2003-08-07 / Arts & Entertainment



©2003 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

On Liking Your Work

Over the years, I never cared much for some of the most popular television comedians. Milton Berle never got to me and I couldn’t stand Jerry Lewis. Until I saw him in action first hand, I had been lukewarm about Bob Hope.

Enthusiasm isn’t listed as a virtue in the Bible but it’s one of the most attractive attributes a person can have. An entertainer who loves to entertain has a big head start appealing to an audience, and no one ever loved being on stage more than Bob Hope. Every time he got up in front of a crowd, he had a good time and it was catching; his audience had a good time, too.

I met Bob Hope several times. For five years of my life, I wrote for Arthur Godfrey. In 1955, Godfrey was at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago broadcasting his hour-and-a-half morn-ing radio show. He heard that Hope was also staying there and told me to go to Hope’s room and ask him if he’d come to Godfrey’s suite and do the show with him.

I was uneasy about my mission because I couldn’t imagine that Hope would want to spend an hour and a half doing a radio show for nothing, but I was wrong. When I told him that Arthur wanted to talk to him on the air, he didn’t hesitate. "Sure," Hope said. "What room’s he in?"

In the hotel room that day, it was apparent that it didn’t matter to Bob Hope whether he was on television playing to 20 million people or in a small room with four. When he was on, he was happy.

Arthur greeted him and Hope sat down, took the microphone in his hand and immediately reached into his file-catalog brain for Chicago jokes, hotel room jokes and President Eisen-hower jokes.

"I was in The White House last week. Ike misses the Army. He wants them to set up a tent in the Oval Office."

On hotel rooms:

"The house Dick knocked on my door last night," Hope began. "He said, ‘You got a woman in there?’ I said, ‘No, I got no woman in here,’ and he said, ‘Sissy!’"

Before Hope left Godfrey’s room, he had rattled off, with machine-gun speed. Dozens of jokes that had us all in stitches. We all had a great time listening to them because Bob Hope had such a great time telling them. He was his own best audience.

Nine years ago, Margie and I sailed on the Queen Elizabeth for the 50th anniversary of D-Day in Nor-mandy and Bob Hope and his wife were aboard. I talked to them several times and was ashamed of myself for being surprised to find that Bob’s wife, Dolores, was so charming, attractive and talented.

Although I think they might have been able to afford to pay for the trip, each of them performed in front of a small audience in the ship’s first-class dining room. I assume they were sing-ing for their supper — and stateroom.

With an orchestra in the background, Bob, then 90, walked to the middle of the swaying ship’s floor and had a great time rattling off a hundred or so predictably funny jokes. He seemed to remember them without any trouble. The orchestra leader had worked with Bob a lot over the years and when I saw his lips moving 20 feet behind Bob, I was puzzled. It turned out that it wasn’t music he was holding in front of him, it was pages of Hope jokes. Bob had a small radio receiver in his jacket pocket attached to an earpiece. The orchestra leader read a few lines of a joke, Bob remembered the rest of it and told it, just as if he was ad-libbing, to the roaring approval of the crowd.

Bob Hope got back as much as he gave in his performances to American troops around the world but he was one of the most genuinely entertaining entertainers who ever lived. It’s sad he’s gone.

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