MOST POPULAR ENTERTAINER OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
A quantitative analysis the determine who really was The King.
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Please see below for an important update for Elvis Presley fans.
On 29 August, 2004, I received an email from Mr. Christoper Graham with an excellent analogy I wish to repeat here to clarify what the following article claims: that an entertainer from one half of the last century was more popular in his era than a well known entertainer from the other half was. Mr. Graham's letter pointed out to me that many people reading the article may make the mistake of thinking that I am trying to prove that one entertainer is greater or better than the other. He employed an excellent analogy of the McDonald's restaurant chain. The fact that they sell to more customers than any other restaurant does not make them the greatest. In this I absolutely agree with Mr. Graham because greatness or being better implies something about quality. Greatness is not what this article is about. Rather it's about popularity, something much easier to quantitatively measure. I wish to express my appreciation to Mr. Graham for helping me identify and clarify this point.
TV Guide's first issue of the 21st century proclaimed that the entertainer of the century was Elvis Presley. They bestowed this honor on him because of his success in music and movies. While I sympathize with their need to select someone who would be recognizable to their current readership, I think their duty to accuracy should have made them select another, more worthy entertainer. The fact that the author of the article was a self-proclaimed Elvis fan and has written two books on Elvis's greatness may have compromised his objectivity. I prefer to look at hard numbers and let them determine the most popular entertainer of the twentieth century.
Using TV Guides' criteria that the most popular entertainer was the one who had the greatest success in music and movies, I completed the following analysis:
Because Billboard magazine lists how long a song is on the top 40 charts and how high it went on the charts, it is possible to use this information to draw a trapezoid that represents the song's success. The base of the trapezoid is the total number of weeks the song stays on the chart. The height is the highest ranking the song achieves and the width of the top is the number of weeks it stays at that position. Calculating the area of this trapezoid gives a measure of the song's total popularity. Adding up the areas for all the songs for a particular artist gives a numerical value for his or her overall success. Calculating this number for a number of popular artists and comparing them to Mr. Presley show that he really was "The King"... until you compare his numbers to the king of the first half of the century. Consider the following numbers which represent the sums of the popularity-areas for all the artist's songs. In other words, the higher the number, the greater the performer's popularity.
The Rolling Stones -- 12,023
Madonna ----------- 17,725
Elton John ---------- 18,507
The Beatles -------- 19, 693
Elvis Presley -------- 33,415
These numbers point out how phenomenal Elvis Presley's career was. For comparison, the average successful music group (one #1 song, a couple of #2s and #3s and several lesser songs) would only have a total of 1000.
However, TV Guide was talking about the entertainer of the century and these only cover the second half. Was there anyone in the first half who could challenge these numbers? Yes.
Several bands, Paul Whiteman, Glen Miller and Benny Goodman's, as well as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como have total-popularity numbers in the 15,000 to 30,000 zone. But... there is one entertainer whose success so eclipses everyone else's that he is in a class by himself... Bing Crosby. His total-popularity number is:
That's over three times as much as Elvis Presley. You'd have to combine the total popularity of The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Madonna, The Beatles and Elvis in one entertainer to be on par with Mr. Crosby. This degree of popularity is staggering. Nothing like this has happened in the second half of the century so people of my era, the fifty-somethings or younger, have no way to appreciate it.
But, the TV Guide article also stated Elvis Presley's claim to be the entertainer of the century was based on the thirty movies he'd made. Again, he comes up a poor second to Bing Crosby who made twice that many. Also, whereas Elvis was never considered for even a nomination for an award, Bing Crosby won an Oscar for his performance in Going My Way.
Here are the hard numbers comparing Elvis to Bing Crosby. Decide for yourself who was the more popular entertainer.
catagory ---- Elvis Presley ----- Bing Crosby
weeks at #1 --------75 ----------------173
# top 30 hits -------85 ---------------- 383
# number 1 hits -----18 ---------------- 41
at the #1 position ---16 (1956) --------- 23 (1944)
most songs in top
30 in one year -------10 (1956) --------- 27 (1939)
total points --------- 33,415 ------------125,899
acted in movies -----31 (no awards) ---- 60 (5 Academy Awards)
I believe this clearly shows that Bing Crosby and not Elvis Presley deserves to be coronated as the Most Popular Entertainer of the Twentieth Century. The only reason Elvis was picked is that he was recent enough to be more easily remembered.
For people who prefer graphical information, the following chart provides a comparison of the major artists mentioned in this article:
Red is Elton John
Green is Madonna
Blue is The Beatles
Yellow is the Rolling Stones
Cyan is Elvis Presley
Magenta is Mr. Bing Crosby
As a final note, I mailed these comments to the editor of the TV Guide article and asked for her comments. Even though I supplied a self-address and stamped envelope... she has yet to respond.
If you enjoy this type of music comparison page, be sure to checkout my Most Popular Music Performers of all Time page, my Greatest Hits page and the Rock and Roll Revolution page.
Important update for Elvis Presley fans.
I receive many emails from Elvis Presley fans stating that the above analysis is so limited that it artificially biases the results in favor of Bing Crosby. I agree. However, I based the analysis in the methodology of the original TV Guide article. Had I added other factors, which provide a broader measure of total popularity, Elvis would almost certainly have come out on top. But that would have been like changing the playing rules in the middle of the game and therefore unfair. To address this problem I've created another page which compares many more aspects of each performer's career so a more complete comparison can be made. I invite everyone to take a look at the ELVIS PRESLEY - BING CROSBY COMPARISON PAGE and see for themselves how these two greats stack up against each other. Again, niether page suggests that Bing Crosby is as popular as Elvis. Rather that in his era Bing was more popular than Elvis was in his.
A Dissenting Opinion
On 9 February I received an email from Mr. Chuck Evans who provided a number of convincing arguments for the supposition that I am wrong in my belief that Bing Crosby was a greater entertainer than Elvis Presley. I welcome other people's opinions and would like to share Mr. Evans' with any visitors to this page and my thoughts about them.
Permit me to say right off that while I disagree with some of Mr. Evans' points, I respect his right to hold and express them. Indeed, if I didn't I wouldn't be presenting them here even though they are opposed to my own findings. Having said as much, I feel I have the right to defend my position by commenting on what I consider, in some cases, their weaknesses. This does not mean they are wrong. Only that I view them from a different perspective. I encourage all visitors to consider what I say, what Mr. Evans says, go out and do their own research, and make up their own minds.
Finally, I am indebted to Mr. Evans for sending me his thoughts. He has given me much to think about and caused me to re-examine my opinions.
Mr. Evans states that recent polls by Newsweek and MSNBC indicate that the general population considers Elvis Presley as the greatest musical personality of the century. I do not doubt this. But, the problem with such polls is that most of the people who were alive as adults during Bing Crosby's peak are dead. As such their opinions, which would be even more valuable than younger voters because they would have first-hand knowledge to compare the popularity of the two performers, were never counted. Also, the fact that Elvis is so much more recent a personality than Bing means he is naturally more likely to be remembered. Finally, Elvis has, what I feel, is an unfair advantage in that he is part of the style of music preferred by the vast majority of the current population, whereas Bing's style is long out of style. If a music revolution took place today back to the style of the 1930s with the same complete totality that Rock and Roll did in the fifties, in thirty years Elvis would be as forgotten as Bing is now. For these reasons I do not find the argument resulting from these popularity polls convincing. Indeed, if such polls were repeated with the limitation that they only queried people over 80, I suspect the results would be different. Besides, the claim I make is that Bing Crosby is the most popular entertainer of the century in an absolute sense, not who people today consider to be the most popular. Oh yes... I don't know how the questions for these polls were phrased, which can have a profound effect on the answers. Where the people asked who was the greatest musical personality? Or, who was the greatest entertainer? Also, over what era where they asked to consider?
Next Mr. Evans presents a far more powerful and convincing argument: that Elvis was awarded 51 gold or platinum records for recording sales, as compared to only 23 for Bing. I admit to being completely ignorant of this fact and, considering that Bing has over twice as many number one hits and four times as many charted hits, it totally surprised me. To understand how this could be I turned to my father-in-law who, while only 78 and as such too young to have experienced Bing at his height, was still able to throw considerable light on this mystery. The explanation is rather long and complex.
Most important is the fact that the first gold record for a song selling one million copies wasn't awarded until Bing was three-quarters the way through his career. It is unfair to say Elvis is better because he won more golds when gold records weren't awarded during the majority of Bing's career. Bing was selling million-copy recording a decade before this and they never got counted. Also, in 1989 the RIAA cut the number of sales required for gold a platinum records by half, making it even easier to earn them.
There were profound differences between Bing's and Elvis' eras. Elvis was at his zenith during times of prosperity. People had surplus money to spend. During the fifteen years of Bing's greatest popularity, the US was crippled by the great depression. That was followed by World War II. Simply put, these two facts meant that people did not have the money to spend on luxuries such as record albums... they were too worried about scraping enough together to buy a loaf of bread. This is not an exaggeration. The unemployment rate during much of the depression was 25 percent. The effect on record sales was staggering. They dropped from 140 million in 1927 to 6 million in 1932.
During Bing's time, the average age of record purchasers was ten years older than Elvis' era. This means that the people controlling the money were also those responsible for feeding and housing families. As such, record purchases would rate a lower priority than they did for the more youthful purchasers on the 1950s.
Additionally, there were 50,000,000 fewer people in the US during Bing's time. A smaller population means less demand and hence, fewer sales.
Technology is also an issue. In much of Bing's time there was only one record system: the 78 rpm record. During Elvis' era there were two: records and tape. Also, very few portable record players existed in Bing's era. The vast majority of players were large console units. Elvis enjoyed the benefit of having small, easily portable players. Ease and comfort of use increases demand. Music quality also plays an important part in demand. During Bing's time the fidelity of recorded music was much poorer than that available in Elvis' time. People aren't going to be interested in laying out a lot of money for something that doesn't sound good. And while we're on the topic of cost, the average record player in the 1930s cost over $100 (Adjusting for inflation that's $500 in the 1950s or over $1000 today). A 78 rpm record with two songs averaged $1.00 (That's 50-cents per song. When corrected for inflation, that means a fifteen song CD today would cost $50.00.) Additionally, during much of Bing's career, record sales were looked down upon as "music in a can." The more popular mode of listening to music was via the radio, which had the advantage of being free.
I believe that the combined effects of high cost, different population demographics and scarcity of money for luxuries are the principle reasons why Bing's record sales weren't high enough to earn him as many gold and platinum records as Elvis. Let me attempt to put this into perspective today. Imagine that instead of one Enron scandal, one hundred companies just as large had failed back in 2000. Also imagine that the impact of this was enough to send America into a second great depression starting in 2001. By 2002, one-quarter of the working force would have lost his or her job. The stock market would have collapsed and one hundred million people would have had their life savings wiped out. There are long lines of people waiting to receive free food from the government because they don't have the resources to feed their families. These aren't the homeless or poor we occasionally see today, but college graduates who had successful careers just 12 months ago. There is no work. There is no money. Worst of all, there is no sign that the situation is going to get better, ever. Now increase the price of a CD player to $1000 and a CD to $50. Finally, cut the population in half and take all of the money away from teenagers and put it in control of the 25 year old and older age group, the people responsible for their family's survival. Imagine being in that situation and ask yourself how much you'd be willing to spend on music. These were the conditions during the major part of Bing Crosby's career. I think they go a long way toward explaining why he didn't earn as many gold records as Elvis.
As for the present, I agree that Elvis continues to sell well and Bing doesn't. But then, Elvis doesn't have to deal with the fact that his music is 50 years out of style. Elvis wouldn't be selling so well today either if, say, rap had taken over the charts with the same totality that rock did in the fifties.
One last thought about why I don't believe counting gold records is a valid way to compare the two performers, Billboard Magazine doesn't use this in determining a star's popularity in their analyses. This can be verified in any of their books published on the subject, such as The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 6th Edition by Joel Whitburn, 1996, which I used extensively along with Mr. Whitburn's book Top Pop Memories, 1890-1954. While the Billboard book states which of an artist's songs went gold or platinum, they don't state that they use it in determining the popularity comparisons at the end of the book. Rather, they use a point system.
By challenging my analysis, Mr. Evens got me doing some careful self-examination. The result of this was that I became convinced that I was presumptuous to develop and present my own rating system. I have no degrees in music appreciation. I'm not even connected to the music industry. Nonetheless, I don't feel guilty for doing so because I presented my methodology and in so doing, opened myself to peer review. Anyone reading my views can see how they were formed and decide for themselves if they are credible. But... that still doesn't address the issue of my rating system's accuracy as far as determining who was the most popular musical entertainer. To address this issue, I turn to the organization that is universally acknowledged as the supreme expert, Billboard Magazine... or more accurately, their book publications.
In The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 6th Edition by Joel Whitburn, 1996, Billboard Magazine uses the following system to compare performers:
hits earn 100 points plus 10 points for each additional week after
#2 hits earn 90 points plus 5 points for each additional week
#3 hits earn 80 points plus 3 points for each additional week
#4-5 = 70 points
#6-10 = 60
#11-20 = 50
#21-30 = 45
To this sum is added the total number of weeks on the charts.
Because Top Pop Memories, 1890-1954 only records the top 30 hits, whereas the Billboard book uses the top 40 hits, I deducted the points and weeks for songs ranking 31-40 from 8,002 points Billboard awarded Elvis so that a direct comparison could be made to the same analysis performed on Bing Crosby.
Elvis' top-30 total is..............7,191.
Bing Crosby's top-30 total is 27,465.
Please remember that this is Billboard's rating system using Billboard's numbers for both artists, not my system.
Validation is always comforting. Dividing the numbers for Bing by Elvis' numbers from my system gives: 125,899/33,415 = 3.77. This implies that Bing was 3.77 times as popular in his era than Elvis was in his. Doing the same for the numbers from the Billboard system yields: 27,465/7191 = 3.82. These ratios show that my system agrees with that of Billboard's with a differential of only one percent.
Finally, my claim that Bing and not Elvis deserves the title of Most Popular Entertainer of the 20th Century is, like that of TV Guide's, based on not just his musical accomplishments, but also his theatrical success (Bing made twice as many movies and won a academy award for his acting. Elvis can't come close to competing with that.)
At this point I want to reiterate that I am not trying to state that Bing Crosby was a better entertainer than Elvis Presley, just more popular in his time than Elvis was in his when the numbers are evened out for a fair comparison.
In conclusion, I'd like to extend my heartfelt and public appreciation to Mr. Evans for writing me, providing many interesting comments, and helping me to straighten out and clarify this page. Thank you, sir.
NEW!!! If you like Bing Crosby you may be interested in the following URL, which is to the site associated with BING, a magazine devoted to him:
NEW!!! You may be interested in the following URL, which chronicles more of his achievements.
NEW!!! In December, 2004, I received a letter from Mr. Ken Crossland that provided additional information about Bing Crosby that some visitors may find interesting.
Dear Mr. Schmidt
The analysis that you make is spot on, and borne out now in other sources. Gary Giddins part one biography of Crosby (to 1940) echoes your points about relative chart success. Tony Bennetts autobiography says that in the Thirties, Bing was bigger than Elvis, The Beatles and Michael Jackson put together. Part of the reason for Crosbys dominance is that pop culture split after 1950; Bing in fact had two successors Sinatra in the crooning genre, and Elvis in rock. Prior to the Fifties, there was no such distinction. Crosby simply straddled the entire spectrum.
Where you undersell Crosby is on the point of influence. When Bing arrived, it coincided with three new pieces of technology electrical recording, radio and most importantly, the microphone. Without a mike, a singer had to be able to hit the back row of the theatre unaided. The only ones who could do that were opera stars or loud music hall acts. Bing realized that if the mike could hear him, so could everybody else. With that came the template for the solo singer. Nick Tosches, Dean Martins biographer, said that every singer who walks up to a microphone has to pass through Bing Crosbys shadow to get there and that includes Elvis.
When Crosby first started, he had to pretend to play a musical instrument as well as croon (they gave him a violin with rubber strings!). Bing made it legit to just turn up and sing. Nothing else in 20th century music made such a difference.
In June, 2003, I received an email from Mr. Chuck Ford who shares my views and offered additional substantiations in support of Mr. Crosby. Some of these suggest that in a quieter way, Bing may have had almost as revolutionary an impact on the music industry as Elvis. I've paraphrased and added my own views on Mr. Ford's comments below:
1. In addition to being a great music personality, Bing was also an immensely successful emcee on both radio and television for 30 years. While Elvis was on many shows, he was never the host.
2. From 1934 to 1954, Bing was one of the top 10 box office stars and five times he was the number one box office entertainer.
3. Bing introduced 4 Academy award-winning songs, Elvis none. (Think about how much having just one effected Celine Dion's career, then imagine what would have happened if she had done it four times.)
4. Bing was a great success at converting Broadway style songs to a form more palatable to the mass market. In so so doing, he effected a gradual, evolutionary change in music styles that some argue may have been as significant as Elvis'. The biggest difference is that Elvis' occurred over two years whereas Bing's happened over 20. The total change may have been the same but because Elvis' was so quick it was more shocking and appeared more significant.
5. Bing broadcast the very first prerecorded radio program, changing forever the way in which radio, and later television, would operate.
To the above, I'd like to add one more obscure note on Bing. During a PBS biography, one of Bing's contemporaries mentioned that he was the first singer who understood how microphones changed a singer's voice and developed vocal techniques to compensate for these changes.
I've also recently read the Bing was the first person to figure out how to modify his voice to compensate for the distortion caused when it was recorded on records.
COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE IMPACT OF BING CROSBY AND
ELVIS PRESLEY ON MOTION PICTURES
by Dr. Larry D. Wilson
According to Mr. Wayne Schmidt, Bing Crosby is the most popular entertainer of the 20th century. I fully agree. His analysis appearing on waynesthisandthat.com indicates that Elvis Presley was chosen in TV Guide's first issue of the 21st century "because of his success in music and movies." I believe Mr. Schmidt sufficiently laid to rest TV Guide's assertion with regard to music. There is no question that Bing Crosby enjoyed hugely greater popularity in music than did Elvis Presley. Mr. Schmidt's analysis of these entertainers' contributions to film, however, is limited to one paragraph, in which it is noted that Bing made twice as many films as did Elvis and that the former won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Going My Way.
I believe that additional analysis is called for to demonstrate conclusively how much more popular Bing Crosby was in films than was Elvis Presley. At the outset of this analysis, however, a proviso is necessary. Although both died in the same year, Bing Crosby enjoyed a much longer life (1903-1977) than did Elvis Presley (1935-1977), as well as a significantly longer career in entertainment. This was the case in films as well as in music. Nonetheless, TV Guide, apparently, issued no caveat regarding length of career in designating Elvis as the "Entertainer of the Century."
In conducting this analysis, I have been dependent on the fine pieces of software from Microsoft, including Cinemania '95, '96, and '97. In addition, I have consulted Leonard Maltin's fine compendium, the 2003 Movie & Video Guide. I have limited my analysis to consideration of only those theatrical productions in which these gentlemen had the starring role.
Elvis Presley was a star in his first film, Love Me Tender, released in 1956. He had his final starring role in 1969's The Trouble With Girls. Afterwards, he appeared in a few concert films, which are not considered here. Thus, his starring film career lasted for 14 years. During this time, he starred in 31 films.
UPDATED!!! On 24 June, 2005, I received an email from Kelly who stated that Elvis' last film was Change of Habit, not The Trouble with Girls. (Thanks, Kelly!)
Bing Crosby, on the other hand, had to wait until his third film, 1933's College Humor, to become the star. In his two previous films, he played minor roles in ensemble films. His final starring role was in The Road to Hong Kong released in 1962. His starring movie career encompassed 30 years, more than twice the length of Elvis'. In these three decades, Bing starred in 53 films; in addition, he had minor or cameo roles in a number of others.
Whereas one could argue that Bing Crosby has a longer life and, therefore, a longer film career than did Elvis, he, just as with any other actor, could only have such longevity because he had maintained his popularity with audiences. Crosby made his last starring film 15 years before his death, whereas Elvis was in starring roles until 8 years prior to his demise.
Crosby's popularity did not simply result from the number of films he made. His films are also judged to have significantly more quality than those of Elvis. In fact, Elvis is widely thought to have largely wasted his talent as an actor under the unyielding thumb of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Had Elvis has more of a hand in choosing his film projects, it is thought he might have had greater success.
Whatever the case, if one examines the ratings given the two entertainers' films in Maltin's guide, there is little doubt as to the greater worth of Crosby's films (at least according to Maltin and his collaborators). The range of values (from a total range of 1 [Bomb] to 4) for Crosby's 53 starring films is 1 to 4, the entire range. The mean of these values is 2.74. The range of values for Presley's 31 movies is 1 to 3, with a mean value of 2.32. Whereas the mean distinction may not seem like much, consider that relatively few films are judged by Maltin et al. to be worthy of a 3.5 or a 4. (Please see my comment on this below.) Presley has none given these values, Crosby has four (3.5-Mississippi , Holiday Inn , The Country Girl ; 4-Going My Way ). Maltin et al. give a rating of 3 for 23 of Crosby's 53 films (43.4%), whereas only 3 of Presley's film received such a rating (9.8%).
Bing Crosby was also starred in a series of films said to be the most successful film franchise prior to the James Bond series. This series, of course, is referred to as "the Road films." This series began in 1940 with Road to Singapore and ended in 1962, as noted above, with The Road to Hong Kong. In between came five others in 1941 (Road to Zanzibar), 1942 (Road to Morocco), 1945 (Road to Utopia), 1947 (Road to Rio), and 1952 (Road to Bali). Admittedly, he co-starred with Bob Hope and a large measure of the popularity of these films resulted from the on-screen chemistry (read "imaginary feud") of the two principals. Elvis had no such sidekick. None of the Road films, however, rates more than a 3 on the Maltin scale, with three of them rating a 2.5 each.
Crosby also had a starring role in three of four so-called "Rhythm films." The first of these was Rhythm on the Range in 1936. The others were Dr. Rhythm (1938), Rhythm on the River (1940), and Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), the last an ensemble film. None of these films is occupying much space on the video store shelves these days, as they were made primarily to give Bing a chance to sing to the girls. Of course, this was the primary reason most of Crosby's films were made, just as it was the point of almost all of Presley's films. Even in Crosby's most dramatic role, as an alcoholic singer, in 1954's The Country Girl, several opportunities were provided for Bing to sing.
Bing Crosby was rewarded for his thespian expertise three times by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), a feat Elvis Presley never managed once. Crosby was nominated for Best Actor for Going My Way in 1944, for The Bells of St. Mary's in 1945, and for The Country Girl in 1954, winning the Oscar for his role in the first film. In 1945, Crosby lost to Ray Milland for The Lost Weekend; in 1954, the award went to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront. He was up against tough competition, indeed.
Another measure of Bing's popularity as a movie actor is that he reigned in the top ten movie rating for 15 consecutive years (as reported in Charles Thompson's Bing, p. 212). Elvis Presley never came close.
Crosby also had the honor of singing in his films several songs that won Best Song of the Year at the Oscars. These songs included "Sweet Leilani" from Waikiki Wedding (1937), "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn (1942), "Swinging on a Star" from Going My Way (1944), and "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" from Here Comes the Groom (1951). Presley never managed a single one. In addition, Bing sang several other songs in his films nominated for Best Song in the period from 1936 to 1960 (my informal count is eight), even managing to have two songs nominated from two different pictures in the same year (1945). Elvis never had a single one of his movie songs nominated.
I think I have made my case that Bing Crosby had substantially greater influence in motion pictures than did Elvis Presley. In fact, they are not even in the same ballpark. Bing was in the major leagues; Elvis would have had trouble making the team in the Little League.
If one is bothered by TV Guide's slight of Bing Crosby, consider another one. In 1999, Entertainment Weekly put out a Special Collector's Issue entitled The 100 Greatest Entertainers. Elvis was number two (after the Beatles) and Bing was not even mentioned. Pretty amazing stuff.
So, why is Bing Crosby not given his fair due? Some might argue that it is because his reputation was tarnished by the hatchet jobs authored by his son Gary (Going My Own Way-1983) and Shepherd and Slatzer (Bing Crosby: The Hollow Man-1981). These books might have had something to do with it, but are unlikely to have succeeded in erasing Bing from our collective memory. Besides, Kathryn Crosby's 1983 My Life With Bing did not paint such a pretty picture of Mr. Crosby either.
I believe the answer is the obvious one-Elvis Presley is still in the minds of people who buy magazines like TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. I think a picture of Mr. Presley on the cover of a magazine is likely to sell more copies than one of Mr. Crosby, who might be recognized by only a relatively few people old enough to have fond memories of him. After all, he was in his prime just about the time I was born in 1940. In fact, TV Guide might have been taking a chance in selecting Mr. Presley, given the love of youth existing in our society, a youth famous for considering something that happened day before yesterday as unworthy of its attention. If one is really interested in obtaining a fair measure of the impact of Bing Crosby on the world of music, radio, and film, I can heartily recommend Gary Giddens' masterful first volume of a projected two-volume biography Bing Crosby: a pocketful of dreams, the early years 1903-1940. Then one will find that Elvis Presley, as important as he was to the world of rock and roll, will have to take the back seat, if not the rumble seat (oops, sorry for the dated term), while Bing drives.
Thanks, Larry! That was a great article.
A comment about Elvis's 2.32 to Bing's 2.74 average movie review rating: Point rating scales like the four-star system used for movies are rife with non-linearities. The clearest analogy to explain this comes from archery. In ten-ring scoring, getting an arrow inside the ten ring only earns the shooter one more point than if he were to have gotten it in the 9 ring. That's an increase in value of only 11 percent, yet the area of the 10 ring in 1/4 that of the 9 ring, making it 400 percent harder to hit. In other words you have to work four times as hard to get a one-tenth increase in score. The same is true for music hits. In the analysis for the GREATEST MUSIC HITS OF ALL TIME page, I discovered that it's three times as hard to put out a song that lasts four weeks in the number one spot as it is to make one that lasts three weeks. That 33 percent increase in staying power requires 300 percent more effort. Please consider this when looking at Mr. Wilson's numbers. The 0.42 point difference he identified could very well indicate that Mr. Crosby's movie quality, as determined by professional critics, is several hundred percent greater than Elvis'.
Now for a popularity quiz. Who was the only person to simultaneously be a top box-office draw, be the lead on a hit weekly television show and have a hit song in the top thirty? Doris Day. Time and styles may have passed her by but in her day she was bigger than Cher, Madonna, or Celine Dion. UPDATE: In January of 2004 I received an email from Miketdv, who stated that in Britain Doris Day is still very popular and her CDs are big sellers. One store he mentioned had a large section of it's CD display reserved for her and stocked with 90 CDs.
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