I started attending college at 17 years old and I was far from prepared for the experience. I quit after two years and did about 100 different jobs as we got married at 19 and had our first child when we were 20 years old. After having 3 children, one day I was fired from a job and I had to make a big decision. I decided to return to college and try one more time. However, I was a different student the second time around as I was motivated to find a way to care for my family’s financial needs much better than I had in the past. I became a straight A student while working the graveyard shift at a local radio station.
I applied for every scholarship that I could find. I received several including one that also involved a prestigious summer internship at a television station in Sacramento, California. I was assigned to a live talk show that had impressive ratings and attracted many celebrities as they were selling this and that and promoting here and there. I was, however, a complete country bumpkin among the polished and elite. One’s appearance was very important in that world. I could never quite get over going into the men’s room and seeing everybody putting on their make up before going on air while talking about a particular new foundation they had started using.
Sometimes in the back seat of my car would be a stack of kindling as I would find some at a local mill and I needed to store up for the winter. My car would be parked in the station’s parking lot which was full of Jaguars and Mercedes. My grandfather had also installed a small, rotating house fan in the back seat of my old Ford Fairlane that worked off of a toggle switch to keep the summer air circulating. Yes, I got a lot of strange looks and a few inquiries from the staff, but I was so unique and so unaware of my “brand” that I was a bit popular there for being a lowly college intern.
My task was to research the guest/s and topic/s for 2 of the 5 weekly shows and to provide that information to the 2 hosts of the show. I was also responsible for escorting the guest/s of those shows. I met a variety of people that summer, from politicians to preachers of international fame, and to actors and celebrities. The gay actors, who came in town for the summer theater season seemed to be particularly attracted to me. One of them, a very famous movie star in his day, wanted me to attend his performance and perhaps have dinner with him afterwards. I had kindling to get home and one of the producers explained to me what his motive might have been. I did not have a radar for such things back then.
Bing Crosby had recently died and his wife, Kathryn, was promoting a book she had written about their life together. It was my show to research. I was used to seeing her on my television every Christmas season for the Bing Crosby Family Christmas show. It was quite popular in the day.
Just before she arrived at the station, an assistant director grabbed me by the arm in the control room and said, “Man, I am a big fan of Bing Crosby. You gotta ask her about the poem she read at Bing’s funeral.” He was a bit demanding about it all and I said, “Okay.”
As I greeted Mrs. Crosby, I led her into the “green room” where guests wait for their time to go on stage…just Mrs. Crosby and me, the guy with a homemade fan in his car full of kindling. She was 100% pure class, royalty in an American sense, and she and I had not a single thing to talk about. The minutes alone with her felt like…years. I think she might have thought I smelled bad too. The pressure got to me and trying to find something to talk about I suddenly asked, “Would you mind telling me about the poem you read at Bing’s funeral?” I actually said “Bing” as if I was his golfing buddy.
She stared at me. Her face looked like a porcelain doll. No wrinkles, just a smooth, glass like surface covered her face as she continued to just stare at me. I thought, “Oh shit, you peon. You just pissed off Bing Crosby’s wife.” But, suddenly, her whole demeanor changed, softened, although you could only tell from her eyes because the porcelain surface did not move. And, then, she began reciting the entire poem… with feeling. And, a tear came down her cheek. And, she continued to recite the poem. And, more tears came down her cheeks. As she recited more, the make-up dam broke, and crevices began appearing with additional tears. Creeks and streams of tears ran into larger rivers of tears. It was a flood.
I sat there stunned and emotionally touched – but mostly deeply worried about the future of my internship. As she concluded the poem, and now she absolutely didn’t give a rat’s shit what she looked like, almost sobbing, a knock came on the door and the stage manager said, “You’re on Mrs. Crosby.” Now, it was the stage manager’s turn to be stunned as he looked at a totally unprepared, make-up-wise and emotionally-wise, guest who was about to go on live television and he shot me an accusatory look, like a what have you done to Bing Crosby’s widow look? I just shrugged my shoulders and tilted my head as if to say, “Beats me.”
They got her together and she did a great job talking about the book and her life with her husband. I stayed hidden in the green room taking deep breaths. As the show ended, the assistant director found me, “Did you ask her about the poem?”
“Oh, yes, I did. Yes, I did…”