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Holiday Film Festival highlights work of Bing Crosby, director Frank Capra

Throughout his career, Spokane’s favorite son Bing Crosby was known for his work both on stage and on screen, appearing in more than 75 movies, including seven “Road” musical comedies with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “Going My Way” and was nominated for his performances in “The Bells of St. Mary’s” and “The Country Girl.”

Crosby also starred in his fair share of holiday-themed films, which are showcased at the annual Bing Crosby Holiday Film Festival, held at the Bing Crosby Theater on Saturday.

The festival kicks off at 10:30 a.m. with a screening of the 1954 Crosby classic “White Christmas,” which also stars Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.

Then at 1 p.m., for the first time in the festival’s 12 years, the Bing Crosby Advocates will screen 1950’s “Riding High,” which was directed by Frank Capra, the father-in-law of Bing Crosby Advocates board member and secretary Carol Capra.

“Riding High” is a remake of Capra’s 1934 “Broadway Bill,” itself based on the short story “Strictly Confidential” by Mark Hellinger. The film starred Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy.

“The problem was that Warner Baxter was deathly afraid of horses,” Carol Capra said, paraphrasing from the director’s autobiography, “The Name Above the Title.” “There were no Warner scenes, according to his book, and that’s why he vowed to make this movie over again someday with a man who loved horses.”

Years later, Capra told Crosby about the film, and the actor was immediately on board. But Paramount executive A.J. Balaban wasn’t too keen on the idea and didn’t want Capra to spend more than $1.5 million on the remake. Crosby pressured the studio until they agreed to greenlight the project.

“(Capra), in his book, said ‘I firmly believe that had it not been for Crosby’s pressures, Paramount would have kept me out of work for years as proper punishment for leading the maverick rebel directors,’ ” Capra said.

The movie was positively received, and the pair would go on to work together again the following year on “Here Comes the Groom,” for which Crosby was nominated for a best actor prize at the 1952 Golden Globes.

“Frank was a great director and a wonderful person,” Capra said. “I met him when I was at the University of Southern California dating his son (Tom), but by then he had just made his last movie, which was ‘Pocketful of Miracles,’ so I got to know him as more of a real person.”

After “Riding High,” the festival continues with “Holiday Inn,” in which Crosby co-starred with Fred Astaire, at 3:30 p.m.

At 6 p.m. Crosby’s nephew Howard Crosby will perform Crosby standards, and Hot Club of Spokane will play popular tunes from the Crosby era.

Following the live entertainment, the festival closes with a second screening of “White Christmas” at 8 p.m.

For Capra, who was been involved with the Bing Crosby Advocates for years and the film festival since its inaugural showing, this year’s festival is a chance to honor both her late father-in-law and further the Bing Crosby Advocates’ mission to keep the Crosby’s legacy alive.

“There’s been nobody else to top Bing Crosby,” she said.

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