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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Remembering Bing – and many others from our state

This is Bing Crosby’s time of year. You can hardly walk through a mall or listen to the radio without hearing Spokane’s own world-famous crooner singing “White Christmas” or any of the other holiday songs he made famous.

It’s an especially Bing-focused time for me, as I am a member of the board of the Bing Crosby Advocates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining Bing’s legacy. Our annual Bing Crosby Holiday Film festival takes place this Saturday at the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane. Forgive the blatant plug for our family-friendly event, but in doing some of my research on Bing for this year’s festivities, I happened across a list of other famous people from the state of Washington – and I was surprised.

Sure, there are a host of well-known celebrities from our lovely state – Bill Gates and Jimi Hendrix, for example – but there are also a bunch whose Evergreen State origins I was unaware of.

For example, did you know that the character actor John McIntire came from Washington? He was born in Spokane in 1907, appeared in 65 films (including “Asphalt Jungle,” “Psycho” and “Elmer Gantry”) and may be best known for his roles in the TV shows “Wagon Train” and “The Virginian.”

I’d like to mention here some of the names I knew when I saw them, but whose Washington roots I didn’t (omitting the famous who I knew hailed from our state – like Patrice Munsel and Kurt Cobain). Many of them made some fine contributions to culture and society, some maybe not so much.

Let’s continue on with Spokane.

Actor Darren McGavin was born William Lyle Richardson in Spokane in 1922 and was best known for the film “Christmas Story” and TV’s “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” He won an Emmy for his role in the original TV series “Murphy Brown,” playing the title character’s father.

Ryan Crocker. I’m kind of embarrassed that I didn’t know he was from Spokane. The career ambassador with the U.S. Foreign Service (including Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan) was born in Spokane in 1949 and is a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner.

Debbie Rowe, the nurse who married Michael Jackson and had two children during that marriage. While I don’t feel bad, necessarily, that I didn’t know she was born in Spokane in 1958, it does seem, popular-culture-wise, that I should have known that.

And moving around the state …

Actress Dyan Cannon was born Samille Diane Friesen in Tacoma in 1937. I remember her in so any things, notably the film “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice,” the fact that she married Cary Grant and had a terrific late-career role in the TV show “Ally McBeal.”

A big, big and happy surprise to me – Hank Ketcham, creator of the “Dennis the Menace” comic strip, was born in Seattle in 1920. He graduated from Queen Anne High School and attended the UW.

Actress Carol Channing was born in Seattle in 1921. “Hello Dolly.” Need I say more?

Melissa Harris Perry, political commentator, professor and TV host who focuses on African American politics, was born in Seattle in 1973.

Singer-songwriter Judy Collins was born in Seattle in 1939. “Both Sides Now,” “Someday Soon,” and “Send in the Clowns” are just some of the songs that still echo in my head. I’m not quite a fangirl, but close.

Bob Barker, game show host (“The Price is Right” and “Truth or Consequences”) was born in Darrington in 1923.

Chef and restaurateur Mario Batali, born in Seattle in 1960, was featured on TV’s “Iron Chef America.”

OK, gossipy here, but I do have to include Sanjay Malakar, born on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in1989. He was a national sensation on the sixth season of TV’s “American Idol,” even becoming a finalist, while seeming to lack … well, discernible talent.

Actor Howard Duff, who played the title role in “The Adventures of Sam Spade” and was featured in such famous films as “All My Sons” and “Naked City,” was born in Bremerton in 1913.

Burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee, whose memoir was adapted in 1959 into the play “Gypsy,” a show still being produced today all across the country, was born Rose Louise Hovick in 1911 in Seattle.

Robert Joffrey, born in Seattle in 1930, was a dancer and choreographer who founded the famous Joffrey Ballet.

I do need to end, as I began, with Bing Crosby, who was born in Tacoma in 1903 and who came to Spokane with his family as a toddler. He grew up in the Logan Neighborhood of Spokane, living with his parents in the family home until he left for Hollywood in 1925.

He was a man who made some pretty fine contributions to America that may not be as well known as his iconic songs this time of year. Friday is Dec. 7 – Pearl Harbor Day, the day that brought America into World War II, a war in which Bing Crosby traveled more than 1,500 miles in combat zones in Europe to entertain the troops.

When the war was over, Yank magazine polled soldiers about what kept up their morale during the war. Bing Crosby got the most votes – more than President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.

Not bad for a boy from the great state of Washington.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at

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