Transcript:

Speaker The Boeing situation was the situation.

Speaker Bowie was, of course, a big star by then and.

Speaker Smith Hemin, who produced the special, figured it would be a fascinating combination since we were shooting in England anyway to see if we can get some genuine English performers to appear on the show. And we got Twiggy and we got some other English artists that were basically only known in England, they didn't actually translate to America.

Speaker So I don't know why Bowie said yes, but he did because he was Ziggy Stardust at the time, which is about as far away from Bing Crosby as you could get.

Speaker But he did agree to do the show and we went over to England to shoot it. How you shot at Elstree studios, and I think the first time we actually saw him was the day we were going to shoot what was ostensibly just Little Drummer Boy. And when we got into rehearsal with him, he said. I don't really like that song. Well, OK, I seem to remember that he said it doesn't show off my range now. I don't know if that's why he didn't like it or he was just not enamored of it. But anyway, we had this arrangement written out and everything, and the track was made and everything was set and being new his part.

Speaker And so we all looked at each other for a long moment.

Speaker And.

Speaker I guess somebody said might have been me. Well, let's just see what we can do to to make it palatable for you and Larry Grossman and I and Ian Frazer, who was the music director, went down to a little room with a piano. And we decided the best way to salvage the arrangement was to do a counter melody that would fit in between the spaces and maybe write a new bridge and see if we can sell them that. And it all happened rather rapidly. I would say within an hour we had it written and we're able to present it to him again. And the Three Stooges went back up stage on stage and met with Bo and we played it for him, he says, Yeah, I like that. I can do that. I think that's good. So he spent about that much time rehearsing it with Bing and we shot it that day. And that was basically how Peace on Earth and Little Drummer Boy got married and we had no trouble picking that up that quickly. Bing was being used like.

Speaker I'm going to say he was an old sponge thing, would pick things up rapidly, and he always loved the challenge of new material. You would think when people reached a certain stage in their life or career, they just want to go back and sing the standards and don't don't show me anything new being loved. The challenge I used to write, I did like four Christmas specials with being before that, and I used to write these very intricate numbers for him and the performers, the other guest performers, and he used to thrive on them. He was a very in addition to being very articulate, he was a very bright and aware person. He always knew what was going on around him and he always was able to transform himself without losing any of the Crosby isms that relaxed that feeling and the atmosphere that he would always create whenever he was on camera. But he used to love to learn new material. And I really pushed him. And I did a number with Robert Gulay for him about it was based on an O'Henry short story. And I musicalized the whole thing. And he picked it up like that and he loved doing it. So I had no problem with being learning the bridge part to peace on Earth or the other countermelody.

Speaker And it it worked out fine.

Speaker And he was at that point in his life or even previous when he was.

Speaker Once he was in, it was fine with the rehearsal process where he kind of wanted to hit the Gulf, you know, being you know, at that stage in his life, I always had the feeling that he's one of the few people who ever had a second chance at life. He had his first career and his first family, and it was a little traumatic and tumultuous and not the most happy time, and that's when he became extremely famous and when Dixie died and the kids were all over the place and he married Catherine, that was really a second life for him. And he treated that family, I think, with much more care and thought and involvement than he did the first time around. And when he when we would do these shows, I mean, when we started, I guess the first one I did, maybe Nathaniel was seven or eight or something like that. And Mary Frances and Harry were a little older, but they were kids.

Speaker And Catherine was in all those shows, too. And he was more of a nervous stage father about what they were going to do and how they were going to come off than he was about his own situation. I mean, you always knew he would be spot on and he would be the best Bing Crosby that you can imagine. So that was never an issue with us. But he was he would like, you know, stand backstage and watch with Mary Frances had a dance number and he wanted to make sure that every step was correct in it. And if the kids had lines, he wanted to make sure that they were that they had well rehearsed them and they knew them and they delivered them properly. And so that was the Bing Crosby I got to know.

Speaker So there was nothing you say he was receptive to new stuff.

Speaker There was never any of this like, you know. Let me show you how it's done. This is how I've been doing it for years.

Speaker Never, never really. He was so accepting and, you know, I used to love rehearsing with him because, first of all, you pick it up rapidly and he was very enthused about it. He would get into character, you know, very quickly if there was a character to be played and.

Speaker He just enjoyed the process and so were you were there at the fiftieth anniversary taping?

Speaker Yes, I was. So did you write arrangements for him, more script, script or the script? It's a really good show. Oh, thank you.

Speaker It's a really, really, really, really holds up.

Speaker And the numbers are great, too. So you were backstage when you felt.

Speaker I was. Ten feet away. I was right stage right in the audience. Just next to the orchestra pit. And I was literally that close when I saw him walk along the apron there, missed the step and went right into the pit, which is about a 10 foot drop. And I was that close to it. And I couldn't get much closer unless I was in the percussion section. And so it was still alive. Yes. Yes.

Speaker Right. So everybody rushed the stage.

Speaker Yes, everybody well, they rushed the orchestra pit because that's where he was. But yeah, and the paramedics, you know, it was. Nobody quite knew what was how much damage was done at the beginning, you know, when the paramedics came, but he was he was able to speak and he was conscious. I don't think he ever lost consciousness. And they took him off in a in an ambulance. And here's another interesting sidelight about being.

Speaker I'm sure in that hospital stay where he was for a fairly decent amount of time. He must have gotten on a rough estimate, 50000 letters and telegrams and good wishes and stuff like that and. I'm not saying he answered all of them personally, but a goodly share of the people, whoever wrote him would get a personal response and not with a stamped signature or something that he would say. Thank you very much for your thoughts. Love Bing Crosby.

Speaker He would he would personalize each little letter. And he had a wonderful vocabulary. You know, he was he was very like I said, he had a wonderful, articulate sense of verbiage. And, you know, I have letters from him. But one in particular at that time, he he wrote me from the hospital and a thank you note saying how much he was sorry the show ended as it did, but how much he appreciated the show and everything. And and that's the side of being that I don't think, you know, people know is that he was personally involved with people at that stage in his life.

Speaker The how did you come to work with him in the first place?

Speaker The first show I did with with Bing was a special called Calling It. And that was it, it was a special that. We did with Bernadette Peters and Flip Wilson were the guests. And here's an interesting sidelight. I don't know if you've heard this before, but Flip Wilson had this character named Geraldine and Geraldine used to dress in full drag when when he she did the character, but in rehearsals. He never did the costume, he just did the voice, and Bing was not aware that Flip Wilson, when he did Geraldine, would come out in full drag. And at the time, I guess it was the dress rehearsal. And Big was seated in I guess it was a nightclub, I'm not I don't recall the setting, but he was seated at a table with his back to the stairs where Flip came down as Geraldine.

Speaker And.

Speaker Bing had never even imagined that that's what he was. He just thought this was a guy who used a woman's voice. Well, when he heard the voice and he turned around and he saw flip, there was this most surprised look on his face. And we I think we had to stop the tape. And he said, I had no idea you were going to do that. Well, finally, he got used to it.

Speaker But I mean, that first take was just wonderful. Is it? Did you grow up listening to. I grew up listening to to Bing Crosby, yes, I. I was a fan of everything from the forties, and that era was was I mean, he was the biggest thing around, as everybody knows, and he had such charm. On-Screen Charm and offscreen charm. And whenever the newsreels would pick him up, he was just delightful. He was it's a wrong analogy, but he was the Dean Martin of his time where you got the feeling that I could sit down with this guy and chat with him and be very comfortable. Even as a young as I was a youngster, I would feel bad about him. And most people did. They felt that he was of the people and he never lost that image. And when I finally got a chance to work with him, it was a delightful experience. You know, I can I can never remember it being anything less than pleasurable. The wonderful thing about Mr. Crosby was that you got the feeling that you could sit at a bar with him and be extremely comfortable like you were in the neighborhood, he was, to use a phrase, he was like the Dean Martin of his time. There was a relaxed atmosphere that he brought with him, even in a work situation. But when you saw him on screen or you saw him in the newsreel or something, he looked like a guy who you could be friends with.

Speaker Did you as a kid, did you go see the bottle, Big Brother?

Speaker Yes, I didn't make it a point, but if it was playing at the old theater on 64, a street in the Bronx, I would go see it. I wouldn't avoid it. I also would see Going My Way and the bells of St. Mary's and all those things in culture. Yeah, well, from the Bronx, what do you expect?

Speaker But did you have any. As a kid, what did you make of those Bobby Ball.

Speaker Was it kind of, uh, I don't know if you were in the see that it was kind of like the equivalent of Three Stooges for you or.

Speaker No, it was it was just two guys having fun, and I years later, I ended up working with Bob Hope to I did his 90th birthday party in a couple of specials with him and. And I might have written some speeches when being passed away. Bob did some tributes for him and that was the feeling that you had, that these were two very bright, very sharp guys who enjoyed putting each other on and who enjoyed topping each other. And Dorothy Lamour was very lucky to be in the middle of that.

Speaker Joe, did you do you recall the kids, your parents have filed records? No, on the radio. Just on the radio.

Speaker And what's fascinating to me is an interesting point that. I seem to remember songs and lyrics that I might have heard once or twice on the radio 70, 60 years ago, and there's no reason for me to recall those songs in their entirety. And yet we have a culture. Then we if you listen to something on the radio, it really made an impression on you. And there was the things called the hit parade, which used to just print lyrics of songs and you could, you know, buy it once a month or you'd watch the hit parade and you'd see Snooki, Lanson and later Sinatra and Dorothy Collins singing these songs. And you wouldn't hear them more than once. Or if you went to a Broadway show and you heard a song that was really, you know, something buried in the second act somewhere. And you go home and and you'd remember that and you'd remember the words for some reason I still find in the shower sometimes I'm singing songs I haven't sung in, you know.

Speaker In 60 years, maybe. So as a kid growing up, I mean, and even into adulthood is I mean.

Speaker Is it safe to say he was always there? He was always the biggest star?

Speaker You know, sort of a constant yes, I think he probably was. Well, I think statistics will bear that out. He was probably the biggest grossing money making star for many, many years, you know, during those years and. I can't imagine anyone else who ran the gamut of venues from the movies and later on, you know, like Hollywood Palace and television and radio and records and, you know, in the early days of when he sang with the Rhythm Boys, with Al Roker and with Paul Whiteman's band, I mean, it was always that looseness, that quality about being that just made him very attractive to the public.

Speaker And they would buy just about anything he did, even, you know, playing against Grace Kelly, where he was the drunken actor. And and, you know, you bought that, too. He was a wonderful actor because he was, number one, a wonderful reactor. And number two, he was able to bring to any role a sense of himself and you would buy into it. He had the sense, the sensibility when he was with the rhythm boys, he was doing scat, who know who was doing scat, Cab Calloway, maybe nobody else was was doing that. And it might have been because he forgot the lyrics. But I'm not going to point a finger at this point in time. But he always had a great feel for free jazz and for jazz musicians. One of the interest I just remembered, I did the first show.

Speaker I did with Pearl Bailey. How series and being with a guest and Andy Williams, who is a guest, and Louis Armstrong.

Speaker And I wrote a number for them called I Don't Want to sing that song, and it was basically the three guys saying, we're locked in, I'm locked into the Moon River. You're locked into when the blue of the night and he does hell out, you know, so and that was the essence of the song.

Speaker And being an Andy horse, it perfectly prepared. And then Pearl, of course, came in at the end and.

Speaker Destroyed them all, but Bing and Andy knew their parts. And Louis was a little shaky by then, it was later on in his career. But there again, being was so solid, you know, just you could count on him, you didn't have to look around and see if he's there, you knew he was there. And Andy, too. I worked a lot with Andy over the years.

Speaker And two solid performers is a good thing with do as a jazz singer. That would the final scene behind the.

Speaker He was behind the beat. Yeah, that was one of the things he would do and. Yeah, there was just a freedom in whatever he did, it was just so loose and so easy and so. You know, you felt like you have his hands in his pocket and take a puff on the pipe in between phrases, you know, and this is a bit of a myth because you were there.

Speaker I mean, he made it look so easy, but in fact, it was a good amount of rehearsal.

Speaker Yes, he he would come in prepared. He was. Oh, I've never known him to show up saying, all right, what are we doing today? He would have the script locked in and he knew what to say, how to say it when the song came and how to deliver the song and what the circumstances were around the scene. He was such he was the consummate pro and, you know, and yet carrying off this thing, like he might have just it just occurred to him to say these lines, you know, it was a delight, you know, as a writer to put words in his mouth. It was always a pleasure. You knew he would deliver it just as you wrote it or thought about it or hoped it would be and rarely was with a no performance.

Speaker Yeah, well.

Speaker I can't answer that beyond anything. It was 1977. That's a long time in music history. I don't think you hear Ella Fitzgerald played that much on the radio. So not as a phenomenon all all his own. I mean, he has stations that play him 24 hours a day. And I work with with Mr. Sinatra to also a charismatic character, much like being actually the same kind of. But there's an intensity signature that I never got from being. I don't know why, because he has this tremendous catalog of music that everybody should be listening to. I mean, you can probably get him on. You know, Time Warner has music channels and you'll pick him up every once in a while. And if you just hear it, you hear what what a special musician he was. In addition to being a fine singer, he was a musician with with a great grasp of how to deliver a song and how to interpret a lyric and. I can't account for popularity anymore, I can account for some of the successes today that are selling.

Speaker You know that in relation to Sinatra, would you agree with Keith? What you said, but also he doesn't have that sort of neurotic undercurrent that senator or even like Judy Garland have, right. It's just not that there's no eleven o'clock number with him, right?

Speaker It's hard to say, you know, when when you're around, Mr. Sinatra. Yes, there's always a tension, there's always a fear that. There'll be an explosion of some sort and you won't know what's going to take it off, you know, I've spent. Days, weekends out at Rancho with him in a relaxed situation, and even there, you never knew. I don't think you ever got that feeling with being if you if you were a guest in his house, you never thought he's going to turn on me.

Speaker If I say something wrong, you know, he would always be the affable, charming gentleman. Now, Senator could charm the pants off you if he chose and if he wanted to, he he would go out of his way to make sure you were the center of the moments. Attention. But like I say, you never knew if something bothered him that had nothing to do with you, it could turn on a dime and blue eyes would become steely blue eyes.

Speaker And whoever was in in the line of sight was not comfortable. But I never got that feeling with being not that I spent so much time on a personal level with him, but I always got the feeling that I could go to his house and sit in on in the living room and chat with him.

Speaker And no matter what happened, he would remain calm and affable and delightful and have stories to tell and would appreciate whatever you said and laugh at your jokes and just be the perfect host.

Speaker Uh, Jägermeister said.

Speaker Being who you also puts you on an edge in a certain way.

Speaker OK, huh? Yeah, it could be, but when Mr. Sinatra was being charming vocally, he could charm the pants off you. He really could use some of his love songs that the best love songs ever recorded, you know, but like you say, there was an edge to him. He did a show once. I did Sammy Davis series in New York. And Frank was the guest. And everyone was just terrified till he got there. And if he would be happy and whatever and accommodated what and if he liked the material and if everybody was on edge and he did, he sang Luck Be a Lady. And I remember Quincy Jones was conducting the orchestra at that time.

Speaker And he the camera went on and he turned around, he said Quint's and he snapped his finger and the orchestra and as if God said, let there be light, you know, I mean, it was that electricity, which I don't think you would get along with Bing, you know, but there's always a signature like, yeah, he brings that with him. And electricity means you can either be warmed or lit or burned, you know.

Buz Kohan
Interview Date:
2014-06-03
Runtime:
0:27:57
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Buz Kohan, Bing Crosby Rediscovered." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 03 Jun. 2014, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1150
APA CITATIONS:
(2014, June 03). Buz Kohan, Bing Crosby Rediscovered. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1150
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Buz Kohan, Bing Crosby Rediscovered." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 03, 2014. Accessed December 06, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1150

© 2021 WNET. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.