Co- Bob Hope’s 284th and final spec for NBC fondly surveys his associations with chief execs, and if there’s not much action and no skits, there’s a mile of presidential grins. With the millions of people he’s engaged over the years, his most memorable and remembering audiences were GIs, sailors and gyrenes; it’s only fitting he’s seen delighting 11 of their commanders in chief.
Program marks the final entry in the comedian’s continuous contract with NBC, for whom he first appeared on radio in 1935. His highly rated radio program went on until ’54, though he’d begun his TV specs four years earlier. (Actually, his first TV appearance was for the CBS experimental station W2XAD back in 1932.)
Present outing flashes clips from presidential encounters starting with FDR, with a particularly funny bit involving President and Mrs. Bush as she repeatedly misreads a line about her puppy book; even though Hope’s not in the brief seg, it represents Hope’s style: homey, self-deprecating and, ultimately, slyly teasing.
Either contemporarily or via clips from the past, Truman, the Bushes, the Fords, Nixon (through David and Julie Nixon Eisenhower), JFK, the Carters, Reagan and the Clintons are in sessions with the indefatigable Hope.
The producers have fashioned a good device: Tony Danza helping out the less-than-robust Hope in the Oval Office (built inside the L.A. Herald Examiner building). Danza’s warm and easeful as he points out Hope’s funny, historic moments. Thus a white-haired Hope, his eyes the eyes of a 20-year-old, winds up his NBC obligation.
Is it funny? Some, very funny; some forced. He doesn’t get much help from his straight men, at least in these too-brief clips, except for Reagan. Hope’s timing’s impeccable in his one-shot, necessarily abbreviated opening monologues, an art form Hope himself brought to fruition.
Hope, refusing to do a weekly TV series instead of his specials, said it was too much work. It was, since he was making films, making special appearances, golfing, touring service camps, entertaining troops overseas. His programs regularly soared in the ratings, and at least four of the specs pulled a 70 share.
There’s a Hope for President seg with Johnny Carson nominating him, but it’s lightweight, vault stuff. Don Johnson, Naomi Judd, Ann-Margret and Tom Selleck punctuate the program with their comments, and Steven Orich’s pleasant scoring is entirely appropriate.
This isn’t standard Bob Hope fare. It’s a bit like looking behind the curtain and finding an amused, engrossed wizard with a family album to display and it’s more than OK to laugh. Here’s a salute to a man who’s made people laugh for six decades, who, with his snappy air, his hoofing, his singing, that free-swinging gait, entertained troops as he poked fun at their officers. Now, Hope’s seen dishing it out to their ultimate superiors, and it’s a treat.
In 1929, Variety covered this new comedian at Proctor’s 86th St. Theatre in New York. He was singing “True Blue Love” for laughs, “Pagan Love Song” straight “Both very good,” summed up the review. Following that, there was Broadway, and then “Thanks for the Memory” and films, and wars that he helped relieve with his sharp, up-to-date comedy.
This TV entry? An amusing look at Hope’s tilting with presidents. And a touching recognition of a man who’s called the White House his favorite bed-and-breakfast place. His comedy and his career? Both terrif.