Fred Waring Jr. is thinking of writing a book. It doesn’t have a title yet but it might as well be Daddy Dearest. “My father,” says the 47-year-old hot dog stand owner and recovered alcoholic, “is not a nice man.”
His father is Fred Waring Sr., the 83-year-old bandleader and creator of the legendary Pennsylvanians. Last July Fred Sr. suspended Fred Jr. from his job as the head of Shawnee Press, the family music publishing company (in Delaware Water Gap, Pa.). A major reason, Fred Jr. says, was his refusal to dismiss his wife from her job in the company. Fred Jr. then sued the company, claiming breach of contract. He was promptly fired. Six months later Fred Jr. opened his hot dog stand, Hungry Fred’s Eat ‘n Run, down the street from Shawnee Press. Early this month his father filed suit to close his son down, charging he had not paid rent on the 2.9 acres owned by Fred Sr., where the hot dog stand is kept. It’s a not very pretty version of Family Feud.
“I don’t want anyone to crap on me anymore,” says Fred Jr. of his suit, the explosive culmination of years of father-son tension. Says Fred Sr.: “I’d beat the hell out of him if I were able.”
Fred Waring Sr. was to the ’30s and ’40s what the Beatles were to the ’60s. Almost single-handedly, “the man who taught America how to sing” brought choral music out of the church and into the mainstream. “I’ve got to hand it to him,” says Fred Jr. “The s.o.b. is a great showman.” The maestro is planning to celebrate his 69th year in show business with a tour this fall.
At 13 Fred Jr. taught himself to play trombone. By 19 he was touring with the Pennsylvanians. He went on to play with Stan Kenton, Henry Mancini and Trini Lopez. But he also went on to become an alcoholic, disrupting his career and his first marriage. At one point he was drinking two quarts of gin a day while feeding a $100-a-day cocaine habit. Things got so bad that he spent two months as a Bowery bum, “one of those wash-your-windshield people.”
It was all brought on, he claims, by the burden of being the namesake of his acid-tongued father. “He never wanted me to succeed,” Fred Jr. says. “He’d introduce me to friends as ‘This is Freddie. He’s failing in school. He can’t keep his pants on straight.’ ”
Bill, Fred’s brother, concedes that their father “was a genius at putting you down.” But he thinks Fred Jr.’s problems are of his own making: “When you’re a failure you blame everyone else,” he told one reporter. Both Bill, 45, a California real estate dealer, and sister Dixie Wilson, 49, have stopped speaking to Fred Jr. “I think the guy’s sick,” says Bill. “My father always bailed him out of trouble.”
In 1980, after nine years of sobriety, Fred Jr. was made the executive vice president of Shawnee Press at a salary of $18,000 a year. He was fired last year, he contends, “because my father wanted me to fail. As long as we weren’t doing well, my old man left me alone.” When Fred Jr. took over, Shawnee was making a modest profit. The company lost substantial sums in the first two years under Fred, but last year it earned $40,000, he says. “The minute it turned a profit he came after me again.” The warring Warings are now awaiting rulings on their six suits and countersuits, which may drag on for a year or more.
As for Fred Sr., he says, “I don’t like to discuss my personal family wars in public.” Though he admits the publicity over the case has cost him sleep, that’s not the octogenarian’s main complaint these days. His left knee is. It has kept Fred Sr., who’s an avid golfer, off the course for the past few weeks. “I’ve got a bum knee,” he says. “That makes two bum things I have.”