Archive for the Bob Hope Category

Joys

Posted in Bob Hope, Comedy, Forgotten Shows of My Nonage, Marx Brothers, Television, TV variety with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2016 by travsd

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I first saw Groucho Marx on prime-time television, when he was still alive. This was years before I saw any Marx Brothers movie, but Groucho was a well known figure, and so when I saw him on this show, I perked up. The show was a 1976 Bob Hope special on NBC called (rather lamely) Joys. The unusual special was a sort of long-form sketch, mixing the popularity of Jaws with a whodunit murder mystery. As I recall, the premise was that a Great White Shark was killing all of the great comedians in Bob Hope’s swimming pool? Something like that. And six tv detectives were supposed to solve it: Mike Connors (Mannix), Angie Dickinson (Police Woman), David Janssen (Harry O.), Jim Hutton (Ellery Queen), Telly Savalas (Kojak), and Abe Vigoda (Barney Miller and Fish — that one was a stretch).

Further it boasted a cast of 50 comedians, or perhaps I should say “comedians”, presumably everyone going at the time….but remember: this is a Bob Hope special. The cast was spotty (ranging from the great to the grating), and typically square and surreal in the extreme, including (alphabetically): Don Adams, Jack Albertson, Marty Allen, Steve Allen, Desi Arnaz, Billy Barty (we’ll get back to him), Milton Berle, Foster Brooks, George Burns, Red Buttons, John Byner, Glenn Campbell, Jack Carter, Charo, Jerry Colonna, Scatman Crothers, Bill Dana, Phyllis Diller, Jamie Farr, George Gobel, Arte Johnson, Alan King, Don Knotts, Fred MacMurray, Dean Martin, Jan Murray, Wayne Newton, Vincent Price, Freddie Prinze, Don Rickles, Harry Ritz, Phil Silvers, Larry Storch, and Johnny Carson (who turned out to be the culprit — spoiler alert!). By the end there is a Holocaust-like pile of dead comedians in the swimming pool, and THAT disturbing image doesn’t soon leave you. It’s like a tv critic’s fantasy. Oh, yes — Rona Barrett is in it too.

My introduction to Groucho was quite sad. He had had several strokes by this point (he was just a few months away from death) and it was very difficult to understand his speech. He sat in a chair the entire time, sort of slurring his scripted lines, with canned laughter to smooth things over. Even more ignominiously, little person Billy Barty was cast as some of doppelganger to Groucho, wearing a pair of Groucho glasses and wiggling his cigar, like some sort of imp or homunculus who could run around causing the mischief that Groucho otherwise would.

I never missed any variety show, and this one never left my memory, mostly on the strength of it being my first exposure to the legendary Groucho and the sheer volume of stars. Imagine my excitement when I saw the other day that Gilbert Gottfried and Frank Santopadre had devoted a podcast to this show. And THEN imagine my DISAPPOINTMENT when I played the podcast and the show consisted of them mentioning that they heard from Steve Stoliar about this show, and gosh, they wondered what it was. How is that a show? They lost me after about five minutes. This is the age of the internet. Why do a show about something which you haven’t investigated yet but sounds quite fascinating? I may go back and listen to the rest of the show though. It’s about Irwin Allen, and I’m a huge Irwin Allen fan, as readers of this blog know from the many posts we’ve written about him. But that fact is probably not likely to make me any more a friendly listener than I was as regards the Joys non-show.

Bob Hope in “A Global Affair”

Posted in Bob Hope, Comedians, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2015 by travsd

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I never regret a single minute spent in the company of the Mad Marchioness. In fact, when we are apart I am so inconsolable that I must fill the moments as best I can with healing laughter. And thus I usually take the opportunity to watch stinkers when she’s out of the house. I often joke about this in social media, but the joke is never at the expense of the Marchioness. It’s always at the expense of the movie, which very few modern humans would ever care to spend time with. (Well, of course YOU would! You’re not a representative sample of humanity — you’re reading this blog!) At any rate, last night the entrée was the 1964 Bob Hope comedy A Global Affair. 

In his prime Hope had been one of the cinema’s funniest comedians, but in A Global Affair that time has passed. Not that he had anything to be ashamed of. By this point in Hope’s career he was one of the richest and most powerful men in the country, a guy who had the ear of international leaders and probably flattered himself that he influenced world events. That’s impressive but it’s not too funny — and unfortunately he brings all of that baggage with him into this movie.

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In A Global Affair Hope plays a mid-level United Nations functionary who is charged with the task of taking care of a foundling infant and then finding a home for it. The rub is that the baby was left by its mother on the premises of the United Nations — so who does it belong to? Why it’s a political football in diapers! The mix of high purpose and low-brow comedy is utterly disjointed and makes me finally begin to see the problem some people have with Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux, though I’ve always loved both films pretty much whole-heartedly. On the one hand, Hope is scarely playing a character in this movie. He’s just himself. He carries himself with great dignity and self-importance as a man of the world should do, and delivers lengthy speeches on the fate of mankind. On the other hand, the script smashes that together with unbelievable trite and goofy comedy crap pitched at about a Sherwood Schwartz level. Lost baby in a basket? Check. Chaotic room full of barking dogs? Check. Girl walks in while you’re in the bathtub? Check.

Hey, talk about unfair trade!

Hey, talk about unfair trade!

Which brings us to the sex farce element (a thing very much in vogue in the mid 60s). Every country in the world wants custody of the baby for propaganda purposes. To close the sale, they each send an incredibly sexy woman to climb into Hope’s bed to convince him. Implausibly, in the end he winds up with one of these girls, who’s about half his age (he’s roughly as sexy as the mature W.C. Fields at this stage of his career) AND the U.N. lets HIM keep the baby! Sure! That’s just how the world works!

I mean, who is this movie for? Actually I ask that question about every Bob Hope movie made after the mid 1950s. Because these films seem to serve a very narrow demographic – middle aged and elderly men. I’m certain that’s why Hope couldn’t get a green light for a picture after 1972 – there just weren’t enough grandfathers in the country to fill up the movie theatres. (I confess I find his cameo in 1979’s The Muppet Movie to be fairly magical though). Anyway, A Global Affair clearly tries to address the Old Guy Problem by teaming Hope up with Robert Sterling, who is kind of a poor man’s Gig Young-Bob Cummings-Robert Culp-Bob Crane, but much more irritating. He plays the swinging bachelor next door, a part not unlike that which Hope used to play himself, but now has to transfer onto someone else (believe me, if Hope could have cloned himself to play both roles, he would have).

Among the film’s jaw-dropping low points: in one scene, the two gents are diapering the baby and don’t have any talcum, so they use powdered sugar. And Hope quips? Yes, that’s right: “How this for sweet buns?” He says this while we’re literally looking at a picture of the baby’s ass. That one had me instinctively reaching for the phone to call the authorities. In another scene, Hope’s character addresses the entire United Nations General Assembly, and they’re trying to ascertain his qualifications for judging which country gets the baby. One of the diplomats asks, “What do you know about Turkey?” and Hope responds-? Yes, that’s right: “Well, the white meat is tender!”

And on that seasonal note, I bid you good afternoon.

20 Random Bob Hope Movies (Sans Bing)

Posted in Bob Hope, Comedians, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , on May 29, 2015 by travsd

Another post in honor of Bob Hope’s birthday — Here are some thoughts on 17 random Bob Hope movies (not counting the ones he made with Crosby, which I wrote about here).

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The Big Broadcast of 1938

This was Hope’s feature film debut, though he had been making shorts for Vitaphone and Educational for four years. It’s early in the evolution of his comedy character — here he is broken out of “alimony jail” so he can be master of ceremonies for a broadcast on an ocean liner, all the while on the lam from three ex-wives. It’s the sort of business that could have been given to any number of comedians of the day, and many of his jokes as M. C. are downright stinkers. But it did provide the world with the introduction to what would become his permanent theme song “Thanks for the Memories”, and a magical scene that it is. This and some typically hilarious turns by W.C. Fields are the main reasons for seeing this picture. (It also features Martha Raye and Ben Blue, among others).

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The Cat and the Canary (1939)

Originally a 1922 hit play, The Cat and the Canary went on to become a Universal silent film in 1927, becoming one of that studio’s earliest horror films and helping to establish many conventions of the genre. The original is regarded as much more of a classic than the Paramount 1939 remake, which is sillier. (A 1930 talkie version by Universal called The Cat Creeps is now lost). The 1939 version is one of Hope’s first movies (he’d started at Paramount a year earlier) and the first of three that would pair him with Paulette Goddard. It’s an interesting film because both performers are just about to break out as stars but haven’t yet done so. Like most of Hope’s early films, this is an ensemble piece. Others in the cast include Gale Sondergaard and George Zucco. The format is by now a well-worn one: a bunch of relatives and associates are invited to an Old Dark House for the reading of a will…and must stay there overnight, enduring an endless number of artificial and clearly orchestrated frights.

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The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Hope is paired with the irresistible Paulette Goddard, here on break between pictures with her then-leading man Charlie Chaplin. Ghost Breakers came out a little bit before Hope became a top star; his character still hasn’t completely gelled. He plays a radio columnist who likes to drop tidbits about gangsters. One day he tells too much and has to take it on the lam. (His stereotypical black servant is played by Willie Best, a.k.a. Sleep n Eat). When ducking into a hotel room (thinking he has just shot somebody) Hope meets Paulette, who has just inherited a castle in Cuba. The people around her seem shady — we know something is off. The two meet again aboard ship: Hope is fleeing town; Goddard traveling to her estate. From here the plot has a bit of everything in the service of spook comedy, indeed a bit too much. We have people trying to kill Goddard. And we go to her castle where we seem to have ghosts and zombies, etc. At the end, the traditional Scooby Doo reveal.

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My Favorite Blonde (1942)

Hope’s parody of The 39 Steps and Saboteur, costarring the former film’s Madeline Carroll (whom Hope often mentioned as a sex symbol on his radio show). Hope plays a vaudevillian whose partner is a penguin named Percy. Carroll’s a spy carrying a secret code. Hope of course gets drawn into the intrigue, kicking and screaming all the way. It’s entertaining and adventuresome but not Hope’s funniest in my view – fewer wisecracks and not as strong on the comedy business for my taste…mostly a lot of face-making about how crazy the girl seems until he learns her secret. But it was a huge hit with audiences.

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They Got Me Covered (1943)

This one on the other hand is hilarious. It pairs Hope with Dorothy Lamour, and the movie is very similar in tone to the Road Pictures. It is also an awesome contrast antidote to cheap ad hoc WWII propaganda like Air Raid Wardens. Hope is a ne-er do well newspaper reporter who missed the story of Hitler invading Russia. His editor (Donald MacBride, the “jumping butterballs” guy from Room Service) recalls him from the field. Hope is supposed to be fired or suspended but simply acts like he’s still working for the paper. A foreign gentleman shows up with some information about a spy ring and a complicated plot ensues…the stenographer who took down the details of the plot is kidnapped and Hope has to rescue her. The long chain of events winds up with him getting drugged and married to a bimbo at Niagara Falls in an attempt to discredit him. But Lamour saves his skin of course.

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The Princess and the Pirate (1944) 

Hope plays a roving jester. The gorgeous Virginia Mayo is a princess on the run from an arranged marriage. And…all sorts of business with pirates. I laughed all the way through this movie, absolutely full of funny lines and bits and Hope is hysterical—at the peak of his form. Really, I’ve seen this movie so twice, and both times I laughed so much I couldn’t be bothered making notes.

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My Favorite Brunette (1947)

Hope’s parody of Sam Spade pictures, following up on the success of My Favorite Blonde. Hope is a baby photographer with an office right across from private eye Alan Ladd. This allows him to get mistaken for a shamus himself by Dorothy Lamour. From here, the story gets played too straight for my tastes. Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr play bad guys.

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The Paleface (1948) 

Hilarious Bob Hope western comedy (directed by the great Norman McLeod) co-stars Jane Russell as Calamity Jane (working undercover for the federal government to catch a gang of gunrunners to the Indians). She hooks up with cowardly frontier dentist Hope and masquerades as his wife, building up a reputation for him as a tough, unbeatable fighter. As in the best Hope vehicles, he rises to the occasion in the end—with the predictable climax with the two of them tied to burning stakes.

Hope’s cowardly, lecherous character was never in finer form than in this film; when I last saw it a few years ago I don’t think I ever once stopped laughing during the entire movie. The Native Americans, sadly, are little more than plot points however, the usual obstacles to be overcome…though on the plus side there are a couple of real Native Americans in the cast, Chief Yowlachie and Iron Eyes Cody (okay so Cody was fake, but the producers THOUGHT he was real!): 

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The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

The Lemon Drop Kid is a great mash-up of stuff. It’s a Damon Runyon story, not unlike Guys and Dolls.  Hope, must stretch in at least two directions in this film: one, to speak the Runyon patois and seem a streetwise heel, and two, to be heartwarming, for in this department Bob Hope is generally no Bing Crosby. And he pulls it off for the most part. Hope plays a gambler and tout who accidentally causes a gangster (Fred Clark) to lose $10,000. In order to pay it back, he starts an old folks home so he can raise donations. Naturally, along the way he starts to feel bad about the scam, and begins to actually want to help the old folks even as he makes it up to Moose Moran.

Other notables in the film include Jay C. Flippen, William Frawley, and none other than Tor Johnson. Yes! Tor Johnson! If you don’t believe me, look at the picture above! The film was co-directed by Frank Tashlin. An earlier version in 1934 featuring everybody’s favorite, Lee Tracy in the Hope role. 

Because it takes place at Christmas it’s at least sort of “honorable mention” holiday film, and does promote generosity. The film is also the cinematic source of the popular holiday song “Silver Bells”, memorably sung by Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, although Bing had had the hit with it the year before

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Son of Paleface (1952)

Though directed by the great Frank Tashlin, this sequel to The Paleface is not nearly as great as the original. Hope plays the son of the hero of the last movie, a Harvard educated dude in white ducks and an automobile. The deceased father has been revised to being (or seeming to have been) an actual frontier hero, one whose shadow the son must now live under. (I’ve never quite understood the appeal of such heros. Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton often played them. I find it very hard to root for spoiled young rich boys, and it is a flaw in this film). Jane Russell returns as his love interest, although oddly she has nothing to do now with Calamity Jane. Roy Rogers plays a law man. There are several extremely embarrassing musical numbers—you could with justification call this a musical. Some of the jokes are very funny. Many more are embarrassing hackwork.

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The Seven Little Foys (1955)

When people ask me what my favorite vaudeville film is I invariably say The Seven Little Foys. This bio-pic of Eddie Foy and the kiddie act he created with his large brood wildly distorts Foy’s life and career, making him look like a loser (when in fact he had been a star for decades) until he hits on the bright idea of solving his fatherhood problems by bringing his kids on the road with him. But this is a terrific family film (I first saw it on tv when I was a kid), which does convey many realities of life in show business. Furthermore, it is one of Bob Hope’s best performances. He is actually trying to stretch here, to do some dramatic acting, as well as revive the singing and dancing skills that had served him well in vaudeville and on Broadway. (A pity his films of the 60s and early 70s leave a lasting lasting impression of a guy who’s just coasting, sleepwalking through his lame vehicles. One thing you could not call Hope was lazy). It’s an interesting performance. As so often happens in these kinds of pictures, it is as much about Hope as it is about Foy. He actually conjures that assholey side we’ve often heard about and uses it in his performance. The result is not perfect (he often comes off as just kind of mopey), but is at least interesting. ALSO: Jerry Mathers (the Beaver) plays one of the Foy kids! At any rate, this is one movie this vaudeville dad has often watched with his own kids.

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The Iron Petticoat (1956) 

A British Cold war comedy written by Ben Hecht, pairing Bob Hope as an air force officer (just go with it) with Russian defector Kathryn Hepburn! It was originally intended for Cary Grant but he was unavailable. Once Hope was aboard he brought his writers in to beef up the jokes for his part, then he had several of Hepburn’s scenes cut. Since it was originally intended as a vehicle for Hepburn both she and Hecht were furious. The movie was a critical and box office failure.

Hepburn’s character is not a political defector in the film, she is a devout communist, a fighter pilot who leaves Russia because she was passed over for a promotion. Hope’s leave is cancelled so that he can interrogate Hepburn. He is due to marry a British aristocrat but falls in love with Hepburn. She is funny enough, plays it broad and cartoonish, but at this stage I am sorry to say that while she is right for this role (very much seems an inspiration for Cate Blanchett in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) she is not an attractive love interest. (Not that Hope is at this age either). Lots of sex talk in the film but Hepburn is 50 and freckly:  she reminds me of a schoolteacher or grandmother. The movie is tedious, clunky, and square — like most comedies from the period. In addition to the sex plot, Hepburn’s character also gets gradually converted to capitalism.

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Alias Jesse James (1959)

Norman McLeod’s last movie (although he continued to direct television after this) and Bob Hope’s last comedy western. One of the last times you see Hope as a cowardly goofball, as opposed to the uptight businessman/ dad he would play through the 1960s, although he’s already beginning to slow down some. He plays a life insurance salesman in the old west — who accidentally sells some life insurance to Jesse James! His boss forces him to follow James out west and protect his life; meanwhile the outlaw uses Hope as a patsy and he is danger of losing his life. I was surprised to find it very funny in spots, and most valuable perhaps is the finale, where several major western stars of the day (plus Bing Crosby) make cameos during a big shoot out. Hope would seldom be this goofy again.

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The Facts of Life (1960)

I liked this one much more than I thought I would. It’s his pairing with Lucille Ball, at the time a hotter star because of her hit tv series. The presence of Lucy seems to energize Hope, who’d been coasting for a number of years. And likewise, Lucy brings her A game to her teaming with an American institution. They’re both trying to give good, serious performances with plenty of dramatic moments, and they just about pull it off. They play a pair of friends who are bored with their spouses and have an affair. These were wholesome times, of course. Before they get too far down this errant path, they break it off and go back to their spouses. Other cool stuff: a Saul Bass title sequence, a theme song by Steve and Edie and cast members like Louie Nye and Carolyn Jones.

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Bachelor in Paradise (1961)

I have no idea why meat-eating, red blooded American Bob Hope was always casting himself against type as writers in his movies, but he did that a lot. Here, he is a best-selling author of racy sex advice-books from the perspective of a swinging bachelor. He’s on the lam from the IRS so he goes undercover in a suburban subdivision to study the adulterous ways of American housewives. He is vigorously pursued by one (Janis Paige) but truly falls for another one, who is renting him his house (Lana Turner). Lana Turner had many virtues; comedy wasn’t one of them. This was towards the end of her career, when appropriate roles for her were becoming increasingly rare. An interesting element: a young Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss play a newlywed couple. An unbearable element (and a true symptom of how lacklustre a comedy this is): it has one of those “too many suds coming out of the washing machine” scenes.

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Call Me Bwana (1963)

I like this movie a lot more than I thought I would. Hope plays an author who represents himself in his books as an African explorer, but it’s fabricated, stolen from the journals of his uncle, an actual explorer. Based on his reputation he is drafted by the CIA to retrieve a fallen space capsule from the jungle before the Soviets can get there. So he has to organize an expedition, using the pretense that he is out to destroy a rogue elephant as a cover. Along the way he gets to juggle two extremely hot babes, Edie Adams (a CIA agent) and Anita Ekberg, a Soviet spy masquerading as an English missionary with her “father” Lionel Jeffries, also a spy. Hope is frequently funny in his cowardice bits…but also frequently creepy in his moments of lechery. A mixed bag, but a great vehicle. It should be remade.

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E5MC2J CRITIC’S CHOICE, US poster art, from left: Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, 1963

Critic’s Choice (1963)

Insufferable insufferable pairing of middle-aged Hope with late career Lucille Ball. Both are horribly miscast as a husband/wife, critic-playwright couple. There’s a feeble attempt at a feminist slant. The pair have a certain chemistry but the lines coming out of their mouths sound all wrong, they don’t possess the necessary intellectuality. There’s a tension between their middle age romance and his dismissal of her play. (He has to review it) Hope’s trying to “act”, to his credit, but the vehicle is kind of dull – so who cares? The stakes are zilch. But also he’s not playing a character…this all American guy does not seem like a theatre critic. Rip Torn plays a young theatre director. Marilyn Maxwell plays Bob’s ex wife. John Dehner is a producer. Soupy Sales has a cameo. Jim Backus as a shrink. And there’s a precocious child.

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I’ll Take Sweden (1965)

I’ve known this one since I was a kid (they used to show it on TV) but it’s grown on me a great deal. Hope plays a widowed businessman, Tuesday Weld is his slightly wild daughter who wants to marry her worthless beach bum boyfriend Frankie Avalon. To break the couple up, Hope takes a job at his company’s Stockholm office (first framing Avalon with another girl so the daughter will want to go). Of course when they get to Sweden, the sexual customs are much more advanced than Americans are used to and Weld winds up with a young man whom Hope finds even more objectionable, eventually sending for Avalon. Meanwhile Hope falls in love with a Swedish woman. When I was younger I would have unreservedly called the movie bad, but now I find it has period charm, and this older version of the Hope character works.

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Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number (1966)

Hope is definitely in his decline here. The vehicle truly stretches credibility. The premise: when making a phone call businessman Hope is accidentally patched through to the hotel room of Elke Sommer, a movie star who is on the lam because she is tired of having to do nude bathing scenes in her movies. He somehow becomes involvd with her through a series of unlikely interactions (not romantically, but it LOOKS incriminating). FBI and others begin to hound him, and after a while it even appears that he has killed her. (This would have been a perfect predicament for Charley Chase’s screen character). Along the way he is aided and abetted by his maid, Phyllis Diller, who wants to prevent Hope’s wife from finding out. The film’s best moments are when Diller, in black sunglasses and a pink house coat rides around on a motorcycle, her wild hair flowing in the breeze. It’s kind of an indelible image…that alone makes it a memorable movie. Unfortuantely the pace of the film is leaden, stopping potential farce from happening. Slow as molasses and implausible…a bad combination, because if it were fast (as in good farce) you never have time to contemplate the implausibility.

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How to Commit Marriage (1969)

A find this film a most enjoyable experience even though Hope is far from his best. He seems really subdued, definitely phoning it in, thinking about his golf game. He and his wife (Jane Wyman) postpone their divorce when their daughter shows up determined to marry her boyfriend (Tim Matheson.) The boy’s father (Jackie Gleason miscast as a cynical, hip and intellectual rock and roll promoter) is against the wedding for being too bourgeois. (He merely lives with his lover, played by Tina Louise, which was pretty racy for back then.)

When the truth comes out about the divorce they decide not to get married but live together. But then the daughter gets pregnant. An Indian guru played by Professor Irwin Corey advises them to put the baby up for adoption. Hope and Wyman pretend to be a Scottish couple and kidnap the baby. Woven all through this is the psycedhelic music of a band called The Comfortable Chair which Gleason’s character represents. (They were a real LA band, produced by John Densmore and Robby Kreiger of The Doors). And there is a lengthy scene in the middle where for some reason a chimp plays golf! In the end, Hope masquerades as the Indian guru and advises the kids to get married and take their baby back. Somehow it all resolves itself (mostly because Tina threatens not to have sex with Jackie Gleason any more unless he does a turn around and sides with Hope and Wyman. You see, so the film reflects the influences of Aristophanes).

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Cancel My Reservation (1972)

Bob Hope’s last starring vehicle and, with its terrible script and 4th string jokes, it comes as no surprise. I was alive when this movie came out but never even heard of it until many years later, which should give you some indication of its popularity at the time. Not only is it a hoary murder-mystery-premise ala 1940, it is extraordinarily out of touch with changing contemporary culture. While they throw in perfunctory references to the pill and sex, the entire plot is about “Indians” — and it’s one of those movies that uses Indian stereotypes and never identifies the tribe, to me a sure-fire harbinger of disrespect. (Get it? “Reservation”?) This is two years after Little Big Man. The movie’s idea of being topical is a cameo by Flip Wilson, who shouts his catchphrase, “What you see is what you get!” Still this is a movie I will be glad to watch more than once. Its badness is quite delicious and it is a terrific time capsule of 1972. (The soundtrack is especially groovy). And it is chock full of (mostly gone to seed) stars! Eva Marie Saint! Ralph Belamy! Keenan Wynn! Forrest Tucker! Doodles Weaver! Not to mention Chief Dan George, Henry Darrow, and Pat Morita! And top it off, they revive (exhume) a gimmick from Alias Jesse James (where Bing Crosby and a bunch of other stars make cameos). And if there isn’t enough revisiting of tired material, he brings in the “old guy riding on the back of a motorcycle” business from I’ll Take Sweden and Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number. It’s time to hang up that golf hat.

Now: Bob was 69 when this movie came out. In some respects he looks kind of good — he could pass for 59. But he was no longer comedy star material from this point going forward, at least in feature films. But retirement seems kind of a drastic choice. I like Bob Hope! He would have been great in ensemble comedies, say Disney movies, as the grandpa. Picture if you will, a much tamer version of Little Miss Sunshine with Hope in the Alan Arkin role. I think that would have been great.

Hope: Entertainer of the Century

Posted in Bob Hope, BOOKS & AUTHORS, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Movies, Radio (Old Time Radio), Stand Up, Television, TV variety with tags , , , , on December 23, 2014 by travsd

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My worship of Bob Hope grows apace. He has always been a divisive figure, even among families. He was my maternal grandfather’s favorite comedian; my father hated him (he always detested smart alecks, he called them “wise guys”). It’s impossible to be loved by everybody, but Hope pulled off an astounding balancing act. When I think of the vaudevillian who went the furthest, as high as it was possible to go, I think of Hope, who conquered vaudeville (and its children the presentation house, the speakers’ platform and the U.S.O. show), Broadway, radio, television and movies, and — more than this — became a friend and adviser to Presidents and other world leaders.

Thus, the subtitle of Richard Zoglin’s comprehensive new Hope biography “Entertainer of the Century” is not overstated. There are very few others who could conceivably challenge Hope for this mantle. Frank Sinatra or Charlie Chaplin, perhaps. Most others either came too early (Al Jolson or Eddie Cantor) or too late (no one I can think of – – rock and roll performers and stand-up comedians aren’t well-rounded enough to qualify).

I just finished reading this obvious labor of love — prompted by reports that my own book No Applause got a generous shout-out in the book and is cited throughout in matters pertaining to vaudeville. (Thanks, Dick! Check’s in the mail!) This will undoubtedly be the go-to Hope reference book for a long time to come, not just thoroughly researched but even-handed. It doesn’t shy away from Hope’s faults (e.g., chronic infidelity, a myopic degree of patriotism, slipshod craftsmanship in his later movies and tv specials). But nor is it a hatchet job like the egregiously bitchy Bob Hope: The Road Well-Traveled by Lawrence J. Quirk. Hope shows us a man who was smart, talented, unpretentious, dedicated, close to his family (he even employed several of his brothers), and (typical of many vaudevillians and movie stars of his generation) conservative.

Zoglin sort of gives equal weight spacewise to each period of Hope’s life, which has the effect of filling in the beginning and end of his life perhaps at the expense of the heights in the middle. The early years are important (they always are), the years of grinding poverty in his native England, and in Cleveland. The time of struggle in vaudeville. But…because Hope’s career lasted so long, his period of decline was concomitantly lengthy. It is kind of depressing spending so much time experiencing a slide that began in the 1960s and lasted until Hope’s death in 2003 — a period of decline that lasted longer than the entirety of most careers. Interesting, though. That period coincides roughly with the first 4 decades of my life. When I say Hope was declining during those years I don’t refer to his FAME. Not by a long shot. That never wavered during his lifetime. I remember during the Reagan years, for example — Hope was probably the conservative President’s most visible Hollywood supporter, and I remember countless television specials during the 1980s which seemed to flaunt that connection. Tuxedos were worn. Hope was very present on television well into the 1990s. When I refer to his “decline” it wasn’t in fame but in relevance. He “clicked” with an increasingly small portion of the populace. He was a throwback during his last years, a kind of joke to be tolerated – – even as he was one of the richest men in the nation, and the confidante of the leaders of the free world (including Bill Clinton. A true patriot knows no party). But Hope’s support of the Vietnam War and for Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal was for many like a crack in the ice…Bob had broken off the main berg and was now drifting increasingly far away.

I think Zoglin goes too far in claiming Hope as the father of stand-up. I can see why he does it – – you need a strong thesis to drive a narrative ahead, even in non-fiction. But while Hope is important in that history, I see him as one key link in an evolutionary chain, and so many of his cohorts played important roles. For example, to watch Hope as the radio m.c. in The Big Broadcast of 1938, is to watch a comedian who is still flailing somewhat, who hasn’t yet quite found his voice. In fact, it marks no kind of advance that I can see over Jack Benny’s performance in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 a decade earlier. Both men (and many others) patterned their style on Frank Fay, and lord knows there were plenty of vaudeville monologists before and after Fay. So what about Hope was different?

In the 40s Hope was to find his voice, in movies, radio and live performance. And in television in the ’50s Americans got the full enchilada — the Bob Hope comedy monologue. It is highly distinctive. All it takes is to have seen a few to conjure Hope’s delivery and the stylized structure of the jokes themselves. (In fact, it’s easily parodied. I love this guy’s web page, for example. I don’t know why it hasn’t gone viral yet).

And yet, Hope’s legacy in this realm is complicated. For a few reasons. One is that his style was as IMPERSONAL as it gets. He didn’t write his own material, a staff of writers did. Think about it — though we can catch a little something of the real Hope’s personality in the way he delivers a joke, he tells us NOTHING about who he is. Any aspect of the life of the English immigrant he actually was is BURIED. Contrast this with modern stand-ups almost all of whom, taking their cue from the likes of Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers, Woody Allen et al, draw from their own lives for material. Secondly, Hope worked clean. Again, almost all modern stand-ups take a page from the post-burlesque nightclub comics, who work sex and profanity into the act.

So what is Hope’s stand-up legacy? (We know the movie legacy – -Woody Allen). For the stand-up legacy there is only one lineage of descendants — mainstream television variety hosts, the most obvious example being Johnny Carson. Zoglin talks about this relationship at length in the book. After that…well, certainly NOT Carson’s preferred anointed David Letterman. In Letterman I see Ernie Kovacs, Bob and Ray, Steve Allen...but Bob Hope? Not so much. But after Carson there is an obvious one and it doesn’t bode well for Hope’s legacy: Jay Leno. Impersonal, middle of the road, written by a staff of drones, loved by old people (and only old people). That way is (was) a dead end. Frankly, nobody does it that way anymore. Not Jimmy Fallon and not any of the other hosts.

But I started this blogpost by saying how much I love Hope. That’s because I’m discovering Hope the movie star. I’d seen a handful of his best-known pictures before, but now I’m catching up with the whole legacy. Like Woody, I see his genius. An extremely appealing movie star. I’m even really digging the late ones, the ones where he’s a really square dad. Young people used to hate those movies because Bob Hope was such a square. But nowadays that’s a novelty! We don’t MAKE squares anymore, or people who will admit to being uncool and not understanding young people. This is an undiscovered territory on the modern landscape, one which would be delightful to chart, a Road to Utopia just there for the taking.  Innat wild?

New Bob Hope Book Cites Trav S.D. and “No Applause”

Posted in Bob Hope, BOOKS & AUTHORS, Comedy, ME, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2014 by travsd

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Thanks Barry Mitchell, for alerting me to the fact that Richard Zoglin’s new book Hope: Entertainer of the Century includes a generous reference to, quote from, and shout-out to yours truly and my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.

Bob Hope was a giant in 20th century show business. A flawed one, to be sure, but I’d like to know who isn’t flawed? (My definitive Hope essay is here)

Adam Gopnik, whom I got to know in 2001 when he wrote this piece about neo-burlesque, also wrote a wonderful think-piece about Hope in this week’s New Yorker. Read it here.

Buy the Zoglin book here. 

The Lemon Drop Kid: An Overlooked Christmas Classic

Posted in Bob Hope, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , on December 11, 2013 by travsd

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If — and I use the word knowing there’s no “if” about it — I repeat, “if” you happen to find yourself in the grip of “Christmas Special” ennui this holiday season, as a result of having seen the same holiday programs dozens of times year after year after year (however much you loved them initially)…I say IF you find yourself in that condition, I may have an antidote. A charming movie with a Christmas angle made in 1951, and one you may not have seen, and if you’ve seen it, you probably haven’t seen it to death.

The Lemon Drop Kid is a great mash-up of stuff. It’s a Damon Runyon story, not unlike Guys and Dolls. It stars Bob Hope, who must stretch in at least two directions: one, to speak the Runyon patois and seem a streetwise heel, and two, to be heartwarming, for in this department Bob Hope is generally no Bing Crosby. And he pulls it off for the most part. Hope plays a gambler and tout who accidentally causes a gangster (Fred Clark) to lose $10,000. In order to pay it back, he starts an old folks home so he can raise donations. Naturally, along the way he starts to feel bad about the scam, and begins to actually want to help the old folks even as he makes it up to Moose Moran.

Other notables in the film include Jay C. Flippen, William Frawley, and none other than Tor Johnson. Yes! Tor Johnson! If you don’t believe me, look at the picture above! The film was co-directed by Frank Tashlin. An earlier version in 1934 featuring everybody’s favorite, Lee Tracy in the Hope role. 

Because it takes place at Christmas it’s at least sort of “honorable mention” holiday film, and does promote generosity. The film is also the cinematic source of the popular holiday song “Silver Bells”, memorably sung by Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, although Bing had had the hit with it the year before. Here it is!

For more on comedy film history don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 

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Bob Hope is “The Paleface”

Posted in Bob Hope, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Native American Interest, Westerns with tags , , , , , on November 20, 2013 by travsd

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Here’s another post in honor of Native American Heritage Month. 

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A couple of days ago, we posted Don Knott’s The Shakiest Gun in the West,  a 1968 re-make of the much better film we present today, Bob Hope’s The Paleface (1948), directed by Norman McLeod. Hope’s cowardly, lecherous character was never in finer form than in this film; when I last saw it a few years ago I don’t think I ever once stopped laughing during the entire movie. The Native Americans, sadly, are little more than plot points however, the usual obstacles to be overcome…though on the plus side there are a couple of real Native Americans in the cast, Chief Yowlachie and Iron Eyes Cody (okay so Cody was fake, but the producers THOUGHT he was real!): 

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For more on comedy film history don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

For more on the history of show business consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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