by James Reid
Perhaps you haven’t thought about it, but one male screen idol makes it easier for the girls to palpitate about him by banning publicity about his private life—and his private wife. Two other idols, both with romantic reputations to preserve, won’t talk about their wedded bliss and have pacts with their wives that keep their wives mum, also. And when another certain romantic actor recently dashed down South America way, where he has a large following, he left the little woman home. Why remind the smitten señoritas that there was a señora?
But Bing Crosby doesn’t care who knows that he’s a family man, a happy husband and the parent of four sons, including twins. Last Father’s Day, in every newspaper in the country, there was a picture of Bing, completely surrounded by Crosby offspring. He puts up a battle every time Paramount wants to get him into the portrait gallery for some glamour art, but let Paramount suggest some home shots with the family, and he says, “Name the day.” When he takes a long trip, he also takes Mrs. Bing and sees to it that she’s in all the news photos with him. And she has been interviewed often about what he’s like around the house.
According to accepted Hollywood theories of what is good publicity and what isn’t, all this should have ruined his appeal to women long ago. Yet last year he was Star No. 11 in box-office popularity—not far behind two of the above-mentioned gallery gods, and ahead of the other two.
He doesn’t give the women of America a chance to hope that he isn’t happily married or that he isn’t likely to stay that way. And still they go for him by the millions. He wouldn’t be Star No. 11 if they didn’t.
What do you make of it, Watson?
He’s a presentable specimen of the genus Americano, clean-cut and clean-shaven, but that doesn’t make him an Adonis. Hollywood has handsomer heroes, with wavier hair and more of it.
Of course, not all of them sing. But, of those who do, there isn’t one who hasn’t had more voice training than Bing. He hasn’t had any. He belittles his voice, calls himself “Old Gravel-Throat.” Still, there’s something about his voice, husky and untrained, that gets them. It’s a large part of his appeal Other women feel like the girl who said, “When Bing sings your favorite love song, it’s like getting cream with your strawberries.”
But women don’t go to the movies just to hear him sing. They can hear him sing at home, on the radio or on phonograph records. No, they go to look, as well as listen.
And since he isn’t a Great Profile, a Great Physique, a Great Lover, a Great Operatic Singer or a Great Actor, they must go to see him simply because he isn’t those things. They like him because he doesn’t awe anybody, because he doesn’t even try. They like him because he has a personality that says, “Folks, I want to entertain you, but I can’t put on a glamour act in front of friends. At least, I hope we’re friends.”
Most people don’t know how to take many of the actors. They live in a world apart. But here is an actor anybody can understand. He’s like one of the folks. They have the feeling, watching Bing, that they’re watching someone they know—or, at least, someone they could know more easily than they could know any other man on the screen.
How about it? Are they justified in that feeling?
We went to John Gallaudet, who talks frankly, has a sense of humor, and ought to know what it takes to be a friend of Bing’s. They have worked in five pictures together and are still friends. They even play golf together.
“Is it easy to get acquainted with Bing?” John echoed the question with a faint lift of one eyebrow. “I’ve never yet encountered anyone who thought it was hard. It can’t be hard; he knows too many unexpected people. I’m one of the unexpected ones, myself. Let me tell you how we became friends.
“My wife was the feminine half of a dance team at the Palais Royal in New York, when Bing was singing there with Whiteman’s band. Appearing at the same spot at the same time, they couldn’t help knowing each other. Bing thought she had a future. He went out of his way to tell her so. Something about the guy convinced her that he meant it. That was enough to make her think of him as a friend. Before she knew it, she was telling him her ambitions. And the fact that she confided in him seemed to make Bing think of her as a friend.
“Anyway, after a while she came to Hollywood. A few months later, Bing came out. She called him up to wish him luck. He said, ‘I’m giving a little party and I want you to come and bring your boy friend.’ Five seconds after he heard my name, he was calling me Johnny. In self-defense, I had to call him Bing. Anybody would have thought we had known each other for years. Somehow, we got to kidding about golf. One of us suggested a game. And—well, we’ve been friends ever since.
“Maybe I’ll go off to New York to do a play and won’t see him for months. And maybe, when I get back, I’ll see him only casually. But he doesn’t change in the meantime. If you’re his friend today, you’re still his friend the next time he sees you, whenever that may be.
I DON’T know what it takes to be a friend of Bing’s,” he said. “I’ve never thought about it. I know fellows who have been trying to get close to him for years—fellows he sees every day at Lakeside. You can see him freeze every time they say, ‘Hiya, Bing.’ If he doesn’t like you, he just doesn’t like you. And, with that open face of his, he can’t keep from showing it.
“These fellows are in the same racket he’s in—movies. They play the same game he plays—golf. That gives them two big interests in common, but Bing just doesn’t want anything to do with them. Yet he’ll make a buddy out of some dirty-faced little caddy with patches on the seat of his pants.
“As near as I can figure it out, he has the caddy pegged as a kid with the right stuff inside and these other fellows pegged as four-flushers. They talk too loud and too much.
“Maybe he was a sucker sometime or other for some high-pressure salesman who failed to deliver. Or maybe he was double-crossed somewhere along the line by some blowhard he trusted. Or maybe he just has a strong instinct for sincerity. I don’t know. All I know is that he can spot phonies a mile away. And, if possible, he’ll keep them a mile away.
“He’s a pretty average guy, himself, and I’ve noticed he likes to be around average people, whether they’re bankers from Wall Street or down-and-outers from Skid Row. He doesn’t seem to care what else a man is, if he’s a down-toearth human being.”
To an outsider, it might look like smart business on Bing’s part to keep in touch with the common people. After all, he usually plays one of them.
“It’s not a matter of smartness,” John assured us. “It’s a matter of taste. Bing did a lot of scratching around before he struck pay dirt. All those years, people didn’t like him for what he had, because he didn’t have anything; if they liked him, they had to like him for what he was. He wanted other people to find things to like in him, so he got in the habit of looking for things to like in other people. That’s an easy habit to break, I hear tell, when everybody starts telling you how wonderful you are. But Bing hasn’t lost it.
“For one thing, he doesn’t believe all the flattery he hears. I happen to know that he still carries around an old worn clipping, a review of another star’s picture, with this part underlined: So-andso ‘has a marvelous voice, but can’t act as well as Bing Crosby, who can’t act at all.’ For another thing, he doesn’t believe that important people are the only people worth knowing. He gets a kick out of proving it. He’s forever finding characters, God knows where.
“Like the General, for instance. Did you ever hear about the General? One week-end Larry, Bing’s brother, went down to the ranch at Del Mar. It gets black dark down there at night. This particular night, about nine o’clock, Larry stepped out to the kitchen for a glass of water. There was a knock on the kitchen door. Larry opened it. Out there in the darkness stood this grizzled old character with a gun in his hands. He said ‘I want to see Bing.’ Larry said, ‘Er—who wants to see him?’ The old codger said, ‘Just say the General.’ Larry thought he had a crazy hill-billy on his hands. He said, ‘Er—wait here.’ He shut the door and jittered into the living-room.
“We’d better locate the guard,’ he warned everybody. ‘There’s an old guy outside with a gun.’ He tapped his head meaningly. ‘Says he wants to see you, Bing.’ Bing asked, reasonably enough, ‘Did he say who he was?’ Larry said, ‘Yeah. Said he was the General.’ Bing laughed. ‘Well, bring him in. He’s a friend of mine.’
“How Bing met him or where, Heaven only knows. He was an old soldier who had a little farm somewhere up in the hills, where he spent most of his time hunting. Anyway, Bing liked the old guy, and the old guy liked Bing. And it seems they had a date to go ‘coon hunting the first night hunting looked ripe. The general said this looked like the night. So what did Bing do? He passed up the little party that was just getting started to go ‘coon hunting with the General.
JUST to show you how Bing gets around, the last time he and Dixie went east, they were house guests of a millionaire polo player, who’s also an interesting guy.”
John wanted to straighten out one thing.
“He gets along all right with women, but’s he’s a man’s man. He played with one female once who thought he should also be a ladies’ man. She went on the make for him. And Bing thought it was a gag!
“She didn’t seem to get anywhere as long as they worked at the studio. But then the company went on location to a small town up the Coast. They put up at a small hotel. All the rooms were on the second floor, looking out on a balcony that went across the front of the building. One night, after they had gone to their rooms, Bing looked up, to see her coming through one of his windows. With that, he went out the other.
“Last year, Bing and I went up to Del Monte for a golf tournament. On the way up, we got to talking about an actor whose wife was soon bound to discover that he was cheating. ‘Thank God, I don’t have any of those worries,’ said Bing. ‘I don’t have to be afraid some girl will call up the house and get Dixie by mistake.’
“He has his own way for handling temperamental women. I remember one little spitfire he played with. She’d throw a fit every few days. And Bing would say, ‘When you get her straightened out, let me know. I’ll be out at Lakeside.’ He doesn’t let people bother him. He doesn’t let anything bother him. He’s easygoing. He could have been just as happy as a tramp as he is as a movie star.”
John grinned persuasively.
“If you’re going to be around Bing, you want to have your sense of humor in working order, because he’s always trying to get a rise out of people. A certain banker who was due out from New York a while back found that out.
THERE was going to be a tournament at Lakeside, with amateurs teaming up with pros, and the banker wanted to get in it. Bing said, “I’ll team you up with somebody good.’ When the banker arrived, he said, ‘Well, who’s going to be my partner?’ Bing answered, ‘Lew Gadaro.’ The banker had never heard of him. ‘Why, he’s the pro at the Hardscrabble Country Club, just outside Philadelphia,’ said Bing. The banker thought he knew all the clubs around Philadelphia, but he’d never heard of that one. Bing said, ‘Why, it’s famous. And Gadaro’s famous. A great golfer. Of course, he’s a little eccentric, but that’s because he’s deaf. You’ll have to yell to make him hear.’
“The banker began to look worried. ‘Oh, yes, and he’s an insurance salesman on the side,’ Bing added. ‘He’ll probably be trying to sell you insurance. But he’s a great golfer.’ The banker was speechless with dismay. ‘He’s a mountain boy,’ Bing went on blithely, ‘so don’t be surprised if he takes off his shoes and goes barefooted, if he has to work hard to win.’ About that time the banker exploded.
Bing could count him out of the tournament. “That’s too bad,’ said Bing, ‘because I’ve really got you paired with Sam Snead.’ He had dreamed up ‘Lew Gadaro’ as a gag. The banker’s still laughing at the way he fell for the gag.
“Bing goes for people who can laugh at themselves. Everybody does. And between you and me, that’s one reason why everybody goes for Bing.
“People rave about his voice, and he pokes fun at it. They can’t help liking a success who’s that modest. The funny thing is that he honestly doesn’t take his voice seriously. I’ve seen proof. I’ve been with him during recordings, and I’ve seen him smoke a big cigar between songs.
“He cracks about his being a movie star and this tickles people. He’s not only a star, he’s near the top of the heap, but you’d never know it to see him on a set. Two years ago, Paramount gave him a fancy portable dressing-room. A while back, a character actress started screaming that it was an outrage that she didn’t have a portable dressing-room; every important player was entitled to one. ‘Take mine,’ said Bing. ‘I never use it.’ He hadn’t even been inside the thing after two years. A camp chair’s good enough for him, between scenes.
“People can’t help going for a guy who is a success, but who hasn’t let it go to his head because he’s so busy thinking of other things. All of us have asked ourselves what we’d do if we ever had money, and we’ve said, ‘We’d enjoy life.’ Well, here’s a guy who has followed through on that. He does the kind of work he likes, plays the kind of games he likes, pals around with the kind of people he likes. He lives in the kind of house he likes and has the kind of wife he always dreamed about with four kids of the kind he always hoped to have. Nobody knows anybody who gets as much out of life as Bing does. That’s his big attraction.”
Was John trying to tell us that a wife and four children fitted into the explanation of Bing’s appeal to women?
“Yes,” John said. “Women like to see a man who’s frankly sold on matrimony. He’s an encouragement to other men. Especially when he’s a man’s man—one hundred percent masculine.”