Great Moments In Television History: Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share a Duet


In 1977’s Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, Bing and his family travel to the UK to visit Bing’s long-lost relative, Sir Perceval Crosby.  It’s while staying at the Crosby estate that Bing celebrates Christmas and discovers that Sir Percy lives next door to David Bowie!

You might not expect Bing Crosby and David Bowie to have much in common as far as musical tastes are concerned but that’s where you’re wrong.  After discussing their parenting techniques and their favorite songs, Crosby and Bowie share a duet that has become a classic.

From Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas (which aired on ITV 33 years ago today), here are David Bowie and Bing Crosby performing Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.

Previous Great Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: The Greatest Show on Earth (dir by Cecil B. DeMille)


Jimmy Stewart is Buttons the Clown!

Listen, there’s a lot of things that can be said about the 1952 Best Picture winner, The Greatest Show on Earth.  Not only was it one of three Cecil B, DeMille films to be nominated for best picture (along with 1934’s Cleopatra and 1956’s The Ten Commandments) but it was also the only one to win.  It brought Cecil B. DeMille his first and only nomination for best director.  (DeMille lost that directing Oscar to John Ford but he still took home an award, as the producer of The Greatest Show On Earth.)  The Greatest Show on Earth not only featured Charlton Heston in his first starring role but, with a finale that featured everyone involved in the same spectacular train crash, it also set the standard for the countless disaster movies that would follow.

But, with all of that in mind, the main thing that you’ll remember about this movie is that Jimmy Stewart was Buttons the Clown.

Buttons is a beloved member of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus.  He travels with the circus across the country, entertaining children and generally helping out wherever he can.  Everyone loves Buttons, despite the fact that no one has ever seen him without his makeup.  (That said, you only have to hear him speak to immediately recognize him as being played by Jimmy Stewart.)  Not even the circus’s no-nonsense manager, Brad Braden (Charlton Heston, naturally), knows what Buttons actually looks like.  Everyone assumes that Buttons is just a dedicated performer, a method clown.

However, it turns out that Buttons has a secret.  Of course, nearly everyone at the circus has a secret but Buttons’s secret is a little bit more serious than just a love triangle or a case of professional jealousy.  There’s a reason why Buttons is surprisingly good at providing first aid to the members of the circus.  Before he was a clown, Buttons was a doctor.  And, while he was a doctor, he killed his wife.

NO!  NOT JIMMY STEWART!

In Buttons’s defense, it was a mercy killing and he feels really bad about it.  That, of course, doesn’t matter to the FBI agent (Henry WIlcoxon) who suspects that the doctor may be hiding among the circus performers.  At first, Buttons views that train crash as the perfect opportunity to escape but then he finds out that many of his fellow performers have been seriously injured.  A doctor is needed.  Perhaps even a doctor in clown makeup….

Even under all that makeup, Jimmy Stewart does a great job of bringing Buttons to life.  Sometimes, we associate Stewart so much with his famous way of speaking that we overlook just what a good actor Jimmy Stewart actually was.  Even before you discover why Buttons is running from the cops, Stewart does a good job of capturing the sadness and the regret that lies at the heart of Button.  He’s truly a tragic clown.

Buttons’s status as a fugitive is just one of the many subplots to be found in The Greatest Show On Earth.  There’s a lot of drama (not to mention parades and performances) to get through before that train crashes.  Brad, for instance, is struggling to keep the circus from going bankrupt.  Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Holly (Betty Hutton), is torn between him and the arrogant but charming Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde).  In fact, every woman in the circus — including Gloria Grahame and Dorothy Lamour — is in love with the Great Sebastian.  Sebastian is a bit self-centered but he’s famous enough to ensure that the circus won’t have to be closed.  Or, at least, he is until he’s injured in a trapeze accident.  Will Sebastian ever perform again?  Meanwhile, there’s a jealous elephant trainer named Klaus (Lyle Bettinger) and a crooked concessionaire named Harry (John Kellog).  A local gangster, Mr. Henderson (Lawrence Tierney), is trying to muscle his way into the circus’s business.  Is it any surprise that Brad always seems to be in something of a bad mood?  He’s got a lot to deal with!

And yes, it’s all a bit overblown and a bit silly.  And yes, the film really does feel like it was meant to be a commercial for Ringling Bros.  And yet, in its way, the film definitely works.  There’s a sincerity at the heart of the film, one that’s epitomized by Cecil B. DeMille’s opening narration.  “”A fierce, primitive fighting force that smashes relentlessly forward against impossible odds: That is the circus — and this is the story of the biggest of the Big Tops — and of the men and women who fight to make it — The Greatest Show On Earth!”  DeMille was 71 years old when he made The Greatest Show On Earth and he was coming to the end of a legendary filmmaking career.  DeMille was one of the founders of the American film industry and you can argue that, if not for some of his silent spectacles, Hollywood would have always remained just a neglected suburb of Los Angeles.  If anyone understood that importance of that old saying, “The show must go on!,” it was Cecil B. DeMille.  And really, that’s what The Greatest Show On Earth is all about.  It’s a tribute to the performers who refuse to give up.  Love triangles?  Fugitive clowns?  Injured acrobats?  Lawrence Tierney?  No matter what, the show must go on!

The Greatest Show On Earth is often described as being one of the worst films to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.  That has more to do with the quality of the films that it beat — High Noon, The Quiet Man, Moulin Rouge, and Ivanhoe — than the film itself.  The Greatest Show On Earth is old-fashioned and a bit silly but it’s still entertaining.  Should it have beaten High Noon?  That would be a definite no.  But it’s still better than Crash.

Mad Libs: Hope & Crosby on the ROAD TO MOROCCO (Paramount 1942)


cracked rear viewer

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope travel the ROAD TO MOROCCO, the third in the “Road” series and by far the funniest. The plot involves two shipwrecked Americans who wind up in an absurd Arabian Nights style adventure complete with beautiful princess Dorothy Lamour and murderous desert sheik Anthony Quinn , but you can throw all that out the window as Bing and Bob trade quips, sing, and break down the Fourth Wall to let the audience know it’s all in good fun, so sit back and enjoy the zany ride.

Bob and Bing were already established superstars when Paramount teamed them for ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940), which was a huge box office hit and followed quickly by ROAD TO ZANZIBAR (1941). By the time they made MOROCCO, the pair had their act down pat, with Der Bingle the smooth-talking crooner who always gets the girl, and Ol’ Ski-Nose the cowardly…

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12 Days of Random Christmas Song: “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby & Marjorie Reynolds (from HOLIDAY INN)


cracked rear viewer

Irving Berlin’s beloved Christmas classic was first introduced in the 1942 film HOLIDAY INN, starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, and Virginia Dale. Bing and Marjorie (dubbed by radio singer Martha Mears) croon the perennial yuletide tune by the fire, which forever became associated with Crosby. Though many have covered it, nobody sings “White Christmas” like Bing! Enjoy “White Christmas”, and Merry Christmas to all!:

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Holiday Scenes That I Love: David Bowie and Bing Crosby Sing A Duet in Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas (CBS, 1977)


In this scene from Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, David Bowie stops by the home of his old friend, Sir Percival Crosby, and meets Sir Percy’s long-lost American relative, Bing Crosby!  A discussion of modern music and parenting techniques leads to them performing a duet of Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy.

This was Bing’s final Christmas special and he died just five weeks after filming completed.  This scene is a holiday classic and has been described. by the Washington Post, as “one of the most successful duets in Christmas music history.”

When asked about David Bowie, Bing said he was “clean-cut kid and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well.”

Enjoy!

Cleaning Out The DVR #11: Going My Way (dir by Leo McCarey)


GoingmywayBing

Last night, continuing my effort to watch 38 movies in 10 days (and, for the record, I have 7 days left as of today), I watched the 1944 musical-comedy-drama Going My Way.

Going My Way tells the episodic story of Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby), a priest from St. Louis who is assigned to take charge of a struggling parish in New York City.  O’Malley is meant to replace Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), a stubbornly old-fashioned priest who is struggling to keep up with a changing world.  Though O’Malley is to take charge of the parish’s affairs, Fitzgibbon is to remain the pastor.  However, the compassionate O’Malley doesn’t tell Fitzgibbon about the arrangement and allows Fitzgibbon to believe that O’Malley is only meant to be his assistant.

It’s obvious from the start that Fitzgibbon and O’Malley have differing approaches.  Fitzgibbon is a traditionalist.  O’Malley, on the other hand, is a priest who sings.  He’s a priest who understands that the best way to prevent the local teens from forming a street gang is to convince them to start a choir instead.  When it appears that 18 year-old Carol (Jean Heather) is “living in sin,” it is the nonjudgmental O’Malley who convinces her to marry her boyfriend.

And, slowly but surely, Fitzgibbon and O’Malley start to appreciate each other.  O’Malley is even able to convince Fitzgibbon to play a round of golf with him, while Fitzgibbon tells O’Malley about his love for his mother in Ireland.

What’s interesting is that we learn very little about O’Malley’s past.  In many ways, he’s like a 1940s super hero or maybe a less violent and far more ethical version of one of Clint Eastwood’s western heroes.   He shows up suddenly, he fixes things, and then he moves on.  Instead of a cape or a poncho, he wears a collar.

(And, of course, he doesn’t kill anyone.  Actually, that’s probably a lousy analogy but I decided I’d give it a try anyway…)

At one point, O’Malley does run into an opera singer named  Genevieve Linden (Rise Stevens).  He and Genevieve (whose real name is Jenny) talk briefly about their past and it becomes obvious that they once had a romantic relationship.  We don’t learn the exact details but it does bring some unexpected melancholy to an otherwise cheerful film.  It reminds us of what O’Malley gave up to become a priest.

Fortunately, Genevieve is more than happy to help out with O’Malley’s choir, even arranging for them to meet with a record executive (William Frawley).  The executive doesn’t have much interest in religious music but then he hears Bing O’Malley sing Swinging On A Star.

It’s a bit strange to watch Going My Way today because it is a film that has not a hint of cynicism.  There’s no way that a contemporary, mainstream film would ever portray a priest as positively as Father O’Malley is portrayed in this film.  Indeed, it says something about the world that we live in that I instinctively cringed a little whenever O’Malley was working with the choir, largely because films like Doubt and Spotlight have encouraged me to view any film scene featuring a priest and an pre-teen boy with suspicion.  O’Malley is the ideal priest, the type of priest that those of us who were raised Catholic wish that we could have known when we were young and impressionable.  Bing Crosby does a pretty good job of playing him, too.  Watching Going My Way felt like stepping into a time machine and going to a simpler and more innocent time.

In the end, Going My Way is a slight but watchable film.  It doesn’t add up too much but, at the same time, it’s always likable.  Though the film may be about a priest, the emphasis is less on religion and more on kindness, charity, and community.  Going My Way was a huge success at the box office and even won the Oscar for best picture.

Personally, I would have given the Oscar to Double Indemnity but Going My Way is still a likable movie.

Speaking of likable, the Academy was so impressed with Barry Fitzgerald’s performance that they actually nominated it twice!  He got so many votes in both categories that Fitzgerald ended up nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Subsequently, the Academy changed the rules and decreed that a performance could only be nominated in one category.  As for Fitzgerald, he won the Oscar for best supporting actor.  He later broke the Oscar while practicing his golf swing.

Barry and Oscar

Barry and Oscar

(Don’t worry.  The Academy sent him a replacement.)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


Another October here at Through the Shattered Lens is coming to a close and I must say that everyone’s participation in this month’s horror/Halloween themed month has been an unqualified success. Here’s to waiting another year til we visit that most scary, terrifying, horrifying and darkly mysterious month of the year.

What better way to close off the month than sharing one of my favorite childhood Halloween rituals. Every Halloween during the 1980’s I would eagerly wait for the showing of Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Trick or treating wasn’t my thing at that age though I did do my share of dressing up and going door-to-door for sweets and snacks, but it was watching this classic Disney short film that made my Halloween.

I don’t know why I kept watching this year in and year out since after each session I would be scared out of my wits and could barely sleep a wink. This coming from a young lad who was already into watching slasher films and zombie gorefests. I think the genius of the film comes from how innocent the film is when it first begins but gradually shows it’s darker side until we get to the climactic appearance of the Headless Horseman himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if this film scarred for life some kids who saw it the first time. For a Disney film that was produced in 1949 it definitely had a high-level of scare when put in the context that it was advertised as a kid’s film.

If this film had been produced in this day and age I don’t think it would’ve made it out of the ratings board with a G-rating. They definitely don’t make animated films like this nowadays and that is a shame.

So, until next October sit down, relax and watch one of the things that helped shaped this site.