by Helen Louise Walker
“I’ve had good luck and I wouldn’t change a thing,” says Bing Crosby. “Fate licks some people and takes care of others in spite of themselves.”
IF I had my life to live over again… well, since things have turned out the way they have, I’d be pretty silly if I said I’d try to make them any different. Yet I’d certainly hate to have one of my sons do some of the fool things I did when I was a young squirt! It was plain luck—with some pretty smart people advising me—that saved me from coming a lot of croppers. And I can’t take credit for that! Still, I wouldn’t change anything now. Not the way things are.”
Sober-sided people have been shaking their heads over Bing Crosby and his goings-on practically ever since he can remember, predicting that no good could possibly come of whatever he was up to at the moment. Why ‘way back when he was in his ‘teens and spent the money he had earned picking apples on a down payment for a set of drums instead of a good school suit, folks were pretty impatient with him. But to the amazement of everyone he earned enough money with those drums to buy all his clothes from that time on and to pay his way through preparatory school, besides.
“I didn’t finish college although I had the chance,” he will tell you looking rueful about it all. “There I was with a fairly good start studying law, and what did I do? Set off for Los Angeles with another chap for no reason in the world except that we thought, it would be fun. I took my drums along and thought I could earn some hamburgers with them. But to show you just how well heeled we were for this adventure—we had to trade the drums for gas before we got to L. A. So there we were, broke and drumless and a fine pair of gazabos we looked!
“Of course; I’m not sorry I did it— now. If Fate’s for you, she’s for you and isn’t going to be stopped even if you make a fool of yourself. We got a job with Mike Lyman and then Paul Whiteman heard us and gave us a job in his band. Just good luck. Not good sense on our part!”
Good luck seems to have dogged Crosby as ill luck pursues some other people. He still gets notions—and sticks to them—about what he wants to do, how he wants to conduct his life and his career. Wise, experienced people wail that he is pig-headed, that this time he has surely picked the wrong horse.
Two or three years ago when he started his series of broadcasts for the Kraft Music Hall, he flatly refused to have a studio audience. The wise boys were aghast. You had to have applause on a variety program to give an illusion of the theatre. That was just plain showmanship. Crosby opined that it was just plain eyewash. He wanted to do his best and the automatic, unspontaneous applause of an audience which had to applaud him whether it liked him or not, embarrassed and flustered him. He couldn’t work that way and didn’t propose to try.
So, because they couldn’t do anything else, they let him have his way. The Crosby luck (or should we begin to call it judgment at this point?) held again. Listeners were downright relieved at the absence of ear-splitting bursts of clapping. Crosby fans went in a big way for the easy, informal progress of the Crosby programs, the spontaneity of Bing’s unrehearsed verbal absurdities.
Later on, when Bob Burns joined the program, they put one over on Bing. Explaining that Burns had to have audience reaction, they persuaded him to have some boys from a migrants’ camp as guests at a broadcast. There was no applause, but there was easy laughter, and Bing didn’t mind that. Since then there have been small, by-invitation-only audiences at all the broadcasts. But no clapping. Bing saunters about in his outlandish shirts and enjoys himself enormously while all the erstwhile calamity—howling “wise showmen” just feel silly.
Bing is so sure now that luck is the most important thing in his life that he isn’t a lad to ask for or take advice. Not any more. The only time he ever sought advice he rather overdid it and it didn’t turn out so well … at the time. It was when he left the Paul Whiteman band because Whiteman was going East and Bing decided that he wanted to stay in Los Angeles because he liked the climate. It was as simple as that. His well-wishers raised such an enormous wailing sound that time he was finally convinced that he must have made a ghastly mistake. He rushed about asking advice of practically everyone within hearing distance and when he finally received the radio offer which was to bring him to the threshold of real fame and money, he was disconcerted to find that all these people expected a cut of his prospective salary for the advice they had given him and which he hadn’t used. There were more people than there was salary!
“But even that was lucky,” he recalls now. “It sure looked like a fool proceeding at the time, passing up a good job with Whiteman just because I liked Los Angeles. If I hadn’t stayed here, I might never have met Dixie, for one thing. And it’s possible that I might not have had the radio offer . . . at least, right away. And even all the expensive advice I didn’t take turned out to be a good thing in the long run. When I got myself all tied up in these deals my brother, Everett, who is a guy with a lot of sense, kind of took charge of things for me. And that was lucky for me.
“First he paid off the $35,000 I seemed to owe the advisers. With that off my mind I decided to go fishing. Only I forgot to tell him. He was pretty irked with me when I got back, because it seemed the radio contract had been all ready for me to sign, only they couldn’t find me. But even that turned out to be a good thing. During the delay they talked things over and he got a better deal for us than he might have if it could have been decided right off the bat.
You see? Doing so many things all wrong and having them turn out so right-wouldn’t I be a sill at this point if I regretted any of it?
Well, wouldn’t he be?
Bing is especially lucky in the brothers God gave him. His two brothers, Everett and Larry, are sound business men and have managed to keep the Crosby affairs on an even keel. Shrewdly aware of the talent which is his, they are just as shrewdly able to help him sell it to the best advantage. They have their hands full with him sometimes and you’d think that they’d want to smack him.
For instance, when he flatly declined recently, to make a personal appearance in New York for twenty thousand dollars for one week—and then came home and transported his entire radio company to Spokane, at his own expense, for a broadcast for Gonzaga University, for nothing. But Bing is like that and everyone knows it and there is really no use for anyone to argue with him. His luck has held, and he has been right so often that it seems that it would be tempting Fate to cross a whim of his now.
You could go on and on. His race horses. His race track. Various investments he has made light-heartedly, which looked extremely dubious on the face of them, all seem to have turned to profits. No wonder he has faith in his whims and his guiding star! He is a refreshing figure i in a town which grows grimmer every f year as competition increases and actors grow more and more afraid. . . . Everyone is grim and earnest and convinced that hard work and application are the things that count. They study voice and diction and take fencing lessons and pay fabulous sums to dramatic coaches to teach them the nuances of expression. They have trainers to keep their figures in trim. They are likely to burst forth with quotations from Shakespeare at the drop of an aspirin tablet. All but Bing.
He somehow doesn’t seem aware of the grimness of life! One of the most highly paid singers in the world, he admits cheerfully that although he had five brief voice lessons once when he was a little boy, he can’t read a note of music and scarcely knows the names of the instruments which accompany him. He memorizes a song by listening to it twice and a motion picture scene by running through it a couple of times. He does almost no rehearsing for recordings, pictures or radio programs.
If you ask him how he does it he drawls, “I dunno. Have a sort of vacuum cleaner memory, I guess. I developed it because I was too lazy to study!”
Having proved that he can act well enough to satisfy a sizeable public, he doesn’t mind telling you that his sole training in this field consisted of the work he did under a perspiring gentleman in Spokane for a grade school presentation of “Julius Caesar.” He never had an elocution lesson, listened to a dramatic coach or read a whole volume of Shakespeare in his life. He has seen very few plays. They bore him.
“Acting’s just pretending, isn’t it?” he demands. “Any kid can do that!”
As for his figure, he lives on a diet of Irish stew, fried chicken, biscuits and honey and mince pie. He never has had a steam bath or tossed a medicine ball in his life. He likes to play golf and go fishing. These activities seem to keep him in fair trim. But he wouldn’t care if they didn’t. A few years ago he began to take on some weight around the middle. Then the head-shakers were busy. “If he gets fat, then he will be finished!” they proclaimed. “He’ll have to do something!”
So-o-o Bing, waistline and all, placidly made a picture called “Mississippi” which turned out to be his most successful picture up to that time. His girth has decreased considerably since then.
“We’ve had a lot of good golf and fishin’ weather,” he grins. “Lucky for me, wasn’t it?”
No one, so far as I know, ever has heard of Bing’s being grouchy or out of sorts or discontented. He likes his various jobs, the life he lives and the people around him. Certainly no one has ever heard him assume credit for his success or pat himself on the back for his acumen.
“I sure broke all the rules,” he says. “And if things have turned out fight for me—as they have—it’s been good luck. Just that! I’d hate to see anybody else take the risks I’ve taken. But you can’t run far against your luck, no matter how you plan it. Fate takes care of some people in spite of themselves. Up to now I’ve been one of them!”