Thursday, July 7, 2011
TIME SPENT WITH GARY CROSBY
by Betty Bunch
Would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar, and be better off than you are, or would you rather be a mule, pig, etc.?
I think that's the definitive song of the '40s. We all loved Bing Crosby.
One of my dance class buddies, my best friend Carolyn, moved away from Austin, out to Midland, Texas, and invited me to come for a month. I was 14, so Mother said yes. I rode the Greyhound out to Midland, a horrible, dusty, lonesome ride. I felt bereft of civilization and so bored and hopeless that we would ever arrive that I almost cried. I'd brought only one book and finished it in the first two hours. Thelma, Carolyn's mother, who insisted I call her by her given name, immediately took us out for hamburgers and french fries, something I never got at home.
Carolyn's mother was very lenient, a real change from my mother. We slept until we woke up and had ice-cold Coca-Cola for breakfast, an unheard of luxury for me, an everyday thing for Carolyn.
There were movie magazines and fashion magazines all over the house. Mother didn't allow me to buy magazines and certainly not movie mags! I loved them, of course, and read all of Carolyn's. The Crosby boys were teenagers and got lots of press. They were incredibly handsome and glamorous, totally of another world.
Years later, when they were around the Moulin Rouge in Hollywood, dating several of the girls, I was married but still thrilled to meet them in person. They were allowed in the dressing room because we all knew them. Someone would call out, "Put on your robes, girls, the Crosbys are here!" Sometimes our current star would come up to see us. Jerry Lewis always did, Sammy Davis did. They usually wanted to thank us for something or invite us somewhere.
The Crosby brothers were singing at the Latin Quarter when Chris and I were in Tony Martin's act at the Copa in New York City and joined us after the show a few times.
When we got settled back in Hollywood, there was an audition for a movie at 20th Century Fox, "A Private's Affair," starring Sal Mineo and Gary Crosby. Chris and I both got the job, along with about 24 other movie gypsies. It was to be a huge dance scene.
Rehearsals turned into parties, jokes told, old dancer stories repeated. One of the boys, Sasha, was Russian and an Adelle Davis health food fan. He always had martinis with his yogurt, wheat germ and fruit for lunch. He converted all of us to health food, but I balked at liver for breakfast. I still love yogurt, which I'd never heard of before then (1959). Adelle Davis also touted the benefits of blackstrap molasses. I tried but couldn't stand that one.
Alex Romero, the choreographer, was my favorite choreographer in any medium. He was so kind and so masculine. When he wanted to move a girl to a different place, he put his arm gently around her or whispered to correct her. I loved that man. Male movie dancers tend to be masculine, unlike stage dancers, as I've mentioned before. The phrase going around gay dancers then was, "He's too gay for TV." And boy dancers learned to dance in a masculine way or didn't work.
Alex devised a charming number, high-energy jazz, and had an Army jeep drive onto the set, carrying Sal and Gary and one of the boy dancers on the back bumper. It screeched to a halt, the boys jumped off, joined us dancers, confetti was released overhead, and we did an armpit finish.
After the first time through, Alex changed it slightly, having the three men grab a girl dancer and pull her into a sit-down on his knee. Alex had Gary pair with me, same armpit finish. Gary fumbled a little. Gary and I chatted easily.
"Places" from the top. Same thing happened again. Another re-set.
Would you believe Gary blew 32 takes? He apologized charmingly every time. We were getting tired, the mistake always happening at the end. I asked Gary if there was anything I could help him with, he said no, he was just tired and would get it this time.
As the stagehands cleaned up the confetti for take 33, Frankie, the boy dancer who rode on the bumper with Gary, casually said, "Gee, Gary, I hope you blow this one, too. We're only five minutes away from 'golden time.' That's double time for all of us." Gary said, "Oh, yeah?"
The dear man did indeed blow take 33, gave us all a big grin, and we gave him a big cheer and sang, "For he's a jolly good fellow ..."
On the break, we all commented that it was partly his company producing, so the money probably would come out of his pocket personally. He was such a darling man. Rest in peace, Gary.
I would love to have a copy of "A Private's Affair" video. Anybody?