Was Bing Human?

Posted by Sue Horn on March 27, 1999 at 17:09:22:

Just got a 3-CD set called Bing Crosby the Crooner The Colombia Years 1928-1934---this is from the liner notes written by Michael Brooks, a rather objective fan:

"God, he must have been a complex personality. Here was a man who remained at the top of his profession for nearly half a century, with a vast fortune amassed by intelligence, guile and a hard-nosed awareness of his own talents, and still the public swallowed the whole lazy, 'call me lucky' routine. It must have amused him to project that image, yet I suppose there was enough of the mythical Crosby in the real Crosby to make it all believable.

"Then there are the stories of his extreme frugality, of his riding buses and subways when he could have hired a fleet of limosines. And the coldness he often showed towards his friends. Louis Armstrong once stated that in all the years he knew Bing, he was never once invited to his home, and it's almost mandatory to draw racial implications from that.

"But I believe that Crosby, unlike many people of his generation, was lacking in the more virulent forms of racial prejudice. Certainly he wouldn't have loved jazz the way he did and hold extreme views, yet he was an intensely private person. Cork O'Keefe, his former manager, and friend up to the time of his death, has a story to tell.

"Cork O'Keefe..'I was in Hollywood on business in the late 1930's and Bing invited me to his home. People couldn't believe it, because no one got to see him there. So I asked him about itand he said, 'You know, Cork, quite early on I made it a rule never to entertain friends at home. I work damned hard during the day and I want to rest and relax when I get home at night. Out here, all people want to do is party and socialize. It got so that I'd meet someone on the set for the first time and the next thing they'd be standing on my doorstep with a bunch of friends exopecting to be invited in and entertained. So, my home's off limits to everyone. You're an exception because you're from New York and I know you won't abuse the privilege. But that's my general rule, and I'm sticking to it.' '

"Likewise, stories of his meanness are just that... stories! Bing never spent money for money's sake, on himself or on anyone else. He had more money than most people could ever hope to attain in the way of worldly goods, and he didn't see the point of adding to them just for the sake of acquisitiveness. But he did help a lot of people when they were in need: Mildred Bailey [Sue's addition--Al Rinker's sister]; Jack Teagarden; Joe Venuti; Fud Livingston. And he contributed vast sums of money to deserving charities on the strict understanding that his actions receive no publicity. [...]

"My own personal involvement with the great man was miniscule. I met him for the first and only time about a year before his death, and I was as nervous and excited as a kid chosen to present a trophy to a sports superstar. He was staying in New York just across from the Metropolitan Museum and as I waited for him in the lobby of his apartment building, I saw him come through the door. He was smaller than I expected and his face, though deeply lined, was instantly recognizable, right down to those icy-blue eyes. And, typically Crosby, he was carrying a bundle of dry-cleaning under his arm when the place was full of flunkies to execute such menial tasks.

"It was awful! I got the fish-eye treatment in spades.First of all, he denied knowing about the appointmentm though it had been set up in advance through his agent. Then he was utterly intransigent, blocking every one of my questions skillfully with 'No, I don't remember singing that song at all,' 'No, that was too long ago,' and 'No, I don't recall such a musician,' until my carefully planned interview lay in ruins and I cursed the day I went into a record store and vouth my first Crosby 78.

"It took me months to get over the experience and come to the conclusion that Bing Crosby was a man, very human, and probably, when I saw him, very tired. But we elevate people of stature to the levels of gods, and while we fawn on them we demand total obedience, ordering them to smile and be gracious while we claw at them and bellow inanities in their ears. If they slip and allow themselves the luxury of telling lsome cretin to go f--k himself, we immediately howl that they have forgotten the public who made them. And I understand the sound common sense of his 'private person' philosophy, which probably extended his career and his life by decades."

Sue here now. That sums it up pretty well, I think. Envy, jealosy, misunderstanding, error... all are elements of our misperceptions of others. I for one will never stop loving Bing, the man, the voice, the legend, with all his warts. Who of us doesn't have them?

Posted by Henry Zecher on April 09, 1999 at 11:50:40:

In Reply to: A good summary of Bing as human as the rest of us posted by Sue Horn on March 27, 1999 at 17:09:22:

Sue, Nice post on Crosby the man. I think, no matter who our favorite entertainers are, if we met them face to face we would not like them. Some more so than others. I had the opposite experience with clarinetist Pete Fountain, my own musical idol whom I interviewed in 1974, and who was every bit as nice and gracious as I had heard he was. He gave me 45 minutes on a show night and answered all my questions fully. But Bing was not Pete Fountain. And, as with others whose are I admire (Sinatra and Dean Martin, in particular) I have learned to separate the art from the man and simply admire the artist. Henry Zecher

Posted by Arne on April 01, 1999 at 15:01:44:

In Reply to: Re: A good summary of Bing as human as the rest of us posted by Lee on March 30, 1999 at 08:32:41:

Lee, I'm wondering if you actually read the article. (The writer, Michael Brooks, this "numbnuts" as you describe him, was more responsible for releasing rare Crosby material to the world than any one else in the late 70s, incidentally) The article is in agreement with you! He was simply pointing up these criticisms that OTHERS have made, in order to refute them, which he does. He makes the same points as you, i.e. that Bing (A) WASN'T a racist, and (B) Bing was a very private man. These are the same conclusions HE draws. Once again, read the article, it appears in full form in the "Columbia Years" box set and in each of the late 1970s LPs entitled "A Crosby Collection" volumes I, II, and III.

Posted by Lee on April 01, 1999 at 16:01:06:

In Reply to: Re: A good summary of Bing as human as the rest of us posted by Arne on April 01, 1999 at 15:01:44:

Arne, I wonder if you're able to recognize a backhanded complement or not even sly insult when you read it. I don't have the "Columbia Years" box set but I do have the 3 "Crosby Collection" records and I was able to somehow manage to read the article Sue reprinted and was appalled at the smarmy, insulting manner, and downright disgust toward his subject that this Bozo displayed. Maybe you just chose to overlook the cheap shots and left and right flying insults this article (and record back sleeve notes)contained but I heard every one loud and clear. Maybe you can at least recognize that this smart--- was speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Allow me to point out, on the one hand he describes with glee Bing's "coldness", his stinginess and "the racial implications" you just can't help yourself but to conclude since Louis wasn't invited over. And on the supposed other hand he says (and this is hardly a great endorsement of Bing's non-racist attitude) he "was LACKING in the MORE VIRULENT" racial prejudice. So then, Arne, maybe Bing wasn't a member of the Klan but he wasn't too racist. If that's your idea of clearing Bing of being a racist, remind me to never ask you to defend me. Come on Arne, join the real world, and recognize a smear when you read it. I can speak for the liner notes on those 3 "Crosby Collection" records and they were the most outrageously smart alecky back handed comments I've ever had the displeasure of reading. The only good thing about those 3 records is the Bing music and the cover art. That may be the only thing we'll ever agree on. They should have quit while they were ahead, listing only the recording dates and personnel on the records would have been a heck of a lot better than having to stomach the smarmy comments on each record from this numbnut.

Posted by Arne on April 01, 1999 at 18:04:08:

In Reply to: Re: A good summary of Bing as human as the rest of us posted by Lee on April 01, 1999 at 16:01:06:

Well, you haven't changed my opinion, but I must admit you make some good points regarding what could be considered "veiled" negative remarks. You might get a rueful kick out of knowing that Brooks got a Grammy nomination for these notes when they originally appeared in '78!

Posted by Lee on April 02, 1999 at 16:18:53:

In Reply to: Re: A good summary of Bing as human as the rest of us posted by Arne on April 01, 1999 at 18:04:08:

Huh, I didn't know that (about winning a nomination in '78). I guess it pays to be contemptible about the subject you're writing about. They call it irreverence, supposed to make you cool. Heaven forbid, you should actually admit you like something that is more than 2 or 3 months old. It takes courage and conviction to stand up for something you like esp. when everyone else on the block is not out there with you. Well, we know quality when we hear it. (Although I like all kinds of music, new wave rock and all types of music, all except bluegrass and rap, can't stand those 2. But Bing's still the best of all.)

You know a lot of interesting little tid bits about Bing, Arne. I like talking to you, even if we do seem to spend most of the time arguing. I guess it'd be a dull world if we all agreed on everything. The more of us Bing nuts the better!!

Posted by Jim Crowley on March 28, 1999 at 18:36:21:

In Reply to: A good summary of Bing as human as the rest of us posted by Sue Horn on March 27, 1999 at 17:09:22:

Sue, I tend to agree that Bing wasn't as warm and pleasant as he portrayed himself to be in his movies. Perhaps Bing of the 70's was a different person?

I know the linear notes in the Crooner set may not be too popular with Crosby fans, but I really enjoyed reading them. Many times I've found the sarcasm funny; definitely reading that keep my attention. I especially like the short essays describing the songs.--not that I necessary agree with the writer, but I found his warped remarks humorous. Check out the essays for Try a Little Tenderness, What Do I Care, It's Home, Little Dutch Mill.

At any rate, I still love Bings of the cuff singing style.

Posted by Sue Horn on March 28, 1999 at 19:03:10:

In Reply to: Re: A good summary of Bing as human as the rest of us posted by Jim Crowley on March 28, 1999 at 18:36:21:

Dear Jim, I actually don't think Bing was out of line in his responses to the author of the liner notes, as he himself later noted. Bing was a very private person, and probably didn't want to be accosted for an interview with dirty laundry under his arm. Maybe he forgot the appointment, maybe the interviewer was arriving earlier or later than the appointed time, maybe a million things..... I just wish people would let him be human, that's all. For example, I'm sure that my 10-year-old son, Joe; thinks I'm a good mother (because I am), but there are moments from our lives when we are not at our best, and when those moments are magnified and taken out of context, they give the wrong impression. I'm sure there have been "public" moments at the grocery store or in the car when my interaction with Joe has been les than patient, not exactly wonderful. If those were strung together in a video and put on TV without all the other normal and good times,I'm sure I would appear to be anything but a model parent. Actually, in my case, no one would be interested in watching the video, but in Bing's everyone and their uncle was. Sorry for the tirade... And I will look at the essays. Those notes were well written, weren't they?

Posted by Wayne Martin, Club Crosby on March 28, 1999 at 12:19:03:

In Reply to: A good summary of Bing as human as the rest of us posted by Sue Horn on March 27, 1999 at 17:09:22:

Hi, Sue:

Not all of Bing's fans will agree with you about Mr. Brooks' comments about Bing. When this set originally came out on LP, there was a lot of muttering and complaining about the notes. I think, though, that you are right. I see a man who was genuinely fond of Bing Crosby and his work. His tone is often rather sarcastic, but most of the caustic stuff is concerned with Bing's choice of materials and vocal options. He is certainly right about "Home on the Range," when he says that the Brunswick version is the jewel, and the Decca version the paste. You simply cannot compare the fervor and grace of the Brunswick with the plodding, uninspired Decca recording.

But I am digressing. The Columbia set is a jewel. Too bad that it is a little hard to find these days. I have both the LPs and the CDs and plan to keep them forever.

You are right. Bing was a person, so he was not perfect. I don't think I would really like to know a "perfect" person.


Posted by BINGSBOY on July 06, 1999 at 15:42:25:

I must tell you how much I enjoy reviewing the postings on this site. I know that Bing would be touched by so many wonderful people who enjoy his work. The Crosby family, Kathryn et al, are not very much involved with keeping Bing's memory alive but this is something that those in the know understand. I am a great nephew to Bing-- and more importantly he was my God Father. My memories of him are vivid and very special. He was a quiet and unassuming man in private and after reading some of the comments posted in April of this year regarding Bing's private persona and the liner notes from Micheal Brooks I thought I would share a moment with you.

Back in 1975 (or maybe 74) I was with Bing at the tournament at Pebble Beach where I lived not far from the 13th fairway with my parents. At that time I was in my mid teens and recall Bing and his wife up in a covered scaffold off the 18th in back of Del Monte Lodge. Hundreds of people were milling about knowing that mighty man was gabbing with Jim Mackay about how great the tournament was going. I recall seeing Bing come down the ladder with his wife behind (or rather above) him and shouting reporters yelling "Hello Mr. Crosby"...."Smile Mrs. Crosby". She did. He didn't. And this swarm of people pushing and shoving to get close to Bing, to touch him, shake his hand, snatch an autograph. It was rather intense. As he came down the ladder, while ignoring the crowd and reporters and photographers, he was singing "Up and Up and Away"..as if to make a joke. But not once did he look at anyone. When he saw he me he said "Follow me" and I did. All of these people were desperately trying to get this 70-year-old to entertain them or sign something. I felt sorry for them for he was walking in a straight linbe to the car. With us was an off duty highway patrolman who always drove Bing for the tournament. I still have the pictures he took of us that day. Bing, with wife in tow, walked amazingly fast the 50 or so yards to the car and not once did I see him look at anyone. When he finally made it to the car I watched this mob circle the car taking pictures of him as he looked straight ahead, ignoring the pleas for a quick glance or a smile. He was tired and seemed relieved to be in the car. Looking back I think that was a profound moment for me.

His sister told me that after nearly 50 years of autograph seekers and having to be "on" he was just exhausted. Mr. Brooks spoke of Bing's "fish eye"...those blue piercing eyes that I will never forget, but don't we all have a "look" when we are annoyed. Bing was slightly over 70 at that time and he, I believe, felt somewhat put upon on by these well meaning folks. But if you think you about how he must have felt, you still wouldn't understand. This man lived a very full life and he went through some tough times and happy times...in short he was just a regular guy with some irregular talets. So many place "stars" on pedestles and making them out to be God-like which I know he wouldn't approve of.

I had an acquaintanceship with the late entertainer Dean Martin and he was very much like Bing. A rather quiet man who enjoyed only a few close friendships and really looked at music as only one aspect of an whole life. I had dinner with Dean on Mothers day the year he died and like Bing he judged his day on how he slept, if he got to hit a few balls, and managed to not have to get up to go the bathroom every other hour through the night. One of the realities of old age....

The people, like Mr. Brooks, who attempt to understand or analyze are really grasping at straws. You see, Mr. Brook's made some rather interesting and a few accurate remarks in his liner notes about Bing (re:The Brunswisk re-issues) and he is entitled to his opinion just as Gary or anyone else for that matter. In looking at Cork O' Keefes remarks I think you might see a fair picture of Bing. His home was his own world for a time and Hollywood people rarely were invited up. However I do want correct the record -- Louis Armstrong did come to Hillsbough and Bing was extremely fond of the man and his talent. I can assure you that Bing was a product of his times, but some of the earlier postings mentioning the possibility of Bing having racist tendencies is incorrect. Last year I spoke with Gary Giddens regarding Bing and Louis Armstrong and Mr. Giddens would point out that the Armstrongs never invited the Crosby's over. Mr. Giddens will address the racism innuendo in his book I am told and that will resolve that question.

So many people presumed Bing and all of the guests on the KMH were all his buddies. These were business relationships and in the case of Armstrong -- a rare one -- a friendship too. Hope came maybe only once. Fred Astaire came twice, but that was it as I recall. I can say to you that the man I knew was kind, if you were respectful. As he grew older I think he, like many of us, tend to return to our roots and our faith. After the fall at the Shrine he changed and was not well. He was in pain a lot and suffered from a variety of ailments. But I deeply believe that today he is up there right now with all of his pals, "young and healthy" and very content in knowing that those of you who share a love for his talent do so in such a devoted way.

I think you would have found him to be, one on one, a very ordinary man with some extraordinary talent. I still imagine what it must have felt like as he traveled to California in that Tin Lizzie heading towards Hollywood with dreams of stardoom. That was a different time and I feel fortunate to have known this wonderful and very good man. In April several of you attempted to share your thoughts on Bing's inner persona. I can only tell you that he really was a decent guy who really was humble, hard working when he had to be, and very close to his convictions.

I knew him in his later years but he had a keen memory for some things (if he wanted to be) and unlike Mr. Brooks, if I asked Bing if he remembered recording a particular song he might impatiently come up with a recollection. Years ago I played his records when he came by and that drove him crazy. He would say "what is that your listening to" and I'd say "It's you" and he would say "someone ought to help this kid get some new records". He couldn't understand why I liked those songs and I told him because the music seemed like it was a sweeter time, a better time.

Looking at our world today, and what attempts to pass for popular music, I think I was right and it really is the greatest thrill for me to listen to his voice and wonder what it was like for him so many decades ago when he burst on the scene. With all of the tragedies in the family--- I am so grateful for the hundreds of CD re-issues and I only wish that the widow would do more to enhance the public's memory of this great and dear man. The late and very kind Ken Twiss tried so hard to get the widow to help out with Kidney Machines in Bings name but that was not to be. Regrettably money seems to play a big role in why so much has changed. Now all we have is a golf tournament at an obscure (its not Pebble Beach) course that is not telecast nationally, hosted by Jimmy Dean! Yikes... Thank God for CD's and video tape. Off to Ireland for a holiday, but looking forward to checking out this site very soon. This is really a wonderful site and I like very much reading all of your various remarks and interest in Bing. All best wishes.

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