The advent of Christina Crawford's "Mommie Dearest", spawned an entire genre of celebrity books. These are - as "Sophia" from the "Golden Girls" put it, the "Bitter child of celebrity" tales. I read this book for the first time when I was 13 years old. In reading it again, after becoming a parent myself, I can now more clearly see just how badly our children want our love and approval. Bing Crosby never approved of his oldest son Gary, named for his good friend Gary Coooper. Bing, and his first wife "Dixie", seem to believe that children are our natural enemies, and you have to "break" them, as you would an unruly mule. Here are some examples of their parenting techniques:
-- The "boys" and there were four, had to use the right utensils during dinner in the formal dining room. The right fork, correct spoon, fold the napkin properly- before they even started going to Kindergarten. If Dixie Crosby noticed they were making mistakes, she whacked the offender's knuckles with the back of her butter knife- which was heavy silver.
--The boys had to eat every bite of food, whether they liked the food in question or not. One of the brothers simply HATED eggs- as people do. One morning, he just couldn't face them, so he got the bright idea of hiding them under the hall carpet. His mother noticed the bulge under the rug, discovered the uneaten eggs, and made her son choke down every bite- as Gary put it "Dirt, hairs, and all."
-- Gary, eldest son, was, like his father Bing, prone to putting on weight. His father made him hop on the scale, every Wednesday. If the number was steady- great! Gary, at the age of nine or ten, would use his allowance to buy the strongest laxatives he could find, and his father made him run ALONGSIDE the Limo on the way to school in the morning. Sometimes, it worked, sometimes not. If "not", he got a "whipping". A whipping from Bing Crosby meant bending over a chair, with bare legs and bottom facing him, whereupon he would flail away with his walking stick. The whipping ended after Bing drew the first "beads of blood."
--Dixie, the mother, was worse, in my opinion. If the boy she was targeting finished his assigned homework early, like a page of Math problems, she'd say, "Done already? Well, it's too soon. Read the next fifty pages (in a MATH BOOK?) , and write down for me what they're all about. Why are you looking at me that way? What, you don't like it!!!??? Go outside and get a switch!" The switch had to be green, and somewhat "springy". Employing the same method as her beloved husband, the boy would bend over, while she used BOTH hands, "Whipping" the switch up and down his legs and rear, as fast as her arms would go. And, God help the poor child if he dared to move during his beating: "I TOLD YOU TO STAND STILL- NOW you're REALLY gonna get it!!" She was usually in a drunken stupor, and wouldn't remember any of it the next day. Gary said, "As soon as I stopped 'flinching' after a few days from the beating, she'd scare me again by exploding even worse.."
I give these stories, practically word for word, because I have no sleek adjectives, no clever puns, or just honest, straight prose at my disposal, that could convey to you, or myself, the full horror of these stories.Dixie and Bing Crsoby had four sons together: Gary, Phillip and Dennis (twins), and Lindsay. If you really want to know the effects of their parenting, please consider this:
-- Dennis, nick-named "ugly" and "loser" by his famous Dad, killed himself a few years after denying much of the content of his brother Gary's book.
--Lindsay, the baby boy, and the most sensitive, attempted suicide many times, before finally succumbing to a final attempt in the early 1990's.
--Gary, had such anger and anguish in his soul that even counseling and writing this book was not therapeutic enough for him; after a series of heart attacks in the 1980's, his doctor told him that he had so much violence and malice in his heart, it was literally "exploding" due to the pressure, warning Gary that he HAD to get rid of the anger towards his father, or it would utterly consume (or kill) him- which it did, a few years ago..
-- Of the four from Bing and Dixie, only Phillip Crosby managed to live to the age of sixty-five- if you want to call what he did "living", that is. He resided in a trailer that a reporter described as a "roach infested, termite-ridden, urine soaked "flop-house". "Sixty-five' was an important number to Bing Crosby, it would seem, since attaining this age was the only way the "boys" could get their hands on their inheritance, yet another cruel proviso of the crooner's will- I guess he thought that his children would be too immature to handle their finances at the tender ages of forty or fifty. Phillip Crosby only got to enjoy his money and new found security for five years, before passing away in in 2004, at age sixty nine. Like his brother Gary, and his famous father before him, he suffered a massive heart attack.
There are dozens of horror stories in this boook. I never thought people living in 25+ room mansions in Beverly Hills would be this bitter and tortured. Dixie, a former country singer and actress, drank herself into oblivion, dying of uterine cancer in her forties. Bing went on to marry a nineteen year old woman named Kathryn, and having three more children: two more sons, Harry and Nathaniel, and a daughter, Mary Frances, all of whom are alive, and all of whom have described Bing Crosby as nothing less than a caring, nurturing parent. (Some of us remember his daughter, Mary Frances Crosby, as "Kristen"- the sultry vixen who infamously shot J.R. Ewing on T.V.'s "Dallas")BOTH camps could very well be right in their estimation of Bing- after all, people change, and some people have "split personalty" parenting- being a totally different guardian at different times...
One image stands out in my mind's eye: Gary would ride along with his father sometimes, for out-of-town commitments, or singing projects they did together. Some of these car trips took 4-5 hours, at times, and what strikes me is that Gary writes that he and his father did not exchange one single word the entire time. It was dead silent- with Bing ocassionally breaking into one of his "peppy" songs. When they got out of the car, he says, Bing became "Bing!", in the presence of other people, of course- a model father, calling Gary "pal" and "Buddy- unless Gary said something "stupid", and his father would whisper, "Uh- uh, Dummy. Wrong answer. Back in your trunk." with Gary assuming he meant they had a "ventriloquist-wooden dummy" working relationship.... During the return trip, his father would tell him it was time to get back to reality -to wit:"In the car lard a--. Move." And then, total silence all the way home. I personally think that Bing got himself in so deep as the firm, disciplinarian, he COULDN'T get out; that he had no idea how to now treat his boys like mature, human beings, therefore, he chose silence.
Shortly before Bing's 1977 death, he admitted to his friend, actress Nanette Fabray, that he was probably too hard on his boys, and he was sure that, at various times, they actually hated him! Ms. Fabray explained to Gary that Bing confided in her that he really DID love his sons, and he acted in that manner because he didn't want a bunch of second generation "soiled brats". Gary begins the book by writing, "A few years after my Father died, I found out he really did love me..." and maybe he did. I don't know- but, at least Gary thought so..