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A Little More 'This is Bob Hope'
December 29, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

I only ran into Bob Hope once, but from that brief encounter, I fully believe a central premise of PBS’s American Masters special on this comedy virtuoso.

The “unabridged director’s cut” of This Is Bob Hope airs Friday at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings), running about a half hour longer than the version that aired Thanksgiving weekend.

The extra time contains nothing scurrilous, just further details on the key points of Hope’s life: that he grew up in poverty, sweated in vaudeville for a decade before he got a break, became a multimedia star from his Road pictures with Bing Crosby (right), and found his signature calling as the comedic emcee and host of everything from wartime USO tours to Oscar telecasts.

It is suggested at one point during the documentary, which was directed by John Scheinfeld, that once Hope became a star, there was never a morning when he didn’t wake up thinking how he was going to promote being Bob Hope that day.

With some performers that would sound cynical and calculating, as if he had to put on a manufactured skin to sell an invented persona.

In Hope’s case, it didn’t seem to be the case. He had worked hard to become famous and make a lot of money, and he saw no reason to apologize for either. Nor had fame and fortune made him weary of the people to whose patronage he owed those pleasant things.

My personal brush with Hope came late in his life, during one of the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

We were on a shuttle boat from lower Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty, a ride that lasted perhaps half an hour. It was a warm day, and Hope was sitting in a chair on the deck with his wife, Dolores (right).

The passengers were mostly regular people going to the ceremony, and Hope took over the conversation just by being Bob Hope. He didn’t demand the floor or seem to be performing. He simply was the good-natured, gently wisecracking center of attention, from launch to landing.

When you thought of the years that went into making that casual radiance look completely instinctive, you felt like you’d seen a master class.

This Is Bob Hope features a half-dozen show biz folks explaining why Hope was an honored household name for so many decades. Woody Allen praises his comedic skills in the movies. Dick Cavett recalls that he almost never talked about anything outside the public Bob Hope. Brooke Shields and Tom Selleck salute his patriotism.

The early nuts and bolts of his career are covered somewhat briefly, noting how he struggled in vaudeville while learning all the skills that would later propel him to the top.

He scored on radio and scored bigger in the Road movies opposite Crosby, with whom This Is Bob Hope says he shared a genuine rapport and affection.

In May 1941, against his wishes, his radio producer convinced him to do a live show from a nearby military base. The response of that crowd changed his life, he later said, propelling him into 50 years of entertaining U.S. troops during and between wars.

The documentary notes the sea change over those years, from the rapturous soldiers of World War II to a marked coolness among some troops in Vietnam when Hope assured them their president was working hard to bring them home.

Hope was baffled by antiwar sentiments, several of his fellow performers recall, and the fact he was seen as having taken a side in those partisan years meant for the first time that he became less of a voice for all the people.

He remained a living legend in show business, setting a standard that is still admired as a host of awards shows and specials.

He was also known for extensive charity work, though it probably should be noted that he was paid to host and promote many of those events.

This Is Bob Hope spends little time on the post-Vietnam years, noting his career had a long and well-honored landing even as some felt he hung on a little too long, selling jokes that were fresh and wonderful in 1963 and less so a quarter of a century later.

Hope’s career was big and complex enough that two hours still don’t fully cover it. This is Bob Hope does, however, make the essential point that for many years he was the best-known and best-loved comedian in America. If he woke up every morning vowing to make that his job, he did his job well.

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Had the great pleasure of see his show on Guam and then again a week later in DaNang. The photo is from his show at Anderson AFB, Guam.
Dec 29, 2017   |  Reply
I missed the first viewing of this show. Probably will miss the "director's cut" as well. Do they go into his decades of womanizing? Stories abound that prove he had a girl in every port,but sometimes the girl was the same one,just moving along with Hope. Marilyn Maxwell had often been referred to as Mrs. Bob Hope. They introduced the Christmas classic song,"Silver Bells",in the 1951 film based on a Damon Runyon short story,"The Lemon Drop Kid". Great supporting cast,always needed in a Hope film. Celebrating Hope in "Me,too!"2017? Surprising.
Dec 29, 2017   |  Reply
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