Stardust, Pajamas and Memories of Crooner Bing Crosby Put on Display : History: Collection at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., includes 24,000 artifacts, such as the late actor/singer’s hairpieces, which he called ‘scalp doilies.’
Bing Crosby’s monogrammed pajamas, socks and a ripe, musty T-shirt rest on beige metal shelves next to 15th-Century volumes, bound in cracking leather, of the works of Bruno Psalter and first-edition Charles Dickens.
Hairpieces once worn by the crooner sit with a Stretch to Health fitness device endorsed by Crosby, part of a collection of 24,000 artifacts of Bing Crosby memorabilia crowding the back room of Gonzaga University’s special collections department.
The collection nearly doubled in size earlier this year when the Bing Crosby Historical Society in Tacoma closed because of declining membership and donated its materials to Gonzaga, where the singer once attended school.
Gonzaga has become the repository of the world’s largest collection of Crosby memorabilia, the school says.
The 50 boxes scattered among the shelves are crammed with newspaper clippings, photographs and copies of Life magazine. They appear next to a clock fashioned out of Bing’s hit record “I Haven’t Time to be a Millionaire” and boxes of records, tapes and the sheet music for “Swingin’ on a Star.”
In more than 50 years in show business, Crosby recorded about 1,600 songs and acted in more than 100 movies.
The recent acquisition alone included about 180 videotapes, 700 audiotapes, about 100 books, 800 78-rpm records and 200 LP albums, 30 photograph albums, hundreds of individual photos and two bronze replicas of the Crosby statue in front of the Crosby Student Center here.
Although she is enthusiastic about her mission, it’s clear that special collections librarian Stephanie Edwards doesn’t know exactly what to make of all the stuff.
“I never knew a thing about Bing Crosby,” she conceded.
But Edwards is fast becoming an expert on Crosby, who died in 1977 while golfing in Madrid.
She has spent hours escorting newspaper reporters, biographers and television crews through the stacks of Crosby artifacts. She has answered questions on live radio shows from Canada to Burlington, Vt., and had her picture taken while holding Crosby’s toupees.
Their discovery among the stacks last year generated a small storm of media interest. Movie producers forced Crosby to wear the hairpieces, which he referred to not-so-affectionately as “scalp doilies,” Edwards said.
“I don’t think Bing would be very happy that we have these on display,” Edwards said. “He was kind of a shy person.”
Born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma in 1903, Crosby’s family moved to Spokane three years later. He graduated from Gonzaga High School and began college at Gonzaga University, but left before graduation to pursue a singing career.
After leaving for Hollywood, Crosby kept strong ties with the university and the city of Spokane.
He insisted at one point on having Gonzaga produce the “Bing Crosby Edsel Show,” which starred Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Bob Hope.
That project netted the university nearly enough money to build the former Crosby Library, now called the Crosby Student Center. The remainder was raised through donations from Crosby and others.
Although there are thousands of Crosby artifacts in the collection, it is not comprehensive, Edwards said.
“We’ve got a good start on documenting his life,” she said, but the collection would be more complete if it contained more of Crosby’s personal papers, which are believed to be in the hands of the late singer’s estate.
The Hollywood publicity image of Crosby has become tarnished in the last decade, with publication of biographies that alleged he was abusive to children of his first marriage.