12/28/07

BING CROSBY--THE BAD BOY ERA PT. 2

youngbingcrosby

TIS AUTUMN UPDATE

My documentary "Tis Autumn: The Search For Jackie Paris" will, apparently, have a slow theatrical rollout over the next few months, thanks largely to the positive reviews it received in New York and a lot of web-interest from jazz fans all over the place. As bookings come in (there are only two 35mm prints that will be in circulation at any given time) I'll post them on this blog. Additionally you can always go to www.TisAutumnTheMovie.com for screening information.


Also: a two part interview with me about the movie has been posted on Marc Myers blog Jazz Wax (part one ran yesterday, 12/27). Marc's blog is essential reading for any jazz fan.





All right. Enough about me. Below is a one of the earliest and best appearences on film of the as-yet-to-become-legendary Bing Crosby that we have. The film is "Reaching For The Moon", a 1930 musical with songs (and story) by Irving Berlin, starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (in one of his rare talkie appearences) and Bebe Daniels. It was directed and co-written by the curious Edmund Goulding, who a couple of years later helmed "Grand Hotel" at Metro and, in 1947, the very bizarre "Nightmare Alley". Goulding was a musician as well as a director and quite a character in that old Hollywood sort of way. (He played piano on the set, he announced himself as a novelist but--so far as I know--never published a novel. Actually he sounds somewhat like me. But I digress.)


The set for this number is an ocean liner and the whole thing is wonderfully salacious, a real view of what a "mad party" of the twenties might actually have looked like. Partly this is due to Goulding's staging--he seems less interested in staging a "dance number" than in giving the impression of really being at a fast-going-out-of-control party (note the writhing dancers and the European fuddy-duddy who exclaims "What a country!") This is Bing's second (or perhaps third) appearence before stardom truly descended upon him. Shortly after this his solo radio broadcasts (he had shucked off his Rhythm Boys partners) made him a star and Mack Sennett, formerly the King Of Comedy but by the early thirties somewhat on the skids, snapped him up and put him in a series of two-reelers. The shorts take advantage of Crosby's radio fame and contain a number of surreal gags that are more head-shaking than laugh-out-loud funny, but they also provide some nice views of old L.A. in their location work. (One of them has a car chase that appears to be shot on Mulholland Drive just east of Laurel Canyon--the neighborhood in which I grew up.)


The Sennett shorts, which are posted second (and actually the two songs are excerpted from two seperate shorts), served as Bing's 'finishing school' as an actor--he always gave Sennett full credit for making him comfortable in front of the camera--and they provide us with a good record of Bing's progress as a singer; he was awful hep for his day--Gary Giddins makes the case in his Crosby bio that Bing was the first white singer to fully grasp and interpolate the sound of Louis Armstrong into his singing. Indeed you can hear some of this in the below posted "Just One More Chance"--check out Bing's "jazzing it" chorus about two minutes in. (And what's with that napkin that he whips? Pretty Kinky). Oddly, Crosby grew less jazzy and "black" and more mainstream as the 1930's went on--largely due to the influence of his A&R man at Decca Jack Kapp, who gradually introduced more milquetoast/white/quasi-religious/wholesomeness into Crosby's repetoire. If his aim was to broaden Crosby's popularity, it worked. The "smooth" Bing became a worldwide sensation. But Bing started out as a jazz singer and in the below clips you can hear the style of singing that the boy from Spokane initially attracted the world's attention with.





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