An ambassador of laughs
Comedian, actor and cult figure, Bob Hope celebrated his birth centenary last month. His flair for wisecracks built up his reputation on the radio and then in the movies finally making him an icon, says RANDOR GUY.
THE AMERICAN icon, cult figure, and entertainer supreme who made the American nation, its people and the army laugh during the past 60 years is Bob Hope. He celebrated his birth centenary last month (May 2003).
He has created American entertainment history at many levels as a movie star, one man-entertainer, ambassador of `laffs' (laughs). He has a joke for every occasion, wisecrack for every moment of his life. He cracked jokes at American Presidents and powerful politicians, who often felt flattered to be made fun of by the maestro of humour.
Even though America has given him so much and he has sumptuously reciprocated, he was born British, in London, in May 1903, in a large family of a stonemason father and concert singer mother. He was christened Leslie Townse Hope, and while he was a lad of two the family, seeking a better life, migrated to Ohio, the U.S. ,
As fellow school lads made fun of his name `Leslie,' which is also given to girls, he changed it to Robert Hope! (This writer met Bob Hope at the Academy (Oscar) Awards office in Los Angeles in 1996 when he was 93. Ill and weak he was not in a position to talk, and his wife Dolores did the talking.)
Bob Hope began his fun-innings about his birth. When someone asked him under what sign he was born, he said, ``Keep off the grass!'' About his ski nose, he remarked, ``when I was born my dad yelled, `hey, stop them ... they left the stork behind and took my baby!' '' About the land of his birth, England, he had this to say, ``I visited many dukes' homes. Even the mice were so British they wore monocles ... Rolls Royce is nothing but Chevrolet knighted! ... The fog lamp on English cars is very good... tells you there's fog in London!''
Early in his career he met with the Hollywood movie mogul and the Paramount boss, Adolph Zukor, who lived up to 103! (Hope was a Paramount star). Unfazed by the old man's stony stare, Hope told his cronies, ``Mr. Zukor has been around so long that he actually knew some of the people Charlton Heston played. He was making movies when `The Ten commandments' was listed as `science fiction.'''
Even as a lad he went to work to support the family and did odd jobs as shoe store clerk and made his way into vaudeville when he found he had the flair to make people laugh with his wisecracks. Then he decided to make it his chosen profession. He also worked in forgotten Broadway musicals in minor roles and later moved on to the radio where he built up a fine reputation as a comedian.
`The Pepsodent Show' brought him into limelight. Like most comedians, he had a band of gag writers working on his jokes. Once in a show before a large gathering of soldiers he introduced his team. At last came a man with his face full of wrinkles and lines. Hugging him, he wisecracked, ``Folks, he is not that old, he's only 25 and is my chief gag writer.'' (``For the benefit of morons defined as one who reads a joke book with a frown!" the joke is, that the guy developed all those lines and wrinkles thinking of new jokes for Hope!) And then it was Hollywood, and he took his bow with ``The Big Broadcast" (1938). It was a hit and moviegoers sat up to watch the interesting guy with the ski nose already known on radio.
In 1940 with the box-office hit, "The Cat and the Canary," he became a star and never looked back. One of his lines in this movie a `ghost comedy' became famous, ``I get goose pimples. Even my goose pimples get goose pimples.''
A similar film, also a hit, was "The Ghost Breakers" (1940). The lines that he made famous here are, ``The girls call me Pilgrim because every time I dance with one I make a little progress." (A joke built on the famous allegorical English literary classic, John Bunyan's ``The Pilgrim's Progress.")
Talking about the politicians in a show, a character asks him, "Do you believe that the dead come back to life?'' His answer, "You mean like the Republicans!''
He wisecracked about American Presidents too from George Washington to Jack Kennedy... About Washington, he observed, ``George told his father, `I cannot tell a lie.' I don't know how he ever made it in politics''... and about Calvin Coolidge known as `Silent Cal', ``Coolidge never said anything. In fact a monk once broke his vow of silence to ask him to speak up!'' ... About Harry S. Truman, ``He put that famous sign on his desk in Oval Office, `The Buck Stops Here.' In those days it was still worth a dollar.''
His favourite story about Truman was narrated to him by Margaret Truman. ``Harry addressed the Washington Garden Club and kept referring to `good manure' that must be used on flowers. Some society ladies complained to me, `Bess, can't you get the President to say fertilizers?' I said, `Heavens, it took me 25 years to get him to say `manure!' ''
In 1940 came the turning point in his movie career that would carry him to Himalayan peaks of success, fame and fortune. Paramount was putting together a movie. The script was offered to the well-known comedians George Burns-Gracie Fields but they turned it down as uninteresting. It was then offered to Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie but they too were not keen and also not free.
Bob Hope (sitting) talking to Director Ellis R. Dungan.
Finally Bob Hope came on board and along with him came the singer Bing Crosby and as the female interest the sensuous sarong-clad star Dorothy Lamour was cast. The movie was "Road to Singapore" which proved such a big hit that led to many sequels.
More "Road To..." movies were made with the same trio for the next many years... "Road to Zanzibar" (1941), "Road to Morocco" (1942), "Road to Utopia" (1945), "Road to Rio" (1947), "Road to Bali" (1952), and "Road to Hong Kong"(1962).
According to Hope, Dorothy Lamour made the sarong famous which in turn bestowed on her stature, status and sex appeal! Dorothy Lamour (1914-1996) became a star clad in sarong in hit movies like "The Jungle Princess" (1936), "The Hurricane" (1937), "Her Jung Love" (1938), and the "Road To... "
In one of his shows for the American army, Lamour was present with Hope and company. Looking at her he cracked, "Once a soldier looking for a hand towel reached for her sarong!'' The soldiers roared with laughter and threw kisses at her much to her delight.
Another role, which brought him more fame, was his `emceeing' of the Oscar Awards nights. On such occasions almost all his lines were wisecracks.
John Wayne, a top box-office draw of his day was not known for his acting prowess. Yet he bagged the `Best Actor Oscar' for his role in "True Grit" (1969). Wayne wore an eye-patch for this role. Hope remarked, ``If only I had known that to win an Oscar you just had to wear an eye-patch, I would have worn two!'' Interestingly he never won an Oscar for acting though he was given special Oscars for his contribution to American cinema.
Now for his humour in movies ... hilarious, and even surrealistic. In "Son of Paleface" (1952), he is on the run from his enemies, with his woman (Jane Russell) in a horse-carriage. But there is no horse and so Hope is the horse! Suddenly a deep valley looms large before him. He plunges into it with his inamorata, carriage and all. Unfazed he opens his woman's umbrella. The wind pushes the umbrella upward and they land safely on the plains on the other side!
In "Call Me Bwana" (1963), the couple (Bob Hope and Anita Ekberg) are fast asleep in bed. Suddenly the baby in the crib yells, hungry for food. The wife wakes up her husband to feed the baby. Hope picks up the feeding bottle and then the baby. It's a baby elephant! As he feeds it, Hope stares into the camera and says, ``You are mistaken. It's only adopted!''
Hope invested his earnings mostly in real estate. At one time he was the biggest real estate owner in California and owned a good part of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. When someone asked him why he chose land for investment, he replied, ``Buddy, land is the only product that is not manufactured any more!'' This shows that Bob Hope is not only a comedian and wit but also a sound economist!
Send this article to Friends by