Flash Gordon Left Me The Keys

The TEST OF ALL MOTHERS

Thursday, May 29, 2003

 
A salute to Bob Hope "comedian" on his birthday!


The knowing pause after the punch line? That's Hope. The willingness to break the fourth wall? Hope does that. The tweaking of politicians? Hope has known 'em all. Sheer ad-lib silliness? Hope is the king of ad-libs.

Bob Hope probably wasn't the first to do any of these things, nor is he necessarily the best practitioner. Jack Benny had perfect timing. Fred Allen was known for his erudition, Groucho Marx for his absurdity, George Burns for his I'll-stand-back-and-watch delivery. Will Rogers was making jokes about politicians before Hope was out of vaudeville.

But Hope, through his sheer talent, longevity and charisma, may be more influential than any of them.

"I think he's the most graceful comedic performer of the century," talk-show host Conan O'Brien said on "100 Years of Hope and Humor," an NBC special that was rerun Memorial Day weekend.

O'Brien praised Hope's iconic persona. "This cowardly, back-tracking, fast-talking, slick character, to me, is probably the most imitated character and persona that's in comedy."

Indeed, when he was a child, O'Brien loved Woody Allen movies such as "Love and Death" in which Allen put on a false bluster and wisecracked his way through crises. When O'Brien grew older, he realized that Allen was just doing Hope -- something Allen readily admits.

"I've been doing him my whole life as a performer," Allen said in "100 Years of Hope and Humor." "I copy him all the time."

Up-to-date material
Hope, who turns 100 Thursday, cut his comedy teeth doing vaudeville in the 1920s. It was a tough circuit, and a performer had to be quick on his feet to succeed.

Even after he became first a radio icon, then an American symbol with his "Road" movies, NBC TV specials and constant support of the military, Hope always tried to retain his edge, keeping up with the news and tweaking his scripts.
"His timing was fabulous," actress Edie Adams, a Hope movie co-star and part of his military troupe in the '60s, told CNN.com in a 2001 interview. "When he and [Bing] Crosby were doing the ['Road'] movies, he had a writer look at the scripts and write in the margins, and then he would ad-lib. ... He was always well-prepared."

Hope has made no secret of his reliance on writers, and he has made sure his material is as up-to-date as possible.

"When he did his monologues, it was always about the public and what was happening, right up before airtime," said comedian Don Rickles on "Hope and Humor."

His writers have loved him for it.

"He was the easiest person for a writer to work for that there ever was," Mort Lachman, who worked for Hope from 1947 to 1975, told The Associated Press. "He was the opposite of most comics: He didn't hate the writers."

A giving man
As times changed, it became easier to make fun of Hope as out of touch. He was an unapologetic member of the Hollywood old guard during the tumultuous '60s and '70s. His TV specials eventually devolved into ham acting, pretty girls and athletes, and his late-career movies -- such as 1966's "Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!" and 1972's "Cancel My Reservation" -- were critical and commercial duds.

But that sliver of his career pales when it comes to his importance to the entertainment field. For many years, he was synonymous with hosting the Oscars. He boosted careers: He gave Phyllis Diller her big break and featured a 3-year-old Tiger Woods on one of his specials.

More notably, he has given of his time, especially to the servicemen he amused all over the world. The Associated Press estimates that he has performed in front of more than 10 million members of the military, from venues ranging from World War II battlefields to Saudi Arabia just before the Persian Gulf War.
Yet he could be surprisingly shy, especially when it came to acting. Mel Shavelson, who directed Hope in "The Seven Little Foys," in which Hope played comedian Eddie Foy, and "Beau James," in which he played 1920s New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, said Hope underrated himself on screen.

"I had to twist his arm, in a sense, because those were about the only two films in which he did not play Bob Hope," Shavelson told the AP. "If he played a serious scene, he would always break up the crew afterward with some kind of gag."

That's what most people remember about Hope: He is great to be around. His daughter, Linda, told CNN his spontaneity has lit up his four children's lives. "He was, I think, more like one of the kids than like a parent," she told Aaron Brown this year.

His writers recall his quick wit. His comedian colleagues pay tribute to his professionalism.

Hope has provided laughs his entire life, and there are few greater gifts, they say.

"It's impossible not to like Bob Hope," Adams said. "When you went to work with Bob Hope, it was never work. ... Everything was fun."





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