Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bing's Birthday Movie: East Side of Heaven (1939)

It's that time of year again. Time to celebrate Bing Crosby's birthday. Whether the reference book designates May 2nd or 3rd in 1903, let's bake that cake, listen to those records and watch those movies.

East Side of Heaven released in 1939 was another one of Bing's personally produced pictures (following Pennies from Heaven), this time at Universal Studios teaming with actor turned director David Butler. It was a happy pairing and Bing and Butler would go on to make If I Had My Way, Road to Morocco and cameos in two Bob Hope flicks, They Got Me Covered and The Princess and the Pirate.

Denny Martin, the Cruising Troubadour
Bing Crosby

Bing stars as Denny Martin employed as a singer with a telegraph company. Delivering a greeting to millionaire curmudgeon Cyrus Barrett Sr. played by the perpetually outraged C. Aubrey Smith (Four Feathers), Denny interferes in a family squabble and loses his position.

Barrett Sr's daughter-in-law Mona played by Irene Hervey (Destry Rides Again) is an old friend of Denny's and he naturally takes up her side. Cyrus Barrett Jr. played by Robert Kent (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo) has started drinking and generally misbehaving. Mona plans to leave him in hopes the shock will convince Jr. he needs to straighten up. The father-in-law gets a court order to keep her from taking their child.

Denny and Mary dream about married life.
Joan Blondell and Bing Crosby

Denny fortunately finds another job where he can vocalize. He is the new cruising troubadour for the Sunbeam Taxi Company. He needs the job especially because circumstances have caused Denny and girlfriend Mary to postpone their wedding four times already!

Mary is charmingly played by Joan Blondell (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). Mary is not as tough a character as Blondell's roles in the earlier part of the decade at Warners, but she's got plenty of sass and spunk, and she and Bing make a great team. They are actually more than a pair, they are a trio. Denny's roommate Nicky is played by Mischa Auer (And Then There Were None) and he is allowed to steal the show to the delight of all. And it is not easy to steal a show from a baby. That's right, a baby!

Baby Sandy

Searching for her husband will take all of Mona's time and energy so she leaves the baby with Denny (well, in his cab) while she follows up a lead on Cyrus Jr.'s whereabouts. Here's where the fun really begins with Denny and Nicky as surrogate fathers. Ten-month-old Baby Barrett is played by Baby Sandy, and that little girl is a cutie. She's playing a boy in the movie because the producers didn't bother to check. Never mind, the kid was a natural. Her father had heard about the casting search and, using his connections as a milkman, included her picture with a delivery for music director Charles Previn. Take that Lana Turner and the soda fountain! Over the next three years, Baby Sandy made seven more pictures and then, like Garbo, disappeared from the screen.

Claudius De Wolfe, radio personality
Jerome Cowan

Lest you think the only villain in the piece is the rich grandpapa, we have Jerome Cowan (The Maltese Falcon) as a radio gossip by the delicious name of Claudius De Wolfe. He lives in the hotel where Mary works the switchboard and is always making unwanted plays for the gal. De Wolfe loathes Denny's singing and takes every opportunity to knock him down. He has his own publicity plans that include the presumed missing Baby Barrett.

Songs in the film are by James Monaco and Johnny Burke. Monaco also has a cute cameo at the beginning of the movie. That Sly Old Gentleman from Featherbed Lane is a lullaby for the baby. East Side of Heaven is a love song to Mary. Sing a Song of Sunbeams nabs the cab company job.

Mary and Nicky get in on the fun!
Joan Blondell, Mischa Auer
Hang Your Heart on a Hickory Limb

Hang Your Heart on a Hickory Limb is the biggest production number. It is a lesson in love sung to Cyrus Jr. at the best restaurant in the movies, The Frying Pan Cafe. Cyrus Jr. has paid some musicians to follow him around playing Melancholy Baby. It's just possible he's feeling a little sorry for himself. Bing sings "Hickory Limb" to liven the mood and is joined by the owner of the cafe, Mrs. Kelly played by singer Jane Jones, whom Bing knew in speakeasy days of yore. In turn, she harmonizes with Rose Valyda and Helen Warner as cooks. The waitresses who join in the chorus are The Music Maids, about to join Bing's Kraft Music Hall radio program. We even get some fancy stepping from Blondell and Auer. It's a dandy!

All's well that end's well.
Bing Crosby, Baby Sandy

Here's Bing with his hated toupee on display. In most scenes, he'd rather be wearing a dashing chapeau like his little co-star. East Side of Heaven was a hit in its day and pleasant escapist fare for current movie fans. You can't go wrong with the terrific cast, swell music and lots of laughs.


  1. Bing wore a wig, huh? Was that common knowledge?

    1. Yeah. He'd often crack wise about what he referred to as the "scalp doily".



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