Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Decades before Paris Hilton and voracious media hordes anxiously awaited her release from a county jail, aspiring crooner Bing Crosby was quietly jailed with nary a mention in the newspapers. And after he became a star, his arrest and court records just as quietly vanished. Crosby, then 27, crashed his car in front of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in November 1929 after a night of drinking. This was during Prohibition, when liquor was illegal in the U.S. The incident is also documented in a 2001 biography by Gary Giddins and in a 1955 Hollywood Reporter article written by Crosby.

In 1929, Crosby and his trio, the Rhythm Boys, came west to film the Whiteman musical, a vaudeville-type production. To make the band feel at home, Universal Studios, the film's producer, built a recreational lodge for the 24 musicians on the back lot. Whiteman arranged for each of them to buy a Ford to drive around L.A. "We all bought autos -- or at least we made the down payments with money which Pops [Whiteman] advanced to us, then deducted from our salaries," Crosby wrote in the Nov. 15, 1955, article in the Hollywood Reporter. Bing chose a convertible. "Pops had promised me a song, 'Song of the Dawn,'" Crosby wrote in the article. "I rehearsed and rehearsed, then took time out to see the SC-UCLA game." Crosby was a fan of St. Mary's College, or SMC, and the Galloping Gaels beat UCLA at the Coliseum on Nov. 16, 1929.

"There was quite a shindig after the game in our studio bungalow, involving some tippling, but not to excess," his brother recalled. Bing evidently drove an unknown party guest to her hotel, the Hollywood Roosevelt. There, Bing told his brother, "a car bumped mine after the party," and he was taken to the slammer. The other driver, also allegedly drunk, was arrested, though his name is not known. "Bing made a left turn into an oncoming car with such force that he and his passenger were knocked over the windshield and onto the pavement. He was fine, but the woman was bloody and unconscious,"

Giddins wrote in "Bing Crosby, A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years 1903-1940." "He practically drove through the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel," Bobbe Brox Van Heusen, a singer in Whiteman's film, told Giddins. From the Lincoln Heights jail, Crosby called a friend and he was bailed out a day later. Golfing attire in court At his court hearing, he came "directly from the golf course, wearing green plus-fours, an orange sweater and check socks," Giddins wrote. The judge didn't take kindly to his attire, or to his drinking. He asked the singer if he was familiar with the 18th Amendment, the constitutional measure enacting Prohibition. "Yes, but no one pays much attention to it," Crosby reportedly replied. Crosby maintained his innocence, claiming he was a victim of a bad driver and a zealous cop. "But it was his brazen court performance," Giddins wrote, that got him a sentence of 60 days. Crosby fumed in his cell over the severity of his sentence. He was later transferred to a jail with a liberal visitation policy.

His new jailers apparently allowed two police officers to escort Crosby to the studio during the day and back to jail at night. But during the two weeks or so it took to arrange the deal, Whiteman gave Crosby's solo to John Boles, arguing it was too costly to hold up filming. It's not clear how Crosby's arrest records were erased, how his sentence was calculated or whether the judge specified he serve it all -- but he got out early. Once Crosby became secure in his career, he became philosophical about the 1929 arrest and his loss of the solo. "[Boles] had a bigger voice and a better delivery for that kind of song than I had, and I often wondered what might have happened to me if I had sung it. I might have flopped with the song. I might have been cut out of the picture. I might never have been given another crack at a song in any picture."


1 comment:

  1. Paris Hilton in my opinion had neither a life nor an acting career! The Lindsay Lohan comparision with early Bing would be accurate, as she acted and also
    had a wholesome image [ah....NOTE. HAD one.]

    Highly enjoy your blog.