Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, Bob Hope was the guy that showed up on t.v. every Christmas telling stale jokes and awkwardly interacting with up and coming talent of the day on his NBC Variety show. Hope was American entertainment royalty by then and so people like my parents (and especially my grandparents) needed no explanation of who he was and why he was revered. To me he was this old man who always seemed to be sticking stiffly to the script. He also starred in dozens of films that ran on television that I always passed on because I assumed I wouldn’t enjoy them.
That all changed when I stumbled on to “My Favorite Brunette” (1947) sometime in high school. Sharply written by Edmund Beloin (who wrote many of Hope’s best films) and Jack Rose and briskly directed by Elliott Nugent, Brunette is the perfect vehicle for Hope’s masterful coward persona (Woody Allen cites Hope’s cowardice persona as a primary influence for his own). Playing Ronnie Jackson, baby photographer cum private detective, Hope and a terrific supporting cast (Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney jr., Dorothy Lamour, Charles Dingle) skewer the detective movie genre. It remains Hope’s best film. It fell into the public domain long ago so there are a number of low-quality cheap dvds out there and the whole film is on Youtube.
From there, I sought out Hope’s other films. Starting in 1940 with the funny and entertaining “The Ghost Breakers”, Hope had a good run of solid, entertaining films that included the “Road” pictures with Bing Crosby. The “Road” films were a breezy concoction of laughs (Hope), music (Crosby) and Dorothy Lamour (hubba hubba). They are a perfect example of wartime entertainment. The best of the bunch, for me, is “Road to Moracco”. The opening song is a hoot (“like webster’s dictionary we’re Morocco bound”)
The Bob Hope films of the 50’s and 60’s were increasingly uninspired and formulaic (he more or less retired from feature films in 1973) but his output during the 40’s is the best evidence of what a huge talent he was. Of course one can’t discuss Bob Hope without mentioning his lifelong service to our military. Entertaining troops for nearly 6 decades (and logging over 6 million flying miles – more than any person on the planet!), Hope was given honorary veteran status; the only person to ever be given that honor. He lived to be 100 years old.
I met Bob Hope once. OK, I didn’t exactly meet him. In the early 90’s I was in a hotel in Colorado Springs and he stepped out of an elevator with a huge entourage. People gathered around him and it got chaotic quickly. I yelled out hello to him. He turned and waved in my direction not really seeing me.