Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Bing Crosby, Secret Weapon

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope went on the road on screen but during World War Two, they were on separate roads to entertain the troops. But, even then, the Old Groaner couldn’t escape the shadow of Ski Nose.

Here are two stories from 1944 about Crosby overseas. They both deal with a little-known fact of the war—Crosby was used as part of psychological warfare. The first is from the United Press.

Bing Crosby Goes to Work on Wehrmacht With Assistance of Phonetic German

LONDON, Sept. 3 (UP)—While Hitler is fooling around with buzzbombs and pick-a-back planes we're hurling a real secret weapon at Germany—der Bingle.
Der Bingle is what the Germans call it. Back home it's Bing Crosby.
From a position dangerously near its launching platform (a grand piano in the studio of the American Broadcasting system in Europe) I watched der Bingle go to work on the Wehrmacht. It was beautiful to see and hear and experts of psychological warfare said its effect would be beautiful too.
Der Bingle took off first in a snappy chat to the Wehrmacht which, the most powerful transmitters in Europe will smash right at the quivering ears of Hitler's "Herrenvolk." He astounded frontline observers by using reasonably good German. Since he doesn't speak German, der Bingle was later asked how come.
"I don't do it with mirrors," he said. "I do it with phonetics."
Der Bingle is a great favorite with the Germans and the gents from psychological warfare conceived the idea of having him do a little something direct, for the staggering Wehrmacht which probably doesn't appreciate what Generals Bradley and Patton are doing to it.
Thus, as Bing stepped to the microphone to make a recording, there was a mental image in my mind of a harried Hun, gasping and breathless and resting by the roadside ready to listen to anything as a change from the shell spitting tanks of his pursuers.
Bing, consulting his phonetic chart, began:
"Hello, German soldiers. Here speaks Bing Crosby. I've just arrived from America—the country where nobody is afraid of the gestapo and where everybody has a right to say and write what he thinks."
Der Bingle, rippling through the Teutonic gutturals with complete ease, told the Germans about constitutional rights, adding, "I sincerely hope that our rights and our freedoms soon will be observed again in your country. That's what we Americans are fighting for."
Letting this sink in for a brief instant, der Bingle signalled Corp. Jack Russian, pianist of Major Glenn Miller's band, and said: "But I didn't come here to preach. I came here to sing a few songs."
Bing then sang a song from a film in which he starred, except that the lyrics were cleverly twisted so that the sense of the song was really: "Come with me out of that nasty Hitlerland and back to the free world."
After that, because many Europeans such as forced laborers in Germany understand French, Bing did a song in that language. His phonetic French was not bad either.
A typist passing by asked what was going on inside the studio. "Bing Crosby is singing to the Nazis," she was told.
Increduously, the typist exclaimed: "To the Nazis! What kind of punishment is that?"

This is an unbylined piece from The New York Sun, October 12, 1944. The part about enemy territory was widely quoted for years.

Bing, Back, Tells of Exciting Eight-week Tour.

A two-man invasion of German-held territory in France and a two-minute capture of a town in the Metz area was accomplished by Bing Crosby, who is used to capturing top honors in crooning, and an Army lieutenant, while Der Bingle was on a U. S. O. Camp Shows tour in France. The singer recalled the experience today at the Waldorf-Astoria as he discussed his eight-week tour in which he sang for G. I. audiences numbering anywhere from a dozen to 15,000 soldiers.
Bing’s misadventure occurred early one morning when, after he attended Mass by himself, a lieutenant offered to drive him to a point near the front lines a few miles from where he was scheduled to sing.
“After we had traveled for ten or fifteen minutes,” the singer stated, “I became concerned because the telephone lines had run out and when you don’t see them, you know you’ve gone too far. Then we got to this town and I was surprised because I had looked at the war map earlier and it was still in German hands. I asked the lieutenant and he said that he was lost, and I said, ‘let's get out of here fast.’” Talking to a commanding officer that night Bing mentioned that he had been in the town.
“You couldn’t have been.”
“I sure as hell was,” Crosby replied.
“It was in German hands,” the officer protested.
“Well, we had it for two minutes.”
Lost 10 Pounds on Trip.
Crosby, who lost ten pounds during the trip, put on his show while under German gunfire on numerous occasions and was in London while buzz bombs, which he described as “frightening and devastating,” were falling. Though he had lunch with Gen. Eisenhower and visited Gen. Bradley and other high officers, he played only for enlisted men.
Praising the morale of the troops as “terrific,” Bing said: “The boys want to get home, but there is no whining. They want to know that the people at home are staying behind them and there is no weakening, and the needed supplies will be gotten to them. They are somewhat concerned about a complacent attitude. They’ve read about postwar planning discussions, and they don't want to hear about post-war plans. They want to get the war won first.
Crosby, who was dressed in a tan and blue sports combination, puffed occasionally on a big briar pipe while being interviewed. Asked if the report that he was a member of the Hollywood for Dewey Committee was true, he answered: “I don’t know anything about that.” He said that the men asked him mostly about Bob Hope (whom Crosby claimed the G. I.'s like most of all the entertainers), his children, his horses and Brooklyn. He mentioned that “a lot of pictures” have their premieres overseas.
Songs Soldiers Wanted.
In discussing the soldiers’ preference in songs, Crosby said that the ones they most requested him to sing were “White Christmas,” “Swinging on a Star” and “San Fernando Valley.” He declared that he had made recordings of songs for propaganda broadcasts to Germany, singing in German from words written out phonetically. “They told me I was adequate,” he said.
Although a great many German prisoners watched the shows and smiled, they probably didn’t know what was going on, Bing said. When asked if he had converted any of them, he answered with a grin: “I probably widened the breach.”
He lauded the Red Cross workers and members of his troupe which included Joe de Rita, Jean Darrell, singer; Darlene Garner, dancer; Buck Harris, guitarist, and Earl Baxter, accordionist. He said that he would leave for the coast tomorrow night and resume his radio program late this month.

The story shows you the difference between print and radio. In the Sun story, Crosby uses the word “hell.” No one thought anything of it. But when he ad-libbed it on the Jack Benny show on March 26, 1947, all, um, hell broke loose on the NBC switchboard.

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