We’ve been looking at films of the 1940’s, and highlighting the 10 or so which were HUGE box office hits — films seen by 30 to 40 percent of total U.S. population at the time.
One Big Conclusion — It’s odd that Bing Crosby is underappreciated today by younger movie fans. Perhaps they really fall for his nonchalant public pose, that he really wasn’t much as an actor and perhaps just okay as a singer.
But this forgets readily available statistics. Crosby was Hollywood’s number one box personality from 1944 through 1948, and ranked among the top 10 most popular screen figures for a full two decades, from 1934 to 1954.
On radio, he was the top rated star in 1931, and remained so for 17 years thereafter. As for his vocalizing, forget about it. He had 38 No. 1 singles, even surpassing Elvis and the Beatles. Crosby records are still selling.
And, he logged than a 100 movie credits, and won a best actor Oscar. Was Crosby the biggest all-media personality ever to come out of Hollywood?
Unquestionably three movies in the mid 1940s established Crosby as a genuine Superstar. Oh, he had had hit films for over a decade, on his own and with pals Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in those Road pictures, but with these films he really hit his stride.
— 1944’s Going My Way: Crosby costarred memorably as Father O’Malley opposite Barry Fitzgerald (pictured with Crosby above) in director Leo McCarey’s gentle comedy, which won Bing his Oscar. He shines as laid-back priest who has run ins with his cantankerous superior (Fitzgerald). The picture was hugely successful at the box office with about 40% of the entire U.S. population buying tickets.
— 1945’s The Bells of St. Mary’s: This followup to Going My Way was an even bigger box office hit than its predecessor. Bing is back as Father O’Malley, this time engaging in entertaining run-ins with a non-nonsense nun played by Ingrid Bergman. Audience turnout? A full 45% of the U.S. population.
— 1947’s Welcome Stranger: A reteaming of Crosby and Fitzgerald as doctors not clerics. Barry is a cantankerous Maine sawbones who nervously takes a break while laid-back Bing (from California, of course) temporarily fills in. The movie drew a full quarter of the U.S. population. Another huge hit.
Oh, and one other thing: Crosby was considered a premier vocalist by the most demanding jazz figure of his time, none other than Duke Ellington. Early on, Crosby recorded with the Ellington Orchestra, and he sounds great. Ellington once advised his regular band singer, Herb Jeffries, to lower his voice and sing like Der Bingle.