Regis Philbin owes showbiz career to Bing Crosby
Published Tuesday, December 6, 2011 11:21AM EST
When Regis Philbin was a boy of six, he sat in the kitchen of his family's home listening to Bing Crosby songs on the radio. Crosby was a big Hollywood star and Philbin was just a kid living on Cruger Avenue in the Bronx. Even so, that special nightly half hour left Philbin feeling like he and Bing were "truly friends."
That's when Philbin's love for the entertainment business began.
With that memory, the talk show host known around the world as "Reege" begins his new memoir, "How I Got This Way."
In it, Philbin looks back on his 50 years in show business and the nearly 17,000 hours he spent on television working on programs such as "The Joey Bishop Show," "Live with Regis and Kelly," "America's Got Talent" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
Philbin also pays tribute to the people who changed his life with their friendship and wisdom, including George Clooney, Donald Trump, Jack Nicholson, David Letterman, Howard Stern, his longtime co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Kelly Ripa, his wife Joy and others.
On Tuesday, Philbin talked about his book and the start of his remarkable career with CTV Canada AM's Beverly Thomson.
Philbin's emotions were unmistakable as he recounted the moment after his graduation from Notre Dame when he told his parents he wanted to be in show business.
"I was afraid to tell them or anyone else because I didn't think I had the talent or what was required to be a success in that business. I thought they would worry about me," said Philbin.
Before his parents arrived, Philbin asked a friend and piano player if he knew the song "Pennies from Heaven," a tune made famous by Bing Crosby in the 1936 film of the same name.
As a kid, Philbin sang that tune with Bing on the radio. He hoped its lyrics would express his own feelings about his showbiz dreams to his family.
The reaction from his working-class parents was a disappointment.
Philbin's mother cried. His father, an Irish boxer and a marine, clenched his fist as his son talked about going to Hollywood.
"They were very unhappy," said Philbin.
Those dreams, however, did not die for Philbin.
During his two years in the U.S. Navy, Philbin continued to dream about a career in show business. But his insecurities about his "talent" nagged him constantly.
Those fears were finally overcome thanks to two tough marines who befriended Philbin.
On Philbin's last day in service, one of the marines came to say goodbye. The man then went next door and asked the tougher marine to have a few words with Philbin.
The in-your-face figure entered the room and asked Philbin what he wanted to do with his life. Philbin replied with his usual lack of confidence.
"Don't you know you can have anything you want in this life? You've only got to want it bad enough," the marine said.
"Now do you want it?"
Philbin hesitated again.
The marine pressed his face closer to Philbin and shouted, "I said ‘Do you want it?'"
"Sir, yes sir," Philbin yelled.
With those words finally uttered aloud, Philbin went outside, jumped into his car and headed for Hollywood.
Philbin's first job was in a Hollywood prop house. But from such humble beginnings Philbin's career was born.
From that first job, Philbin bounced around Hollywood, eventually winding up as Joey Bishop's sidekick on his 1960s' talk show.
Remarkably, Philbin soon found himself sitting next to his childhood idol, Bing Crosby, on the show.
At Bishop's request, Bing sang the Irish lullaby "Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral" to Philbin. Philbin responded by singing "Pennies from Heaven."
"I hadn't sung ‘Pennies from Heaven' since I sang it to my mother," said Philbin.
Crosby jumped in, humming along with Philbin. The next day, Philbin received a telegram from Mercury Records.
"They asked me if I'd like to do an album of Crosby songs. I couldn't believe it," said Philbin.
Those brushes with luck continued throughout Philbin's career.
After "The Joey Bishop Show" was cancelled in 1969, Philbin began hosting local morning shows in Los Angeles and New York.
In 1985, he was paired with Kathie Lee Gifford for the show "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee."
When Gifford left in 2000, she was replaced by Ripa, Philbin's current co-host. The two have spent the past decade interviewing celebrities, bantering about the news and talking about their lives.
That feeling of friendly banter colours the pages of "How I Got This Way." Philbin peppers the book with stories about his close friendship with David Letterman.
He also talks about spending one of the best guys' nights out of his life with Jack Nicholson and how he became friends with Howard Stern after spending time in an elevator with the shock jock.
As Philbin writes:
"I was there almost at the beginning of television…I guess I've learned something more about myself in the process of looking back this way. Learned something more about the people who have influenced me, too. Hindsight can be a great gift. Everyone is just trying to find his or her own path in this world. You can't know what the future holds, but sometimes looking back at the past can help. This is my past. Maybe it can help you, even guide you, and hopefully provide you with a few good laughs."