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Artful Dodger—Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby was slumped on his spine, sucking a pipe and rolling his baby blue eyes warily, when I barged onto The Connecticut Yankee set at Paramount.

There’s only one way to interview an artful dodger like the Groaner—corner him and keep him cornered. I’ve known Bing for a long, long time. And well enough to know he can wiggle out of an interview like a worm off a hook.

“Sit right where you are,” I said. “Take that pipe out of your pearlies and relax. You’re in for a grilling.”

Bing rose gracefully, swept an imaginary hat to the floor and bowed.

“King Arthur’s Court, and you make it sound like a drive-in. Grilled ham, hey? I’ll have the fried shrimp.”

I’d called Bing up at the studio a fast ten minutes before, and luckily, I’d got him on the phone.

“I want to make talk with you,” I’d told him. “What’s all this male Garbo aura clinging ’round your golden curls, anyway?”

The phone almost blasted my ears off.

“What the Hell do you mean by that?”

“Now, now,” I soothed, “you know what I mean. You don’t see nobody, you don’t say nuttin’—”

“Garbo!” exploded Bing. “I should wear one hat so long!”

“Coming over.” I broke it up.

And so there I was and there was Bing, trapped. I’ll be fair. He invited me. In fact, he said, “Sure, Hedda, trot on out. I’m taking it easy this afternoon. Got chilblains from a rusty suit of armor.” I dropped the receiver and ran. I wasn’t taking any chances. Harry Lillis Crosby too well. Let me tell you a story that happened not long ago.

There’s a man whose job is to pay Bing $5,000,000 in the next few years. His name’s Pierson Mapes and he’s Bing’s contact man with Philco, the radio company who sponsors his broadcast. Well, Mr. Mapes had been trying to pin Der Bingle down for a certain important advertising picture. Finally he flew out from New York. He got an iron-clad, honest Injun promise from Everett Crosby, Bing’s manager bud, that he’d have baby brother in tow one day for lunch and the sitting. Then he trotted across Sunset Boulevard and went into a huddle with the chefs at LaRue. He ordered specially cooked lunch goodies he knew Bing loved. He arranged for Bing’s favorite music to be piped into the dining room. He had his ad copy and layouts in a handy display for Bing’s inspection. He took Bing to lunch.

Bing enjoyed every minute of it. He was gay, jovial, friendly as a pup. With his tummy full, at last, and his pipe puffing, Mapes led him across-the street to the photographer’s. The whole busy studio had been cleared for two solid hours. That’s what they’d counted on—lots of shots of Bing Crosby tuning in Philcos.

Bing sat down by the radio. He looked innocently at Paul and Pierson. “Okay, boys,” he said. “Now, whaddya want?” They told him. Hesse squeezed his bulb, got one shot. Bing hopped up, stuck out his hand.

“Well, fellows,” he grinned. “Thanks a million.” And out he walked. They had to use that one shot! Bing looked somewhat like a dying calf, but that was the picture. You’ve seen it in the magazines.

Pinning Bing Crosby down for anything in the line of extra-curricular work is like keeping Houdini in a strait-jacket. That’s why he’d hardly hung up the receiver before I was bobbing my best bonnet in front of his nose, my pencil flying.

Bing stared at the turkey-tracks on my pad with startled eyes, and sighed.

“Fire when ready, Gridley. You won’t know what you’ve written anyway.”

Well, Bing, I’ve fooled you. Maybe the transcript’s on the fuzzy side here and there, but you’re interviewed, Baby, and in print. The way it stacks up is like a radio script. So why not write it that way?

HEDDA: Bing, why don’t you like interviews?

BING: I do. I do-o-o-o. Love those interviews.

HEDDA: Now, Bing, I want the truth—

BING: Well, the trouble with interviews are questions. If somebody comes up with a new set I’m delighted, happy as a lark to talk all day, have to gag me. But I’ve been around Hollywood a long time, The answers have been printed so many times you could write ’em backwards. Crosby’s an old story. I bore myself. Got any newies?

HEDDA: You bet I have. How do you like making Connecticut Yankee?

BING: Couldn’t be happier. It was my favorite Mark Twain book as a nipper and I was nuts about it when Will Rogers made a movie. I was nuts about Will, too. That’s why I nixed doing his life. I’m not in that guy’s league. I’m a crooner—you know—Boo-boo-boo-boo?

HEDDA: Your modesty makes me positively ill.

BING: You look a little puny. Maybe there’s a doctor in the house.

HEDDA: Never mind. Now look, what’s on your mantelpiece at heme?

BING: Wait, don’t tell me. I know, an Oscar.

no kewpie doll . . .

HEDDA: It’s not any kewpie doll. Well, how did you get that?

BING: Sometimes I wonder.

HEDDA: I don’t. You got it for giving the best screen acting performance of 1945 in Going My Way, that’s how. You want to know something else?

BING: I’m all ears.

HEDDA: You’re not kidding.

BING: Touché! As we say in Broken Bow, Nebraska.

HEDDA: Don’t change the subject. Why, if it hadn’t been for your mother, you wouldn’t even have showed up the night they handed out the Oscars. She made you go.”

BING: Well, Mom always knows best. But, Hedda, I’m all over blushes. This is Technicolor—you’ll wreck my next shot. Thought we were talking about Connecticut Yankee.

HEDDA: We are—as of now. How do you like Rhonda Fleming, your new leading lady?

BING: There’s a cute, smart, sweet and shapely kid, Hedda. Can sing, too. David Selznick sure picks ’em. We do a duet, “Once and For Always” and confidentially, she steals it.

HEDDA: Incidentally, how do you like the modern tunes—are they as good as the oldies?

BING: Every bit. But they wear out too soon, introduced one week and old hat the next.

HEDDA: Stay on your side of the street, Crosby.

BING: Lordie, gal—I never said your hats were old. But about tunes—look—every month a flock of swell scores break out. Lots of them I’d love to sing. But by the time I get around to ’em, they’re old and fuzzy around the edges. What with disc jockeys, juke boxes, a radio beating night and day—they’re done. Sometimes I wonder if Petrillo hasn’t got something. Anyhow, by the time his ban goes on, if it does, we’ll have enough recordings to last up to Easter. I’m cutting two a week myself.

HEDDA: Think you’ll ever go back to a live broadcast, Bing?

BING: I certainly hope not. Me, I’m lazy. I like transcribed shows. I’m not tied down every week, for one thing. You know, every show we transcribe we record a full hour. Then we cut out a half-hour. What’s left is only the best. Makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s really more work, but I can work a while, play a while, and give Hope a golf lesson now and then. The boy needs ’em.

HEDDA: How’s about you and Bob? Thought maybe you’d show up at his testimonial dinner the other night.

BING: I should go to a testimonial for Hope to let that guy know how I feel about him! I wouldn’t expect Hope to stay up late for me. He needs his beauty sleep and, confidentially, so do I.

HEDDA: Don’t give me that. You look exactly the same as you did twenty years ago.

BING: You’re just dazzled by my curly hair and wasp waist, that’s all. Ah, well, when I get too old to fool the bobby-soxers I can make a living playing golf with Hope.

HEDDA: Can you take him?

BING: Take him? Why Hedda, my girl, I could lick that guy on the links wearing boxing gloves and a long hem I’ve got to hand him five strokes before he’ll bet me. I don’t want that to get around, though. Hope’s my own private pigeon.

HEDDA: I won’t tell a soul. But what about you and Bob in pictures? Any more “Road” movies with Dottie Lamour?

BING: Paramount says “no,” but I wouldn’t be surprised myself. You know why? S-h-h-h-h. They make money!

HEDDA: Think you’ll ever play any more priest parts?

BING: Doubt it. Two’s enough.

HEDDA: How about Dixie? Think she’ll ever return to the screen?

BING: Not Dixie. She’s not twins, but she’s got ’em, and believe me with four young Crosbys she has her hands full. Doing some job raising those boys, too.

HEDDA: I heard somewhere, Bing, that you’d vetoed the idea of the boys appearing in pictures. How about it?

BING: A fabrication and a gross canard—and the answer’s absolutely no! I have no objection in the world to any of my kids making movies. Old Man pays the rent, isn’t it? Matter of fact, Walt Disney and I’ve been kicking the idea around of my doing the prologue for his Legend of Sleepy Hollow. If I do, the kids do it with me.

HEDDA: The kids sing, too?

BING: They can carry a tune but that’s all. No, the idea’s a father-son thing, trying to sell American kids on a few classic stories instead of Superman, Flash Gordon, and atomic comics. They no like the pitch at first, but then I lead ’em through Disney’s animated old-timer and they love it. Pretty constructive idea for kids, hey? And my kids could do it. You know they’re pretty smart, if I do say so. I pretty puffed up over that Gary of mine. Know what he’s sending back from Bellarmine, where he goes to school up in San Jose? Straight 90. He never got that from his Pop. Gargan, Bill’s boy—his sidekick up there.

HEDDA: You mean Gary’s old enough to go away to school?

almost a grandpop . . .

BING: Why Hedda, any minute I’ll wake up and find myself a grandfather. I’m at the stage now where the kids look the old man over with a fairly fishy critical eye. Matter of fact, I just squeezed through Gary’s entrance once-over to Bellarmine. The school head took a trip over to Nevada to observe our whole gang. He didn’t say yes or no when he left. But the good word came through. You know what I think impressed the Father? Gary’s job.

HEDDA: Don’t tell me you’ve got him working for Bing Crosby, Inc.!

BING: Gary went this solo—ranch handling. Talked me into a job punching at $5 a day. Only fourteen, but he kept up with the men and salted away $400 for spending money at school. I used to indulge him with a buck a week but I chopped that off when he got rich.

HEDDA: Can the kids ride? Got their own horses?

BING: Ride? Listen, they’ve got not only! their own horses but their own string of ponies. That’s a working ranch I’ve got! up there in Nevada. Three thousand head of cattle graze on the open range.

HEDDA: What do you do with all your millions, Mister Crosby?

BING: Catch her! Another day, another dollar, that’s with me. Matter of fact, my kids have all the trust funds. If they grow up and turn out to be heels, Dixie and I are sunk. They’ve got all the dough. Show signs of generosity, though. Other day on Dixie’s birthday, Denny, Gary, Phil and Lindsay chipped in and came through with a French poodle for their maw.

HEDDA: What did you give her?

BING: Nothing. Just baked a cake. We had ourselves a wedding anniversary couple of days before, and Dixie nicked me for a pretty then. A little necklace thing—I think it had some gold on it.

HEDDA: And maybe a few stones?

BING: M-m-m-m-m-m—maybe a few.

HEDDA: Understand you stepped out, too, to Ciro’s, but I want to know why you and Dixie refused to pose for photographers there.

BING: You ought to know me better than that, Hedda. But they tagged me just as Dixie and I were stepping onto the floor. I don’t hold it for anybody when I want to dance with Dixie.

HEDDA: When you step out with Dixie—like the other night—do you dress up?

BING: Haven’t you heard? Men of distinction are simply mad with envy since I got my new prefabricated tux. Straight from Smilin’ Frankie’s.

HEDDA: Go away! What I did hear is that you’re having pants made to match those God-awful flying fish, sunrise-overTahiti shirts of yours.

BING: Don’t think even I would have that much nerve. But, it’s an idea.

(I told Bing a story I heard high in the sky in a DC-6 this summer. A fellow plane passenger from Los Angeles had just toured Jasper Park in the Canadian Rockies. Driving in the woods, one day, he spied what he thought was a tramp shagging along the road, jerking a thumb for a ride. His heart melted, and he picked up the character. Only when the weary-willie pickup opened his mouth, did he recognize Bing Crosby!)

hallelujah, i’m a bum . . .

BING: Lordy, Hedda, I did look like a t bum, too. I’d been hunting, and my car ‘had busted down. I originally got a load of that Jasper Park country making Emperor Waltz and I’d hustled back for another look with my Daisy air rifle. No kidding, since Ive got my New Deal—the transcribed radio show and a contract for just two pictures a year—I’m getting around, meeting the people. I made more trips just looking at scenery last year than you’d ever guess. I’m a softie for autographs and things when I’m in the out-country, too. Those people up at Jasper, for instance, act like they really like me.

HEDDA: Whatever made you think they didn’t?

BING: Well, I don’t know. Around Hollywood here, it’s so professional, this glamor stuff. And I’m such an old story. You won’t believe me, but I rolled into a town last summer, parked my Cad and came back to find the new canvas top covered with crayon scribbles. Kids. They’d ruined it. But you know, I kind of liked it, although it cost me a new top. Now and then I get a kick like I got on that GI trip during the war.

HEDDA: Ever hear from those soldier guys you met overseas?

BING: All the time. They drift around to the studio and I’m always tickled to see ’em. I ain’t such a mean, hard, nasty old an, Hedda, honest. I’m really quite sociable. Getting out my road maps for next vacation already, I am.

HEDDA: Why don’t you fly? You’d cover a lot more ground.

BING: I don’t mind flying when I have to. Did all over Europe, you know, and keep a little plane up at the ranch to hop back and forth to Hollywood in emergencies, but I’m strictly a terra firma man, myself. I’m skeert.

HEDDA: Pooh. When your time’s up, it’s up, that’s all.

BING: Yeah, but what if the guy sitting next to you has his time come up—and you’re in the same: plane? But I know what you mean. I could sure look after my interests that way.

HEDDA: How about all those Crosby, Inc. interests—baseball for instance? Are you going to hire Leo Durocher to run the Pittsburgh Pirates?

BING: First time I’ve heard that one.

HEDDA: I heard, too, that you were buying a farm in Pennsylvania and a few big hotels scattered around the country.

BING: Wrong again. I need new business interests like a hole in my head.

HEDDA: Is that why you sold your racetrack at Del Mar and your race horses?

BING: Didn’t sell ’em all. I’ve got about six hayburners left up at Bob Howard’s place in San Mateo.

HEDDA: What made you quit—all those jokes about Crosby horses?

tired of feeding hope . . .

BING: Well, I did get a little weary feeding Hope gags for his radio show. But the real reason is, when you have a thing like a racetrack and stables on your hands you’ve got to look after them. Got to make policy, run the joint, customers with gripes want to see the head man—that’s me. I wasn’t enough people to handle it, so I sold out. It’s work, Hedda, and you ought to know I’m allergic to that stuff.

HEDDA: How about that picture you’ve signed to do in England?

BING: That looks like fun—if and when. Been wanting to take Dixie and the kids over there ever since the war anyway. So when Arthur Rank brought up the idea at a golf game, I went for it. But nothing’s set. I haven’t seen a script. I’m cagey that way. Wouldn’t I look silly traveling 6,000 miles to make a stinker, when I can do that right in Hollywood?

HEDDA: Tell me, how do you explain that our mutual friend, King Bing, has just been crowned top: male star of the boxoffice for the fourth straight year?

BING: A-h-h-h—People are funny.

HEDDA: Not that funny.

BING: Now you’re making my ears burn again and I told you this was Technicolor. Jiggers—here comes that man right now.

(It was Director Tay Garnett, all right, coming over with that look in his eyes! “Two more questions, Tay,” I told him. “Then you can have him.”)

BING: These the sixty-four dollar ones?

HEDDA: Sort of. First, are you going to make a picture with Al Jolson?

BING: That would be news to me, Hedda. Fact is, I don’t even know if Al wants to make a picture in Hollywood. Why should he—with Larry Parks hanging around? Wish I had a guy to handle my acting for me; all I’d have to do is sing.

HEDDA: Okay, one gone. Now, how are the pipes holding up? Ever think about retiring?

BING: Every day. Every day. But leave us face it—I couldn’t stop singing for keeps and have any fun out of life. Far as I know, the old gravel box is just like it always was. So I guess, unless I break a leg and they have to shoot me, you’re just stuck.

HEDDA: Stuck with you—or on you?

(Bing didn’t answer that one; just gave me the back of his hand and his Irish grin. But frankly, I’m in love with the guy, and I always have been, and I can’t think of anyone I know who isn’t.)





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