How I Got This Wayby Regis Philbin
One of the most popular television and cultural icons ever, Regis Philbin has been entertaining television audiences for more than fifty years—as a beloved morning-show host (Live with Regis and Kelly), a nighttime game-show host (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and also as a fixture on national and local late-night talk shows. The/em>/em>… See more details below
One of the most popular television and cultural icons ever, Regis Philbin has been entertaining television audiences for more than fifty years—as a beloved morning-show host (Live with Regis and Kelly), a nighttime game-show host (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and also as a fixture on national and local late-night talk shows. The irrepressible “Reege” has regaled television audiences with his stories for more than half a century, but he’s saved the most hilarious, surprising, heartfelt, and inspiring tales for How I Got This Way. Both a fascinating show business memoir and a delightful primer for living the good life rolled into one, How I Got This Way is Reege being Reege, just the way we love him, as he shares the secrets to success and happiness that he has learned from his innumerable celebrity encounters, his close, personal friendships, and, of course, his relationship with his loving wife and family.
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How I Got This Way
By Regis Philbin
It BooksCopyright © 2011 Regis Philbin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBing Crosby
It all began with Bing Crosby during the Depression of the
thirties. I must have been six or seven years old at the time.
My family lived on the bottom floor of a two- story house on
Cruger Avenue in the Bronx, and every night at 9:30, I sat by
my little radio in our kitchen and listened to a half hour of Bing's
records regularly spilling out over WNEW. His voice was so clear,
so pure, and so warm that after a while I thought of him as my
good friend. Even though he was out in faraway, glamorous Hollywood
and I was in the humble old Bronx, in my mind we truly were
friends and would always spend that special half hour together, just
the two of us.
I listened to those songs of the Depression era and, even as a
kid, I understood that the songwriters were trying to give hope to
a struggling and downtrodden public. I grew to love those lyrics
and what they said to me. I swear to you that those same songs
have stayed with me for the rest of my life, and during various dark
periods when I hit those inevitable bumps along the way, I would
actually sing them to myself. Like "When skies are cloudy and gray,
they're only gray for a day, so wrap your troubles in dreams and
dream your troubles away. . . ." Those were the sorts of lyrics that
helped cheer an entire nation wallowing in hard times together, not
to mention those who experienced bleak moments of their own in
decades to come. Certainly they kept me going. So Bing Crosby
remained a big deal to me his mellow voice, his carefree persona, his
very special aura. Dependable as could be, he was the friend who
could always be counted on to make me feel better.
Now all through high school and college, my parents would ask
me over and over again, "What are you going to do with your life?
What do you want to be?" Well, in my heart I wanted to be a singer
like Bing, but I worried about the reality of that dream. Did I think
for one minute that I had the voice to pull it off? Of course not. It
never occurred to me. I just wanted to be Bing! So I could never
tell them I wanted to be a singer. They might think I was crazy or
trying to achieve the impossible. But I did promise my folks that I
would make my decision before graduating from the University of
During those college years, my hope of becoming a singer did
wane slightly. I majored in sociology and never took a single music
related course, much less any kind of class in public speaking no
confidence for it, none yet I still had a passion for it that burned
Two weeks before graduation, I discovered that one of my friends
could actually play the piano. Gus Falcone was his name, and I
explained my awkward situation to him. This would be the last chance
to tell my parents my long- held secret, and with Gus at the piano,
I could show them it wasn't altogether that impossible as a professional
dream. Over and over, for two weeks, we rehearsed one of
Crosby's great songs, "Pennies from Heaven," in the campus music
hall. Finally, the day before graduation, my folks arrived at Notre
Dame, thoroughly shaken up by a severe thunderstorm they had
encountered a half hour outside of South Bend. They got out of
the car, already off balance due to the bad weather, but I bravely
proceeded anyway: "Mom, Dad don't say anything. You've waited a
long time for this, so now I'm going to tell you what it is I want to do
for the rest of my life. Come with me."
We walked across the campus. My parents looked relieved. They
were understandably eager to hear about my career decision. Gus,
meanwhile, was waiting for us at the piano in one of those rehearsal
rooms. We walked in and, right on cue, he started to play "Pennies
from Heaven." This, after all, was the audition of my life. We got
off to a fairly good start. I thought maybe this was actually going
to work until I saw my mother's eyes brimming with tears and my
father's eyes filled with bitter disappointment. I realized I couldn't
do this to them. This wasn't the reason they had sacrificed so much
to send me to college. The song came to an end. There was silence.
Deadly silence. From the two people who naturally meant the most
to me in the world. I admitted immediately that this was all wrong,
that it was a silly idea. They had paid four years of tuition at one of
the finest universities in the country . . . and I wanted to be a singer?
It was ridiculous. I said, "I'm so sorry, let's try to forget it. I'll find
something else to do, maybe in television, hopefully." TV, after all,
was suddenly becoming a hot and clearly unstoppable medium.
I did, of course, eventually find my way into television, taking all
kinds of jobs, climbing the ranks rung by rung. Anyway, it was
several years later, when I was working nationally in Hollywood as the
announcer and second banana on ABC- TV's late- night entry, The
Joey Bishop Show, that I had my big moment. To help Joey relax
before every show, he and I had a private daily ritual of walking from
our studio on Vine Street to Hollywood Boulevard and back again.
During those strolls we talked about everything, until finally one
afternoon we got around to that old topic "What did you want to be
when you were a kid?" He told me that, at ten years of age, he would
entertain people on the street corners of Philadelphia, telling jokes
that left them rocking with laughter. He knew then that he wanted
to be a comedian. And so I confessed my dream: I told him that, at
the age of six, I decided I wanted to be Bing Crosby that I knew
every lyric of every song Bing had ever sung, that nothing had made
me happier than singing along with Bing on the radio.
So it had to happen: three months later, Bing was booked to
be a guest on our show. I remember spotting him backstage this
easygoing but towering legend wandering our hallways and I truly
couldn't take my eyes off him. Unfortunately, there were no plans for
him to sing that night; he'd simply agreed to come on the show as a
panel guest, along with his beautiful wife, Kathy, and share some of
his great old stories, then leave. But it was all still terribly exciting.
Especially for me. Especially when he walked out and sat right next
to me. My whole life flashed before me thirty years prior to all this
I was just a dream- filled kid, freezing on those cold Bronx winter
nights, listening to Bing sing on my little radio. How did all this
happen? Who could have imagined that now, so many years later, I
would be sitting next to Bing Crosby on a big network TV show in
Hollywood?! It's one of those times when you have to pinch yourself
in order to believe it.
The show's producers, of course, would have loved for Bing to
sing anything that night, but they were afraid to ask him. Then, as
the interview progressed, Joey had an idea. He would try to talk him
into it by using me as his pawn, right on the air! "Bing, see this kid,"
Joey said, nodding toward me. "He's the biggest fan you ever had.
It would be the biggest thrill of his life if you would sing a song for
him. How about 'Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral'?" I was getting nervous.
How would Bing react? Well, he turned, looked directly at me, and
simply sang the song a cappella. He sounded great. It was so exciting,
my head was spinning. How could I tell him what he had meant
to me all these years? I should have, but I couldn't.
After the applause, Joey continued. He hadn't had enough. He
said, "Bing, this kid knew all your songs when he was a little boy." I
couldn't believe he was going to tell that whole embarrassing story,
but thank God he didn't. Instead he said, "Regis would now love
to sing one of your songs to you!" Is he nuts? I thought. Is he looking
for a few laughs at my expense? How do I get out of here? Bing
turned and gave me a pleasant enough look but straight at me. I can
still see those steely blue eyes. He didn't know what to expect either.
It had been nearly fifteen years since I had sung "Pennies from
Heaven" with my pal Gus at Notre Dame for my bewildered parents.
I was nervous, but when was I ever going to get a chance to sing to
Bing Crosby again? So I went for that song with all I had, even
including the little known opening verse. I looked right at Bing, singing
every word of it directly to him. I could hear the band, Johnny
Mann and His Merrymen, struggling to find my key for support.
Two great musicians were the first to get into it, God bless them:
Herb Ellis on guitar and Ray Brown on bass. And Bing himself even
joined in with some notes here and there. It was a supreme moment
in my life. I'll never forget it. The next day, believe it or not, I actually
received a recording contract from Mercury Records. Would I
want to do an album and include some of Crosby's songs? I said yes,
of course, but I was terribly self- conscious about the whole thing.
Nevertheless, the first track I recorded for them was (you guessed
it!) "Pennies from Heaven."
I never saw Bing Crosby again in person. Foolishly, I was too
intimidated to call him and say thanks for playing along with me
on that special night. Ten years later he died of a heart attack on a
golf course in Spain. It hit me hard, just like losing a lifelong friend.
To have that magnificent voice silenced forever I couldn't believe
it. I have never forgiven myself for not reaching out to tell him what
a thrill it was to meet him and what he'd meant to me growing up.
About two years ago, however, I finally had the unexpected privilege
of touring the very places where Bing had grown up. My concert
booking agent from William Morris Endeavor, Kenny DiCamillo,
brought me an offer from an Indian casino near Spokane, Washington.
Because it's such a long haul from New York to Spokane,
he wondered if I'd be interested in making that far- off trip. "Spokane!"
I said. "Why, that was Bing Crosby's hometown!" I told him
of course I'd love to go there to do a show, but more so to explore the
actual home Crosby grew up in and Gonzaga University where Bing
completed his college career. Before we even left New York, Kenny
had made arrangements for me to visit the Crosby home, which during
Bing's youth was located across the street from the university but
now has been absorbed right onto the expanded campus grounds.
Every morning Bing would pop out the kitchen door of that house
and go whistling all the way to his classes.
Of course, Gonzaga remains one of the finest Jesuit universities
anywhere and the Jesuits, as you've probably heard, are known
for their teaching prowess. Crosby was a terrific example of their
schools' graduates. Not only was he a very good student, bright and
well mannered, but it was at Gonzaga that he developed his wonderful
vocabulary and elocution, which helped him deliver those
songs so memorably. You can hear it in his always precise inflections,
whether in song or in film or in later television appearances.
He attributed all that smooth expression and eloquence to those
exacting Jesuit teachers.
Anyway, Kenny and I rolled into Spokane after a long night's
drive through the far Northwest. Then we checked into the historic
Davenport Hotel in the heart of town. Looking out of the window of
my room, right there across the street I saw the glittering marquee
of the Bing Crosby Theater. This was the same theater I read about
in Gary Giddins's fine Crosby biography, A Pocketful of Dreams.
Back then it was called the Clemmer Theatre; Bing, in fact, worked
there as a stagehand at the age of fourteen and witnessed the great
Al Jolson giving one of his typically thrilling performances on that
stage. The young Crosby was knocked out by the unmatchable way
Jolson dominated that auditorium. Four years later, Bing happened
to be working backstage again, picking up a few bucks, when Jolson
returned to Spokane and was still pure dynamite in front of that
Clemmer Theatre audience. More than ever, Jolson had at that
moment inspired Bing to consider a career of his own in music. The
two of them actually met that night (briefly, I'm sure), never knowing
that in later years they would work together countless times,
performing the most unforgettable duets on Bing's Kraft Music Hall
radio shows. And they were a brilliant match, too: Jolson, dynamic,
dramatic, over the top; and Crosby, laid- back and solid with that
beautiful voice and ability to play perfect straight man for Al, while
still getting his own share of laughs. I remember lying in bed listening
to those shows when I was a kid. I loved them then and still
do, thanks to remastered radio recordings of the two of them live
together in action so long ago.
Excerpted from How I Got This Way by Regis Philbin Copyright © 2011 by Regis Philbin. Excerpted by permission of It Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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