pity he was feel­ing.”

“White Christ­mas” res­onated deeply with the troops. “It be­came a theme that mea­sured how lonely and dis­tant the men who were fight­ing the war felt they were from home,” Gid­dins says. “Will we see a white Christ­mas this year? When will we be home?”

Bing him­self trav­eled far and wide — and of­ten into dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory — to visit and en­ter­tain our forces over­seas. “On his 1944 trip to Lon­don and France, he was per­form­ing for weeks within bomb­ing dis­tance of the front lines,” Gid­dins re­ports. “He was in awe of the troops, and he felt it was an obli­ga­tion to do what­ever he could for them.”

He wasn’t do­ing it for the pub­lic­ity. “Bing re­fused to take credit or to be hon­ored for it,” says Gid­dins, who read thou­sands of let­ters from “rel­a­tives of ser­vice­men who had been killed and, in their mourn­ing, none­the­less wanted to thank Bing for per­form­ing for their sons, hus­bands and sib­lings.”

Even com­pared to on-screen part­ner Bob Hope, “Bing was sec­ond to no­body in his gen­eros­ity dur­ing the war,” says Gid­dins. And isn’t that the true mean­ing of Christ­mas? — Bruce

Fretts, with re­port­ing by For­tune Be­natar

Bing and Dixie with sons Gary, Lind­say, Phillip and Den­nis circa 1945

He and Barry Fitzger­ald (withRisë Stevens, cen­ter) both won Os­cars for 1944’sGo­ing My Way.

“White Christ­mas” was im­me­di­ately em­braced by the troops, who got a visit from Bing in 1944.

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