Three hours seems hardly enough time to encapsulate the career of Bob Hope, celebrating his 55th year with NBC and — come May 29 — his 90th birthday. But crew and celebrity-laden cast under the supervision of exec producer Linda Hope give it a good try. How much material was there? Put it this way: Brooke Shields didn’t show up until 2 hours and 41 minutes into the show.
Marathon taping at net’s studios May 1 was hodgepodge of clips, in-person and taped tributes and song and dance numbers.
After a brief parking-lot monologue by Jay Leno, action moved inside with Johnny Carson making his first official network appearance since retiring last year; he looks and sounds ready for another 30 years.
Various hosts introduced segs outlining Hope’s vaude, stage, radio, film, TV and concert careers, other performers — including every living president of the U.S. — dropped by or sent taped segments to relate anecdotes of varying interest. Action was broken from time to time for rather anachronistic live numbers by dancers lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks.
Highlight performances included Rosemary Clooney singing “I’ll Be Seeing You” and Peabo Bryson and Lea Salonga dueting on a medley of songs –“The Lady’s in Love with You,””Silver Bells,””Buttons and Bows”– introduced by Hope. Phil Hartman and Michael Richards appeared as veterans of Gettysburg (said to be the first time Hope went out to entertain the troops), Dave Thomas showed up with a less-than-brilliant Hope impresh, and audiences may still be wondering why Whoopi Goldberg was imitating Moms Mableyor what a nervous-but-charming Kirk Cameron was doing up there at all.
The funniest line of the evening belonged to Chevy Chase: “I usually celebrate (Hope’s) birthdays quietly at home, with my family,” and the most telling segment was a roundtable of Hope’s writers including Mel Shavelson, Larry Gelbart, Mort Lachman, Gene Perret and Martha Bolton — when an earthquake struck Southern California, Bolton said, her policeman husband received the second call to come to work – the first was from Hope, looking for up-to-the-second material.