Bill Harbach's Memories

Sue Horn posted 04/19/04 01:33 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Another interesting one, Steven. Doesn't seem like Bill Harbach had much good to say about a lot of folks, huh? He did like working with Bing, though.

"He had this one thing; he'd call out at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, 'When do you need me tomorrow?' and then he'd be gone. That was the way he controlled what he had to do. He wasn't doing it for big money; we only paid the host $10,000 a show."

His professional take on Joan Crawford: "Other guest hosts included Joan Crawford, who sipped vodka straight from the bottle."

And he wasn't too much nicer to Frankie, quoting Nelson Riddle: "Harbach asked [Riddle] once what working for Frank Sinatra was like. 'Exciting,' said Riddle, 'but you have to change your underwear a lot.'"

His own opinion of Frank: "Frank was a Jekyll and Hyde case," Harbach says. "When Frank would do a benefit for Sloan-Kettering, he not only worked for free, he paid for everybody else that was working with him -- the musicians' airfare, everything.

"You just had to watch out for the times that Frank would get quiet. Was that bad? It wasn't good."

Others who didn't fare too well on memory lane with Harbach: "Milton Berle was rough. I saw him slap Martha Raye right across the face because he didn't like the way she read a line. When Berle got scared, he could be incredibly mean. Just lethal."

Judy Garland. "There were pills to get her up. There were pills to get her down. There were pills to get her sideways. There was drinking. We would eat while waiting for music rehearsals, and she would tell stories about her mother, about the things her mother had done to her, stories that broke your heart."

Even poor Bob Hope: "Harbach found that the comedian was still the aggressive man on the make, especially when it came to women and money.

"Dolores, his wife, was terribly Catholic -- the house had crucifixes everywhere, and there were always priests around, who drove Bob crazy. I was with him in a limousine once, when he was on the phone trying to make a real-estate deal. Somebody wanted to buy some property he owned, and he kept saying, 'I want 6 million! No. No. I want 6 million!' Finally, the deal was made, and he got his $6 million. He hung up the phone, turned to me and said, 'Not bad for a kid from Cleveland who couldn't buy a pair of shoes.'"

Actually, Bing fared rather well, if you look at all of the rest of the memories: "[Harbach] pops in a tape, now, of Crosby and Johnny Mercer doing a very complicated medley of each other's hits. They're a couple of old pros who are sitting down but hitting every note.

A look of pure appreciative pleasure spreads across Harbach's face."

Unfortunately for all of us, he's right when he says you couldn't do a show like that today, because who would you get?
Judy Schmid posted 04/19/04 01:45 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I thought the same thing, Sue - if you were to do that today, who would you get? The most recent 'successful' variety show MIGHT be the Carol Burnett Show, but that was the late 70s...perhaps Sonny and Cher or Donny and Marie, but I don't recall them having many 'senior' entertainers.

Which comedians or actors would fare well in a variety show nowadays? Many of the comedians have 'blue' stand-up routines (granted, some of the 'classic' stand-up routines were semi-blue in the Vaudeville or Borscht Belt days) that would have to be VERY toned down in such a venue...who of the 'senior' performers are still around? Many of the older statesmen/women of Hollywood are ill or incapacitated... Maybe Andy Williams? Maybe some of the senior TV actors would fit?

Tough question, Sue!
Lee posted 04/19/04 02:32 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
And in keeping in that vein, of "with friends like these..." Harback also reported Bing was cold to his kids. Well, close your eyes Sue, I thought just about the same thing when I watched a particular Christmas Hollywood Palace show with Bing and his daughter, Mary Frances. Bing had just got done telling a very moving and personally touching to me story of "The Little Match Girl" to Mary, immediately after Mary sang "Where Is Love" in such a sweet innocent heartfelt manner, that anyone, much less a father, would have hugged a little girl after doing such a great job singing in such a lovey sincere way. But after Mary's song, Bing (who was sitting next to her) just sat there, maybe he may have applauded, but I'm not sure if he even did that. I couldn't believe it, how could anyone sitting next to this sweet little girl who just sang a such a sweet sad song possibly not help in at least putting their arm around her? It was so cold and unfeeling on the part of Bing or anyone sitting right next to a child who's just given a performance. If there was ever a public example of a cold indifferent feeling displayed for one's own child, or any child who sang like she had just done, this was it. Not a shining example of Bing's warmth, I'm sorry to have to say. Sorry, but even a Bing fan like myself, has to have an open mind when it's right in front of you.
Judy Schmid posted 04/19/04 03:12 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
My dad, who'll be 75 in a few weeks (another Taurus), will STILL not hug or touch us in public - it's just his way - my sister was widowed two years ago - my dad patted her on the shoulder. He's NOT good displaying emotion (a product of Franciscan schooling, not Jesuit) yet my sister understood.

But...thank god for the grapevine - that's where we hear that our dad asks about us, gives us back-handed compliments, has even bailed us out of situations we thought our clever little selves had done - do we wish he were a hugger? Yeah, a little...but...we know that behind dad's steely blue eyes there's a little glow of love (somewhere...) -

Not EVERY family is perfect, y'know...'cept maybe Lee's... ;-)
Sue Horn posted 04/19/04 03:18 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
And Mary herself says he was a great dad, but what would she know? Only kidding. It's just so easy to judge others by what we ourselves expect or would have wanted. My dad was a hugger, but he was a very strict Irish Catholic disciplinarian too. Was there a better father on this earth? Not for me. Would the neighbors or bystanders agree with mu assessment, probably not, but then he wasn't their dad.
Jon O. posted 04/19/04 03:21 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I get the feeling that Bing, the consummate professional, preferred not to put on ANY public displays of affection, even with his kids - perhaps he didn't want to give other guests the impression that his family was getting special treatment. He certainly didn't wear his emotions on his sleeve. But let's face it, he was definitely from the old school of very limited physical expression of love and affection, which he inherited from his parents. I'm sure he let them know how he felt in other ways - on Larry King last year, Nathaniel mentioned how his dad used to affectionately rub his shoulders to get the message across (known in chiropractic circles as "message through massage" - just kidding). And after 24 years of exclusively raising boys, Mary herself allows that Bing just didn't know how to act with a little girl. Everyone has their own way of showing affection towards their kids, though. I happen to be a hugging machine, but I know other parents who prefer to let a pat on the back suffice.
Lee posted 04/19/04 03:24 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
My Dad, who's also in the upper '70's now was also a firm believer in the old strap method of child rearing, and I use that word painfully. Yes, we got it by the strap many a time, even had to hold the chair while Daddy dearest flogged away. But he only strapped us on our rears, once in a while we got a clop from him, but there was never any wondering where we stood. He also used to give us hugs and even kisses when he was in a good mood. No my Dad was no Ward Cleaver, as the kind of Dad I wished I had, but he at least gave us a hug once in a while. I even tried twice to outsmart him, once I put a book in my pants rear, but he managed to detect it and I still got it. Another time I got a little smarter and I stuck a comic book down there. That time I got away with it. It still hurt though. Oh well, enough of my fond memories. By the way, unlike Gary, I do not hold it against my Dad, this is the way it was done back then. And many times I think it still may be the best way. Time out, shmime out. A few good straps and you've learned your lesson.
howard crosby posted 04/19/04 04:27 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
How many times do we have to keep plowing this same old ground? My cousin Phil, recently departed, who was ACTUALLY THERE during the period in question, said: "Dad never disciplined us at all...when we needed a spanking, it was Mom that gave it to us.." Gary's book was a rotten, stinking lie told by a bitter, angry man. Why can't people get that through the heads??
Carmela posted 04/19/04 09:44 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
Thanks Howard! Whenever I saw film clips of Bing with his children I always found him to be very loving with them. He never came across as cold or mean to me. The letters written to Dixie and Kathryn[and kids] were beautiful. They showed that Bing could express love and that Bing was very caring. I thought everyone knew that Gary was battling deamons the time he wrote the book[which he admitted to]. He said in an interveiw that he was very bitter at the time and that he was an alcoholic.
Bridget Jones posted 05/31/04 08:46 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I think the sarcasm by Judy saying Lee's family is perfect....was wrong. She noticed something to her which looked cold and whether it affects you or not, your feelings are your own and the only thing that we as people own outright. No one is perfect to be sure but I too am saddened when I see a child treated poorly or coldly and a small child does wonder, especially if they have friends who are given a lot of affection. It is natural to wonder why your parent or parents are not like that because I do believe children need love. They have plenty of time as adults to go through harsh times in the real world but in childhood they should be loved and cherished. This of course is a family counsellor speaking so my views are strong on this subject and I do not mean to offend anyone. I lost my father at twelve years old being the youngest of four girls and I know I was lucky to have such an amazing Daddy and I feel for anyone who has not. I agree with other posts on Bing Crosbys discipline that it was the times but i do hope that severe discipline did not take place. I do not have a problem with a light spanking done out of love at all.

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