Friday, January 2, 2015

My review of Going My Own Way by Gary Crosby...

For years, I heard about the controversial book the late Gary Crosby, eldest son of the late Bing Crosby, wrote about his parents.  The book, entitled Going My Own Way, was published in 1983 and was considered a "scathing" account of the reality of what it was like to grow up the son of a big Hollywood star who portrayed himself as the consummate family man.  I am a little too young for Bing Crosby, though I do remember the duet he did with David Bowie back in the 70s...


A classic Christmas duet circa 1977...

I didn't actually see the Christmas special that spawned this version of "The Little Drummer Boy", but over the years, the video has been replayed during the holiday season.  I also remember Mary Crosby, Bing's daughter, who played Kristin Shepard on Dallas and was credited with shooting J.R. Ewing.  Aside from that, I only heard about Bing... and Bill has told me that a few years after Gary Crosby's book came out, the late Phil Hartman, who was then on Saturday Night Live, did a spoof about how when Bing's sons misbehaved, they needed to go have a "talk" in the library.

I was curious about the book and the cultural references to it, so I decided to purchase a used copy.  I recently finished reading Going My Own Way and, I must admit, it was very interesting.  As "scathing" memoirs go, I didn't think it was all that bad.  Gary Crosby was Bing Crosby's eldest son with his first wife, Dixie Lee.  He grew up in a huge house in Hollywood, surrounded by servants, many of whom were black.  Crosby's mother was a strict disciplinarian and a serious alcoholic who relied on an Irish nurse named Georgie to keep Gary and his brothers, Phil, Denny, and Lindsay, in line.

Like his wife, Bing Crosby was also a very strict disciplinarian who strongly believed in employing corporal punishment, strict rules, and verbal abuse to control his sons.  Crosby writes that it was difficult for him to have friends because his parents were so strict.  It wasn't often that he was allowed to bring friends over or go to friends' houses.  Crosby's parents were quick to remind their sons that they were not special simply because they were Bing Crosby's sons.  Though they were educated at private schools, they were not treated differently and didn't hang out with Hollywood types.  Indeed,  from the time the boys were eleven until they were adults, each summer Bing Crosby sent them to work at a ranch he owned.  They learned how to herd cattle and make hay bales alongside men of much more modest means.  Crosby writes that he hated the ranch work because his father forced him to do it, though he might have enjoyed it a lot more if he'd been the one who chose to go.

Gary Crosby had a weight problem when he was growing up.  His backside was wide, which caused his father to refer to him as "bucket butt" or "satchel ass".  According to Gary, Bing would even call his son these names in public, particularly in front of Bing's friends.  Bing Crosby ordered his son to lose weight and would force him to endure weigh ins.  If he didn't lose weight, Gary would get a whipping.   Bing used a belt that had metal studs in it and would beat his boys until they bled.  At the first drop of blood, the beating would stop.  Gary writes that he used to hope he'd bleed early.  


Bing Crosby sings "Silent Night"


Bing Crosby and Gary Crosby perform together...

When Gary became a teenager, he had a strict curfew and would often have to leave social events early in order to appease his father, who would not hesitate to use a belt and verbal abuse to get his point across.  It wasn't until Gary was 18 years old and had finally had enough that the whippings stopped.  By that time, his father had traded the belt for a cane.  I must admit, reading that part of the book resonated with me.  I had a similar experience with my own father, who was also a proponent of physical punishment and last struck me when I was almost 21 years old.  My father was also one to use verbal abuse...  indeed, reading about some of Crosby's experiences rang very true to me, since my dad did a lot of the same things to a milder extent.  Crosby also writes about his father's penchant for womanizing and drinking, as well as holding gifts over his sons' heads in order to control them.  Gary Crosby had his own issues with alcohol and drugs, which he writes about in the book.  He also was one to get in fist fights when the mood struck.

Crosby uses a lot of slang and filthy language in his memoir.  Personally, I wasn't offended by it.  In fact, the slang sort of gave the book a 50s nuance, which makes sense, since Crosby was born in the 30s and would have been a young person in the 50s.  I liked that he included photos, which helped me put faces to his stories.  I also got the sense that despite the abuse, he did love his parents, especially his mother.  He even writes a message to his other siblings, products of Bing Crosby's second marriage to Kathryn Crosby, that the father he knew was not the same man as the father who raised them.  And Crosby even admits that his father passed along musical talent to him and the ranch work gave him useful skills outside of show business.  As one who has a perverse interest in Pat Boone's career, I liked that Gary Crosby also writes about what it was like to work with Boone.  Apparently, Crosby thought Boone was a nice guy and easy to work with, despite his love of "clean livin'."  Pat Boone, as we all know, is also a big believer in spankings.


Gary and Bing sing with Frank Jr.

Gary Crosby's mother died in 1952 of ovarian cancer.  At the time of Dixie Lee's passing, Gary was studying at Stanford University, where he wasn't a particularly good student.  I was moved by how he described his father's pained reaction to his mother's deteriorating condition.  Yes, he writes a lot about how "the old man" abused him and his brothers, but he also somehow manages to give his father a human face.  That's why I say the memoir wasn't that scathing.  Yes, it was probably shocking to those who grew up with Bing Crosby and loved his music, but as someone who also grew up with an alcoholic and occasionally abusive father, I thought Gary Crosby was just being honest.  I think back in the 80s, when this book was originally published, corporal punishment and verbal abuse were much more accepted as normal parenting than they are now.  While I think sometimes Americans are going a little too far in the other direction with how they are parenting their children, as someone who experienced growing up with an alcoholic, I feel like Gary Crosby was very truthful in his account.  He was not just a whiner.  

Gary Crosby died in 1995 of lung cancer.  He was 62 at the time of his death and had married three times.  You can read a chapter of Going My Own Way here.  Here is an article from a 1983 issue of People magazine about Gary's book.    



8 comments:

  1. I read the book masny years ago. I recently saw a documentary on Bing's life in which Kahtryn and the youngest three kids spoke. Mary says she had a one-to-one conversation in which she asked point blank about allegations made in the book. Mary said that Gary told her the publisher wanted sensationalism and so there may be an alement of such in the book but there was truth in all the basic stories.

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    1. That wouldn't surprise me. Of course publishers want things to be juicy so people will be interested. At the same time, so much of what Gary wrote sounded familiar to me, particularly about the verbal abuse.

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  2. My mom's best friend's husband lived from sixth grade or so on in the small and exclusive northern California community where bing and his second wif raised their family. After she married Bing, Kathryn went to college and became both a registered nurse and a credentialed teacher, primarily for the purpose of being a better mother. She was a substitute teacher in the local school system, which only went to grade 8, in that community. According to my mom's friend's husband, the kids were extremely unpretentious and nice. The order or birth was harry. Mary Frances, and Nathaniel, and they were born like bang, bang, bang. mary Frances was extremely intelligent (they were all good students) and ended up graduating a year ahead of her older brother. My mom's friend's husband's claim to fame was that he was once in an acting class with Mary, off, as you mentioned, portrayed the character who shot j.R.

    One slighltly interesting sidelight was that this community as a whole was so exclusive and slightly snobbish that Bing wasn't allowed to buy a membership in the local country club (of which part of the grounds were within this community but none of the buildings because the community disallowed any businesses whatsoever) because he was considered by the establishment of the community to be nouveau riche. He eventually was accepted. My mom's friend's husband caddied there. He said that Bing was considered a nice guy and quite down-to-Earth, but was by no means laid-back in personality, and was known to throw a gold club on occasion if a shot was especially poorly hit..

    Kathryn was a very strict mother, but not to the extent that her kids have turned on her or anything like that.

    The community was so exclusive that virtually evveryone living within its boundaries with kids sent them through the local public school system at least through 8th grade. For high school, they split up into three different high school districts depending upon residential address. The Crosbys went to public high school as well.

    The hearst family lived in this community as well. Patty and her three sisters went to the local elementary school and jr. high, but went, my friend's husband believes, to Catholic high school. My mom's friend's husband said the Hearst girls were not nearly so low-key and unassuming, and may have flaunted their wealth a bit, although their kind of wealth wasn't all that unusual in this little hamlet. The hearst were the most famous of the rich, but not necessarily the number one most wealthy.

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    1. California seems like such a fascinating place. So many celebrities live there.

      It seems like Bing Crosby's second attempt at a family turned out better than his first. But then, his second wife apparently wasn't an alcoholic.

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  3. California contains incredible diversity geographically and culturally. there's the San Joaquin valley, which became heavily populated with Oklahoma immigrants in the dust bwol and still retains much dust bowl flavor, though Hispanics are steadily gaining in population in all parts of the SJV. i lived on the edge of the northern hlaf of the Central valley, right along the edge of the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta. My particular town had a University of California and an educated population, but i wasn't far from some fairly deprived areas.

    The there's all of Los Angeles and its greater metropolitan area, which contains the places where the Hollywood types live, but also major gang terrain. Then there's the extreme north,, where many of the old hippies moved and raised families and continue to grow marijuana. the coastal areas north of LA to Santa Cruz are sort of their own entity - mostly pretty nice. The bay area, which housed the community where the Crosbys lived, has pockets of wealth surrounded by major areas of vast poverty and crime. There's a great deal of natural beauty with the long coastline and the sierra Nevada range. There's also the Mojave Desert. Desert isn't my idea of topographical beauty, but some people love it.

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    1. I hope to visit California someday if only so I can have a burger from In and Out.

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    1. I've heard so much about them. Lucky thing, too, since over MLK, we're going to the city for which burgers were named.

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