03/12/2014 9:59 pm  #1


REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Dear all,

Last night, my wife and I watched American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered on PBS, and today I published an article in The Vintage Bandstand reviewing the documentary. You can read it here:

http://vintagebandstand.blogspot.com/2014/12/bing-crosby-american-master.html

For those of you who watched the documentary (it'll be repeated on Thursday, i.e., tomorrow, at 8:30 p.m. CT, at least on our PBS station here in northwest Tennessee) what did you think about it? My overall impression of the documentary, I must say, is rather positive.

 

03/12/2014 11:40 pm  #2


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Anton,

That's an excellent review, really getting at the purpose of the program  I really have to read your blog more often!  I posted my responses to the documentary in the "Colossal" thread, since others had posted some brief comments about it there.  Now--moving that post of mine to HERE:
- - -
I was delighted to watch the PBS American Masters Series: Bing Crosby Rediscovered last night.  There were many, many details and issues about Bing's life and career I was very happy to see included, if not always in the level of detail I would have liked--though I suspect that other long time Bing fans noticed the absence of things that seem quite essential in their view and understanding of Bing, his humanity, and his cultural value.  But then there were great surprises, too, like getting to hear the voice and manner of speaking of Ken Barnes, who I have only "heard" on a very few occasions in discussion forum postings or email and in his book about working with Bing. Another surprise is that it seemed to give me a better appreciation of the road pictures, which I have never been quite as crazy about as most other Crosby fans seem to be.

I agree with Richard that the program includes excellent interview material with Katherine, but I was even more appreciative of the very significant contributions of Bing's only daughter, Mary, in the program. In those interview segments, and some statements of hers I have read in the past, she provides a particularly warm view of Bing as a father.  Additionally, Katherine's, Mary's,.Harry's, and Nathaniel's contributions together help to show how different of a childrearing partner Katherine was compared to what Dixie, unfortunately, was able to be--for a variety of reasons, certainly not all of which were Dixie's fault. Before continuing, I want to mention, in case it hasn't been already in another thread, that Katherine and Mary were interviewed last Saturday by Scott Simon on NPR's "Weekend Edition-Saturday" program--perhaps this can be streamed from somewhere on the NPR website.

I found that the way the program refuted Gary's book rather surprising, partly because it wasn't really a refutation of the type that could certainly be mounted.  Instead, they let Gary take a good deal of the wind out of his own sails by describing how distraught Bing was at Dixie's funeral--very hard to consider Bing a cold and mean figure after Gary's description of him on that day.  Similarly, Gary gave quite an eloquent defense of how not hanging around with entertainment pals, like Bob Hope, in his private time, may have actually had a good deal to do with how great their on-screen or on-stage performances were!  I admit that I was rather surprised to hear Gary make such a key point, and one that refutes some of the worst speculations about his dad that followed the publication of his book and that especially poorly written tract, The Hollow Man (which I don't think the "Rediscovered" program mentioned).

I wish the program could have mentioned more of Bing's individual films in the first couple decades of his career--but I was equally happy to see part of Bing's drumming in the pawn shop scene from Rhythm on the Range. It almost seemed to jump from the Sennett shorts to the road pictures in "one swell foop," as an old friend of mine liked to spoonerise the cliche. Think of all of the great co-stars Bing might have have been shown acting with, singing with, being funny with in even a brief montage.  Then, too, I think too few examples of him on radio were used. I realize that the version of the program I would have liked to have seen would have been 3-4 hours long(!); still, I think a bias toward what there was film about may have slighted some of what ought to have been included in the way of examples of both radio and recording clips.  I think a lot of documentaries suffer from this, if they weren't made by Ken Burns (not having film of the Civil War didn't stop him).  Radio clips of Bing singing duets might have equally or even better supported Giddin's observation about how Bing generously loved to sing the harmony part with co-stars and guests!--not that I was dispeased at all in the film clip of him and Rosie Clooney singing "Blessings" together. One very big oversight in the program for me was that it didn't tell anything about the great work Bing did in his recordings produced by Ken Barnes.  Barnes was on the program, but we didn't even here a clip from "Seasons," almost any cut of which would have better illustrated what Feinstein says in the program about the resurgence in Bing's voice and singing during the 1970s--the film following Feinstein's statement was humorous, but hardly a powerful and convincing example proving Feinstein's point.

I was very happy to see the attention to the controversy over whether Bing could have destroyed his film career by playing a priest.  That anyone could have worried about that is almost unfathomable, considering that Christmastime, road pictures with hope, and Father O'Malley are probably the most identifiable Crosby images to a great many people who remember Bing's films to any degree.  I also was pleased by how the significance of Bing's playing against type even more drastically and dramatically in The Country Girl was dealth with.  I was a bit disappointed that it was not mentioned how he continued this courageous artistic exploration a giant's step farther in Doctor Cook's Garden--which would have been a grand and startling film to have included in the new DVD boxed set, had anyone dared to do that.

Of course, my quibbles with omissions in the program come from my wanting more of what I find significant about Bing to be known.  The strengths of the program certainly make significant strides in expanding knowledge and appreciation of him, in this time when fewer and fewer people seem to remember much of what many of us 60-plus-year-olds grew up knowing about him.  The new CDs, concurrently available, especially in that they are not the same old warmed-over compilations help support the same aim.  And the idea of a 24 movie collection becoming available is quite astounding and exciting.  As some others have mentioned, I have most of the films in some format, so probably won't buy the set.  But I think I will purchase the "soundtrack" and "Fine Old Chestnuts" CDs rather soon.

Happily I did manage to get a good VHS tape of the program, the only flaw in which is a 3-4 minute gap of dead air about 70 minutes into the program.  I am hoping my local station only flubbed broadcasting one of the pledge breaks, instead of omitting part of the program.  They are due to rebroadcast it Dec. 26, hopefully with that problem corrected.

 

04/12/2014 5:27 am  #3


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

I love what Gary Giddins said about Bing .He said Bing told the truth about himself and never hid anything. Bing always said he hit his kids so why were people shocked when they read about it years later. Also, almost everyone was hit like that back then and even when I was a kid in the 70's. It meant your parents cared and wanted you to know right from wrong. If they go to far then that's abuse. Gary Crosby was a big baby who wanted all the attention. He got hit with a belt. I got hit with the wooden spoon and shoes! 


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04/12/2014 6:51 am  #4


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Nice review, Anton. Can't wait for my DVD to arrive.

 

04/12/2014 2:07 pm  #5


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

48blonde wrote:

I love what Gary Giddins said about Bing .He said Bing told the truth about himself and never hid anything. Bing always said he hit his kids so why were people shocked when they read about it years later. Also, almost everyone was hit like that back then and even when I was a kid in the 70's. It meant your parents cared and wanted you to know right from wrong. If they go to far then that's abuse. Gary Crosby was a big baby who wanted all the attention. He got hit with a belt. I got hit with the wooden spoon and shoes! 

I think Gary was very unhappy as a child, and I think most of us raised with corporal punishment didn't understand it at the time. It's looking back on it as adults, we gain the perspective that our parents were trying to help us grow up as better people.  Of course, many other children were abused, too, but it wasn't spoken of much then.  I don't blame Gary for not understanding his punishment when he was little.  And I can understand that his continuing problems relating to his dad, may have prevented him from gaining the perspective that most of us later gained about how we were raised.  But then, most of us gripe to friends about shortcomings of our parents rather than writing a book designed to make a lot of money while assassinating our parent's character before the world.

From his own writing, a lot of Gary's problem began when kids at school immediately picked on him as a rich kid. They knew he was rich not only because of his name, but also because he was delivered to school by a chauffeur.  Why was he delivered to school by chauffeur? Because there was a reasonable concern about the kidnapping of celebrity's childten--Gary was born not that long after the Lindberg baby kidnapping and killing. According to his book, Gary is getting in fights at school sometimes multiple times per week during a lot of his primary school years. When Bing gets home, he gets a note from the school or is told by servants (if Dixie is indisposed) about Gary's new school incident. Bing is expected to do his fatherly duty, as it was understood at the time.  Gary even describes his dad's reluctance to discipline him.  In the documentary, Gary says it didn't matter what his explanation might be, but in his book he only describes himself as sitting there sullenly hardly uttering a syllable while his dad asked him what was wrong, haven't we talked about this before, and then went on to lecture about proper behavior expected of Gary.  Gary never once blurts out something like: "But, Dad, they always pick on me because they know you're rich!"  There were communication problems in the family. Maybe Gary picked up some vibe that he wasn't supposed to speak.  It's too bad that as an adult, Gary didn't realize that his dad wasn't a mindreader.  It's too bad Gary didn't also seem to realize that his mom was also largely responsible for how he was raised and disciplined, and only blamed his father for his being treated as he was.

My mother (born only about ten years after Bing) spanked me with her hand, with yard sticks, and with willow switches (and did they sting!) when the last yard stick broke. If she didn't think her whipping took, or if she was just too danged tired, she'd tell my dad when he got home.  My dad worked long hours of hard physical work at the time.  The last thing he wanted to hear was he was going to have to punish me (or my brother) when he got home. (It's easy to imagine how Bing must have looked getting similar news.)  If Gary had had my parents he probably would have gotten spanked much more than he did. But, also, my parents wouldn't have stood for him not answering their questions about misbehavior.

That Gary was distressed about his raising, even haunted by it, as an adult I don't think should be held against him, but writing a book trying to cash in on the "Mommy Dearest" celebrity as horrible parent craze is another matter.  A lot of sources, including his own denying he wrote things in the book a year or two later, strongly suggest that he included some gross exaggerations and perhaps also omitted a lot of information sympathetic to his father and critical of his mother.  That's what I find very hard to forgive.
 

Last edited by Steve Fay (04/12/2014 2:17 pm)

 

04/12/2014 4:02 pm  #6


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

What a resurgence of interest!

On this board we have had more postings over the last 48 hours than ever before.

My standard "Google Update" on the topic of Bing (AND TV OR Movie OR Record etc) in various combinations has delivered several pages of links to reviews and comment on the PBS "American Masters" documentary - far too many to wade through in order to select those that might deserve links to be posted here.Most normal days it is merely drawing my attention to yet more ring tones with some sort of Crosby connection, or to "free" downloads of MP3 files. 

I'm afarid that those who are interested may have to do their own Googling! 
Just a simple search "American Masters PBS Bing Crosby" pulls up 53,000 references. Clever filtering is needed!

I hope that this new interest is sustained. In no way does Bing deserve to be forgotten in the way that seemed to be occurring over the last few years. 
 

 

04/12/2014 4:14 pm  #7


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

That's great news, Richard!  I hope that, if we also have a number of new non-member readers visiting this discussion board on account of the revived Crosby interest, they will be sure to take advantage of all the excellent links to information and resources you have placed on the opening page. 

 

04/12/2014 4:51 pm  #8


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

On Saturday, November 29,2014, Scott Simon interviewed both Kathryn and Mary Crosby for over 7 minutes, in advance of the airing of the BC Rediscovered documentary's premier.  Here's a link to the interview transcript.  Just below the title there is also a link for streaming the audio version, for those of you with streaming capabilities.  Here's the link:  http://www.npr.org/2014/11/29/367362463/documentary-recalls-the-talented-difficult-life-of-bing-crosby

Last edited by Steve Fay (04/12/2014 4:56 pm)

 

05/12/2014 2:28 am  #9


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

It is on again this Saturday night - 6th. December at 7.00pm on PBS Channel 9 in the Pacific Northwest - USA.
I believe it will also be on again on the 16th. December.

 

05/12/2014 6:01 am  #10


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Steve even though I felt Gary Crosby could be a Show-off and a baby at times, I do think it was hard for him growing up with mom an alcoholic and dad always away. I read his book a long time ago and don't remember anything that bad in it. Maybe the press blew it out of proportion? I'll have to read it again some day. I thought the four boys were very talented and they seemed very close to Bing. Bing played ball with them all the time and did alot with his kids.


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05/12/2014 3:34 pm  #11


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

48blonde wrote:

Steve .... I thought the four boys were very talented and they seemed very close to Bing. Bing played ball with them all the time and did alot with his kids.

I agree. It is too bad that there wasn't more attention paid in the documentary to the talents of the first four boys. 

*** In my earlier, longer response to the documentary, I mentioned 3+ minutes of dead air in the broadcast on my local station.  I thought the local station hadn't gotten the pledge break started properly--no loss.  But they rebroadcast the documentary last night, and I discovered that the segment that went into the most detail about the boys, was what got left out.  So now i know much more about them was included, not just about Gary, though an appreciation of their talents wasn't stressed, beyond showing three of them singing with Bing on TV. So, while I'm editing these earlier comments, I'm not really changing my wish about that issue.***

Each of them could sing -- much better than anyone in the second family, and I think the second family would agree with that, considering how they humorously reflected on their singing in Bing's Christmas TV specials.  Some brief example of Bing singing with the first four and supporting their persuit of a singing careers, if they wanted that, might have been included.  I have the Crosby brothers LP.  They are quite good. I'd certainly rather listen to them than groups like the Lettermen who became quite popular and well known.  If the documentary could leave the first boys as objects of pity in the eyes of some viewers, that would be a mistake.  They had talents and spirits worthy of celebration.
 

Last edited by Steve Fay (11/12/2014 3:06 pm)

 

06/12/2014 12:53 am  #12


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Steve and Carmela,

I totally agree that the Crosby boys from his first marriage were talented, particularly Gary, and in fact, I have a CD that Fresh Sounds Records put out a few years ago that contains two of his albums, and it's quite good. It's this one:

http://www.amazon.com/Orchestras-arranged-%2522%2522Belts-Blues%2522%2522-%2522%2522The/dp/B005JSTOJQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1417825443&sr=1-1&keywords=gary+crosby

The main problem with Gary as a singer, in my opinion, is that he didn't know exactly how to sell himself. Should he sing the kind of songs that Bing was known for? Should he sing rock'n'roll? Could he be sold as a teen idol a la Tommy Sands? And in the end, he wound up being none of the above. But these two albums, at least, do sound promising.

Of course, there's also the fact that everyone compared him with his father, which is common when it comes to the kids of celebrities. One example is this 1956 appearance by Gary on What's My Line? (you have to fast-forward to 24:28 to find him as the mystery guest). Towards the end of his appearance on the show, John Daly has a little chat with Gary, and Gary comes across as a rather humble fellow, but most of the comments and questions from Mr. Daly are about Bing, and not about Gary's work. Here's the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrCoMzo5OHM

     Thread Starter
 

06/12/2014 4:01 am  #13


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

On a local broadcast TV station that plays a lot of old TV shows, I keep seeing Gary in secondary repeat character parts on shows like Adam 12. He was rather thin at the time.  Looks much more like his dad than I in other images of him I've seen.

 

06/12/2014 6:53 am  #14


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

In the early 50's I wrote to Bing and said that it would be nice to have an auto bio made about him (at the time there'd been stories about Jolson, Miller, Goodman etc). I mentioned that Gary could be Bing. He responded in his usual modest way that people wouldn't be too interested in his life.
If one was made now I thought that Kevin Spacey wouldn't be too bad as Bing.

 

07/12/2014 1:44 pm  #15


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

You have got to see this interview with Robert Trachtenberg who directed this new documentary! Wonderful! Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKcb6j6OvkA&feature=youtu.be&list=UU6FpoTG28AgyxVSACBD8xzA 

 

07/12/2014 2:15 pm  #16


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Malcolm Macfarlane wrote:

You have got to see this interview with Robert Trachtenberg who directed this new documentary! 

The salutary point about the interview is how they feel the need to explain who Bing was, what he did and the extent of his fame/success.

I hope that the current activity does away with this need and raises Bing's profile.

I have searched for reactions to the American Masters transmission but so far can only find the pre - broadcast reviews.  Has anyone found much - and if so could you provide some links or quotes please?





 

 

07/12/2014 7:21 pm  #17


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Some raising of profile must be happening...my local PBS station, right this moment, is showing the docuemtary for THIRD  TIME ! ! !

**** EDIT:  They showed the documentary YET ONE MORE TIME, and that time again in prime time!  That has to be good exposure. *****

I wonder how the 24 movie DVD boxed set will go over as a PBS pledge premium and also in direct sales.  If I didn't already have most of the movies it would be attractive.  It seems like it potentially will turn a lot of people into Crosby movie fans/collectors...and also Crosby song collectors, considering that the movies include so many of his hit songs.  To those people he won't remain merely Mr. Christmas.

Last edited by Steve Fay (11/12/2014 3:05 pm)

 

10/12/2014 8:47 am  #18


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

 

15/12/2014 4:47 pm  #19


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

In the documentary, in a dictation tape, Bing says that he wasn't happy with the story-line of the movie "White Christmas."  Does anyone know what he was talking about?  It seems to me that it stands up to comparison with a great many other movie musicals of the 40s and 50s.

 

15/12/2014 5:15 pm  #20


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Was he talking after completing the film? There were problems with the script before filming so perhaps that was when he dictated his thoughts..

 

15/12/2014 11:37 pm  #21


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Here is my review of the excellent documentary:

http://bingfan03.blogspot.com/2014/12/television-review-bing-crosby.html

I think Bing was talking after the movie was made. It was a good movie, but the story was not really that great. I think Bing had higher hopes for the movie when Fred Astaire was originally cast. Next to Bing's next two movies "The Country Girl" and "High Society", the movie "White Christmas pales in comparison.

I think "White Christmas" was a good movie, but it was no "Holiday Inn".

 

16/12/2014 12:16 am  #22


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Lobosco wrote:

. . . I think Bing was talking after the movie was made. It was a good movie, but the story was not really that great. I think Bing had higher hopes for the movie when Fred Astaire was originally cast. Next to Bing's next two movies "The Country Girl" and "High Society", the movie "White Christmas pales in comparison. / I think "White Christmas" was a good movie, but it was no "Holiday Inn".

I'm not sure how having Astaire in the movie would have changed the plot of the story?  Casting seems to me a separate issue.  And I am not sure it is fair to compare "White Christmas" to the "Country Girl"--a psychological drama and the most ground-breaking and famous example of Bing playing against type!  I would compare "White Christmas" to the slew of other Hollywood musicals part of the plot of which involves preparing to put on some sort of stage production.  I know I've seen a dozen of them, maybe dozens, but I think only a couple of them rival "White Christmas" in their memorability.  There are several great things about "High Society," but "Count Your Blessings" (I think) is a much more moving Crosby ballad than either "True Love" or "Little One"  Of course, "Holiday Inn" is a great movie, but, despite all the logical excuses I can make for it, it is hard to not find the black-face scenes rather distracting and embarrassing.
 

 

16/12/2014 2:31 am  #23


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Well written as always Steve.

I think the script was going to be a little different if Fred Astaire would have been in White Christmas. I'm sure an original script is floating around somewhere.

Of all the Bing Crosby-Irving Berlin collaborations, I think that Blue Skies was the best of the trio of movies, but it gets sandwiched in between Holiday Inn and White Christmas.

As for Bing's relationship with his first family, he was not around much, and he himself admitted that. Look at his work he did in the 1940s. It seemed like he was always working. The only one that seemed busier and away from his family more was Bob Hope.

Bing learned his lesson and that's why he went into semi-retirement when his second marriage/family came along. He got a second chance at a family. 

All four of his boys had talent - I have solo recordings from all of them (except Dennis Crosby), but there was one thing Bing had that none of them ever had....they never had the drive or the will to work hard.

 

16/12/2014 2:47 pm  #24


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

David, didn't snippets of some of the songs from "Blue Skies" (including the title song) get worked into the movie "White Christmas" which appears in the montage of Kaye/Crosby performances the duo rise to fame with after WWII?

As to Bing always being working, I thank Ken Barnes for his observations of what a remarkable amount of work Bing seemed to always be accomplishing, especially for someone whose public persona was as someone who was rather a lazy-bones out on the golf course half of the time. And of course, the evidence of his work in the 40s is even more dramatic.

I only know about the Crosby brothers album together, which is quite good, when compared to other male trios and foursome harmony and folk groups of the era.  But I didn't even know about three of them having solo albums.  David, could you go into much more detail about each of these albums: songs, styles, accomplishments, and potential each of them exhibit. Perhaps this is worthy of a separate thread.

 

16/12/2014 3:00 pm  #25


Re: REVIEW OF BING CROSBY PBS DOCUMENTARY 'AMERICAN MASTERS'

Right  now I'm listening to the "Soundtrack" CD for the documentary which I have just received in the mail.  Excellent details about the songs in the enclosed booklet!  The inclusion of so many non-usual tracks for well-known songs really makes it a *new listening experience* to a degree I was not really expecting. The BIng--accompanied by Les Paul ONLY--version of "Long, Long Time" instantly became my favorite version of the song.  I do wish that "Did You Evah" which WAS represented in the documentary, had been included, perhaps instead of "The Oldest Established," though I suspect Dean Martin devotees might disagree.

Last edited by Steve Fay (16/12/2014 3:02 pm)

 

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