Bing Crosby Walks Alone
To be Bing Crosby is automatically to make headlines. This has been so ever since he first crooned the mellow note that was heard around the musical world. But never, in all his years of success, has the public cared so much about his personal life as it has since Dixie died a little over a year ago, leaving him an eligible and elusive widower.
He is a catch, possibly the biggest marital catch in the business, and a lot of pretty caps have been set at their most fetching angles in frank efforts to make Bing a married man again. But if he’s interested in another trip to the altar, he hasn’t made it clear.
Actually, he’s dated very little since Dixie died. And every time he has, the news has practically pushed such items as Russia’s latest rumbles right off the front page. Bing has been begged and badgered, teased and taunted for the answers to a pair of simple questions: Will he marry again? And, if so, who will be his bride?
One reason he’s been so evasive about those answers is a simple one: He probably just doesn’t know them himself. That certainly appeared to be the case when he was surprised into a statement on the subject not so long ago.
Cornered by an enterprising young reporter when he was autographing copies of his book, “Call Me Lucky,” in a Los Angeles department store, he couldn’t tip his hat and walk away when she asked him point-blank if he intended to marry Mona Freeman. But he could parry her question with another: “Who would have me? I’m getting on, you know, and hard to live with.”
While he didn’t exactly deny that he would marry Mona, he didn’t confirm it either. Anything, he said, could happen to an old codger like him.
And Mona, when interviewed several days later by an equally enterprising reporter, was equally noncommittal.
She and Bing, she said, had not discussed marriage. “But speaking in generalizations—not particularly applying to Mr. Crosby—I certainly would like some day to marry again,” she said frankly. “But I’m a Catholic. And I am divorced. I never could get an annulment of my first marriage. If I marry again, and I repeat, this is a general statement, I’d have to give up my religion. Therefore I’d have to give any marriage a lot of thought.”
The same obstacle would confront Crosby, who is also Catholic and forbidden by the decree of his church to marry a divorced person. Like Bing, however, Mona would not deny outright that there is a chance of their marrying some day. She first met Bing ten years ago, when she was a seventeen-year-old Paramount starlet, and began to go out with him some time after Dixie’s death.
“I see him now and then,” she said. “I’m sure he goes out with other girls, but I don’t know who. Really, you just don’t ask your date those things.”
You may remember the pictures taken of Bing Crosby entering the church for the funeral of his wife, Dixie, on November 4, 1952. He wasn’t the youthful figure you’d always seen. He looked old, and he leaned on the arm of one of his sons his face stricken with grief. His wife of twenty- odd years was gone. He hadn’t been the most hearth-bound husband in the world, but he knew on that day that Dixie had bound him to his way of life, that she had been a strength to him—and he wasn’t sure he could go it alone.
One thing had been a trade-mark with Bing Crosby since his first days in the movie capital, an attitude of cockiness. He was a singer, then, in a trio at the famed Cocoanut Grove. And each night, playing to tables filled with the celebrated of the movie business and the tycoons of Los Angeles, he stood lazily beside a grand piano and, his eyes expressing amusement and unconcern, crooned a stock parcel of tunes to the customers.
He had no more voice, according to academic standards, than a train caller, but he had two things going for him. A man named Rudy Vallee had started a vogue—crooning—and you didn’t need pipes like Caruso to do it. And an instrument called a microphone had come into use, and a fellow could murmur into it for a couple of hours a night with absolutely no strain. The crooning came out velvety and intimate. It seemed as though the singer was whispering his ballads into the ear of every dame in the joint. For a long time Crosby never gave a thought to the fact that another microphone was piping his lyrics by radio to a million or so other women for a hundred miles around. It wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. Seventy-five dollars a week was a lot of money. The hours were great.
Anyone who knew Bing Crosby in those days will tell you that he was a man almost totally without ambition. His horizon was pay day. And then one night Dixie Lee, a young actress at Twentieth Century-Fox, which was just Fox Studio in those days, came into the Cocoanut Grove. Several things happened. Crosby stood up straight. He lost that unconcerned look. He sang so many encores that nobody got to dance. Then he hung around the back of the room like a waiter until somebody asked him to sit down at Dixie’s table and introduced him. And once there, he didn t want to get up to sing again.
That night ambition was born in the Crosby heart. Bing’s idea of living up to that point had been to sit around a table with a bunch of the boys. His only domestic concern had been to get his laundry out regularly. Now he began thinking of red-roofed stucco houses, and how nice the name Dixie Lee Crosby would sound.
During the many years he was married to Dixie, Bing gave the impression of being just a lazy, lucky, easygoing guy. He never seemed to work hard. Never tried to get publicity. Never seemed to care if he made money or not. Appeared to take his marriage and growing family as a matter of course. But a look at the contracts he made with Decca Records and Paramount and the radio networks would show that he was a very astute business man all along, fully aware of what he had to sell. The minutes of his meetings with his producers and exploiters would show that he was a canny showman. And he watched over his kin like the head of the Swiss Family Robinson.
There was Dad, who moved to Los Angeles from Spokane after Bing became a star. Bing gave him an important job in his expanding Enterprises. He put him in a fancy office and assigned him the duty of signing all the checks. Brother Everett was the manager. It is true that Everett’s efforts got Bing rolling in radio and pictures, but soon after the money came tumbling in, it was Bing who made the decisions. Everett made a good career out of negotiating, and Bing saw that he kept busy at it. Brother Larry was the promoter and press agent He was Bing’s contact man with the press. Only Bob played it out of the family and made his way without the help of his famous brother. And there was Mother Crosby, who had them all, except Bing, scared to death of her. Bing let it stay that way.
There was plenty to attend to in his own home, too. The raising of four lads is not a weekend proposition, and despite appearances, Bing never played it as though it was. He was a tough man with a report card and a strict disciplinarian. He insisted on the boys’ absolute respect for their mother’s wishes, and for the dictates of their religion. When it became apparent that being the sons of Bing Crosby might work against the boys’ chances to live normally in Hollywood, Bing bought a huge ranch in Nevada and set his sons to working on it full time, except when they were away at school.
Although Bing was never lax, he was always something of a rover. His recreation was golf and his interests were varied. He travelled a good deal and became something less than a perfect husband. Proof of this, and of Dixie’s discontent, was in the separate maintenance papers she signed just a year before she died, but never had served.
That was a real crisis. Brother Bob was putting it lightly when he announced to his pals that, “Bing’s wife has become a golf widow. That’s why she’s going to leave him. I’m putting away my irons before it happens to me.”
The restlessness that Bing Crosby tussles with today began maybe five years before Dixie died. At that time, he had everything he had ever hoped to have. He’d have quit then if it hadn’t been for his family. Dad, Everett and Larry, and now a large family of employees, needed income and occupations. Bing was the cornerstone on which their careers were based. For himself, he had more money than he could ever use. But he was like a white mouse on a treadmill. To keep the Enterprises going—and the family busy—he had to keep the name hot.
Once he quit. Rumor said that he was washed up with Dixie. He moved to New York bag and baggage, and spent most of his time turning down guys with good deas and denying that he was incurably ill. He took off for Pans, but they knew him there, too. One afternoon a couple of gendarmes picked him up for napping in a public park. The world figured he’d opened one too many champagne bottles, and neither the world nor the Paris cops believed him when he said he was just tired and wanted to lie down.
They say he came home reluctantly, mainly because of the kids and because Dixie was ill. He got back and began treading the mill again.
The restlessness grew considerably, however, a few months after Dixie’s death. For awhile there were obligations to claim Bing’s attention. The boys, pretty big now, had to have a home and Bing chose Elko, Nevada as their future base. After their school and college programs were mapped out, there wasn’t much left for Bing to do for them. There was a little difficulty over an inheritance tax on some $10,000,000 which was said to be Dixie’s estate. But that was only money. What does a man in his prime do with himself when his sons are raised and amply provided for, when he’s had fame and fortune until he’s sick of them and there are no rungs left to climb on the ladder? Does he give it all away and start over? Sit and whittle? Marry and start another family?
A man of such fame has no private life that is not subject to public scrutiny. He can have no casual companions, because each companion is given a special significance when he walks with a king. There can be no Saturday night binges, no blue Mondays, no tears that people can see. And when he has a problem, that problem is everybody’s—not his alone.
Bing was reminded violently of this at five-thirty one morning not so long ago. On his way home from a party, his car crashed into another. Quickly, as it happens in big cities, the injured were whisked away and the questioning of witnesses completed. The sleepy onlookers went back to bed. For them, the accident was a thing of the past.
But not for Bing Crosby. He was driven home by two Los Angeles policemen, and as he sat slumped in the seat of the car, he knew that his private mishap would in evitably become public property, that it would have reverberations far out of proportion to the seriousness of the accident itself. And he was right.
The kind of public appearance that accident forced him to make was certainly as unpleasant an ordeal as anything he has ever gone through. In answer to a summons from the attorney of the three injured occupants of the other car, Bing trudged down one of the main streets in downtown Los Angeles, flanked by an impressive legal staff of his own, and presented himself for examination The entrance to the building was alive with reporters, photographers and newsreel and television cameras.
From the look of him, you’d have thought he was the calmest man in town, but his confidants say he was terribly nervous. He held the pipe and wore the famous grin and his walk was unhurried. But he refused to comment for the newsmen and forced the photogs to get their pictures on the run.
In statements released by the suing lawyer, Bing was said to have answered questions about the accident candidly. He claimed the other driver was at fault, denied he himself was drunk or over-tired, and seemed perfectly willing to assist in the investigation. He refused, however, to answer questions about the party he had attended before the accident, except to state that he had been with Mona Freeman.
There’ll be more to-do in court about that accident. The injured trio has sued for a million dollars. But that, too, is only money. The important thing is that Bing was shaken up. He sat slumped forward in the seat of the police car as he was driven home and thought maybe of the things they say a drowning man thinks about as the water closes in on his life. Not since the night Dixie Lee walked into the Cocoanut Grove has Bing looked so earnestly into the future. Not since then, has he wanted so little to be in the public eye.
Bing finds some comfort on the golf courses of the land. Here, he feels, he is in the company of men with a kindred interest. And even if it’s only to see if he can whack a little white ball around a pasture in less whacks than somebody else, it’s a competition. Maybe the only one left to him, the Big Winner.
There is a picture still playing around which stars Bing Crosby called “Little Boy Lost.” It’s possibly the best picture he ever made. It’s the story of a small boy looking for a future, and a man looking for something he lost a long time before. It’s not at all a parallel to Bing s life, but the problem of the little boy in the movie is the same as Bing’s problem. He, too, is looking for a future.
He’s looking—as he hasn’t looked since the early days—for the man who was lost along the way.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1954
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