August 27, 2009


SAUNTERING ON (Mark Steyn, Steyn on Stage and Screen)

Back in the late Thirties, Bob Hope and his writers created two “Bob Hopes”, two public personae that kept him in business for the next six decades. For radio, he was smart, sharp, sly, with tremendous confidence: in my mind’s eye, I always see him walking out from the wings to the mike - the first great saunterer in show business. He was the pioneer stand-up and the inventor of the modern Oscar ceremony. Until the late Thirties, the Academy Awards was like Rotarian of the Year night in a hick town. At the 1937 Oscars, Cecil B de Mille, presenting the awards for editing and sound recording, spoke for 35 minutes. The next year, a Hollywood newcomer called Hope was asked to present the award for Best Short Subject. He eyed the table containing the statuettes, said, “Looks like Bette Davis’ garage”, and went on from there. And that was it: he’d found the tone - the affectionate joshing of the big-time stars. Next year, they asked him to host, which he kept doing every other year or so till the late Seventies. “What a night. The furs, the jewels, the glamour,” he began, in March 1978. “I haven’t seen so much expensive jewellery go by since I watched Sammy Davis Jr’s house sliding down Coldwater Canyon.” He was pushing 75, and the Hope persona his writers had cooked up in the Thirties still had a couple decades’ juice left in it.

But, for the movies, they came up with a second Hope - a boaster, a tightwad, a skirt-chaser, a coward: “Brave men run in my family.” The Paleface (1948) is the apotheosis of the second Hope, and the Road pictures its most basic template. I once tried to have a fairly serious conversation with him about why he didn’t go with the radio act on screen. “Well, we took a decision to play up the boob side more,” he said. I don’t know who the “we” is: it sounds like a corporate strategy taken by the full board and, commercially, it worked.

But there’s a third Hope I just love watching, the self-deprecating tuxedoed romantic of the very early movies. His first film was a two-reeler from 1934, Going Spanish. “When they catch Dillinger,” he told Walter Winchell, “they’re gonna make him watch it twice.”

...I consider myself especially lucky toi have seen Mr. Hope live, when he came to Colgate to film his "On Campus" special in 1979.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 27, 2009 12:00 AM
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