Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A TRIBUTE TO KEN BARNES



KEN BARNES: A MUSIC LEGEND

FEBRUARY 14, 1933 - AUGUST 4, 2015

RIP: KEN BARNES


Record producer and musical genius Ken Barnes has died today. No words can express what he meant to Bing's career in the 1970s - so here are a few pictures of the greats he worked with - Bing, Fred Astaire, and Johnny Mercer.

He will be missed...








RIP: COLEEN GRAY - BING'S LEADING LADY IN RIDING HIGH

Coleen Gray, the dark-haired beauty who stood out in such film noir thrillers as Kiss of Death,Nightmare Alley and Kansas City Confidential, has died. She was 92.

Gray, who also starred opposite John Wayne in Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948) and played crook Sterling Hayden’s attractive accomplice in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956), died Monday of natural causes at her home in Bel Air, longtime friend David Schecter told The Hollywood Reporter.

“My last dame is gone. Always had the feeling she'd be the last to go,” Eddie Muller, founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, wrote on Facebook. They collaborated on his 2001 book,Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir.

Gray was “introduced” to audiences in Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947) as Nette, the girlfriend and future wife of ex-con Nick Bianco (Victor Mature), who battles psychopathic killer Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in a bid to go straight once and for all.

The Nebraska native then segued to a role as scheming carnival barker Tyrone Power’s aide inNightmare Alley (1947), then appeared as Wayne’s sweetheart Fen in Red River.

In Kansas City Confidential (1952), Gray portrayed the law-school daughter of a former cop (Preston Foster) who engineers a bank heist by framing a delivery man played by John Payne. (Gray and Payne’s characters fall for each other in the movie, and they were romantically linked offscreen as well.)


Gray also starred in the Frank Capra horse picture Riding High (1950), where her scene with Bing Crosby and Clarence Muse singing “Sunshine Cake” was the favorite film moment of her career.

She played a nurse femme fatale in The Sleeping City (1950) opposite Richard Conte, was manhandled by a creature in The Vampire (1957) and discovered the secret to immortality (but not without consequences) in The Leech Woman (1960).

Gray spent much of the 1960s on television, with guest-starring roles on such shows as Rawhide,Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 77 Sunset Strip, Mister Ed, Perry Mason and Family Affair.

Later, on the NBC drama McCloud, she played the wife of police chief Peter B. Clifford (J.D. Cannon) in a few episodes.


She was born Doris Bernice Jensen on Oct. 23, 1922, in Staplehurst, Neb. At age 7, she and her family moved to Hutchinson, Minn., and she studied drama at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn.

With only $26 to her name, she took a Greyhound bus to Hollywood. She enrolled at USC and then drama school and starred in the play Brief Music. She was seen by an agent and signed with Fox, where she made her movie debut for the studio in State Fair (1945).

In 1949, Gray starred on Broadway in Leaf and Bough with Charlton Heston.
Gray was married three times, the first to screenwriter, producer and future TV director Rod Amateau and the last to biblical scholar Joseph “Fritz” Zeiser, who died in 2012 (they were together for more than 30 years). Survivors include her daughter Susan, son Bruce, stepsons Rick and Steve and several grandchildren.

A memorial service at Bel Air Presbyterian Church is being planned...


Monday, August 3, 2015

BING CROSBY - A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY


Billboard launched its country music charts in 1944, and the very first No. 1 single in history belonged to Bing Crosby. The legendary “White Christmas” crooner made a surprise leap onto the country chart with the jukebox favorite “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” written by Al Dexter. According to the Western Music Hall of Fame, which inducted Crosby as a member in 2008, Crosby was responsible for “exposing a large and very receptive audience to Western music and laying the groundwork for its acceptance among fans beyond the country genre.”

Monday, July 27, 2015

THE "TRUTH" ABOUT BING

I had this writing as a comment to one of my other postings, but I think it is so well written, it deserves to be made into an article. The comment was written by Steven Little...

Seems that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle between the book and "we was a great dad." I am guessing that part of the motivation to "he was a great dad" was to protect his reputation and probably the value of his music, movie, image, etc rights of which I'm sure they all got a piece. Gary's book may or may not have been the truth and his recanting may have had to do with embracing the real truth or trying to make amends to the family and his father's memory.

I think for the most part people separate their 'love' of the artist and his art from the person. There are ugly rumors (or truths) regarding many artists out there. Back in the day much of these were swept under the rug as people were paid off by studios etc to not report drinking problems, drugs use, affairs, homosexuality, etc, Many of these things are now commonly ignored or blow over with the public or are complete non-issues and media coverage is so much more intense that almost everything eventually comes out.

Bing's issues (whatever they were) were more shocking because he had such a lily white image and they came from a close family member and he was an icon with a different generation. As I said we don't know the truth but, I'm guessing from the family history of alcoholism, divorce, depression, and suicide in his sons that there is something to these stories to what extent? Who knows? The bottom line is his work is what it is and those of us who enjoy it should do so regardless. The truth is artists, singers, actors, and geniuses are all humans and they all have their flaws or perceived flaws. It is best to enjoy the persona and their work and not dig too deep unless you are prepared to handle what you find.


If you are a fan of the cinema and are a homophobe it is best to avoid looking into your favorite stars' lives as many of them will leave you disappointed. Personally I don't care about that or many other issues when I watch, look at, read, or listen to their performances. I do have a few flaws that I can't ignore but, don't we all. Imagine how much poorer we'd be if we threw away all the art, music, writings, and movies produced by someone that doesn't meet some lofty standard.

I think that for the most part Bing is remembered fondly and rarely do I see these references and when I do they are a passing joke with little or no impact...


Monday, July 20, 2015

GRACE KELLY AS BING'S WIFE


Grace Kelly won an Academy Award for her role as Georgie Elgin, wife of an alcoholic, played by Bing Crosby, in 1954’s “The Country Girl.”

She was cast against type as long-suffering wife wearing spectacles and dowdy cardigans, and some doubted whether she could pull off the role. Yet her performance earned her an Oscar against Judy Garland in “A Star Is Born” and Dorothy Dandridge in “Carmen Jones.”

What did people have to say about Kelly’s iconic role?

1. “ ‘The Country Girl’ comes along fitly as one of the fine and forceful pictures of the year,” a New York Times review said in December 1954.

2. Not everyone was so complimentary. Bushy-browed wise-cracker Groucho Marx called Kelly’s Oscar win over Garland “the worst highway robbery since Brink’s,” according to the New York Daily News.

3. Kelly herself told her biographer, “High Society” author Donald Spoto, that Bing Crosby was not thrilled about her being cast in the role: “He almost withdrew from the picture when he heard that I was going to play the part,” the Independent quoted her. The actress said Crosby told producers she was “too pretty” for the role of a frumpy wife.

4. But Kelly said Crosby changed his mind when he saw her drab wardrobe: “She was to play a woman who had been married for 10 years and has lost interest in clothes, herself – everything,” Paramount’s costumier Edith Head said of the character in The Independent.

5. The movie may have given Kelly a little more grit. “Prior to her nomination, she was known as a Hitchcock blonde,” author Bronwyn Cosgrave wrote in the book Made for Each Other: Fashion and the Academy Awards (Bloomsbury, 2007).

6. For all of the heat the Oscar contest drew that year, some of the best quotes came from the movie itself:

Bernie Dodd (played by William Holden): “Does your wife really want you to play this part?

Frank Elgin (played by Crosby, Kelly’s on-screen husband): “Yeah, she’s all for it.”

Bernie Dodd: “I was just wondering. The day I met her, she seemed a little difficult about terms and rather domineering, I thought.”

Frank Elgin: “She wasn’t always like that.”

Bernie Dodd: “Oh, I know, I know. They all start out as Juliets and wind up as Lady Macbeths.”

7. “The de-glamorized Grace Kelly, dressed matronly in frumpy garb, won Best Actress for playing the long-suffering wife, in a performance that I believe she was not suited for and left me scratching my head to wonder what the Academy saw that I didn't (she never got inside the intense angst of her character),” wrote reviewer Dennis Schwartz.

Monday, July 13, 2015

THE ROAD TO IDAHO

By SYD ALBRIGHT

After Bing Crosby died in 1977 following 18 holes of golf near Madrid, Spain, Bob Hope said, "If friends could have been made to order, I would have asked for one like Bing." Nearly 3,000 mourners agreed and packed St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City for his memorial service.

His fatherly figure persona with the happy smile, mellow voice and unique singing style made him one of the most popular icons in entertainment history. We're reminded of him every winter when he sings, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know..."

And who can forget Bing clowning and dancing with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour - the Sarong Queen - in the 1940 Road to Singapore comedy movie, and the six other "Road to" films ending in 1962 with The Road to Hong Kong?

Harry Lillis Crosby Jr. was born in Tacoma, one of seven children,and was raised in Spokane after age 3. Graduating from Gonzaga High School and spending three years at Gonzaga University, Bing also had a heart for Idaho, recording a University of Idaho fight song - "You're the Gem State, Idaho."

Bing's father - a bookkeeper - was of English descent whose ancestors included William Brewster, who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620 and was religious leader of Plymouth Colony. His mother Catherine Helen (Kate) was a second-generation Irish-American.

At age 7, Harry Junior enjoyed a comic strip in the Spokesman-Review called The Bingville Bugle. A neighbor kid named Valentine Hobart started calling him "Bingo from Bingville," and that's how Crosby got his nickname.

While working a summer job as a teenager at Spokane's Auditorium, he was inspired by watching Al Jolson perform; kindling his interest in entertaining. His first stint in show biz was playing drums in a band performing at high school dances and clubs. Next was singing at the Clemmer Theater - now Spokane's Bing Crosby Theater.

In 1925, Bing and his piano player pal Al Rinker took off for Los Angeles, where Al's sister, singer Mildred Bailey, helped them climb the show biz ladder. After a number of low-level gigs earning them $75 a week each, they caught the eye of bandleader Paul Whiteman who hired them and doubled their salary.

Whiteman put together The Rhythm Boys trio of Bing, Al and pianist-singer-songwriter Harry Barris, which led to movies - singing Mississippi Mud and several other songs in King of Jazz, made by Universal in 1930. Then trouble began.

"After awhile, Whiteman and Crosby started to not get along," one source wrote. "Bing had a drinking problem, and that had landed him in jail a couple of times. He missed some of the filming of Whiteman's movie 'King Of Jazz,' after being involved in a drinking and driving incident. Whiteman got Crosby released from the jail. Crosby was escorted in handcuffs to the studio by police whenever he was scheduled to appear in the movie."

The following year, the Rhythm Boys had a contract hassle with management while performing in L.A. at the Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel (where Robert Kennedy was shot and killed). They quit the gig and soon broke up. But Bing's career as a solo singer took off.

By 1936, he was host of NBC's Kraft Music Hall on radio, replacing his former boss Paul Whiteman. He held that job for the next 10 years and showcased his signature song, "When the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day..."

Bing appeared in more than three-dozen movies in the Thirties, and then hit the big time in the Forties with Road to Singapore, followed by a stream of films including Holiday Inn (1942), singing "White Christmas."

The advent of sophisticated microphones helped Bing sing. He didn't have to bellow his voice so that the audiences in the back of the theater could hear him - like his idol Al Jolson did.

Bing's lifelong friend, Spokane dentist Herb Rotchford, had a home on Hayden Lake and Bing would often visit. He loved the golf and the fishing. "He liked it so much, he had my father buy him a house on the lake and a Chris-Craft boat, sight unseen," Herb Jr. said.

In his autobiography Call Me Lucky, Bing called Hayden Lake an "oasis of enjoyment in a hurly-burly world." In 1930, Bing married Dixie Lee an 18-year-old actress whose real name was Wilma Winifred Wyatt, mother of Bing's four sons: Gary, twins Philip and Dennis and Lindsay.

There are probably dark pockets in everyone's life - including celebrities like Bing - but LIFE Magazine called him "incontestably the No. 1 Big Family Man of Hollywood," and others said he was "Hollywood's Most Typical Father." But was he?

His eldest son Gary didn't think so, remembering in his book Going My Own Way, "I dropped my pants, pulled down my under-shorts and bent over. Then he went at it with the belt dotted with metal studs he kept reserved for the occasion. Quite dispassionately, without the least display of emotion or loss of self-control, he whacked away until he drew the first drop of blood, and then he stopped. It normally took between 12 and 15 strokes."

However, People Magazine reported that Bing's boys were hardly paragons of virtue - possibly needing a little discipline: "That his four sons became notorious for drinking and squabbling scarcely tainted Bing's image; instead, he became the object of public sympathy, the good father afflicted with unruly and sometimes ungrateful children."

Gary noted how different his father was compared to the role he played as the kindly and wise Father O'Malley in the movie Going My Way that earned him an Academy Award.

Dixie also supported her husband's rigid discipline over the boys. Behind the curtain at the Crosby household it was far from the loving image that Bing projected. "It was a house of terror all the time," according to Gary, who described it as a household headed by an icy, dictatorial father, a lonely alcoholic mother and four boisterous, tormented boys.

Philip denied the charges, calling Gary a liar, but Dennis and Lindsay confirmed the abuse. Nevertheless, Lindsay charitably said, "I don't know of many fathers who gave more consideration to their children."

Family squabbles aside, Bing Crosby had a triumphant career.

During World War II, he exemplified The Greatest Generation by entertaining the troops fighting in Europe.

It must have been heart-wrenching for Bing playing the part of an alcoholic has-been in The Country Girl (1954), costarring Grace Kelly, when the bottle constantly had tormented the Crosby family. Bing controlled his drinking, but Dixie couldn't. In 1952, alcohol and ovarian cancer sadly took her life at age 40.

Then Bing pursued actresses Inger Stevens and Grace Kelly before marrying actress Kathryn Grant in 1957. They had three children - sons Harry Lillis III and Nathaniel, and daughter Mary, who is remembered as playing the character who shot JR in the popular Dallas television series.

Bing's latter years were devoted mostly to golf - a lifelong passion - television appearances, and building a business empire of TV stations, thoroughbred horse racing, Minute Maid frozen orange juice, Ampex Corporation and other enterprises.

In his lifetime, he made 79 movies and sang an incredible 396 chart singles, with 43 No. 1 hits - White Christmas three times.

On Oct. 14, 1977, Bing and his golfing pals walked away from the 18th hole at a Madrid golf course and he said, "That was a great game of golf, fellas." Moments later he suffered a massive heart attack.

Along with all the glory, awards, triumphs and tears, Bing Crosby will always be remembered as the affable, easy-going crooner with the blue eyes and the mellow voice.

Bob Hope outlived his old pal Bing by 28 years. When Bob died in 2003 at age 100, the world had lost two of the towering entertainment icons of the 20th century. Bing's White Christmas and Jingle Bells will still be heard every Christmas, and Bob Hope will always be in the hearts of military veterans for all his road shows in six wars - bringing smiles to grateful GI Joes taking a break from death and destruction.

It's not hard to imagine Bing and Bob making just one more movie together - Road to Heaven.


Syd Albright is a writer and journalist living in Post Falls. Contact him at silverflix@roadrunner.com.

Monday, July 6, 2015

GOING MY WAY: A 1944 REVIEW

Here is an original review of the 1944 Bing Crosby classic Going My Way. This was written by Kate Cameron and published in The Daily News on May 3, 1944...


Paramount may have made a more appealing, more tenderly human and amusing picture than “Going My Way,” during its many years of film-making, but if so, I have missed it.

The production that had its first showing at Paramount Theatre last evening is a heart-warming delightful entertainment. It has to do with the beguiling way of a young priest with an aging pastor, when the former is assigned by his bishop to supersede the old man in discharging the affairs of St. Dominicks church and in keeping the parish from becoming atrophied, as it was in danger of becoming under the feeble guidance of Father Fitzgibbon.

It is a simple tale, simply told by director, authors and cast. Leo McCarey, who produced the picture for Paramount, directed it and wrote the original story, kept a firm but gentle hand on his cast. Not once during the more than two hours of running time did a single player step out of character, nor were the lines or action permitted to cross the invisible boundary line of good taste.


You can’t tell a story about a priest very well without touching on his religion, so the church takes its place in the controversy between young Father O’Malley and spiritual aspects of the picture are blended so naturally with the temporal affairs on the screen that the audience is hardly aware that it is listening to a most persuasive sermon on charity, which is the theme of the narrative.

Bing Crosby departs from his usual screen impersonation in the role of Father Chuck O’Malley. He sings, of course, as a Bing Crosby picture would be a waste without a song or two from the crooner. But surprises the audience by turning in a fine characterization.

His is an impressive performance that might well earn him an Academy Award next year, if it weren’t for the fact that he is competing with Barry Fitzgerald, whose performance of Father Fitzgibbon is a really brilliant delineation of a slightly senile old man.

Rise Stevens, in the role of a Metropolitan Opera star who had been a schoolmate of Father O’Malley and his friend, Father O’Dowd, is lovely to look at and a delight to the ear when she sings an aria from “Carmen” and two new numbers entitled “Day After Tomorrow” and “Going My Way.”

Bing also sings the latter songs and in addition croons “Would You Like to Swing on a Star,” to the accompaniment of a chorus of fine young male voices.

Jean Heather and James Brown, two promising young players, give the picture its touch of romance. Frank McHugh is fine as Father O’Dowd and Gene Lockhart, Eily Malyon and Stanley Clemens help to make “Going My Way” one of the film delights of this or any other year...

Monday, June 29, 2015

BING AND INGER STEVENS

Inger Stevens was born Oct. 18, 1933, in Stockholm, Sweden. Her parents separated and she came to the United States to live with her father when she was 13. Inger ran away from home while in high school and ended up in a Kansas City burlesque show where she danced as a "popcorn girl." At 18 she moved to New York and enrolled in the Actors Studio. Soon she had her first acting job and began appearing regularly in television dramas.

Her big break came in 1956, when she auditioned for the role of Bing Crosby's new love interest in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Man on Fire. The movie is a realistic study of a child custody battle between Crosby and his ex-wife, played by Mary Fickett.

"I never thought in a million years that I would get the role in Man on Fire. But I went in there and just sort of did it. It scared the daylights out of me. I had never done a movie before -- and to work on a film with Bing Crosby!"

When Inger was carried off the set with an appendicitis attack, Crosby visited the hospital with flowers every day. They soon became fodder for gossip columnists -- the young bedimpled Swedish beauty and the millionaire widower. Bing's wife of 22 years, Dixie Lee, had died in 1952. Crosby was previously linked with Joan Caulfield, Mona Freeman, Kathryn Grant, Grace Kelly, and Paramount dancer Betty Hannon.

"I thought Bing loved me," Inger told a friend. Her hope to marry Bing apparently continued until the very day Crosby wed Kathryn Grant in October, 1957. Inger was devastated. She had thought Bing's relationship with Grant had ended.


Inger took Bing's rejection hard and, based on Kathryn's biography of Bing, may have threatened both suicide and litigation. Inger later said the reason Bing didn't marry her was because she was not Catholic. (The new Mrs. Crosby, Kathryn, converted to Catholicism before her marriage to Bing.)

"One day he called me up and told me to go buy new drapes and curtains for the Palm Springs house," she said afterwards. "He wanted me to decorate it to my taste. He even told me that it was going to be my house so I had better fix it up the way I liked it. It may not have been a proposal but I sure took it as one. Believe it or not, I was down in the house, supervising some workmen in putting up the new drapes when I heard the news announcement over the radio that Bing had married another girl. I went into a state of shock. It took me months to recover. I actually became physically sick from all the distress."

Later, the Swedish beauty would say, "After you go out with Bing, you're spoiled for young men of say 25 or 26. Being with an older man is a secure feeling for me. There was a big age difference, too. Also I was guilt-ridden because I was dating a man and I wasn't yet divorced."

Inger moved on to star in several more movies as well as the 1960s TV show The Farmer's Daughter. Throughout her career she suffered from frequent bouts of depression and attempted suicides. She eventually succumbed to a drug overdose on the morning of April 30, 1970, at age 36...

Monday, June 22, 2015

SONGS THAT BING RUINED

One of my favorite posters from the old days of the Bing Crosby Internet Museum was Candace Scott. (If anyone has her contact info, let me know). Candace always have the greatest topics to post about such as this one regarding her least favorite Bing recordings...

There are several Bing songs which I love but which I feel have been compromised (or even ruined) by one element. Sometimes it's the background singers, sometimes it's the orchestration or arrangement, but I always end up thinking, "boy, that was a great record, but ruined by that one irritating thing." Back in the days of vinyl, I would always just pick up the needle and skip over the offensive part. It's harder ot do that with CD's so I end up not playing some of these songs.

So here goes-- here's my list of good Bing songs which were brought down many pegs by one single bad element:

1. Sweet Leilani: the obvious #1 choice. I refuse to listen to the first 55 seconds of that horrible guy singing the first verse. Awful! It's a great song and Bing sings it perfectly, but that Hawaiian fellow utterly wrecks it for me.

2. Deep in the Heart of Texas: I love Bing's vocal, love the arrangement, love the orchestra. But I don't like the overly l-o-n-g middle section with the orchestra which goes on forever. I want more Bing, less orchestra.

3. Silent Night (the gorgeous 1944 version) This is one of Bing's most sublime vocals, he's in rare form here. But the background chorus sounds like a Lawrence Welk reunion. No background singers, please.

4. White Christmas ('47 version) I'm loathe to criticize this song, but the Ken Darby singers add nothing to this classic recording.


5. Remember Me? One of my favorite Bing vocals, but the long orchestration in the middle grinds on way too long.

6. Yes, Indeed! I wish Connie Boswell wasn't on this track. Satcho instead.

7. Hey Jude -- admittedly a tired-sounding performance from Bing, but it's not that wretched. It's the "pom pom pom pom-pom-pom-pom's that sink it!

8. Don't Fence Me In-- when the Andrew Sisters drag out the line, "Oh give me l-a-n-d, lots of la-ha-ha-ha-and..." and the song moves into that bluesy beat. Horrors! I want to hear Bing sing that verse, not Laverne, Patty and Maxine.

One common thread on my list is that Bing is never at fault, it's ancillary elements rearing their unattractive heads. OK, fire away, I'll put on my bulletproof vest...