Tag Archives: popular

Der Bingle: A Short Appreciation of Bing Crosby

 

Der Bingle:  A Short Appreciation of Bing Crosby

 

He was once the most popular singer ever.

He recorded over 1600 songs over a 58 year recording career.  His records have sold over one billion copies.  He had 38 number one hits, including the most popular song ever.

He appeared on about 4000 radio programs.

His television show regularly was watched by over 50 million people weekly.

He appeared in 83 movies and sold over one billion tickets, which puts him third overall on the most popular actor category, behind Clark Gable and John Wayne.  He was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and won one, and introduced fourteen Oscar nominated songs in these films, which won four.

He is largely forgotten, with the exception of this time of year, where his music is rotated liberally and his name is synonymous with the holiday season.

He is Bing Crosby whose life and legacy still live on among those of us who cherish popular singing.

An early Crosby album on Decca.

An early Crosby album on Decca.

 

And that’s what he was, a popular singer, singing songs of every type and genre, with an easy-going style that belied his immense talent.  Bing made it look easy and everyone, from all walks of life, would enjoy his music.  And man, that voice, that incomparable voice; that deep baritone that takes every musical phrase seriously and glides it to its musical height.  Jazz, ballads, blues, cowboy songs, hymns, show tunes – he sang practically everything, captivating his audience with those full, rich notes.  They clung to every word, every syllable, as Bing invented what became the crooner.  Many tried to imitate.  Sinatra started out as a Bing clone.

What made me start thinking of Crosby was the programming of local radio.  Several stations here in Cincinnati – as I am sure other cities have done the same thing — have begun playing Christmas music 24/7.  I had the occasion to listen to a large block of that programming one night and noticed that, roughly, one out of six songs were songs by Crosby, including at least two versions of White Christmas, the aforementioned most popular song ever, with sales of over 100 million.

WhiteChristmasPoster

 

I thought about that.  I thought about how much I like Crosby’s music and mused sadly that this is probably the only time of the year in which Crosby is played on mainstream radio.  SiriusXM radio even has a channel devoted this time of year called “Bing Crosby Christmas Radio”.  To be fair, you can listen to Crosby songs on Sirius’ 40’s channel and Pandora and Spotify also program Crosby music into your specific playlists.

TMC does show the occasional Crosby film, Going My Way being the most popular.  Sometimes a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road” picture pops up, but these are mostly dated comedies and, as much as I love Bob Hope, his humor is very topical and era-specific.

Going My Way poster

Yes, Bing Crosby has some skeletons in his closet.  He could be aloof and dismissive.  He probably wasn’t the greatest father to his four sons by his first marriage, but apparently redeemed himself by his second marriage, with three children.

(There’s a biography of Bing called The Hollow Man, which presents a less than flattering portrait of him.  For years, during my friends and my annual White Elephant Christmas party, we gave away the same copy of this book each year to some unsuspecting recipient, who was obliged to give it away the following year.

An unflattering look at Bing.

An unflattering look at Bing.

My friend, Rick Simms, né Clem Coffee, said that if “One fifth of what was written in that book is true, Bing Crosby was the most despicable man who ever lived.”  And Clem liked Bing Crosby.

A better biography is Gary Giddins’ Bing Crosby:  A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903-1940.  This came out in 2001, with a promised second volume that is taking some time to see print.

So, this holiday season, when you hear Bing Crosby sing those delightful Christmas carols that can make the other ones seem lame, pause and reflect just one minute that the man you’re listening to is a superstar in the world of popular music.  And if you have Pandora or Spotify, give a listen to some of his other non-holiday music.  I’ll bet you’ll end up liking it and wanting more.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on my vinyl copy of Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings.

 

 

 

 

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A Short Essay on Grace Metalious: Beyond Peyton Place

Some years ago, I was asked to put together a book proposal on the deaths of famous writers.  While the book didn’t go through, I was happy with some of the essays I wrote for it.  My essay on Dorothy Parker, for example, found here, is one of those.

In addition to Hemingway, Poe and Fitzgerald, and many others, I also included Grace Metalious in the table of contents.  I have always been fascinated by her, her upbringing, her life in New England, her sudden burst of stardom and, just as suddenly, her decline and death.

Grace's most famous photo.

Grace’s most famous photo.

Grace Metalious made her mark on American culture.  With the publication of her book, Peyton Place, in 1956, she took her place with some of the countries best-selling writers, who were thriving in the post Korean War Eisenhower era.  Writers like Mickey Spillane, whose I, The Jury, was just as salacious as Peyton Place, tempered his sex scenes with a healthy dose of violence, and Nabakov’s Lolita, with its underlying irony and comedy, made the erotic passages art.

It's Hammer time.

It’s Hammer time.

 

1959 Paperback Cover

1959 Paperback Cover

With my purchase today of Grace Metalious’ novel, No Adam in Eden, I am now the proud owner of all four of her published novels.  She isn’t a big name anymore, mostly forgotten except when brought up on the occasional moment.  Sandra Bullock was developing a film biography, but that seems to have stalled, as so many film projects do.

Grace Metalious always knew she would become a writer.  Her husband, a teacher, supported her and she basically gave up doing anything else and spent all her time writing.  She had loved everything about the writing life, read other writers, and aspired to be with them.  With the help of her best friend, Grace finished her first novel and sent it off to publishers in New York.

She heard nothing.

As luck would have it, she was introduced to an agent who supposedly represented Somerset Maugham (although Maugham had fired him for stealing royalties).  He was instrumental in getting the book to Leona Nevler, an editor at Fawcett, who knew they wouldn’t publish it, but thought it had potential.  She passed it on to the publisher at Julian Messner,a small New York house, who accepted it.

The book was Peyton Place.  Published in 1956, it was, for a very long time, one of the biggest best-sellers of all-time.  It stayed on the New York Times‘ Bestseller List for over a year and has sold over 40 million copies.

One of the biggest best-selling books of all-time.

One of the biggest best-selling books of all-time.

To say it took the country by storm would be an understatement.  With its setting in a small, quaint New England town (an amalgamation of the towns surrounding where Grace lived); its characters devious, backstabbing and sexual;  hidden secrets at every twist and turn, including rape, incest, murder and betrayal;  Peyton Place was the book everyone pretended not to be reading.  Adults hid it from each other and kids hid it from their parents.  I know, I was one of those kids who read it late at night (probably in 1964 when it was reissued for the TV series debut), under the covers, with a flashlight.

The book was turned into a hit movie and a sequel was planned, Return to Peyton Place, published in 1959.  By that time, Grace had become an alcoholic with the money coming in steadily.  Her writing suffered and Return to Peyton Place, rushed to cash in on Peyton Place‘s popularity, was rewritten and polished by a ghost writer hired by the publisher.  Grace wasn’t happy about this, but had little recourse.  She had lost her enthusiasm over Peyton Place, since that was the only thing anyone ever wanted to talk to her about.  She felt she wasn’t taken seriously as a writer, and she was right.

Poster for the hit movie.

Poster for the hit movie.

Paperback cover.

Paperback cover.

She got back to work and released her third novel, The Tight White Collar, in 1961.  Another New England setting and more hidden secrets by its citizens made this one sell initially, but it quickly fell off the charts and sent Grace into another spiral.  This was Grace’s favorite novel, but, along with Return to Peyton Place, the reviews weren’t good.

Paperback cover

Paperback cover.

Grace’s desire to be considered a real writer continued as she worked on her fourth, and last, novel, No Adam in Eden.  Published in the fall of 1963, the book is a look at three generations of sexually liberated women, who do anything to get what they want.  It was written more intensely than any of her other books.  With the freedom of being so explicit, the characters seem more fully realized.

Paperback cover.

Paperback cover.

Grace had turned out a very good book, but the reviews were disastrous (one reviewer said, “It purports to be a study of evil but is no more than degenerate filth.”) and this time she didn’t recover.

Grace died in February 1964, at age 36, from cirrhosis of the liver.  Her estate was initially left to her lover of three months, but he decided to not fight a lawsuit brought by Grace’s children contesting the will.  It didn’t matter much.  Grace owed more than she had, including $40,000 to the IRS.  (Later, the IRS sold all of Grace’s possessions, including the original manuscripts for Peyton Place and The Tight White Collar, for just over $5000.)

Grace's Headstone in Gilmanton, New Hampshire.

Grace’s Headstone in Gilmanton, New Hampshire.

Peyton Place became a television series that fall of 1964, running for five years.  Neither Grace nor her estate ever saw any money from it.  The series introduced Ryan O’Neal, Mia Farrow and Barbara Parkins and starred Dorothy Malone.

Title card for the TV series.

Title card for the TV series.

Today, Grace Metalious’ work is studied in universities and she is heralded as a pioneering woman novelist of the 20th Century, paving the way (for better or for worse) Jacqueline Susann and Jackie Collins, and influencing many other writers.  Some believe that Grace planted the seed of feminism into the minds of girls who were teenagers when Peyton Place was published.

I recommend the book, Inside Peyton Place by Emily Toth.

Inside PP

Available here:  http://www.amazon.com/Inside-Peyton-Place-Metalious-Banner/dp/1578062683/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380476744&sr=8-1&keywords=inside+peyton+place

There is also a Facebook page devoted to Grace:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grace-Metalious-PEYTON-PLACE/59394335817

And here was a surprise:  A Grace Metalious bobblehead, sold by the New Hampshire Historical Society.

The Grace Metalious Bobblehead.

The Grace Metalious Bobblehead.

Available here:  http://www.nhhistory.org/store/det.aspx?UPC=16515.

Grace signing books.

Grace signing books.