Friday, January 9, 2015

The New Bob Hope Book by Richard Zoglin

With his topical jokes and his All-American, brash-but-cowardly screen character, Bob Hope was one of the few entertainers to achieve top-rated success in every major mass-entertainment medium of the century, from vaudeville in the 1920s all the way to television in the 1970s. Some credit him as inventing modern stand-up comedy. Behind the scenes, Hope was a savvy businessman, investing his income in real estate, building his own brand name, providing entertainment to a mass audience at Army camps across the station, and helped numerous charities across the nation.

Simon and Schuster recently published a new biography about Bob Hope, authored by Richard Zoglin, theater critic for Time magazine. From his personal life in England, where he was born, vaudeville, Broadway, radio, Hollywood, providing entertainment for servicemen overseas, television, golfing and Vietnam, Bob Hope's life is chronicled from day one to his last day on Earth -- two months before his 100th birthday. "He had, unfortunately, stuck around too long," Zoglin remarks. And his observations are right on the money. Hope wanted to perform for an audience and servicemen provided a larger applause from the balcony than any radio microphone could offer. "For Bob Hope, who loved entertaining, craved live audiences, and could not conceive of a life in which he was not constantly in the public eye, retirement was never a serious option," Zoglin writes.

As Larry Gilbart once remarked, Bob Hope needed the audience and the audience needed him. He couldn't stay home and relax with a newspaper. He had to get out on the road and entertain. Watching Hope in the 1980 TV broadcast, "Bob Hope for President," you could see Sammy Davis, Jr. perform "I Can Do That" (from A Chorus Line) and steal the evening, generating a standing ovation from the military personnel. Hope comes out almost immediately to perform a soft-shoe routine with Davis, but it's not the same -- Hope wanted the spotlight and Davis stole it. I couldn't help but think how sad it was that Hope kept trying to do television specials for the purpose of keeping active. He wasn't comfortable relaxing on a golf course and drinking alcohol all day.

Zoglin accomplishes exactly what I hoped his book would: a chronological breakdown of Hope's accomplishments, trials and tribulations, and personal conflicts behind the camera. His wife, Dolores, struggled to maintain a relationship with her husband. Bing Crosby was a good friend, but distanced himself from Hope during off-camera hours knowing that personal time could add strain their friendship. Hope's romantic relationship with Marilyn Maxwell? Well, we all know about that and suspected so and Zoglin does a great job making reference, but avoiding anything scandalous. Dorothy Lamour's personal feelings about Hope and Crosby, finding out the hard way that she wasn't welcome in any future pictures? It's all here.

Along with Have Tux, Will Travel and Don't Shoot, It's Only Me (both authored by Hope himself), this is the quin-essential book about Bob Hope. Retail price is $30 but you can shop around and get it for $20. Well worth purchasing and adding to your bookshelf. Here's a link to purchase a copy today.

Bob Hope truly did visit a different military base, every week during World War II, to entertain for troops overseas. His devotion to duty is unequalled to any performer in Hollywood. So it is on a sad note that I report two potential issues that may prevent the dim the spotlight of Bob Hope eternal. In 1998, Bob Hope began donating his personal scripts, letters, films, radio broadcasts, television broadcasts and other materials to the Library of Congress. With the exception of an exhibit featuring a number of said materials, the collection has yet to be catalogued or inventoried for scholars and historians to help preserve the legacy of Bob Hope. The collection remains on shelves in storage. According to the Library of Congress in 1998, "the processing and preservation of the collection will be supported by a generous gift from the Hopes." If Bob Hope was alive today, I wonder what he would have thought about his collection still sitting uncatalogued.

Of more recent news, there seems to be serious discussion regarding the possibility of striking Bob Hope's name from the Burbank Airport, which is named after him. The results will be made public after an official decision is made. You can learn more about this here:


Ted said...

I agree that Bob Hope remained in the public eye far too long. I grew up seeing his later TV specials, few of which were very good. It was a revelation to hear him on radio, via recordings made back in the '40s. It completely changed my opinion of him once I realized how good he had been. The only problem listening to his radio work is that he always had a fondness for topical humor, which means a lot of his jokes can be indecipherable without doing some research. I especially like listening to him on Armed Forces Radio Service shows like COMMAND PERFORMANCE and MAIL CALL. Problem with his own series is that the shows can be hard to listen to several at a time because a lot of his material with his "stooges" like Jerry Colonna and Vera Vague tends to be pretty repetitive. Variations on a theme scriptwriting. It can get old pretty fast. That, and relying too heavily on "insult" comedy. Hope insults Colonna, Colonna insults Hope, Hope insults Vera Vague, Vera insults Hope, Hope insults Skinnay Ennis, Skinnay insults Hope, and on and on.

I heard a Jack Benny radio show recently where the Benny cast imitates the Hope show. It was funny stuff.

Ted said...

Oh, and in regards to your comment wondering what Hope would think about his collection sitting uncatalogued. My wife works for a museum. She has said that most of the time people when people make donation they just want to get rid of the stuff, and their main interest is in how much of a tax write-off they can get. Especially wealthy people. Most of the time she says they could care less what happens to things afterward. Which is sad. And it is unfortunate about the Hope collection at LOC. That's an awful long time to still be sitting on all that stuff.

Anonymous said...

Ted is quite correct in his second post about donated collections. An industry friend intended his archives be given to me as his historian, but when he passed, a family member donated all of it it elsewhere.

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