Rhonda Fleming, 97, Fades Away

Alias Jesse James, 1959 with Bob Hope

DATELINE: Smart and Lovely

To hear that Rhonda Fleming had passed away was an anticlimax. She had been out of public eye for twenty or thirty years. And her age was given as 97. She was not cheated out of time, but her film career cheated her out of nearly everything else.

In the 1960s when she was fairly done as a smart leading lady, she did not go into a TV series that might have cemented her legacy. Instead, she did stage shows in Vegas for a time and lived out her life in teaspoons of fame.

At her peak, Rhonda’s fiery red hair made her a good second choice to all the roles that went to Maureen O’Hara. Yet, she still managed to play opposite Ronald Reagan four times and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby separately.

If there was a last film recalled about her, it was Alias Jesse James, a cameo-studded Bob Hope western comedy that featured every TV and movie cowboy. She held her own.

Rhonda was never offered much beyond the sensible woman. She was stunning to look at, but played it as equal to any leading man. They must have liked that because so many wanted to appear with her co-star.

Now you may catch her on the cable movie channels. Perhaps one will feature a few of her movies, nothing earth-shattering, something with Charlton Heston or Vincent Price. You have to admire an actress who did her job and was the consummate professional.

We can’t say we’ll miss Rhonda Fleming because she was gone years ago. It’s just another empty spot in the pantheon of old Hollywood.

 

 

Crosby in Search of a Crosby

 DATELINE:Haunted by Uncle Bing

The nephew and godson of Bing Crosby has been documenting his uncle Bingle for decades. Now, he has produced, directed, and written up, all his film records as he tries to uncover the truth behind the legendary crooner.

The film is not merely vanity; it serves a genuine purpose in dissecting a legend. Chris Crosby was close to greatness, and he documents it well.

And Bing has had his share of Mommie Dearest moments. His eldest son Gary wrote a scathing book about his father’s cruelty and bad parenting. A few think he added the worst to sell the book to publishers. Yet Bing was at heart a Daddie Dearest, and nasty too.

Chris Crosby is fairly even-handed, trying to learn how bad his uncle truly was. What he finds from his father Bob Crosby, and Bing’s friends like Bob Hope, Anthony Quinn, Mel Torme, Stewart Granger, Donald O’Connor, Terry Moore, Rhonda Fleming, and many others, is that he was exactly what you saw: an easy-going, charming person with a hard veneer. He was always friendly, but you never broke below the surface.

Like many celebs, he was smart with money, shrewd with people, and kept his foibles well-hidden. Oh, you will hear the stories of his womanizing, his drinking, and his sadistic treatment of his sons (two of whom committed suicide after his death).

You will hear he cut you if you did not adhere to his strict Catholic views. If you were divorced, you may have lost him forever. He went to church every Sunday, and he was secretly charitable to a fault.

Many show biz friends knew the image, and never wanted much more. He never gave more because it was generous in a cut-throat business. He meant it when he sang “White Christmas.”

He died on a golf course in Madrid, whistling and singing, one day after visiting a long-time friend after 20 years. It was spooky.

Chris shows the drickle down talent, watering by generation. He seems to be haunted, if not possessed, by Bing. His sister was less fortunate. When she chose to live with a man they disapproved of, she was kidnapped and given electro-shock treatments.

But, if you were a fan, or a friendly associate, that stuff never intruded on what you saw and knew. Bing was complicated, as they say nowadays.