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Ringing in Bing 

by William Stimson & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & keep going over and over it in my mind. I do remember writing an article saying Spokane needed some sort of monument to Bing Crosby. I guess I also said it would be nice if the Met Theater could be renamed the Bing Crosby Theater.





Then Mitch Silver, the man who owns the theater, wrote to The Inlander and said, "OK."


That's it! It's Mitch Silver's fault. It was after his letter appeared that people started coming up to me and saying, "That's great about the Crosby Theater. When are you going to do it?"


When am I going to do it? If you read the column carefully, I said somebody should raise money to change the sign. And I implied "else."


I felt a little better when other people said it probably would never happen because the Crosby name is a valuable property, an international franchise, like Coca-Cola or Microsoft. You have to get permission to put it on a theater, and probably pay a lot for it.


I called Gonzaga University for confirmation of this. A vice president there said, "Why don't you call Kathryn and ask?" and gave me Bing's widow's phone number.


I called Kathryn Crosby at her ranch in Nevada and she said, "That's a wonderful idea!" Then she said, "Why don't I bring my cabaret act to Spokane to help raise the money?" Just let her know about theater dates, she said.


Theater dates? What are theater dates?


I only told one person about my conversation with Kathryn Crosby, but that was Judy Blewett. The next thing I knew there was a board called Advocates for the Bing Crosby Theater and we were planning not only a show but a Bing Crosby Theater Arts Fund.


Word leaked to the Associated Press and the name Bing Crosby brought coast-to-coast coverage. I turned on my computer one morning and the top story on the Google news service was that Spokane, Washington, was going to dedicate a theater to Bing Crosby. I enjoyed seeing my hometown in national news until I realized that when it said "Spokane, Washington" was putting on a show, that meant me!


If you saw the Mel Brooks' movie The Producers, you understand the terrifying feeling impending theatrical success. All of a sudden I realized that on Dec. 8 (the theater date), 750 people would show up expecting to be entertained. I get just a little worked up about this because I get nervous when we are expecting six people for dinner.


Or -- oh my God! -- what if no one shows up? What if it's Kathryn Crosby on stage and me sitting alone in the audience? Open a window, I can't breathe.


I had no choice but to plunge into the arcane world of Broadway production. I soon learned -- and probably not one person in a hundred knows this -- that it costs money to put on a show. I also learned that, even if you get money by selling tickets, you can't use it. They keep it in a box until after the show, apparently to stop impresarios like myself from leaving town early and producing their own one-man shows in Acapulco.


As I have pointed out to many potential donors, this leads to an interesting circular problem. You can't put on a show without money, and you can't have the money until you put on a show. How am I supposed to, for example, book airplane tickets from Los Angeles to Spokane, hotel rooms, buy advertising?


Karen Worthy took care of the Davenport Hotel rooms with a note. The publisher of The Inlander said he would donate an ad if I would quit whining.


For signs and other publicity, Steve Blewett and I went to Ed Miller of Miller Whiterunkle Public Relations. I happened to know that Bing Crosby once played in a speakeasy called the Peking Restaurant at 518 West Riverside, which happens to be the address of the Miller Whiterunkle offices.


Miller dismissed the speakeasy matter with a comment about the statute of limitations. But instead of kicking me out, I saw a look in his eyes I have often noticed when I talk to people about this project. "Bing Crosby, hey?" he said, and his eyes began searching the ceiling meditatively as he hummed "White Christmas." Then, bam, just like that, he had what is called a creative team in the room planning brochures, posters and the like.


Ross Printing agreed to print the materials for free. Don Hamilton, himself, has volunteered to do the video work. Karen Mobley of the Spokane Arts Commission handles the financial arrangements because she thinks we will raise so much money we can start a Bing Crosby Arts Fund to boost local arts.


My only real remaining problem is my board of directors. No sooner do I get one problem solved than they invent another. My original idea of a theater opening is that you should keep it as quiet as possible, just in case things don't go well. But the board is planning spotlights, a red carpet, limos, flash bulbs -- The Bing Crosby Theater is going to open in proper Hollywood style. The mayor will unveil the sign. A Gonzaga choir will sing Christmas songs.


Someone on the board said: "Why don't we also put on display of Bing Crosby photos and souvenirs?" As chairman of the board, it's my job to say: Because we don't have any photos and souvenirs. Stephanie Plowman, curator of Crosbyana at Gonzaga, has since joined the board. We now have photos and souvenirs. We are going to have a display.


Remember Mickey Rooney in those 1930s movies: "Folks, we're going to put on the best show this town has ever seen!" Well, I'm Mickey Rooney.


And folks, if no one out there buys tickets to the greatest show this town has ever seen, as occasionally happens in those Mickey Rooney movies, I will henceforth be communicating with you from a phone booth somewhere in the Midwest.





"A Wing-Ding for Bing" with Kathryn Crosby is Friday, Dec. 8, at 7 pm at the (former) Met Theater. Tickets: $25, $45, $100. All proceeds go to the sign project. Call 325-SEAT. There's also a free Bing Crosby film festival starting at noon on Dec. 8.

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