Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Inexhaustible Bob Hope

People want to see the stars. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a plethora of gossip web sites and TV shows shoving people from Show Biz Land in your face, drowning us all with the minutest insignificances about their lives.

Such would seem to be an obvious fact. But it seems to have shocked radio writer John Crosby that fans would actually want to watch a radio and movie star in the flesh. Maybe he forgot that vaudeville houses were once packed for that very same reason. Or why film and radio-dom’s elite visited military bases during World War Two.

In reading Crosby’s column of March 2, 1949, I couldn’t help but think of Dave Thomas, a noted Hope impersonator among many things, meeting Old Ski Nose for the first time and how, after some pleasantries, Hope asked him bottom-line questions about SCTV’s production. Thomas realised he wasn’t talking to Bob Hope, star, but Bob Hope, president of Hope Enterprises. And, as Crosby reveals, Hope had the bottom line squarely in his sights when he embarked on a jaunt across the U.S. (I have some reason to suspect the “Crosby” referred to in the column is not “John.”)

Radio In Review
Gold In The Hinterlands
BOB HOPE, the distinguished financier of the films and radio, has just discovered a new method for turning a fast buck.
He appears before people in the flesh! Hope’s 33-day touring vaudeville show took $612,000 off the hands of some 300,000 people. Never before has he earned that much money that rapidly.
“You can’t make money like that on Broadway. You can’t make Crosby money like that anywhere,” Hope declared in a telephone interview from Palm Springs. “I was offered so much money to appear at the Capitol in New York I’m ashamed to tell you the figure.”
Yet the comedian said it was chickenfeed next to the grosses piled up on his tour.
THE HOPE TROUPE—40 persons in all—avoided theaters, the avarice of theater owners being what it is, and played stadiums and auditoriums where Hope Enterprises took 75 percent of the gate.
People paid as high as $6.10 a seat to see a two-and-a-half-hour show which is little more than an extension of Hope’s radio show.
When the comedian returned to Hollywood, his pockets bulging with large denominations, a great many intellectuals said: “Well!” They were too flabbergasted to get much beyond that word.
There has been a deeply entrenched suspicion in Hollywood that the big money lay in the mass media—the movies or radio—where you don’t get the live actor, but you can spread him among an awful lot of people.
Then Mr. Hope revived the ancient one-night stand and, brother, how the money rolls in.
ALREADY THIS has led to real restlessness among the other actors.
“I’ve talked to Jack Benny and Al Jolson,” Hope said, “and they’re all fired up to do the same thing.
“We’re going to hit the road again ourselves — probably in April. I want to keep that Providence date. (Fog grounded the troupe in Pittsburgh, causing cancellation of the Rhode Island stop-over.) We also plan to go to Rochester, Syracuse, Erie and Toronto and, of course, a lot of other places.
“I think the success of this tour proves the people want to see the actors. It shows what a great thing television is going to be.
HOPE ALSO thinks it proves the road is anything but dead, that people in the hinterlands are starved for live entertainment. Virtually everywhere he went he approached or smashed house records.
Hope played 38 performances in 34 cities in 33 days. In addition he gave his radio shows in four of the cities, and this involved rehearsals.
It sounds grueling, but, as Hope pointed out, the troupe had only one performance a day—with the exception of one day when it gave a matinee and an evening performance—whereas in a theater it would have been required to give five or six.
“You never get tired unless you stop and take time for it,” he explained. Hope never has taken time for it, and as a shrewd observer once said, he works better under almost continuous pressure.
A COUPLE OF YEARS ago Bing Crosby told me he had dug out of the Bible a quote that fits Hope perfectly: “For wherever two or three are gathered together . . . there I am in the midst of them.”
He certainly is. Hope starts to entertain automatically whenever a crowd—and three or four makes a crowd—surrounds him. They supplement each other — Hope and the crowds. The bigger the crowd, the better is Hope. The better is Hope, the bigger the crowd.
On this trip, the news that he was flying in his rented DC-6 attracted throngs to the airport. Hope usually threw in a 15-minute show free at the air terminals—unwilling to let a crowd escape without flinging a couple of jokes at it.
TEN YEARS AGO Jimmy Cagney observed, unsagely: “Bob Hope is going to kill himself with these personal appearance tours.”
This could go down along with the prediction of Thomas E. Dewey’s election as one of the worst bits of crystal-gazing of modern times.
There is a tale, probably apocryphal, that an eastern potentate once took over the upbringing of 300 babies; he ordered they be given the utmost care but that not a word be spoken to them.
The potentate wanted to know what language they’d talk when and if.
According to legend, the babies all died within six months for want of affection.
Seems to me if Hope were deprived of an audience for six months he’d die of starvation.
(Copyright, 1949, New York Tribune)

Hope once talked about his money with that aw-shucks intellectual, Dick Cavett. Considering that Hope’s TV specials degraded into a melange of cue cards, marching bands and breasts, it’s nice to see him in the stripped-down, relaxed atmosphere of the Cavett show. Take a look.

1 comment:

  1. Hope starts to entertain automatically whenever a crowd—and three or four makes a crowd—surrounds him.

    True this. When my dad was working public relations for the Veteran's Administration in the 1970s, he had the job one day to shepherd Bob through the Manhattan VA hospital, and with no other places to eat in the area around 23rd Street, they ended up with Bob going to, and then doing a routine, for the workers and customers at the Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips.