Bing Crosby:
Dear Hubby or 'Daddy Dearest'?

by Cheryl Lavin, Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1983

Two Bing Crosbys are for sale this spring.

For $15.95 you get Bing Crosby as daddy dearest: the great bald eagle, the child abuser who ruled his home with an iron fist and beat his four sons by his first marriage -- Gary, Dennis, Philip and Lindsay -- using a studded belt until he drew blood. The one who humiliated the boys -- he called them "ugly," "fat" and "stupid" -- in public and private. The hypocrite who cheated on his alcoholic wife, Dixie Lee, while maintaining his solid-gold image as the all-American husband and father. The star who saved his charm for the audiences and fans and raised his sons on sarcasm and disdain. The one with ice-cold agates for eyes. That's Gary Crosby's portrait of his father in Going My Own Way (Doubleday).

For $29.95 you get: The lovable Bing, the charming Bing, the romantic Bing. Bing the lover who swoops up his wife and carries her off to the bedroom. The charmingly irresponsible Bing who just couldn't bear to be around when the going got tough -- when his first four sons were involved with alcohol or drugs or marital or mental problems -- so he took off with his pals for fishing or hunting or golf. The one who was too soft to discipline the three children of his second marriage -- Harry, Mary Frances and Nathaniel -- so he left it to their mother. The one whose blue eyes twinkled with mirth and mischief. Kathryn Crosby paints this picture in My Life with Bing (Collage).

The amusing thing about the two books is that, different as they are, they show Bing Crosby, who died in 1977 at 73, to be the same man: distant, frequently selfish and self-involved, although 30 years older, mellower, wiser in Kathryn Crosby's book. What is different is the two egos he butts against. One belongs to a self-confident young woman who made the winning and wooing of Mr. Crosby her life's work.

"While Bing had to be my first love, I was interested only in being his last," she writes.

The other view belongs to an insecure little boy who was crushed under the burden of an alcoholic mother and a dictatorial, famous father.

"My father was a runner," says Gary Crosby, who at 50 looks like a wisened Tom Sawyer, with blond hair combed forward over a balding head, blue eyes of almost the same intensity as his father's and a vocabulary out of the 1950s sprinkled with "hip," "man" and "cat."

"He didn't want to know about deep, heavy problems, and he wouldn't listen to them. When there was trouble, he'd run. One time one of the boys was in a hospital, on a drug abuse thing, and he was going down to see him. Dad walked in, and my brother pulled himself up and said: 'I'm fine, Dad. Everything's good. I just had a little trouble sleeping, and I took a few pills, but I'm on the mend.' Then Dad came to me and said, 'He has no problem. He's doing fine.' I said, 'Dad, from the time we were this big we could be blind drunk, and if you walked in we could look you dead in the eye, stone sober, clean as we could be. When you left the room we fell apart.' That's the kind of control he had over us, the kind of fear we had for him. He could snap us into sobriety, and he never delved any further. He never sat down for an hour and picked our heads and asked the tough questions."

Mrs. Crosby simply accepted the actor as he was: "His whole life was like the United States foreign policy -- an attempt to avoid intervention. I had the idiot notion that you could cure every problem. Bing's idea was to get away as quickly as possible to a fishing stream or a hunting lodge. He wouldn't acknowledge even to himself that the boys weren't all fine. When it came to any sort of crisis, Bing was not a fighter, he was a runner."

Once when the family was deciding whether Lindsay should be committed to an institution, Mrs. Crosby writes, Mr. Crosby grabbed "the next flight for (the family home at) Las Cruces, where he remained incommunicado, sans mail, sans telepone, sans news of any kind ..."

Once Harry fell out of a moving car when he was a baby and had to be flown from Mexico to California for an operation on his eye. Rosemary Clooney accompanied Mrs. Crosby, and the singer stayed with the guests.

"He had social obligations," Mrs. Crosby says.

The actor's eldest son and Mrs. Crosby draw portraits of a man with a limited amount of affection and warmth to give. For one, it was enough; for the other, it wasn't.

"Bing married me becaue I was very affectionate," says Mrs. Crosby, still girlish and flirty at 49, with long, blond hair, deep-set brown eyes and a high forehead. "I was very huggy. I would hug his mother and say, 'I love you.' The farthest she could ever go was to say, 'Me, too.' Bing was her son. He would cuff me on the arm and say, 'Make that last ya.' He said all the right words in his scripts, and he sang them in songs. He just couldn't say them in person."

Mrs. Crosby doesn't blame him because he never removed his first wife's things before he took her home to live. When she walked in, the blanket covers were embroidered with DLC, a huge picture of his first wife was on the bedside table, and the closet was full of her clothes. Mrs. Crosby dismisses it by calling the housekeeper stupid.

There is a point in her book when she acknowledges being "depressed and jealous" because of the easy affection between Gary Crosby and his first wife, Barbara Stuart. "Why couldn't I make Bing as happy as Barbara obviously made Gary?" she asks herself.

She acknowledges that Mr. Crosby kept her insecure.

"There was a striving to figure out what he wanted, what he was trying to say. My antennae ached from trying so hard to receive non-existent signals."

It was impossible to demand more affection from him, she says. "You just didn't do it. I saw Mary Frances do it, and it didn't work .... I knew loneliness in my marriage."

There was loneliness in the first marriage, according to the singer's son. His parents were frequently separated. Mr. Crosby would be off on USO tours, making movies or hunting or fishing or golfing with his pals. His mother was home drinking -- a fact the family never acknowledged openly. (Mrs. Crosby says that in her 20 years of marriage Mr. Crosby never discussed Dixie's drinking with her.) It seems as if Mr. Crosby never understood his first wife.

"What I saw was a man who loved a woman as much as he possibly could, but because of his own upbringing had a tough time showing affection," his son says. "And he was married to a woman who needed a super amount of it. She was a shy Southern girl and what would happen is he would come home and say, 'There's a great party tonight. Do you want to go?' And she'd say, 'No, my hair isn't right' or 'I look awful,' and she wanted him to say, 'Your hair is fine. I'll find you a dress, you look wonderful, you're going, you're going.' You were supposed to coax her, but he was the kind of guy who just believed her, and he'd go himself."

He also was a highly disciplined man who quit a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit in a day, who quit eating when he gained weight. He was intolerant of other people's weaknesses. His son tells of the time Mr. Crosby was visiting one of his sons in a mental hospital.

"He turned to me and looked me dead in the eye and said very seriously: 'Tell me something. How does anybody have a mental problem?' Mental problems were all around him. I had them. My brothers had them. His own wife (Dixie Lee) had them, but he was so strong and self-assured and so blessed in his professional life that they remained beyond his comprehension. All I could think to say is, 'I don't know, Dad, not everybody is as strong as you are.' He threw me a funny look ... and changed the subject."

Kathryn Grandstaff was 19 when she met Mr. Crosby in 1953. She was six months younger than Gary Crosby and 30 years younger than the singer. She was a starlet at Paramount, Mr. Crosby's studio, and she wrote a column for her hometown paper in West Columbia, Texas. She was a determined, ambitious woman. She met Mr. Crosby on the set one day, and he invited her into his trailer for tea. He said he'd call, and when he didn't, she interviewed him for her column. When he didn't call again, she interviewed him again. After a four-year on-and-off courtship, they wed. Years later Mr. Crosby said to her: "You deceived me. You acted like a fragile little Southern flower, and actually you're a tank on the loose without a driver."

According to her book, Mr. Crosby constantly criticised her, too: her housekeeping, her childrearing, her ambitions to be a nurse and an actress. "Kathryn, if you'd just keep your mouth shut, people would think you almost had good sense," he would say to her.

She was able to find charm in the remark. His son never could.

"It's not that easy being a famous man's son," his son writes. "What used to hurt me was to see the light in people's eyes die as they would realize I wasn't the son of who they thought he was."

"Isn't that just too bad," Mrs. Crosby responds. "They had a famous father. Isn't it too bad they didn't have a hack murderer for a father or a drug pusher or a pimp. It's too bad they choked on their silver spoons. At some point in life we are responsbile for ourselves. The only two people who really knew Bing were Dixie and I, and I know he was devoted to us, and he was devoted to all of his children. Gary has always had a wonderful imagination. I think Doubleday has exploited him. He thought the book was going to be about Gary, he thought somebody cared about him. He thought it would make him a star. His wife, Andrea, she thought it would make her a star."

"He wrote for one reason, the money," said Bob Hope, a friend of Mr. Crosby's for 40 years and his "road" pictures partner.

"I wrote the book because somebody convinced me my life story was interesting enough," the son says. "I was getting real bored with people telling me how great my life was, how lucky I was to have been Bing's son. I thought I would lay it out there. It's the story of my life, not an expose of Bing."

Go to Mary Crosby's 1980 interview about her father.

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