Newsletter: Fall 2010, Volume 18
|BOOK REVIEW – by Alan
SHAME ! SHAME ! - The Saga of Spade Cooley
In the last issue of the WSMS newsletter my article
was about the proposed book and movie on the life of Spade
Although Susan Van Hecke's book was completed in
2003, neither the
book nor the movie have ever been released. A new book on
Cooley's life explaining the reason for both these projects being
withheld from release, SHAME ! SHAME ! a Saga of Spade Cooley,
Western Swing, is subtitled, The Most Brutal Murder Ever To Occur In
Hollywood and is written by lawyer and later, judge, Robert J. Joling.
According to Robert Joling, a legal arrangement was
made by Spade Cooley while serving a prison sentence for the brutal
murder of his wife. Evidently his manager and close
friend, Eleanor “Bobbie” Bennett made a legally abiding copyright
arrangement insuring that no person can write a book or screenplay
until after Bobbie Bennett writes or authorizes Cooley's life
story. Bobbie Bennett was a respected band
manager whose clients included The Glen Miller Orchestra and later
worked exclusively for Spade Cooley and his Water Wonderland theme park
I find it hard to believe that Spade Cooley could
legally stop his story from being told until his manager/friend told
her version first. However, if this is true, it could explain why
the Van Hecke book and the Dennis Quade movie have been withheld from
Not being a writer, Bobbie Bennett hired a polished
writer to co-author her intended book. After a series of many
tape recorded interviews in which she disclosed intimate details of
Cooley's life, Bobbie suddenly passed away. The tapes of Bobbie
Bennett legally allowed the co-author to proceed with the
book. However, the obscene and vulgar language used by
Bobbie describing Spade's life style concerned him. His
vision was to write the book using this language, leaving the reader to
conjure a mental real life vision. For advice he approached his
long time friend, Judge Robert
Joling. Joling advised against using vulgar language which
he thought would offend many readers. The co-author passed the
interview tapes to Joling asking his friend to write an outline of how
he thought the book should be written. Unbelievably while he was
editing Bobbie's tapes for his version the co-author also died leaving
Joling with Bobbie's tapes and authority to write the first book on
Spade Cooley's life.
I will not go into much detail as the book deals
with the extremely sordid side of Spade Cooley's life and very little
on his music. The only band member even mentioned in the
story is Noel Boggs. Tex Williams, Joaquin Murphey
and other names are not mentioned.
The book tells of Cooley's fortune made from
recordings, movies and especially his TV program which ran for a
successful ten years. The emphasis is on Cooley's dark side
including his heavy drinking, wife abuse and numerous complaints of
carnal knowledge of underage girls and other depravities.
Evidently police corruption protected Spade Cooley
as he regularly played free of charge for benefit shows requested by
Los Angeles Police Dept. He never even received a speeding ticket
during the twenty-four year period of this association with the LAPD.
The big problem started when Spade Cooley invested
his fortune to purchase desert land to develop a Disneyland style theme
park to be named Water Wonderland. This project would
include a large lake, concert hall, resort and housing estate.
Although he owned control of this company, he persuaded many high
profile names to become stockholders creating greater public interest
in his venture. These included, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn,
Jack Benny, Humphrey Bogart, James Garner, Spike Jones and Audie
Murphey. Guest stars on his TV show were offered stock options
instead of appearance fees.
He built a head office at the Water Wonderland site
and put Bobbie Bennett in charge. This enabled him to charge all
his band and TV show expenses to the Water Wonderland
company. It also enabled Spade to charge the costs of his
excessive high living life style to the company. Of course,
all this money was going out of the company and nothing was left for
development resulting in financial ruin.
Spade was always a violent man but this sent him off
the rails resulting in the brutal murder of his wife. He
tied his twelve year old daughter to a chair to watch him kick her
mother to death. His daughter testified against him at his
trial. After the case was over, she posed for over five
hundred photographs pleading to be screen tested for a movie role to
play herself if the story was filmed.
Although the book is full of previously unpublished
information I am very disappointed in the style that it is
presented. Each chapter is in three sections, starting with
Hollywood events of note during the chapter's period. This
is followed by author, Robert Joling's presentation of the story and
finally the edited tape text from Bobbie Bennett's
interview. As this repeats the story as told by
Joling, it becomes tiresome in every chapter. I
assume this was done for legal authentic reasons.
Another major fault is that there are no photographs
in the book. When you consider five hundred photos were
taken of Spade's daughter after the trial, one would expect at least
one to accompany the text.
To sum up, although I found the information
disclosed in the book interesting, I would not recommend it to any
reader expecting a book on the music of Spade Cooley. This
is a story of Spade Cooley, the monster, and not Spade Cooley, the
I purchased Shame!
Shame!: A Saga of Spade Cooley; The King of Western Swing!
Some items of interest ( and new to me) which are
disclosed in the book include the following:
Clark Gable proclaimed Spade Cooley as King of Western
Bob Wills was occasionally calling himself King of Western
Swing. It was Spade's friend Clark Gable who publicly
referred to himself as King of Hollywood and announced that he was
proud to know the King of Western Swing – Spade Cooley. The
publicity of Gable's label caught on with the public causing Bob Wills
to stop using that title.
Mutual vindictive feud Between Spade Cooley and Lawrence Welk -
Probably started because of Lawrence Welk's TV show on a competing
station. Spade viciously hated Welk and subjected him to much
verbal abuse. One day when Welk was on the family's large TV set,
Spade grabbed a shotgun and blasted the picture tube.
Spade Cooley Was one of the Celebrated Hollywood Boozer's Gang.
Spade's closest friends were equally hard
drinking Audie Murphy and Aldo Ray. Others in the drinking
buddies circle included Errol Flynn, Alan Ladd, John Carradine, Spike
Jones and Richard Boone. Alan Ladd and Spade Cooley illicitly
shared prescription drug intake with their hard drink until Alan Ladd
stuck a six shooter in his mouth committing suicide at his sumptuous
Palm Spring's home.
Spike Jones suggested Spade's All Girl Band
After most of his players left the band because of
Spade's violent and abusive behaviour, he found it difficult to get new
performers. His drinking buddy, Spike Jones came up with
the idea of an all girl band. When Spade followed Spike's advice
he hired most of the girls based on their performance in other talents
instead of music.
Spade Cooley Died Without Knowing He was Pardoned By Ronald Reagan
When Ronald Reagan entered politics, not everyone
took him seriously. Spade Cooley assisted him by allowing
him appearances on his TV shows.
After eight years in prison, Reagan repaid past
favours with a Governor's pardon. This was kept secret from Spade
with the intention of announcing his pardon at the end of a Sheriff
Department Benefit Show for which he was released from prison to
perform. He died from a heart attack at an interval before
the intended surprise announcement.
WESTERN SWING MUSIC SOCIETY
3565 CAMBRIDGE STREET
Contact – John York email
or phone: 604-299-2301