Wednesday, 27 March 2013

No Hope For Bob

Show people had some dandy feuds. Some weren’t real—Jack Benny and Fred Allen, for instance. Some were professional—Parsons and Winchell, for example. And some people just didn’t like each other. I suppose you can put Bob Hope and columnist John Crosby in that category.

Hope sued Crosby (settling out of court) over one column in Life magazine. In return, Crosby didn’t let up on Hope in print for almost ten years. Here’s a syndicated newspaper review from 1954 of what should have been a terrific show. Crosby panned it.

Talent, Money Fail to Save Hope TV Show
NEW YORK, Dec, 10.—I just don’t understand how Bob Hope can assemble such a glittering roster of talent and spend so much money and come up with something so mediocre as his last show on NBC-TV Tuesday night.
Hope left the country in November to do a command performance at the Palladium in London. This show was filmed in London with Maurice Chevalier, Beatrice Lillie, and the Cologne 182-voice choir, a British film star named Moira Lister, and a French ballerina named Liane Dayde. With a lineup like that I didn't see how he could possibly miss but he sure did.
There was the usual opening, Hope in front of a curtain, splattering bad jokes about the English fog and the Los Angeles smog. In ten minutes, there was one good joke: “Over here the government subsidizes the actors to go on television. In our country the actors go on television to subsidize the government.”
Well, maybe it just seemed good because of the company it was in. Incidentally, Hope seemed to slow his normal machine-gun pace down to about half speed for the British who have trouble understanding fast-talking Americans. I don't know whether the laughter that greeted these feeble sallies was authentic English laughter or whether it was the canned stuff they turn out in Hollywood these days.
Then came the Cologne Choir. Normally, I'm a sucker for choirs, the bigger the better, but this one intoning some dreadfully German number, as heavy as the food of that country, left me unmoved. On came the incomparable Miss Lillie who was not, I'm afraid, being as incomparable as usual. There's something about being on the Hope show that takes the fire out of people.
Presently along came Liane Dayde, of the Paris Opera ballet, and she, too, was pretty much a disappointment, doing a dance that looked like the sort of thing little girls do in ballet school. Miss Lillie returned as sort of street waif who is picked up by Hope at the stage door and becomes, after a bit of shenanigans, a star of his show. As a cockney waif, she was very appealing but not terribly funny.
So far so bad, I thought, but wait till Chevalier comes on. You can't kill Chevalier. Well, I underestimated Hope's writers. They can kill anything.
Chevalier made his appearance in a sketch in which Hope is supposedly on a honeymoon with Moira Lister in Cannes. Chevalier shows up as a supposed cousin of the bride and instantly starts making passes at the girl which culminate in a lesson in love-making, involving some kissing that they could never get away with in the movies and shouldn't be allowed here either. There hasn't been anything in such poor taste on television since—well, since Hope had that show in Cleveland with Phil Harris procuring girls for him in a hotel room. Somebody ought to talk to this boy.
Chevalier did redeem himself by his “accents melodiques” number, which is a very clever spoof of different accents as heard by someone who doesn't speak the language, and by singing one of his all-time favorites, “Louise,” and “Seems Like Old Times.”
In contrast, the latest Max Liebman spectacular, while not an unqualified delight, had two perfectly wonderful numbers with Jack Buchanan, the very talented Englishman, one a lampoon of modern stage choreography, the other a little fun poked at English choir groups. It also had Jimmy Durante playing Jimmy Durante which is to say that he was just great.

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