Her character in Dallas may have shot JR Ewing, but Mary Crosby will always be known as the daughter of the man who sang ‘White Christmas’, writes.
The honeyed croon is instantly recognisable fluttering from the hotel speakers. The song is ‘White Christmas’. The voice,of course, is Bing Crosby. It manifests, as if from on high, as I wait to meet the late song-and-dance man’s daughter, Mary.
This feels like a coincidence though, really, how can it be? It’s December, which means somewhere on the planet, ‘White Christmas’ is always playing.
Mary Crosby has lived with that ubiquity all her life. She was 18 when her father suffered a heart attack after 18 rounds of golf in Madrid. It was October 1977. A few weeks later, Christmas loomed and ‘White Christmas’ was everywhere. Mary’s private grief was refracted through one of the most beloved song of the 20th century.
“I was heartbroken,” says Mary, now aged 60 and famous in her own right for playing Kristin Shepard on Dallas in the early 1098s.
I was also happy. Really, I was torn. I was so happy to hear him. To know people were listening. But I really missed him so much. I was so young, just 18. A puppy, really. Of course, when you lose a parent it doesn’t matter how young or old you are
She is in Ireland on a quick publicity trip. A new collection of her father’s Christmas classics has just gone top 20 (and top 10 in the UK). Bing At Christmas features, among other favourites, ‘Sleigh Ride’, ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ and, of course, ‘White Christmas’. There is new accompaniment by the LondonSymphony Orchestra, which has previously had success sprucing up Elvis, Roy Orbison and others.
Mary and the Crosby family have become more forthright about their father’s music, she explains. Several years ago they realised he was in danger of sliding into quasi- obscurity. His legacy would not look after itself. They needed to actively engage with it. So they signed a deal with Decca Records to present his music in a new setting for a new audience. Bing At Christmas is the latest product of that collaboration.
“People are easily forgotten if you don’t do something about it,” says Crosby. “What we were experiencing is that you would always hear him at Christmas. You wouldn’t really hear him any other time.”
Crosby is the daughter of the singer’s second wife, Kathryn. By his own admission, Bing was too busy being a movie star when his first family was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s. Second time around he was determined to be there for his kids.
“He was fairly retired when we came around,” says Mary. “I got a lot of time with him. He wasn’t at the top of the heap working constantly. He made a choice to be in a different place. We reaped the benefits.”
She was at Elstree Studios in London a month before Crosby’s death for his famous duet of Little ‘Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth’ with David Bowie. Mary knew who Bowie was. Her father was less au fait. Bowie, for his part, was clearly nervous about teaming up with a giant of old Hollywood.
“We had no idea how it was going to go. David Bowie walked in wearing a full-length mink coat with this woman. She had a full-length mink coat to. And they had matching make-up. Bowie was such a musical master. They got to the piano and dad took one look at him. Once it was about the music they connected and soared.”
The Bing Crosby she knew was a humble man, she says. He was almost shy — certainly not one to dominate the room. “He described himself as an average guy who could carry a tune,” she says. “Now in fact he was extraordinary. But really under the radar about things.
“There were a lot of things we wouldn’t find out about until later. He was a staunch Catholic. When he recorded ‘Silent Night’ he decided he wasn’t going to make any money off it as it was a religious song. All the profits went to charities cross the world. Nobody knew about that.”
He was proud of his Irish heritage, too. Growing up outside SanFransisco, the family always had Irish nannies. As a teenager Mary spent a summer in Kerry with the family of one of their minders.
I stayed in Castleisland with the Buckley family — our nanny’s family. It was so beautiful. My own kids have grown up thinking they were Irish
Mary had a small part in her father’s Christmas Specials through the 1970s. This allowed her hire an agent and so opened the door to her own acting career. She got her big break in 1979, playing seductress Kristin opposite Larry Hagman’s JR on Dallas.
Kristin was brought in as a minor character. But she soon carved out her place in television history. For it was she who shot JR — as revealed in one of the most watched-ever TVepisodes in November 1980.
“I was flavour of the minute,” she says.
“I got cast on the show when it wasn’t big. I was literally there for the ride as it become more and more popular. It was an exciting rise to fame and we all watched it together.” She had grown up a long way from Hollywood. Her father’s reputation may have opened some doors. But in the end family only gets you so far in Hollywood.
“If you’re not any good you aren’t going to get the job. Nepotism isn’ any good. And that isn’t how dad rolled. Also, I didn’t come to Hollywood until after he died. And I got Dallas despite being Bing’s daughter. They were very concerned that the public wouldn’t accept me doing these nasty, vampy things with JR. They took a chance.”
What would her father have made of her soap opera celebrity?
“He would have been thrilled, as an artist. As a dad, his toes would have curled a little. I”m not sure I could have done those things with JR while dad was alive.”