One night in 1973, legendary comedian Bob Hope sneaked into the NBC studios to attend a taping of The Dean Martin Show, where fellow mirthmaker Don Rickles (who we sadly said good bye to this month) was appearing. The studio audience applauded wildly upon spotting Hope, and when the applause had died down Rickles cracked: “Well, the war must be over.” Despite a lengthy show business career that encompassed stage, screen, radio and TV, the jokester born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903 established a legacy “performing United Service Organizations (USO) shows to entertain active duty American military personnel (he made 57 tours for the USO between 1941 and 1991),” as referenced at Wikipedia. I don’t have the quote handy (nor can I give proper attribution, sad to report) but the old joke went something like “It’s not officially a war until Bob Hope shows up.”
Hope never wavered from his earnest belief that “GIs are the greatest audiences in the world,” and I take him at his word that he was sincerely enthusiastic about the goodwill that resulted from his many trips overseas. But a comedian also thrives on being loved and adored, and a complicated man like Bob (once described by his one-time manager Elliott Kozak as “the most self-centered man” he’d ever known) no doubt fed on the approval from what he admittedly referred to as “captive audiences.” (My comedy idol Fred Allen once joked that his rival “reeked of” self-confidence.)
|Santa, Linda Bennett, Dick Albers, Ann-Margret, Bob Hope|
By the mid-1960s Hope was one of the wealthiest men in America and one of the largest private landowners in California. Radio star, television star, movie star—he’d achieved every possible show business goal. There was nothing left. And without ambition driving him, the quality of his comedy plummeted. He was still doing up to six television specials each year, but he was phoning it in.
|Bob channels Maynard G. Krebs.|
|Lana Turner, Les Brown, Bob|
BOB: Les, have you been making overtures to Miss Turner?
LES: Bob…I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my career…
BOB: You wouldn’t, eh…well, have you been making goo-goo eyes at Miss Turner?
LES: Bob, I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my career…
BOB: Was that you in the hall in the hotel last night singing Fly Me to the Moon through her keyhole?
LES: Bob, I told you—I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my career…
LANA: Les…honey, why don’t you meet me after the show and we’ll have a nice, long talk…?
Brown glances at Bob…then glances at Lana…then breaks his baton in two, hands it to Bob, and walks off the stage arm-in-arm with Lana. Doris Day credits Bob Hope with teaching her everything she knows about comedy, and it’s nice to see Les stuck around for a few classes, too.
|Show business nepotism: a young soldier asks Bob if he can take a photo of one of the girls for the camp newspaper. (That solider is Tony Hope, Bob's son.)|
|Peter Leeds then informs Bob there is no camp newspaper. ("It's too piercing, Bob...too piercing.")|
|Something new has been added in the form of TDOY fave Jerry Colonna.|
BOB: Pardon me, sir, but—who are you?
JERRY: I’m the base psychiatrist…
(Wild applause from crowd)
BOB: Well, you don’t look like a psychiatrist to me—I have a hunch you’re a fraud!
JERRY: That’s me—Sigmund Fraud!
BOB (to the audience): I think he shrank his own head… (To Colonna) What are you doing on a couch in my audience?
JERRY: Can you think of a better place to sleep?
|A nice moment: Bob gets a hug from his son Kelly, who's stationed at a nearby base. (Bob: "He's in civvies...I hope he's not AWOL...")|
|I wasn't able to get a better screen grab of this...but that old fossil is four-star admiral John Sidney "Jack" McCain, Jr. His son is John III, currently the senior U.S. Senator from Arizona...and also an old fossil.|
|Les, Bob (not less Bob)|
|They pre-empted The NBC Wednesday Night Mystery Movie for this? Snoop Sisters fans revolt!|
|Redd Foxx, Bob|
BOB: Come on—crank it up and let’s get started here, huh?
REDD: Okay…if you want to work a man who’s old and…sick…and tired…
BOB: If you’re sick, how did you get in the Navy?
REDD: Instead of a physical, they gave me an autopsy…
BOB: Hey—can you imagine giving a man with my I.Q. a job like this?
REDD: Well, what’s your I.Q.?
REDD: Twenty-three? I didn’t know you were a college man…
|I realize I'm the only one who's going to find this amusing...but this lookalike duo from Louisville, KY are Cyb and Tricia Barnstable. The twin sisters were later regulars (as The Bettys) on the short-lived sci-fi sitcom Quark.|
|Khrystyne Haje, Bob|
|Ann and Bob duet on The Two of Us in the 1969 special...|
|...and Bob and Ann Jillian reprise the tune in 1991.|
|Barney Dean (behind Bob), Jerry, Tony Romano (behind Frances Langford), Patty Thomas|
If you’re a fan of classic television, Bob Hope Salutes the Troops is a disc you’re going to want in your collection; it’s the kind of variety special that they literally don’t make any more, though my strong advice would be to watch these telecasts sparingly as Bob likes to recycle jokes from time to time. Considered by many to be the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, the comedian demonstrates that through his tireless efforts overseas for many so far from home “there was no one like Hope for the holidays.”