Welcome to Vintage Paparazzi.

Is It True What They Say About Gary Crosby?

Gary Crosby came to, looking over the top of his feet. Gradually the room came into focus and he saw all the white around him. He was in a hospital bed. What had happened? He didn’t even remember going down. He was just standing there talking—and now he was here—

It had happened twice before. Blacking out like this. Once in Germany. Once at a television rehearsal in New York.

He watched the nurse check the chart at the foot of his bed. And he thought, Whatever’s written there is wrong. They don’t know what happened to me. They don’t know what’s happened before. They don’t know how often it has happened before. But it won’t happen any more, he told himself. At least I won’t let it bother me any more. . . .

In his new apartment, the headlines of the newspaper told an old and familiar story: Gary had gotten into trouble again! A minor matter—if true at all—and yet the papers leaped on it like vultures. And under the headlines—the stories all made the same vicious point: “So you’re Gary Crosby? What makes you think you’re so big? If it hadn’t been for your old man—”

And standing there, Gary looked hurt and angry. He tried not to let it bother him . . .

“What do they want from me?” he said finally. “Why hang me? I’d just like to know—what do they want from me?”

“It seems people want me to be exactly like my father. And if I’m not, they’re disappointed and mad, But I’m a mixture of my father and my mother—I’m not just straight my-father. I love my old man, but—”

He paused in thought, and lit a cigarette.

“I don’t mind if I do something really wrong and get knocked for it. That’s all right. But I hate this phony jazz,” he went on. “Nailing me as a perennial playboy—as a brawling mad drunken Irishman. . . .

“I date maybe once a week—if I’m lucky,” he said. “I like to go out to the clubs, to some spot where they’ve got a good group goin’—or where they’ve got a good singer or comic. I go sit in a corner and watch. I’m a great watcher—I have to be. Because of the name, I started at the top, and it’s pretty tough to start at the top when you’ve missed all the valuable years of experience coming up. The only other way you can get that is by watching.

“But I don’t go out too much. As a matter of fact, it seems I can’t even go out in public any more at all.” He glanced in the direction of the paper on the coffee table, to the glaring black indictment against him. “I don’t go out of my way to make trouble. I don’t ever go lookin’ for trouble.”

There would be no need. Trouble, in some form, has usually been there waiting for him—ever since Gary cut his tonsils in show business in the shadow of his father, Bing . . . the shadow of a beloved man who’s pretty much of a legend in his own time. And it was usually the same story. Whether voiced by a swaggering school boy in a drive-in, a drunken soldier in an enlisted man’s club in Germany—or a Hollywood heckler. Gary pointed once again to the newspaper on the coffee table.

“I’ll tell you exactly what happened. There were maybe eight or ten people around—the party was really over. I was sitting in a corner with Ruth Berle, just the two of us talking. Across the room a blonde woman I’d never met started telling everybody good-bye. She waved to us and we waved back. She stopped in the door and came over to us and said good-bye again.

“Then she said, ‘Oh by the way,’ and she pulled up a chair and sat down and really started in. ‘You’re kind of a fat slob, aren’t you?’ she said. ‘Why do you get drunk all the time?’ You know—that kind of thing. I just laughed, which really got her mad, I guess. And she finally came up with the one line that kills me. She said, ‘You,’re a disgrace to your dead mother— ”

“ ‘Get away from me, lady, please,’ I told her. ‘Get your hat and get away—’

“That was when her husband walked up—that was all he heard. ‘How dare you talk to my wife like that?’ he said. He lunged at me and I picked him up and sat him on the floor and held him there. A minute later we were shaking hands. That’s all that happened. Sometimes I think if being in show business means getting blasted in the press for every little thing, then maybe I’d better give it up and be just a normal joe nobody’s going to write about. But I love show business. It’s what I was brought up in. What I know. I dig the business and I dig the people. I like the way they feel, the way they talk, all of it. This is my life, and I’m not going to run away from it!”

For Gary Crosby, it’s been a tough fight all the way. A fight not only with the press but with himself. The struggle between his intense love for show business and the burning desire to make his own name there—and wondering whether he will ever perform well enough, whether he’ll ever sing the way he really wants to sing. He resemble Bing physically and he has the same tone quality and rhythm, Bing’s casual delivery and sh timing with a line. But much of him is his mother. The sensitivity, the self-criticism, the agonizing doubt. As a family friend has said, “His mother never felt she did anything well—Gary’s the same way.”

“When I was nine years old I knew I wanted this business,” Gary says now. And he’d been playing living room performances for two years then. When old friends would drop by the Crosby home, Bing would put Gary on. “Gary, sing Apple for the Teacher,” Bing would say. He got a big boot out of the way Gary imitated him performing that one.

The Crosbys were living in North Hollywood then. Bing and Dixie were determined their sons would have a normal life, but that wasn’t too easy to arrange even then—with tourists forever driving up in-front of the big white Colonial homestead and shooting pictures of the house, or of any young Crosby who might happen to be playing outside.

One day Gary talked to his mother about it. “What’s different about our house?” he said. “Why do they stop and take pictures?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “It’s just an old two-story house.”

Another day he came home from school with another question. “Are we rich?” he said.

His parents exchanged glances, and gave him a very firm answer. “You’ll be working for a long, long time,” they said.

“Then I’ll work as a singer!” he said.

At Christmas Bing and the young Crosbys would go caroling around town, and Bing would kid about how he had to really jump in there fast if he ever beat Gary to the lead. Young Gary was enchanted with the warm merry musical world Bing and his pals like Phil Harris and Bob Hope worked in, and he knew he wanted to be part of it.

With his first record, Sam’s Song—billed Gary Crosby and Friend—sixteen-year-old Gary served notice on the public that another Crosby was on the way. When the record sold well Gary was quick to say, “Oh, that’s because of Dad.” When he went on Bing’s radio show and sang Dear Hearts and Gentle People, he got another smashing reception—including a wire from his mother that read, JUST HEARD YOUR SHOW. DIDN’T EVEN RECOGNIZE THE VOICE. YOU SOUND LIKE AN OLD MAN—AND I DON’T MEAN YOUR UNCLE EVERETT.

Gary’s closest confidantes during this exciting time were the firemen with Engine Company No. 1 in San Jose, California. Gary was on the football team at Bellarmine Prep, a member of a musical group called The Happy Inmates, a star-performer in the school variety shows— prominent in all school activities. But he was also a sensitive teenager who wanted desperately to be liked and acknowledged for himself! He didn’t want to be just the rich son of a famous singer. “You’re my best friends,” he’d tell the firemen. In the evenings Gary would stay around the fire station across the street from school. He often ate there, and he’d help wash dishes or answer the phone. Gary felt comfortable around the firemen—they weren’t impressed by his name nor did they resent him for it.

“When it happened,” said Gary, “I’d just look the other way and try to talk about the weather or something . . . and feel like slinking down into my coffee cup.”

After graduation, Gary went through the motions of going to school at Stanford University for three years, but he had only music and show business on his mind. Occasionally he’d guest on his dad’s taped radio show, and he took a lot of friendly razzing in general from his Zeta Psi fraternity brothers. When he knew his show was coming up, Gary would never listen to it at the frat house. Saying nothing, he’d drive up in the hills above the campus, park the car, turn on the radio, and listen attentively. His frat brothers would kid him about not listening to his own show. “Where you been, Crosby? What’s her name? Come on, give—”

Her name was show business, and finally he quit school to marry her—for better or worse. He headed for Hollywood. One more day—one more hour—away from the entertainment world seemed wasted time.

Nobody in show business would have given Gary’s spot to their worst enemy then. He’d had almost no experience, and there was nowhere a Crosby could get experience without the spotlight. He sang on Tennessee Ernie’s radio show for a while, then plunged into his own thirty-minute CBS show.

Bing worried about him more than Gary knew. He was disappointed when Gary quit college, but since he was so determined to have this career—he surrounded him with his own top production crew. “He’s had no experience working in front of people, like I had or Sinatra or the others had,” Bing would worry. “None of that training in vaudeville or nightclubs or burlesque or singing with a band. This is an abrupt jump for him.” But Bing was very proud of the way Gary went in Swinging—trying to make up for the missed years.

Both the blessings and the cross of the Crosby name were brought home to Gary that first year. He got breaks no newcomer could ever hope to have. But his was a less friendly press and public now that he’d turned pro, and there were the constant comparisons with Bing. There was some inevitable jealousy around Hollywood, too. He was disliked by others who mistook Gary’s shyness for arrogance.

Who do you think you are?”

Gary was very sensitive to any antagonism and he seemed to be finding it everywhere. He spent a lot of time in clubs and joints trying to absorb as much show business as he could. “When I go in some place, right away they don’t like me,” he said then. “I know it—I can feel it. Then later some wise-guy comes up and starts in on me—”

He was beginning to get a lot of the belittling routine that was to stay with him from there on. “Gary Crosby, huh? Who do you think you are? What makes you think you’re such a big shot? Where do you think you’d be without the name?”

Gary didn’t think he was anybody. But he was trying desperately to be somebody—to build his own identity. All he asked was the chance. A chance delayed further when the Army intervened. . . .

In Germany, one of the C.O.’s welcomed Gary overseas with, “Crosby—if you’re looking for publicity, you’re not going to get it here!”

Dick Janik, who as Acting Sergeant managed the show Gary was with overseas, and who’s now with Decca Records in Hollywood, was an eye-witness to what happened. over there.

Gary was starring in the Seventh Army Soldier Show, Get Happy. The troupe traveled in a bus to Service Clubs all over Germany, and for Gary Crosby, from Munich to the Bavarian Alps—it was the same old story. . . .

In Garmisch, Germany, the Army recreation area in the Alps, the troops went to the Partenkirchnerhof Hotel for dinner after the show. “A drunk came up to our table,” Dick recalled. “He made remarks to Gary about the show, about his father, and about his late mother. The Canaries, the male colored singing group with the show were sitting with us, and he made cracks about the color of their skin. Suddenly he leaned across the table and took a swing. He hit a girl who was sitting next to Gary, and Gary started toward him—but the guy ran outside. Some of the other guys ran after him—and I broke it up. The next day the guy had the nerve to try to press charges against Gary.

Landstudt, Germany—different setting—same story. . . .

Gary had been in the big Army hospital there for tests. On Saturday night he got a pass. “And I didn’t know anybody there, so I went to the EM Club,” Gary recalled. A couple of G.I.’s came up to his table with a familiar look in their eyes. Uninvited, they pulled up chairs and joined him. Then the smaller of the two started in on him. “Think you’re a wise guy—Crosby’s son—”

“Now get away from me,” Gary told him. “Let me alone.”

But the needling went on, and finally the smaller one made a lunge for him. As Gary recalls, “I reached down to pick up the table to put it between us—and the big guy hit me across the ear with a beer bottle and I went down. I rose again, however, and retaliated. In my position the other guy always has to make the first move—then you counter it.”

At a Service Club outside Nuremberg, Germany, Dick Janik said he’d finally had to stop the show because of the rudeness of the audience. “When Gary went out on the stage they started heckling, ‘Aw get off the stage—You’ll never be as good as your old man’—that kind of thing. We’d driven sixty miles to put on the show for them, and we had a bang-up show. They kept on heckling and throwing paper and popcorn on the stage—until finally I walked out in front of Gary and told the emcee to cut the whole show.”

“But this was great experience,” Gary was saying now, “and I’m glad I had it.”

When Gary Crosby went on Pat Boone’s television show after he came out of the Army, there was no doubt he was vastly improved. But if this is true, he says, you can credit his overseas audience.

“It’s tough—but it’s a great experience working seven nights a week playing to guys who come in not liking you. Where the emcee says, ‘And here is Gary Crosby!’—and instead of getting a hand you get a boo and ‘Get ’em out of here.’ I’m glad I had it, because you loosen up so much— and you don’t care as much—”

But Gary Crosby will always care—did care. Tension caught up with him over there too. So much nervous tension he blacked out. . . .

“The first time it happened, I was visiting a Sergeant and his wife,” Gary recalled. “I was standing in the kitchen having a bowl of beans and rice—and I fell right on my head! When I came to I was staring over my feet at the Sarge and his wife—in a hospital in Munich. They gave me a lot of tests and said it came from extreme nervous tension. And they gave me medicine I still take now.”

During a dress rehearsal guesting on Bob Crosby’s TV show in New York, back before the cameras again, facing another kind of audience—and wanting to do a great job—Gary blacked out again.

“Here he is now, my nephew—Gary Crosby—” his Uncle Bob said. Gary took two steps out—and fell on his head.

“They took me upstairs,” Gary recalled. “My Uncle Bob covered beautifuly. While I was passed out he got ten minutes of music worked up with the band to take the place of my spot. But I came out of it in time . . . and made the show—”

“You can’t—” his Uncle Bob worried.

“I’ll be on there—if I can stand—” his wobbly nephew said. And he made it!

When the newspapers front-paged his Las Vegas hospitalization, they didn’t carry the true story—they didn’t know it. And Gary would never be one to volunteer it. “I hadn’t been taking the medicine,” Gary said now. “The hotel doctor didn’t know what was wrong with me, and my brother Phil wasn’t around to tell him. And so I wound up in a hospital in Henderson, Nevada—layin’ there lookin’ at my feet again.”

“Speaking of Phil,’ Gary said suddenly. “Will you excuse me? I’ve got to call him about something.” He dialed the family homestead and there was no answer. A puzzled Gary shook his head and dialed again. “There’s just gotta be somebody home at Bing Crosby’s house,” he said. “Thats like callin’ the Ambassador Hotel.” Then he added, “Good thing nobody else heard me say that—I’d probably read that I moved out of the house because it was getting too crowded up there.

“I can’t even kid any more,” Gary went on, seriously. “You say things meaning ’em as a joke—and they’re twisted around and made to sound like it was said seriously. I’ve read where I don’t like my Uncle Everett—that I don’t like my grandmother—that I go around knocking good friends like Pat Boone.

“This Pat—I really dig him,” Gary said now. “I not only admire and respect him as an entertainer, but I respect him as a man too. And as opposite as our lives are, this guy’s a great friend of mine. But from the beginning, a few members of the press have tried to make enemies out of Pat and me all over the place.

“This is how something gets twisted around,” Gary went on. “Originally there was a dream sequence pencilled in for Mardi Gras where I pictured myself as a leading man and made love to Christine Carere. Later, production cut it out of the script. Just kiddin’ I said, ‘If Pat don’t get kissed—nobody gets kissed.’ The next day I read in the paper, ‘Gary Crosby’s griping about he can’t neck with Christine Carere because Pat Boone is too religious.’ ” Gary says slowly, “Can you imagine that?

“I’ve been accused of being mad at my father for getting married again,” he went on grimly. “Simply because I didn’t send him a wire of congratulations. I didn’t know he was married until three days after it happened. The only news you get overseas is Stars and Stripes and that’s always at least a day and a half late. And we were all over Germany doing the show. And when you go out on the road in Germany, you can be places where they never even heard of Western Union.”

They came back to Frankfurt, and one of the boys with the vocal group went up to Gary’s room with the message that a guy from Stars and Stripes was looking for him. “He says he wants a statement.”

“What about?” said Gary.

“Your dad just got married,” he said.

“And that’s how I knew. I didn’t know anything about it until then. I was very happy about the whole thing. As long as it made my father happy—it was great. And certainly he’s benefitted by it.

“I just want to put everybody straight on one thing,” Gary went on quietly, “and that’s this—I love my father. And something else—there’s more roses than thorns that go with the name Crosby. The name opened the door for me. There’s a lot of wonderful talent waiting to get their foot in that door. Once they get the foot in, they’re made. But they just can’t do it. And here I am on the threshold with the door open—because my name is Crosby.”

But there’s another part to that story. There’s the challenge of staying there.

The challenge

“When you start at the top—the door is thrown open and everything is wide and roses. And that’s beautiful. But you’d better have something on the ball to stay there,” Gary was saying earnestly now. “Otherwise people aren’t going to put up with you. If you haven’t got it—you go right down the tubes again.”

Gary, who never believes he does anything well, was surprised by his good reviews in Mardi Gras. But he got out of those with, “You can thank Hal Kanter for that—he wrote the script. That part was just written for me—that fast talkin’ Sergeant-Bilko-type-cat—always talkin’ and workin’—all the time shuckin’ and jivin’—”

A modest guy.

Who knows where he would have been now without the Crosby name to open the door so quickly for him? But one thing sure to anybody who knows Gary—he would have been trying. He wouldn’t have been waiting around for any pennies from heaven to fall.

Not Gary.

“I know my potentiality,” he said. “I’m not a great singer. I don’t match up with people like my father, like Como or Nat Cole—any of those boys. I’m a showman. I do a little comedy and a little singin’ and a little shuckin’ and jivin’. And I’ll try to make just as big a man out of myself as I can do with that.”


Gary can next be seen in Twentieth Century-Fox’s HOLIDAY FOR LOVERS.



No Comments
Leave a Comment