Wednesday, December 31, 2014


The other day I was at the supermarket, and I had a Bing Crosby record playing from my CD player. A guy in his early 30s, maybe a few years younger than me asked who that was. I told him Bing Crosby happily, but my happiness was short lived when he said "Oh Bing is the guy that beat his wife and tried to kill his kids."

I am going to start out this article though by saying it is hard to raise children. There are so many outside pressures that societies places on parents as well as children. Those pressures are magnified when one is famous. The famous parent has an image that they must keep up for the public. Also, they are the real problems that “normal” parents have. In my opinion, famous people do not make good parents. Even if they try their best, their children also have to live up to their image. That image is nearly impossible to match, and the child cannot create a life of their own, because they are always compared to their famous and successful parent. Then after the child grows up and often after the famous parent is dead, they write the tell-all book. They do it for many reasons, but I think the two biggest is money and revenge. Two of the most famous instances of the children writing a book about their parents are when Christina Crawford wrote “Mommie Dearest” about her adopted mother Joan Crawford in 1978, and when Gary Crosby followed her book up with “Going My Own Way” about his father Bing Crosby in 1983.

Two be perfectly blunt and honest, neither Joan Crawford nor Bing Crosby were the greatest parents. As for Bing Crosby, he had the most widely recorded voice in the history of mankind. How can someone compare to that. When his son Gary was born in 1933, Bing was becoming the most popular star in the world. By the 1940s, Bing was the most popular icon in movies, on records, and in radio. Bing worked non-stop and pretty much was never home. Bing grew up with a strict mother himself, and he wanted to instill that strictness in his children. However, with Bing gone maybe 300 days a year, when he would come home and try to discipline the children and be a father, it would just make their relationship worse. If Bing was able to tell his sons, especially Gary, that he loved them more then Gary might have turned out differently. What compounded matters was the fact Bing’s wife Dixie Lee was becoming an alcoholic. She could not cope with the fame and the absence of a husband for long periods of time. Gary blamed Bing for Dixie’s problems, and when Dixie died of cancer in 1952 then Gary really started acting out. Gary got in public fights (some with brothers), got married and divorced numerous, and arrested on many occasions. All four sons suffered from alcoholism like their mother. However, even though one’s home life may not be ideal or may not have a father present, once one is an adult then their life is their own responsibility. Gary never took responsibility for his own life.

Gary wrote his book about his dad to ride the coattails of Christina Crawford. As source in the Crosby family says that Gary actually wrote two versions of his book. The publisher said it wasn’t juicy enough so he made Bing out to be an abusive and unfeeling monster. As Gary laid dying of cancer in 1995, he not only was planning on doing a duets album with old recordings of his father, but he recanted his whole book. He said Bing never beat him, and although he was absent for most of his childhood he admitted the book was mostly lies.

Whatever the truth actually is, the damage was done to the memory of Joan Crawford and even moreso to the memory of Bing Crosby. When one sees their names they instantly think of the abuse and not the talent the stars had. Maybe Joan and Bing were not the greatest parents, but isn’t that their own business behind closed doors. They both entertained millions of fans who needed it during the Great Depression and World War II. Even if they were the monsters that their children painted them as for financial gains, that does not diminish their talents. Both icons deserve to be remembered for their talents and not negative books written by their children…

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


It’s that time of year in the Bolen house when Christmas music has started to play and I get to hear all the little voices throughout the house singing along. The other night I was hanging out with my kids and Bing Crosby’s version of “The First Noel” came on and I about collapsed with excitement. As the ensemble began to gently play the opening notes of the song, Bing started to speak, not sing, but speak. It was a very different type of introduction to a song, yet as a worship pastor, very relatable in a strange way. Here’s what he said:
“Say friends wherever you are tonight, whether you’re in the snows of New England or up in the Northwest, or on the warm tropical beaches of the Florida coast, I really hope you’re getting into the spirit of this Christmas song. I don’t mean just sitting back in your easy chair listening to us having all the fun. I mean throwing back your head, opening up your hearts and singing as loud or as pretty as you know how. Gang singing is a lot more fun then you’ll ever know unless you give it a whirl sometime. So come on now, join me in the The First Noel. If you don’t know the words well, hum a little, tap your feet or gee whiz, do something! You ready?”
Um, yeah! Two things in what he said really stood out to me. First, the call he was giving people to sing was compelling and I imagined in my head my tone-deaf grandfather 50 years ago would have been pretty keen to join in. The second, I found it refreshing, (even if the recording is over 50 years old), that he would go through the work of casting a vision in such a way that anyone could participate, regardless of their ability. Now I don’t know all that Bing had in mind except to assume that his reasons for inviting people to sing was that he believed it was a good thing. It wasn’t a call to worship, although the song is about Jesus, it was in so many ways an invitation to do something that is natural...

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Along with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney - one of the most charming parts of the 1954 musical White Christmas was dancer Vera-Ellen. The movie was released 60 years ago, but since then rumors have persisted as to the health of Vera-Ellen during the making of the movie.

As you might notice, Vera-Ellen’s neck is covered in many pictures. In fact, her neck is covered up in the entirety of White Christmas. Vera-Ellen was an extremely thin woman who died in 1980 (at the age of 61). While never officially diagnosed during her lifetime (heck, the term itself was barely around during her lifetime), Vera-Ellen is alleged to have suffered from anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness pertaining to a distorted view of how skinny a person is that results in many different effects in people, most specifically, the physical problems of having their body waste away due to their belief that they are too fat.

Vera-Ellen was an EXTREMELY skinny woman for the rest of her life, and biographers of her have made it pretty clear that she suffered from the disease (it was perhaps exacerbated by studio weight requirements, something that afflicted Judy Garland, as well).

While it has not been proven, I do agree that the circumstantial evidence is probably there enough that I would tend to agree that she had SOME sort of eating disorder.

Bill Dennington, a friend of Vera-Ellen, had the following to say on the matter:
"Vera-Ellen was a friend for 20 years until her death. I was in L.A. and had lunch with her 2 weeks prior to her death. If you’ve read David Soren’s book Vera-Ellen: The Magic and The Mystery you would have seen my personal photographs of Vera-Ellen. The photographs were taken in the 60’s and 70’s and she looked fine. All of her life she wore something around her neck, a necklace,a choker, a scarf, a collar, etc., etc. It was her “trademark” like Van Johnson wore red socks. I saw her neck many times it was lovely… Audrey Hepburns. Hate that people think of her as “the dancer with anorexia” and not just the FABULOUS DANCER WHO HAS BEEN SO OVERLOOKED !!!!!!!!!!!!"
In any event, to the matter at hand – the story is that Vera-Ellen’s neck had to be covered up in White Christmas because the costumes were designed to cover her neck, which was aged beyond her years due to her eating disorder. If you search around, you’ll get that basic story in lots of places.

However, while I would agree that it seems to be too much of a coincidence that they happened to cover her neck in EVERY shot in White Christmas, I differ about the reason behind it. It may be none of our business what Vera-Ellen was suffering from, but regardless what is not disputed is that she was a wonderful and talented dancer...

Thursday, December 11, 2014


I was born in 1974, so my life was decades after the Great Depression and World War II. However, I learned to appreciate the music of that generation due to a close friendship I had with my Grandfather. He instilled in me a love of great music and more importantly a love of Bing Crosby. Young people today do not really know who Bing Crosby is. People in my generation barely know who he is. Thankfully PBS television on their "American Masters" program presented a great documentary on Bing called Bing Crosby Rediscovered. The documentary debuted on December 2nd, but it did not air in the Pittsburgh area until December 10th.

Of course the documentary presented the facts that Bing's fans have known for years: Bing Crosby was much more than the White Christmas crooner. Crosby established his name on radio and stage throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s, he had become a superstar. For more than two decades, his name was at or near the top of record charts, radio ratings and the movie box office. He won an Academy Award as best actor for his performance inGoing My Way (1944). He received an honorary Grammy in 1963. His later career included a series of highly rated TV specials, a format he helped to pioneer.

Half way through the documentary, it gets very interesting as Bing's private life is examined. As the documentary tells it, Crosby and his wife, actress Dixie Lee, were alcoholics, and, although he managed the disease, she did not. She died at age 40 after a battle with ovarian cancer. Crosby wasn’t around much for his family because of work, but when he was present, he was a strict father. Six years after Crosby’s death, son Gary Crosby published the memoir Going My Own Way, which claimed that Bing beat his kids severely. It is a claim that Gary later recanted on his deathbed.

For fans of Bing, the music is all familiar, but what is even more fascinating is some of the photos of Bing Crosby that I have never seen before. Even my wife was amazed at how Bing looked without his toupee. There are even sad pictures of Bing at the funeral of his wife Dixie Lee, deep in mourning. I believe the death of Dixie was a turning point for Bing, both personally and professionally. 

The documentary lets viewers draw their own conclusions about Bing Crosby’s personal life.

But the film’s perspective on his professional legacy is clear: He was a landmark entertainer, a technological maverick, a colleague who stood up for pals in need. He came to the aid of such fellow performers as Judy Garland and Mildred Bailey. Back to his sons, there is also audio showing how concerned Bing was with his boys, and how they were basically out of control.

Does Bing Crosby need rediscovered? He certainly does. Without Bing Crosby even many of these so-called singers would not be around today. Bing Crosby may have been the most widely recorded human voice in the history of mankind! The statistics are mind boggling, and although it is hard to cover Bing's career in a 90 minute documentary, Bing Crosby Remembered definitely does Bing justice...


Monday, December 8, 2014


But a new documentary called Bing Crosby Rediscovered – which aired on December 2nd at 8 p.m. ET on PBS as part of the American Masters series – sheds fresh light on Crosby's first family with Dixie Lee, a shy actress who drank herself to oblivion before succumbing to ovarian cancer in 1952 at the age of 41.

She and Crosby had four sons, two of whom were twins named Dennis and Phillip, who experts believe suffered from their mother's heavy drinking.

"I had been hearing about it and then the twins, they didn't look quite right," Robert Trachtenberg, the documentary's director, tells PEOPLE. "Something had told me that it was fetal alcohol syndrome, so I took existing photos of the twins and showed it to a couple of specialists at USC. When they’re born [with fetal alcohol syndrome], it affects their skull and their nose, and it manifests itself physically as well. The specialists looked at them and said 'Yeah, this is a like a textbook case of fetal alcohol syndrome.' "

It's not clear whether Crosby ever suspected that his first wife's drinking had an adverse affect on their twins, Trachtenberg admits. Dennis Crosby killed himself in 1991, and Phillip died of a heart attack in 1994. (The two other brothers, Gary and Lindsay, died in 1995 and 1989).

"I couldn't find anything where he blamed her," Trachtenberg says. "That's the other tragedy of this whole situation. She died at 41. Nobody really had any significant way to treat that. Kathryn, Bing's second wife, says in the film it was a terrible way to die. So to add insult to injury, you have this situation [with the twins] on the one hand and then she dies on the other. We could have done a whole other film just about that."

The rest of the documentary features interviews with Crosby's second family – including wife Kathryn and their daughter, Dallas actress Mary Crosby – and focuses on the singer's many contributions to the business, like how he revolutionized radio when he began taping his popular radio shows.

"I think people have this idea of him from those Christmas specials from the end of his life, which even Mary said was bad variety TV," Trachtenberg says. "But what they don’t remember was how cool he really was in the '30s and '40s and '50s. He is just so revered as a musician’s musician to this day … his timing, his phrasing. People still cite him as one of the most influential singers of the 20th century."


Monday, December 1, 2014


Just in time for Christmas, this company in the Czech Republic is producing a Bing Crosby marionette!

I am trying to contact the company to get more info and inquire about the costs...