How Casual Can He Get?—Bing Crosby
You can hear anything you want to hear about Bing Crosby. Down-at-the-heel song-pluggers won’t even mention his name (because even if Bing tried to sing half of the songs these pluggers wanted him to he wouldn’t be through till he was 20,000 years old). But ask the Boys Club of America for their opinion of him and it’s too corny to print. (When Bing does a benefit every penny goes to the charity.)
People call him saint, and they call him sinner. They say he’s a dynamo and they point him out.as the laziest man in the world. But the adjective everyone applies most often is casual. Casual—the word was made for Crosby.
But just how casual can a man be and stay one of the top singers and top money-makers in the country? There’s something about Bing that nobody knows, some quality you can’t define that is the real key to his character. He won’t help you define it; he doesn’t like to talk about himself. You can only observe him and analyze his actions, and maybe reach some sort of conclusion.
One of Bing’s traits is his difficulty in realizing that what may be unimportant to him may be very important to someone else. He is bored and embarrassed by big accolades, large dinner parties. Whenever he receives an award he tries to duck out on the public celebration. But he’s delighted when someone says to him, “I enjoyed your last picture, Bing,” or, “I never miss your radio shows. They’re always good.” He is not, as he has been called, a “fundamentally shy guy.” He talks easily and pleasantly to everybody. But he hates a display. And since he hates it, he can’t understand why it might be important to someone else.
Which brings us to the one and only time Bob Hope was ever offended by Bing. All the insults that generally fly back and forth, are for fun (and the benefit of the box office). But Bob was sincerely hurt when a testimonial dinner was given in his honor by the Friars Club and Bing didn’t show up. The dinner meant something to Bob, but Bing did not realize how Hope felt.
Well, the old Hollywood grapevine began to hum and it soon came to Bing’s ears that Bob was hurt. This upset him. Bing is inordinately fond of Bob. How to apologize? How to make amends? He waited until he ran into Bob casually one day and then he said, “About that dinner. Well, I was afraid I might say the wrong thing.” And then, grinning at Bob, he added, “Besides, I wasn’t hungry that night.”
That did it. Bob understood this was an apology and took it as such. And they are the best of friends again.
The autograph seekers get sore at Bing every now and again. At a recent football game, for instance, they started crowding around and yelling, and Bing told them to go to their seats, he wasn’t- signing a single book. This, he feels, is a display, and he’s worried lest someone will think he enjoys that kind of “I-can’t-let-my-public-down” attitude. Besides, he had come to see a football game. And, he figured, so had everybody else. But on his way out, long after the disgruntled kids had gone to their seats grumbling, a little girl waiting by his car asked for his autograph. This was up Bing’s alley—one child who did not obstruct the view.
There is absolutely no ham in his character. When he was asked, “How does it feel to know that more people have heard your voice than that of any other man?” he answered. “Thrilling, if true. But it’s just Decca publicity.” And in evaluating his acting ability (he won an Academy Award, not for singing, but for acting in Going My Way) he said, “I believe I’m a fair actor when I’m playing a character who is like Bing Crosby. Any other assignment I can’t handle at all, so ’m no actor.” At all times he’s Bing Crosby, and. as Bing Crosby he doesn’t impress himself. He doesn’t even keep a scrapbook (he never has). Naturally, his office—where his two brothers and his father run his many enterprises—keep clippings, but Bing just “doesn’t go for that name-in-the-paper” routine.
Yet, once when he was in Canada he received a call from a little town in Vermont called St. Albans. On his way back to New York when his train passed through St. Albans, and would Bing accept a jug of Vermont Maple Syrup? He would indeed. A newspaper reporter arranged for the stopover and, en masse, the citizens arrived at the station. The mayor made a speech as the syrup was presented. Schools were let out so the kids could see Bing. “I’m very big in St. Albans,” he says, proudly.
But he’ll turn down a formal banquet attended by the most important dignitaries in the United States.
Hell give a national magazine writer the run around (if there’s something more pleasant to do like playing golf) but he’ll pose in a chef’s hat with a cup of coffee and doughnut and let the caption read, “The face most conducive to dunking,” to help out an old friend who’s just opened a restaurant.
For years the Hollywood Women’s Press Club has voted him the most uncooperative actor in Hollywood. They finally picked on somebody else because Bing just didn’t seem to care. Wouldn’t send the press girls insulting wires, or mend his ways by becoming available for interviews and. Photographs.
You can imagine that consternation reigned when at last year’s HWPC’s Christmas party the new Santa Claus turned out to be Bing Crosby! The girls demanded to know how it had happened. What whimsical gesture was this?
It was discovered that one of the members had happened to bump into Bing on the street and told him she thought it would be a funny gag. “Sure,” Bing said. “I’ll do it.”
Later when he was asked why he had come to the party where he was such anathema, he said, “I would have come a long time before but nobody ever asked me.”
Bing is not lazy, he is simply relaxed. As he says, “There’s nothing to be accomplished by running around in circles.”
He is orderly and methodical. He arises at seven in the morning, eats a big breakfast, writes letters—business as well as personal—in long hand. Then he makes his telephone calls. He is always prompt and expects other people to be.
When Bill Morrow first came to work as Bing’s writer on his radio show, Bill was prone to breeze into the gag meeting from 15 minutes to a half hour late. He soon learned that this was not going down well with Bing. So early in their relationship Bill learned to be strictly on time. But Bing still remembers and will say, “Well set up the meeting for nine-thirty so Bill will be here by ten.”
Despite the fact that the Crosby enterprises are vast—everything from a pocket-sized breath freshener to a baseball team—Bing does not consider himself a good business man. He allocates authority to those who know how to accept it. When he was asked why, with all his money, he kept on working, he said, “First I owe quite a bit of money and besides, there are a good many people who, in one way or another, are dependent on my working.”
You may be amazed to hear that Bing owes money and that he admits it. Well, to begin with, he is not, as people think, the world’s richest man. And, as with all widespread business organizations like his, bad investments have been made. “Lots of my money goes to taxes,” he says, “the rest is reinvested in outside interests. I’ve had to borrow money to keep a lot of these going. If they pay off I’ll be in clover. Until they do I’ve got to keep working. If I quit now I’d be in the red.” But Bing does not hoard as he has been accused of doing—either his old records or his dough.
So far, Bing has been adamant about television for himself, although Crosby Enterprises have put together a series of television shows. The reason that he will not undertake a show of his own at the moment reveals another interesting facet of his nature. Despite his easy going appearance, his casualness, Bing is a perfectionist. He does not want to step into a medium that is still disorganized, still finding its way. Because he is a perfectionist, any show that he would do would be far too expensive since, “I don’t think I’m big enough just to get up there and ad lib,” he says. The problems of TV are still too complicated. So even though he may seem relaxed to the point of indifference his actual behavior belies this. His as yet unreleased movie, Paramount’s Just For You was made in record time, as are all his films. His radio show is performed with the least “running around in circles.”
It was not laziness on Bing’s part but his love of perfection that made him the first person to put a big radio show on tape and have it rebroadcast on the designated night. The network objected. They had never used taped stuff before. Wouldn’t the public complain when they learned their talent was not performing at that exact moment? Bing thought not. And Bing can be a quietly stubborn guy when he knows he’s right. For the advantages of tape are many, even to the listening audience, the main one being that any part of the show that falls down can be re-recorded. All the performers were with Bing for, to them, it meant doing shows ahead of time so they could have an occasional vacation.
It was known in radio circles as “the battle of the tape.” But by being a quiet fighter—no scenes, no screams—Bing won.
In his pictures he will never do what he believes is wrong and according to every man who has ever directed him, “Bing has an unerring instinct for knowing what is right for him.”
“Keep it simple,” is his motto.
A simple, well-ordered life gives him more time to spend on his 25,000-acre, well-organized Nevada cattle ranch, more time to travel. And there’s always golf. So why should he complicate his life with TV or anything else unless he has to?
He wants his four boys to know the value of a buck but he also wants them to know the rewards of generosity. In his own words this is what he wants out of life: “I’d like to be justifiably proud of our sons.”
Light-hearted as he is, there is one thing that really upsets him. He does blow his top if the boys’ grades in school are not too good or if he hears that they have been boastful. There are two types that Bing cannot abide—a braggart and a gossip. All he asks of the boys is that they become well-rounded human beings, that they educate themselves to be what they want to be, that they learn to shift for themselves. As he says, “Just so they’re not spoiled. Not pig-headed nor bigheaded, just level-headed.” And when any one of them falls short of this ideal Bing gets really mad.
Bing is a religious man. He believes in going to church (he is a Catholic) and does so himself as does his family, but if you are not a churchgoer that’s your business. Tolerance is the keynote of his philosophy of living. And he puts his philosophy into practice. His philanthropies are many—and these are non-sectarian—but he doesn’t like them talked about. Although his most rewarding experience was, in his own words, “singing to our men overseas.”
For all his methodical ways, for all his vagaries, the charm of the man comes through when you really know Bing Crosby. Ask a group of newspaper people who went on a recent junket to Elko, Nevada, with him. It was for the opening of his film, Here Comes The Groom, and most of the press arrived with their typewriters ready to mow the man down. Bing began by winning the staid Boston contingent—first-naming both the men and women—and ended by harmonizing with the whole group.
But the interesting thing is that Bing doesn’t deliberately set out to charm the press just because it amuses him to do so. He did not appear as Santa Claus at the Hollywood Women’s Press. Club because it delighted him to be quixotic. It was only that this is what he felt like doing.
In many ways Bing is the least complicated and best controlled actor around. Having no ham in him he does not wear his emotions like diamond studs. He never over-dramatizes himself and, although he lived through, at one time, a severe personal tragedy there was never any breast beating. During a time when he had a grave decision to make he wore the same manner that has characterized him for years. Nobody but those closest to him, whom he consulted, knew he was less than merry.
He never makes a snap decision, which is one of the reasons why he is a good craftsman, a good husband and a good father. In order to get along with Bing you have to accept him as he is. You have to accept the fact that there are private places in his heart.
Once, someone put this question to Bing: “If someone asked you ‘What is Bing Crosby really like,’ what would you say?”
He sucked on his pipe a minute, an then he said, “I’ve always seemed a pretty dull fellow to myself.”
That’s Bing Crosby’s estimate of himself. And, the funny thing is, he means it. The funnier thing is, he’s the only fellow who, after having met Bing Crosby, would give that opinion.
—BY KATHERINE ALBERT
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE MAY 1952