Bing Crosby, singer and sportsman, isn't the type of person you walk up to and say: "What's new?" If he feels like talking, he will. If he doesn't he won't—and that includes "hello."
I had come to Hollywood to see Crosby the sportsman—the many-sided golfer, hunter, fisherman, horseman, baseball fan and ex-player, connoisseur of boxing, football; you name it, he's done it. The appointment had been set up long before. Bing Crosby is a busy man, but he promised to fit me into a three-day stay in Hollywood, wherein he would be working on a split-second timetable. I was prepared for a rather hectic interview. And hectic it was.
I met him first on a motion picture set with Ed Sullivan, with whom Crosby was filming a TV guest spot. The scene required them to sit on stools and watch a screening of Crosby singing Temptation in a vintage film, Going Hollywood, made over 25 years ago. Watching him as he watched his own youthful screen self, I could see how little time had changed him. At 53, he was thinner, and his face more lined; but he looked fitter too,-and more debonair. His much-caricatured ears, standing out sturdily like handles on a sugar bowl, give him an elfin boyish touch that time cannot erase. And his humor, irrepressible as always, came bubbling forth as he followed his action on the screen.
"Look at him," he said of his screen image of long ago. "He's got guts. He's a game fella—but just listen to him. 'You came. I was alone. I might have known.' Oh, what's the use. The guy's got nothin'. He'll never go anywhere."
There are some—those who encounter Bing Crosby only briefly on business matters or some formal occasion—who consider him rude. He is a man who wastes no time on apple polishing or palaver. In fact, he wastes no time at all. We talked, very often, on the run. Always on the move, he sometimes sipped coffee as he walked, looking straight ahead, avoiding people by the simple method of pretending he saw no one. At other times he would stop briefly to chat with a stagehand or a straggler, or to borrow a pen with which he would write quick memos to himself on scraps of paper torn from a script.
"You gotta keep movin', keep circlin'," he said. "You gotta keep your left hand high and keep circlin'." And, abruptly, he added: "I never get bothered much about people. I think it's because I've made good friendships in every walk of life. I know people in high places in government, in the Army, the Navy; all the way down to jockeys, touts and caddies. They're all my friends. I'm always comfortable with them. When I'm with them, nobody pays any attention to me. I know lots of people in our business who are never able to develop any other interests or associations outside of their profession, and it makes for a pretty insular existence."
This camaraderie with "jockeys, touts and caddies" in which nobody pays any attention to him is probably the greatest single reason why Bing Crosby devotes so much of his time, effort and talent to participating in and sponsoring sports. Unconsciously, he had made a confession. He likes to be accepted on his merit, not just on his name.
On the dot of 11 a.m. one morning, he stood before an overhead microphone in the recording studio of RCA Victor. It was one of two four-hour sessions in which he was recording a Dixieland album of his own selection. Minus hat or hairpiece, he was comfortably dressed in gray-green slacks, a loose-fitting, long-sleeved yellow gabardine shirt which had "Bing" mono-grammed on the pocket. His well-worn brown "chukker" shoes added a final informal note.
A dozen or more pieces of sheet music were stacked on a stand in front of him. Dream a Little Dream of Me was opened.
"Let's run it over," Crosby said to the nine jazz musicians grouped around him. They had just tuned up when the studio door opened, and a photographer loaded down heavily with cameras and flashlight equipment entered.