Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Saying Hello to Hope

While sitting at my desk in the Mattoon Journal Gazette one fine fall afternoon in 1986, I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, dialed the number of a Florida hotel and said hello to Bob Hope.
Bob Hope in 1986, at the age of 83. Photo by Allan Warren
Hope was on the road and due to appear at Eastern Illinois University for Parents’ Weekend. He had arranged the interview because, despite his superstar status, he simply thought that was what a professional performer was supposed to do — generate business for the show. I admired that straightforward professionalism.
We chatted for maybe 40 minutes. I was impressed with him, but he was unimpressed with himself. Here was a guy, after all, who’d actually had his own DC comic, just like Superman!
I remarked that he’d done the original version of the Ghostbusters franchise (Ghost Breakers in 1940, with Paulette Goddard), but Hope brushed aside any comparison. He pooh-poohed my question about the rumors that he was the richest guy in Hollywood, without exactly denying it.
Hope remarked that he’d been sitting on his hotel bed the night before, watching reruns of I Love Lucy and thinking how well Lucille Ball’s comedy held up. I could only wonder at the fact that I was talking to someone who, when he said the name “Lucy,” was merely pronouncing the name of an old friend.
Hope did phone interviews with college newspapers as a part of the tour, and one of the student reporters asked him what his old friend and movie co-star Bing Crosby was up to. Hope paused a moment, and then, in that unflappable voice, he replied.
“Well, not much. He’s dead,” Hope said drily.
The crooner had died nine years earlier. I always cite that anecdote to beginning journalism students to underline the advice, “Don’t embarrass yourself! Do your research!”
Hope and I talked about Hollywood, the nature of comedy, his Road pictures, his passion for golf, his military entertainment tours and any number of other things.
After I hung up the phone, I realized I really only knew one thing about Bob Hope — that he actually was still the same regular guy he’d been when he was a London-born unknown vaudevillian. Despite decades of stardom on Broadway, radio, the big and small screens and even in comic books, Hope somehow seemed to keep himself in perspective. No small feat, that.
I interviewed dozens of celebrities in my years in the journalism business, and met many lesser talents who had much larger egos. I’ve puzzled over the fact that it was the most famous of them all — Bob Hope — who had the easiest, most unassuming manner.
Hope died in 2003, at the age 0f 100. So thanks for the memories, Mr. Hope.

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