Inside Bing

Dean posted 11/10/04 06:24 AM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
I suppose that most of us would like to have known Bing better but, partly because of his natural reticence, and partly because his biographers have not chosen to pursue the inner man through his basic tastes, we are left with a warm screen persona and a vague and shadowy flesh and blood man who drew more unfavourable comments than could have been expected from many of his contemporaries.

The clues to the real nature of the man were always there but no one ever seemed to ask the right questions of the right people. The old Crosby family held all the clues but most of the questions that I would like answered were never asked of them.

What kind of Christmas did Bing have as a child? What kind of presents did he get, and which of these were his favourites? Does anyone know?

What were his favourite songs ? In various mags I've read that "Without a Song" or "Young and Healthy" were tops for Bing. I don't believe it.

We know that the British made Tv serial "Upstairs and Downstairs" was unmissable for Bing. But I've never read anywhere about his favourite shows on Tv, or his preferred plays or films.

I've seen photographs of him in his prime returning from some holiday with a book under his arm. The title is annoyingly hidden. Who were his favourite authors and which books excited him?

He has been referred to as a fine letter writer and he probably was, but almost all of his letters that I've seen have been bright but standard replies to enqiries and fan letters. Why aren't the fine ones printed in book form for us to read.

All of these things could partly remove the mist that surrounds the inner Bing and satisfy our curiosity about what made the man tick. Fortunately we have Howard Crosby with us and I'm hopeful that he can fill in some of the gaps I've outlined.
Judy Schmid posted 11/10/04 07:25 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Because of Howard's generosity, copies of many of these letters are in the hands of Gary Giddins...and copies of many of these letters were on display at Gonzaga 18 months ago - letters from Bing to his brothers - amazing insights into his psyche - but...if you didn't get to Gonzaga, I guess you missed it - for now...those letters were mesmerizing.
Steven Lewis posted 11/10/04 09:56 AM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
I can't disagree more with Dean's statements that little is known of Bing's interests and life events. The fact that a particular person may be unaware of these things doesn't mean they are not known. Bing's life was the focus of an autobiography and at least 2 authorized biographies (one by his wife); he cooperated with the production of at least two multi-hour radio biographies; he consented to hundreds of interviews without, as far as I know, stipulating that any topic was off limits; he emceed a daily radio show in which he talked about his favorite literature, music and sports (the 1954-56 Bing Crosby show on CBS); he permitted cameras to follow him while he was hunting and fishing; he kept a diary; he saved family mementos and letters; he did not travel with a body guard and often used public transportation .... These are hardly signs of a secretive person. My advice is to do your homework and don't have expectations that exceed realities. Bing will come out just fine.
Jon O. posted 11/12/04 01:00 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I did your homework for you, Dean. In 1933 Bing completed a questionnaire for Paramount, the details of which can be found in Gary Giddins’ “Pocketful of Dreams”, pp 312-314 (assuming this source is not unknown to you). Ed Sullivan published it in his syndicated newspaper column in 1944.

Following are some of the highlights:

Favorite fictional heroes: Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, Francois Villon [a real-life 15th century poet who was transfigured into a fictional character by some authors, Rob’t. Louis Stevenson among them]
Real-life hero: Theodore Roosevelt
Five outstanding figures in history: Jesus, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Napoleon, Disraeli, Lincoln
Outstanding figures of 1933: in sports, Babe Ruth; in theatre, John Barrymore; in literature, Shaw; in music, Ravel; in politics, Mussolini[!]
Favorite stage actors, Alfred Lunt, Katharine Cornell
Film actors: Helen Hayes, Leo Tracy
Radio artists: Burns and Allen
Comedian: Jimmy Durante
Dish: Lobster diavolo
Flower: gardenia
Jewel: diamond
Axiom: “Take it easy.”
Least favorite color: lavender
Of which compliments was he most proud?: “Ring Lardner wrote me, saying he was glad I was returning to the air. …my Dad maintains I sing better than Jolson. Coming from this unbiased source, I treasure this highly.”
Favorite fan: “My mother, because she is very sincere, and never hesitates to criticize when she figures criticism is due.”
Favorite song: “Sweet Sue”
Favorite classical number: “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune”
Least favorite: “No dislikes for anything musical, but Beethoven and Wagner leave me unresponsive.” [interesting…]
Favorite Books: Of Human Bondage, Point Counter Point, A Farewell to Arms, Round Up (Ring Lardner)
Favorite poets: Keats, Browning, Shelley, Longfellow.
Quotation: “’Full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air.’”
Eccentric? “In dress, tend slightly to the bizarre.”

I also read in a 1957 Hy Gardner questionnaire that the TV shows he enjoyed watching were “Playhouse 90”, “See It Now”, and sports. As for Bing’s childhood Christmas presents—sorry, can’t help you there. I’ll bet he got a Teddy bear, though—they were all the rage during the Roosevelt administration, when Bing was a small child.

To find out about Bing’s latter day tastes, I recommend you refer to Kathryn Crosby’s books about her late husband, distasteful as this may be for you.

I’ll expect an apple on my desk tomorrow morning.

And, David: “crucified?!”
dbobd posted 11/12/04 11:40 AM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
I remember that one book Bing was seen studying, either at the side of a stage or on a film set, was Richard Hoggart's "The Uses of Literacy". You can tell I was suitably impressed, it was about forty years ago that I read this snippet. In a UK report, Dean.
howard crosby posted 11/12/04 04:05 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I've just picked upthis whole fascinating thread upon returning from business travel, and when time permits, I'll expound further, but for now, one interesting bit...

Christmas presents: When I was a kid growing up, my Dad used to always say "You don't how good you've got it, when I was a kid, all we got for Christmas was a freash orange."
Of course I thought this was B.S., but years later I asked both Aunt Mary Rose and Uncle Bing about it, and they both said there were no big presents in their house "just maybe an orange or something."

So I guess it was true. Of course, with my Grandpa's spendthrift ways, they were always out of money and in debt.
Carmela posted 11/12/04 07:59 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
Howard, Maybe that's why Uncle Bing took an interest in Minute Maid! Dean, Another thing to add to the Bing list. I remember Bing saying that Spencer Tracy was one of his favorite actors.
Frank Startup posted 11/13/04 08:46 AM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
In the 1970s, I remember reading in one of those silly lists of the favourite things of the stars that Bing Crosby's favourite author was Graham Greene, which struck me as being more than plausible. The moral and spiritual dilemmas posed in Greene's books seem to me just the sort of thing which an intelligent Catholic like Crosby would have enjoyed - Greene's novels were for many years on the Vatican proscribed list. In addition to that, when Greene was a film reviewer in the 1930s, he wrote some scathing reviews of Crosby's films. He said that if a Hollywood Hall of Fame came to be assembled, he wouldn't exclude Crosby, but saw him in a court jester's costume carrying balloons and leaping about crooning on the fringe of the gathering. Nasty, but not without wit, and just the sort of disparagement that a man given to self-disparagement might appreciate, even while wincing.

It also seems to me that there are enough paradoxes and contradictions in Bing Crosby to make him almost qualify as a Greene hero: a reserved and private man in a profession which wears its heart on its sleeve; a conservative in a profession famous for its often outrageous liberalism; a man who dislikes praise and fuss in a profession which is hungry for it; a man uncomfortable with expressing emotion in a profession which thrives on it - and not just in the profession, at the very top of it for several decades.

On top of this is the gulf between Crosby's opinion of his own talent and the opinion of millions of others. It is apparent that his modesty and self-effacement were genuine: he really couldn't see what the fuss was about, and really didn't think he was that much good. Doesn't he say somewhere that he and Dixie used to joke that someday the doorbell would ring and a messenger would announce that it was all over, that the game was up and that he was revealed as a fraud? If that's the case, what did he think of all those people who idolised him, who voted for him as a role model above the President and the Pope? Beneath the meticulous politeness and courtesy, what did he think of people whose judgement he could not agree with? What would he make of us?

Like all Bing admirers, I hated the 'Hollow Man' book with its sloppy research and cheap sensationalism, but I think they had one thing right: there must have been many tensions inside him, as witness the insomnia and Alan Fisher's broken pencils anecdote, which had to be concealed beneath the unflappable, smooth, relaxed exterior. He may have had the strength and self-discipline to control it, but I bet it wasn't that easy being Bing Crosby.

I'm sorry to have gone on so long, and what I've said is probably nonsense, but ever since I read that Greene was Bing's favourite author, this has been going round my head. It's nice to get rid of it.
Tom Degan posted 11/13/04 10:04 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Oh yeah, one more thing....On December 8, 1970 (exactly ten years to the day before he died. John Lennon gave a memorable interview to Rolling Stone's Jan Wenner. The interview was later published in book form as Lennon Remebers. I read that interview in its entirety many times over the years and I was always struck by the depths of Lennon's bitterness toward fame in general and his fellow ex-Beatles in particular. He seemed to me to be absolutely consumed in by his anger. Then a few years ago, I had a chance to hear a recording of that very same interview and was shocked again - not by Lennon's rage - but by the fact that hearing the interview and the tone of his voice, as opposed to just reading the printed transcript, I came away with an entirely different interpretation of what he was trying to say. He seemed more reasoned and his voice was more measured. By simply communicating by the printed word, we might tend to misinterperate what someone is trying to say to us. I think you're all idiots - See?? You're offended! Now if only you could have heard the tone of my voice you would have known instantly that I was just joking! That's all I'm trying to say.
Tom Degan
Jon O. posted 11/13/04 10:52 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Intriguing thoughts, Frank. I've often wondered too what Bing would think of us trying to keep the flame of his celebrity from going out after all these years, while he himself thought little of his achievements. I think Bing tended to look at the Big Picture--from his perspective, singing songs and acting amounted to very little, and in a way that's true. But his self-effacement, along with his never losing sight of the things that really matter, and not being taken in by his own celebrity, make him all the more worthy of our admiration, in my opinion. Especially in this age of egomaniacal, self -congratulatory divas, actors and anyone who gets their 15 minutes in front of a camera.
Ron Field posted 11/15/04 02:26 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Jon O, interesting that you show that 'favourite song' being 'Sweet Sue'. I seem to recall that this recording by Bing wasn't unearthed until about 1962, having been found in an RCA factory in Camden (?). Also, that Bing had stated after this discovery that he didn't recall recording the song.
It is believed that the song was recorded after a recording session and only had piano with Lennie Hayton(?).Mind you though, I think it is a great recording.
Jon O. posted 11/15/04 03:08 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I think you're right, Ron.
I would assume that his recording the song would have been fresh in his mind when he filled out the 1933 questionnaire, though--even though it hadn't been released (and wasn't intended to be?). My guess is that the song itself was his favorite at the time.

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