12/20/07

SMASH UP: THE STORY OF DIXIE LEE CROSBY

binganddixieandkids

I was going to remain in the GF's of the GG era mode and write about the great Susan Hayward. But then, whilst looking at her filmography, I came across a title that I'd forgotten about but dimly recall seeing on late night KTLA "Movies Til Dawn" programming; a haunting film called "Smash-Up: The Story Of A Woman" (1947). In it, Hayward stars as a singer who marries an entertainer who suddenly becomes incredibly successful--more so than either could ever have imagined. The pressures of his sudden fame and her descent into obscurity (and her role as "backstage wife") lead her into the arms of John Barleycorn--aka: acute alcoholism.


The film was written by John Howard Lawson (shortly to become one of the original Hollywood Ten, blacklisted due to his membership in the Communist party) from a story by Dorothy Parker. It was widely known at the time, though, that Parker had based the story on the marriage of Bing Crosby and his wife Dixie Lee. Bing was, of course, the most successful singer of the 1930's and early 1940's, a huge celebrity, movie star, radio star, record star etc. Dixie, however, began her career as a singer and when they met, in the late 1920's, they were about equally popular--which is to say not stars but both up and comers with a bright future. Dixie married Bing, gave him four kids, and retreated from the glare of Bing's ascent into the limelight by hiding in the bedroom of their house, drinking steadily until her death at the terribly young age of forty-one (in 1952) of ovarian cancer aggravated by alcoholism. Gary Crosby, their oldest son and a pretty good performer himself, wrote quite movingly of his mother's short and haunted life in his autobiography "Going My Own Way", an unapolegetic entry into the "Daddy Dearest" genre...but according to GC, he had plenty to be legitimately angry about. Bing was cold, abusive, often gone and mean as a snake when home--while Mom was blotto most of the time. Each of their four kids became alcoholic and two died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Jesus!


Below is a clip from the Fox Movietone Follies of 1929, one of those early talkie/muscial grabags which can simultaneously be so much fun and so infuriatingly dull that perhaps with youtube, at last, the proper medium has been found to show them in--segmented and cut up into individual bite size bits. This clip features Dixie Lee before she was Mrs. Bing singing at the top of the number. The bizarre "clown singer" is Frank Richardson, who turned up in quite a few of these early talkies, only to vanish from the screen forever (imdb states that he lived until the early sixties. Doing what? Did he become a doorman or something?) The fine eccentric dancing at the end is by Tom Patricola. (As with so many of the era's numbers, this one features a freakishly oversized prop that will probably catch you by surprise.) I find Dixie Lee's appearence in this haunting in light of what was to follow in her life--looking into the eyes of the eighteen year old girl who won a singing contest that suddenly propelled her into a legitimate career, one can--at this distance--only see youth, future, hope...




4 comments:

  1. Hi!
    Glad that you posted this on your blog, but it is from Fox's "Happy Days", NOT the "Fox Movietone Follies of 1929". That film is, unfortunately , lost forever.

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  2. You are going on Gary Crosby's book as gospel. Before Gary Crosby died in the late 1990s, he admitted that he had made up most of what was in his book so it would sell some copies. Bing Crosby was as good of a parent as possible in his position with his type of fame. [b]Don't believe everything you read...especially when it came from Gary Crosby.[/b]

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  3. I think you need to read up on Bing Crosby and get your facts straight. I would read more about you and your work, but I don't know who the hell you are.

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  4. I have met people in Hollywood who worked with Bing Crosby back in the 50's and they both say he was cold and only cared about himself.
    Plus if Gary's book is mostly bs why did 2 of the boys kill them selves that shit doesn't happen for nothing. He may have been talented but talented people can be abusive too. Look at Joan Crawford.

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