Category Archives: Drinking

Bing Crosby goes to prison, takes a wife and moves on

Last week we left Bing developing a following from the younger members of the audience – so much so that he was assigned a key solo spot in a major production number.  The number was ‘Song of the Dawn’ which the Whiteman band filmed in Hollywood in 1930.  But …… things didn’t quite go to plan!

It was the night before the ‘Song of the Dawn’ was to be filmed that things went ‘a little awry’.  Bing had developed a reputation within the Whiteman clan as a fun-loving boozer and womanizer – and this night he was arrested for drunken driving.  Bing was jailed for 30 days and singer-actor John Boles – a Warner Brothers leading man – was brought-in to sing the part.  However – for several of the other numbers in King of Jazz featuring the Rhythm Boys Whiteman arranged to have Crosby brought to the studio under police guard and returned to jail after each day’s shooting ended!  When the film was completed Whiteman left Hollywood and went on a national tour.

The police experience had a sobering effect on the young Crosby and he began to take his career more seriously – particularly with regard to the potential of musical movies.  The group went to work in the Cocoanut Grove nightclub with Gus Arnheim’s orchestra.  There was also another reason for Bing to stay where they were – Miss Wilma Wyatt, a singer known as Dixie Lee!  In September 1930 they married and their unity initiated some ‘interesting’ responses!  News stories had comments such as ‘Rising young Fox star weds obscure crooner’ or, as Bing put it ‘Miss Big marries Mr Little’.

Dixie had played half-a-dozen movies for Fox but soon gave up that career and supported Bing in his.  As a result he worked on improving his breath control and started singing fewer rhythmic numbers and more romantic ballads.  Things now moved on at speed.  He left the Rhythm Boys after he missed a show and the group were briefly put on the blacklist by the musicians union and CBS Radio heard him and offered Bing a network contract.  Wife, brother and Bing moved to New York and, in September 1931 began a nightly 15 minute broadcast over the CBS Radio Network.  As singer-pianist, author and record producer Larry Carr once so aptly put it:

“After six long years of learning and honing his craft, he was an overnight success!”

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Arresting the first drunk driver and the result

It was on Friday 10th September 1897 that a London cabdriver named George Smith drove his taxi into a building and became the first person in Britain to be arrested for drunk driving. He pleaded guilty and was fined 25 shillings. The checking police officers said they ‘knew that Smith was drunk because he acted drunk’ – he had driven that cab into a wall, after all and ‘because he said he was!’

What they lacked, though, was a scientific way to prove someone was too intoxicated to drive, even if he or she wouldn’t admit it.  It wasn’t long before blood tests were introduced – but those were messy and needed to be performed by a doctor.  Then there were urine tests – but those were even messier, not to mention unreliable and expensive.

It was in 1931 that Rolla Neil Harger, a toxicologist at Indiana University in the USA, came up with a solution – a breathalyzer device he called the ‘Drunkometer’. It was simple – all the suspected drinker had to do was blow into a balloon!  The tester would then attached the balloon to a tube filled with a purple fluid – a mix of Potassium Permanganate and Sulphuric Acid – and release the air into the tube.  Any alcohol on a person’s breath would change the colour of the fluid from purple to yellow – and the quicker the change, the drunker the person!

In 1938 Rolla Harger was one of the five people chosen to be on the subcommittee of the National Safety Council that drafted the model legislation that set the blood alcohol content for driving under the influence.  He was awarded the patent in 1936.