Smokey the Bing

Tom O. posted 06/03/05 12:04 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
We all know for a fact that Bing smoked for most of his life. But I wonder, did it affect his speaking and/or singing voice? I don't seem to think it did. With most people (most people I know anyway) it affects their voice, makes it more gravelly...What are everybody's thoughts about how smoking affected Bing's voice?
John Walton posted 06/03/05 12:26 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Bing's voice did change a lot over the years and I believe the way it changed was consistent with his having smoked through most of his life - though no doubt there were other factors involved. Many of the throat conditions associated with voice change (e.g. nodules, polyps) are known to be exacerbated by smoking. One quite common condition, where excessive fluid gathers in the vocal folds, is Reinke's Oedema. This in almost all cases is caused by smoking.
However, much of Bing's longevity as a performer at or near the top of his profession was due to his ability to adapt. He could make his voice sound good, no matter what stage it was going through. His successful approach to singing was more cerebral than physical.
Don posted 06/03/05 01:19 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
When you listen to his final recordings like "When a Child Is Born", there is a great difference. But of course one would expect change anyway since he was an old man by this time.
Lee posted 06/03/05 01:20 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I thought Bing quit smoking sometime in the mid-1960's, after his lung problems. His voice though stayed deep long after he quit the coffin sticks. Nat King Cole said he smoked to keep his voice low and rich sounding, unfortunately for Nat it also kept him dead.
John Walton posted 06/03/05 03:45 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I thought Bing's operation to remove part of his lung happened early in 1975, and that it was at this time he gave up smoking. When he eventually started to sing again, it's been reported that his voice was stronger, with a better vocal range. (I believe he kept the low notes and rediscovered some higher ones.) I've always thought that the probable cause for this improvement was the absence of the weed. This is pure speculation, of course. Maybe someone can clarify things with more specific information.
Don posted 06/03/05 05:07 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
Bing finally quit smoking after about three-fifths of his lung was removed, along with a tumor the size of an orange, in January 1974, at the age of 70. I believe Gary Crosby mentioned that his father quit smoking cigarettes sometime in the 50s, and when you watch "High Society" again you can see how Bing doesn't seem to inhale on his cigarettes in the movie. I guess enough damage had been done however, since at the time of his death Crosby had severe coronary artery disease.
John Walton posted 06/03/05 05:17 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Thanks for the correction, Don. It was of course 1974, not '75, that Bing had his lung operation.
Ron Field posted 06/03/05 05:21 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I remember reading, when Bing gave up smoking, that he gave it up because it didn't taste so good anymore. Didn't he have his pipe with him on the Parkinson show in 1975?
When I saw/met Bing in Seattle in 1957, he was standing in a doorway smoking a cigarette.
Bing very kindly looked straight at my camera. I had a roll 120 film camera. When I finally had the slides developed, Bing had the cigarette in his mouth, sticking out his ear and under his hat. I was so excited that I rolled the winder too fast and all the shots finished up on the same frame.
When walking Turnberry with Bing in 1975, I told him about this and we both had a laugh.
Ron Field
Jon O. posted 06/03/05 05:42 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Gary Crosby also noted that when his dad quit smoking he did it cold turkey, by the sheer force of his will. Now that's cool. My dad also did this, after the surgeon general's report came out in the 1960s, and after my sister and I had pestered him to the point that he didn't have much choice but to either give up smokes or put up with constantly whining kids.
pat bonner posted 06/03/05 06:38 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
er...wasn't bing a pipe smoker? it was one of his trademarks. and, isn't there a story that his mother was very anti-smoking and that when bing was sponsored a few times by chesterfield, he had to assure her that he didn't really smoke them. just curious
Steven Lewis posted 06/03/05 07:37 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
According to Kathryn, Bing quit cigarettes on her recommendation because she did not want him smoking around the kids. He continued to smoke a pipe until his brush with death from a lung tumor in 1974.
Ronald Sarbo posted 06/03/05 08:15 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Pipe smokers do NOT inhale. As Don pointed out Bing does not seem to be inhaling when he smokes a cigarette. The sign of a true pipe smoker who on occasion smokes cigarettes.

In "High Society" Bing is smoking his "Dunhill" long-stemmed banded pipe. That shape was made by Dunhill exclusively for Bing.
Jim Kukura posted 06/03/05 10:57 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I've noticed Bing in many different movies, when he was supposed to be smoking a cigarette, and I never once saw him take a nice long drag and exhale it. He never seemed like an experienced cigarette smoker to me, or at least he did not seem as if he wanted to inhale.
Don posted 06/03/05 11:22 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
Did Bing smoke cigars?
Ron Field posted 06/04/05 12:12 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
At the start of "Well, Did you evah?" in 'High Society', Bing is sitting in a lounge chair with a cigarette.
Ron Field
Arne posted 06/04/05 12:22 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Bing with a pipe on Parkinson dates from the 1972 show, I believe.

As regards the cigar question.... Seems to me I have a photo of Bing in the 30s, next to some jockey or obscure (to me) sports figure of the time. In the photo, taken in an outdoor location, Bing has a cigar in hand. This is not in a book, but rather a part of my stills collection that I've never seen anywhere else. I'll have to search for it and see if I'm remembering it correctly.
Jon O. posted 06/04/05 09:58 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Of course it's only a movie, but Bing smokes a cigar in "High Time".
Jon O. posted 06/04/05 10:02 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Arne, I think you're right about Bing having his pipe with him on the '72 Parkinson show, rather than '75. I believe after he completed one of his numbers, while the audience was ecstatically applauding, he casually lit his pipe.

I think he talked about having given up pipe smoking during his '75 appearance on the show.
Candace Scott posted 06/04/05 10:58 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
From everything I've read, it seems Bing was a very occasional cigarette smoker, he was never a habitual cigarette smoker. There's a reference in Barry Ulavov's book that Bing smoked "a couple" of cigarattes a day in the 30's and 40's. As others here have mentioned in this thread, he didn't inhale when he smoked onscreen. We've all been paying attention to that, it seems. Even in "The Country Girl" when Bing lights up in the Frank character (and you'd assume Frank Elgin would need a smoke), he doesn't inhale.

All the film of Bing entertaining troops in WWII and travelling around show him with a pipe. I always got the impression he was 90% a pipe smoker and 10% a cigarette smoker and no cigarettes after he married Kathryn. Would everyone agree with this, or I may be missing something.
Candace Scott posted 06/04/05 11:02 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I just remembered something else. As a girl, my mother used to visit Del Mar Race Track, where Bing and Pat O'Brien were frequently spotted. I hate to admit that my dear mother was never a fan of Bing and just went to the track in the wan hopes of encountering Tyrone Power, who never showed up. This was in the period 1937-1940.

Anyway, she told me on many occasions that Bing would nearly always have a pipe in his mouth but usually unlit. He would just chew on the stem, she only saw him puffing once or twice.
jane s posted 06/04/05 12:40 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I remember reading in one of Kathyrn's books, the last one I think, when she asked Bing to stop smoking completely. She included cigars as well as his pipe in this request and I think it followed his lung surgery. The cigars were an occasional indulgence, especially after dinner. He seemed surprised that he might haven fallen asleep with a cigar clutched in his teeth!
Carmela posted 06/04/05 02:31 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
I remember reading in one of Kathryn's books that she developed some kind of alergic reaction to tobacco. She very sick once.
Don posted 06/05/05 04:26 AM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
I remember reading that Bing smoked 40 cigarettes a daya t one stage.
Candace Scott posted 06/05/05 03:25 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Don, can you remember where you read that?

In all the thousands of photos of Bing, you rarely see him with a cigarette, almost always a pipe, especially after 1936 or so.

I can't believe Bing was ever a two-pack a day smoker. For instance, the Beatles were always photographed smoking, but they only smoked about 8 cigarettes a day according to Paul. I believe Bing would have been photographed with a cigarette a lot more often had he been smoking that much.
George posted 06/05/05 04:58 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
One of the movie channels, I believe Fox Movie Channel (but could be TCM) occasionally airs footage of the "Robin and the 7 Hoods" movie premiere. Guess I should say that I've seen it once-- but have to assume they've shown it more than once.
In any case, on it Bing is shown at a couple of different venues smoking cigarettes. Hard to tell/recall if he is inhaling deeply, but certainly they are lit, and in his mouth. So, as late as 1964 -1965 he was indulging in them.
Don posted 06/06/05 04:45 AM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
It was Gary who mentioned the 40-a-day bhabit, I believe. However I don't think he mentioned how long Bing was that addicted.
howard crosby posted 06/06/05 10:42 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Always remember you can't believe much of anything cousin Gary ever said about his Dad, as he was a liar.
Ron Field posted 06/06/05 12:49 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
In 'Here Comes The Groom' Bing was sitting in a cab/car with Jane Wyman and was smoking a ciggie.
Ron Field
Keith posted 06/06/05 03:44 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
In answer to Ron,I think he was in the cab with Franchot Tone, not Jane Wyman. Or is my memory playing me false?

I agree with Jim that Bing doesn't seem to be an experienced cigarette smoker on screen. In the scene just mentioned he seems to play around with the cigarette for an awful long time without actually smoking it. Perhaps he was even then trying to kick the habit.

Incidentally, has anyone noticed the similarity between the ending of "Here Comes The Groom" (and indeed the underlying theme of the film) and that of "High Society"? I used to think thst the sudden change in Grace Kelly's affections in the latter film was pretty unconvincing but in "Groom" Jane Wyman's sudden change of heart is positively unbelievable.

Perhaps the writers of "Groom" were influenced by "The Philadelphia Story".

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