Born George Robert Crosby in Spokane, Washington, on August. 25, 1913, he was the youngest of seven children: five boys, Larry, Everett, Ted, Harry and Bob; and two girls, Catherine and Mary Rose.
His parents were English-American bookkeeper Harry Lowe Crosby and Irish-American Catherine Harrigan, the daughter of a builder from County Mayo in Ireland.
Bob Crosby’s roller-coaster career began, like his brother’s when he came out of Gonzaga University in show business. With his big brother Bing’s (Harry) urging, he started with bandleader Anson Weeks.
“Bob’s big chance came about when established bandleader Ben Pollack began devoting more energy to romancing and building the career of his singer Doris Robbins, than to his orchestra.”
The band broke up and eventually they thought Bob – young, pleasant and connected – the most promising. The job called for him to stand out front, smile, sing and make introductions. (Gaddins)
“This, of course, can either be the makings of the younger brother, or perhaps complete anhilization of the younger crooner’s career.” (Crosby; Gaddins)
“But the idea worked like a charm. Fans came to gawk at the new Cosby and stayed to enjoy his cordial demeanor and swinging band … though Bob felt they never accepted him as his own man. ‘They wanted to see what Bing’s kid brother looked like.’” (Gaddins)
“Best known as the easygoing front man for Bob Crosby’s Bobcats, a rollicking octet that was the cornerstone of a larger Dixieland band, Crosby sought during his career to distinguish himself from his older brother.”
“While Bing Crosby made a fortune crooning, for example, Bob rarely sang and once described himself in self-deprecating humor as ‘the only guy in the business who made it without talent.’” (LA Times)
Crosby led big bands from 1935 to 1942, starting the Bob Cats, an eight-piece band-within-the-band, during that time. He sang but did not play an instrument. His bands were known for swing and Dixieland sounds.
When World War II began, the band broke up; Crosby joined the Marines. Lt. Bob Crosby and other Marines in his band put on shows in Hawaii that were seen as morale boosters.
The Marine Corps organized a 5th Marine Division Show for a tour of a Pacific bases in the war zone Crosby spent 18-months with the Marines, touring with bands throughout the Pacific. (NY Times)
“They would respond to anything,” Marine corporal Max Berg (and comedian/impersonator who traveled with Crosby). “We all just got so much back from the crowds. They were so happy to have people come out there and play to them.”
“We went to islands where they wouldn’t let the regulars go, half-occupied by Japanese. They were not even secure. We had to be careful we didn’t get knocked off by snipers.”
At the tour’s end, arriving at Honolulu, the entertainers discovered that their unit shipped out without them. “We were all sad we couldn’t go but it was too late,” Berg recalls.
The 5th Marine Division was off to invade one of Japan’s last island bastions in the Pacific, heavily fortified Iwo Jima. It proves to be one of America’s costliest victories of the war. Navy corpsmen are in vital demand.
“We had four Navy corpsmen they took,” Berg says. “They flew them out special, and within (a few) weeks they were dead. I lost so many of my buddies in my division. I don’t like to think about it. I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I always wondered why did I get to come back, when so many other people lost their lives?” (Berg)
For a time Crosby appeared in such films as the 1944 “The Singing Sheriff,” before joining the U.S. Marines, where he served with distinction, leading a service band in the Pacific.
After the war, he worked mainly as a daytime radio host, moving in the 1950s to daytime television. He headlined an Australian nighttime talk show, tried the car-rental business in Hawaii. (LA Times) “I went into the car rental business in Hawaii, managed to lose $75,000 and go broke in eight months.” (Crosby)
Crosby enjoyed popularity as a daytime radio entertainer for several years. But he was unable to attract a nighttime sponsor and retired to Hawai‘i where he took occasional assignments as a disc jockey. (UPI)
On heading back to Las Vegas, Crosby to the Commanding Officer of the USS Providence, “Have to go to hell so I can afford to live in paradise” [Hawaii]. (Crosby)
But Crosby’s career was often overshadowed by his older brother’s and he readily acknowledged that he had no special talent. His warm personality and natural flair for leadership, however, helped him attract excellent musicians. (UPI) Bob Crosby was inducted to the Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960 with 2 stars (television & radio). He died March 3, 1993.
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