By FRED SHUSTER Los Angeles Daily News
POSTED: April 29, 2002
BOB HOPE'S FUNNIEST OUTTAKES
He broke ratings records in radio and revolutionized television by perfecting the opening monologue.
Bob Hope's 60-year broadcast career at NBC was marked by more high points and memorable moments than anybody's. From his early years in vaudeville and radio to movies and television, Hope was an unparalleled success due to a carefully honed persona that included a sly, speedy delivery, relaxed personality and topical gags that let audiences feel they were in on the joke.
"He was a natural because he'd done vaudeville, Broadway, radio and movies, and by the time he got to TV, he was an expert," veteran comedian Phyllis Diller observes. "He was such a brilliant, brilliant showman. And he worked so easily. It was never work for him. Wanda Landowska, the great harpsichordist, once said, 'I never practice. I only play.' And with Bob, it was all play."
Hope, who turns 99 on May 29, still lives at his sprawling compound in his beloved Toluca Lake with wife, Dolores. Among the wealthiest and best-known entertainers and most savvy of property owners, the British-born, Ohio-raised Hope - initially billed as master of "song, patter and eccentric dancing" - conquered every show-biz arena.
Practically everyone agrees Hope was a scream, but just how funny was he when he departed from the script? You can find out tomorrow when Kelsey Grammer hosts "Bob Hope's Funniest Outtakes," an hour-long look at some of the best ad-libbed moments from the 284 variety programs the legendary comic taped for NBC. Along with never-before-seen footage, famous faces including Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr., Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton discuss the impact of Hope's long and influential career.
"When NBC approached me to host the program, I simply said, 'Yeah, I'm in,' " Grammer said from the "Frasier" set. "I've been a lifelong fan of Bob along with all my family members when I was growing up. Not only is he a great comedian, he's also a great American. His contribution to the war effort is something to be honored and respected. So, to tip my hat to one of history's greatest comics and patriots was a real joy."
The Hope outtakes reveal the spontaneous and unrehearsed Bob, said Linda Hope, the entertainer's daughter and executive producer of the program.
"You get a good sense of the man behind the show," she says. "One of my favorite segments is a sketch Bob does with Jack Benny and Rosemary Clooney where they just break each other up."
The program is part of NBC's 75th-anniversary celebration in which a series of shows and reunion programs honor the country's first commercial broadcasting network. Hope's last special for NBC was in 1997.
"He's been with NBC almost as long as NBC has been around," says Ron Simon, a television curator at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York. "He started in radio there in the '30s and moved into TV when [NBC] did. His opening monologue where he kidded politicians and had fun with the news everyone was talking about was a direct influence on people like Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jon Stewart. He had a major, major impact on the medium and, of course, comedy."
With the age of 99 just weeks away, how is Hope doing?
"Like any of us, he has good days and bad days," Linda Hope says. "Some days we see a lot of the old Bob Hope, but otherwise he does a lot of sleeping."
She said the idea of Hope living to 100 "is something that really appeals to him," adding that he wants to beat longtime pal George Burns, who lived to be 100 years and 49 days.
Host: Kelsey Grammer