Western Swing Music Society

Vancouver, BC Canada

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Newsletter: Fall 2010, Volume 18

BOOK REVIEW –  by Alan Morgan

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 Cooley.  

    Although Susan Van Hecke's book was completed in 2003, neither the book nor the movie have ever been released.   A new book on Spade Cooley's life explaining the reason for both these projects being withheld from release, SHAME ! SHAME !  a Saga of Spade Cooley, King of 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 project.  

    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 release.

    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 musician.  

    I purchased Shame! Shame!: A Saga of Spade Cooley; The King of Western Swing! for $16.95.


    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 Swing.  

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.

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Contact – John York  email or phone: 604-299-2301