You remember Ike," says Bob Hope in one of his most famous quips. "He was the pro at the White House." He refers to Dean Martin as "the pro from Smirnoff's." Hope does not characterize himself, but if he did it might be as "the pro from everywhere." In an entertainment world given to hyperbole Hope (see cover) stands supremely alone as the wildest-eyed, most unreformed and unreconstructed sports nut in the history of show business. He is the kind of sports nut who will interrupt a visit to New Orleans to fly to Cincinnati to play a round of golf with some cronies. He has been a fighter, a sprinter, a pool hustler, a four-handicap golfer, a professional football team's mascot and a holder of substantial shares of stock in enterprises such as the Los Angeles Rams and the Cleveland Indians. He seldom misses a big fight, even if he has to rush over to the Pantages Theater in Hollywood to see it on theater TV. He has played something between 1,000 and 1,500 golf courses, in such varied places as Brazil and Greenland, in company with ant-eaters, monkeys and, sometimes, Presidents. Occasionally he drops in on his wife and children in North Hollywood, where he is most often to be found on his own 190-yard one-hole golf course, or at the pool table working out double banks with a kiss, or whipping the neighborhood sharpies at table tennis. Along the way he has managed to raise more money for near-bankrupt golf courses, Olympic committees, war relief, medical charities and down-and-out old friends than any other six celebrities, a fact that he will break a leg rather than discuss. A Hope appearance on a golf course is a sure guarantee of a full house for whatever charity is involved, and the crowds will ignore the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jimmy Demaret and Sam Snead merely to overhear Hope say:
"I wear Arnold Palmer shoes, Arnold Palmer pants and Arnold Palmer shirts, but I play golf like Betsy Palmer."
"I'll need three caddies, please. One to carry the bag and two to carry me."
"Let's see now. It's about 150 yards to the hole. Caddie, would you remove the pin, please?"
June 2, 1963
For a widely traveled multimillionaire, Hope maintains an astonishing reverence for athletes. "I've always liked to rub elbows with sports figures," he once said. "They've always been heroes tome." Accordingly, he puts them on his TV shows at the slightest excuse. The high point of his comedy-cum-sports life came when he rubbed 11 famous pairs of sports elbows on a single show. Surrounded by Wilt Chamberlain, Pancho Gonzalez, Dick Groat, Rafer Johnson, Joe Bellino, Jerry Lucas, Roger Maris, Barry MacKay, Arnold Palmer, Floyd Patterson and Norm Van Brocklin, Hope was as close to speechless as he will ever be. But Jayne Mansfield wasn't. She asked Wilt the Stilt, "How many baskets did you weave last year?"
Said Wilt: "You don't weave baskets in a game. You throw them."
"Well," said the professionally dumb blonde, "how many games did you throw?"
On another occasion Hope found himself exchanging network banter with Fred Haney, Lou Burdette, Duke Snider and Willie Mays. "Fred," he said to Haney, "you haven't always been in baseball, have you?"
"What do you mean?" asked Haney.
"Well, weren't you with the Pittsburgh Pirates for a couple of years?"
(That was a while back. Hope has updated the joke as follows: "I like the Mets. But I like baseball, too.")
Hope asked Mays how he liked San Francisco. "The first time the fog lifts I'll let you know," said Willie.
Said Hope: "The last time I saw a game up there it was called on account of clear."
Then he turned to the Duke: "You look in great shape, Duke. How's the knee?"
"I can't kick."
"You belong with the Rams."
Hope's own adventures with the Los Angeles Rams have been extensive. Once he shared ownership of 10% of the team, unloading the stock when his group sold out to another. "I like the Rams," he said. "They taught me a lesson my wallet will never forget. They'll do better next year. They're going to put a handle on the ball." Outlandishly attired, Hope once served as honorary kicker to open a 49ers-Bears game in San Francisco. "I got off a beaut," he recalls. "Eleven yards on the fly. Then I saw all those Bears and I jumped into Frankie Albert's arms."
He has been in and out of the Cleveland Indians' ownership twice. He bought a big slice of the team when Bill Veeck bought in, sold out when Veeck sold out. Recently he bought a small share of the team—"for sentimental reasons; I'm from Cleveland, you know"—and now finds himself a member of the board of directors. He predicts that the Indians will end in the first division this year, thus proving that he abounds in fidelity. "Sure, they're off to a bad start," he admits. "But last year they were in first place by July first and then they took a nose dive. This year they're gonna reverse that." He has his own formula for ending the Yankees' dynasty. "All they have to do is bench Mantle, Maris and Howard and introduce their pitchers to Bo Belinsky," he explains. "Then the Indians would have a chance."
Hope's career in baseball, unlike his career in golf, has taken place mostly in the grandstands, although he and Gary Cooper played in an annual charity baseball game in Los Angeles for years. Hope would arrive in a Brink's truck, walk out on a red carpet and make a grand entrance while a valet sprayed him, brushed him off and administered to his tonsils. Hope would take phone calls on the field, dictate messages and undergo massages, and collect in the neighborhood of $20,000 for the Hollywood Youth Welfare Fund. His fascination with baseball started in Cleveland when he and his boyhood pals used to attend Indians' games, "every once in a while even paying our way in." When an eagle-eyed gatekeeper would catch them, Hope and his buddies would repair to the traditional knothole (in the old days, a ball park without a knothole was considered bush) and stare enraptured at the backsides of Tris Speaker and Napoleon Lajoie. When Hope brags, which is seldom, it is something along the lines of, "I guess I was the Grey Eagle's biggest fan. I got to know him pretty well, you know," or, "J know Joe DiMaggio. He comes from San Francisco. That's a city bounded on three sides by DiMaggios." He is even proud of the time he was mistaken for Trainer Gus Mauch by a paltry 31 million people. Mauch, then with the Yanks, now with the Mets, was appearing on To Tell the Truth at the same time that Hope was doing the opening monologue on his own TV show. The signals got mixed, with the audio from To Tell the Truth accompanying the video from the Hope show. Hope was actually saying, "Richard Nixon lives here in Whittier, Calif., and he's so sure he's going to be President that they're building the log cabin he was born in." But the TV audience merely saw his lips moving and heard him say three times, "My name is Gus Mauch." It was confusing, though not altogether unpleasant for Hope the baseball nut.
Although he hasn't played much baseball, Hope was once an inveterate bettor on the game, usually on the wrong side. In fact, one of the longest nonstop hustles on record began with a baseball bet between Hope and his friendly archenemy, Jackie ("I am the Greatest") Gleason. Here is a slightly censored version of the affair as rendered by Hope on a recent all-night transcontinental flight while everybody else on the plane was trying to sleep.
"It all started at Toots Shor's," Hope began, the nostalgia glazing his eyeballs. "For years Gleason used to come up to me and he'd say (you know how he talks), 'Oh, if I ever get you out on the golf course, man, you're mine!'
"I'd say, 'Listen, if you ever get a little money together, check me, Daddy.'
"This went on for about 10 years, and then came that 1954 World Series with Cleveland and the Giants—the one the Giants won four straight? We started betting on the first game—we're betting for drinks, you know. What else are you gonna bet Gleason? And pretty soon I'm way behind and I'm saying, 'Hey, Fatso, double the bet, huh?'
"So at the end of the fourth game I owed him a distillery. And then I'm his pigeon. So he keeps trying to get me to come up to his place so he can hustle me some more. I'd get phone calls from him whenever I was in New York. He tried everything to get me up there. One time I remember he called and said, 'You've got to come up. I've got a nude guitar player here to entertain us.'
"The next thing I know I'm out on the Coast and he calls me and he says, 'This is John Benny. Where you at, Sourball?'
"I say, 'Where are you? You must be out in public somewhere.'
"He says, 'I'm at the Brown Duhhhby, Sourball, and tonight Sugar Ray fights the onion picker, and you got the onion picker.'
"I say, 'Basilio is 2 to 1,' and he says, 'You got the odds.' So I bet him an amount of money and I rush over to the Pantages to see the fight. I'm up in the balcony and Robinson murders Basilio, and at the end of the 15 rounds I get up and I say to myself, 'Well, I lost it.' Then I hear this voice say, 'Judge So-and-so says 9-5-1 for Basilio, Judge So-and-so says....' And I froze and I said somebody's getting robbed here and it isn't me.
"So Carmen gets the decision and now I'm looking for Gleason. The next day he calls me up and he says, 'Say, where you at?'
"I say, 'What d'ya mean, where am I at? I'm right here waiting for the money.'
"He says, 'Never mind that, what time can we get to the first tee?' He brings me the money wrapped in a handkerchief with a little piece of wood in it, and then we go to play golf.
"We get to the tee and we decide on an amount and he says, 'I want nine shots handicap.'
"I say, 'Where's that guy that used to sit around at Toots Shor's and hand out all that baloney?' I say, 'I don't give my grandmother nine shots.'
"He says, 'I can't play like your grandmother.'
"On the first hole he took a 7. On the second hole he hit two woods on the green and knocked a putt in for a birdie. I said, 'You dirty fat so-and-so! You fly all the way out here just to embarrass me.' He's dancing around hollering, 'I love it! I love it!' and he's singing Happiness Is Jes' a Thing Called Joe.
"After that he never made a par.
"Then he finds out I've got a pool table and so we go back to my house and I take him at that, too. But after all this, would you believe it? I'm still behind from that World Series. If you ever see me doing a guest shot on his show, you'll know why."
The rules of fair reporting require that both parties to a dispute be given a chance to speak. Herewith Gleason on the subject of the pool game:
"It is well known throughout the world that I could beat Hope playing pool using a broom handle with a buttered tip while suffering a severe asthma attack and a third-degree migraine headache. If Mr. Hope dares to deny this, ask him to hock everything, including his underwear, and put all of his money in one big pile, and I will play him left-handed while doing the twist."
The historian's lot is a difficult one. Each deponent budgeth not from his story, and Hope even insists that his pool game has caused him to become known as "Burbank Fats." It is documented that Hope the child shot a hot stick around the Alhambra poolroom at 105th and Euclid in Cleveland, and his brother Ivor once remarked that Bob toddled into the house one day with $85, which his mother insisted he return because it was "tainted." Hope, ever the modest one, maintains that Ivor exaggerated the story by a multiple of about 40. Once during World War II Hope walked into the recreation room of the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, picked up a cue and ran nine balls before scratching on the 10th. "The table slopes," he announced and stalked out.
The Cleveland of Hope's youth, circa 1918, abounded in pool hustlers, but Hope and his friend Whitey Jennings were certainly the only footrace hustlers in the city, perhaps in any city. Cleveland used to have big Sunday picnics, and the main event was always the 100-yard dash. First prize was usually a $15 purchase order, and place money was $10. Hope and Jennings were not especially fast, but they were hungry, and their guile has seldom been exceeded in the annals of criminology. Says Hope: "Get the picture now. Maybe there'd be a Greek picnic at Luna Park and another picnic at Euclid Beach, which was the other end of the city, maybe a 40-minute ride on the streetcar. So we wanted to finish one-two in both races, see, but they'd be scheduled to go off at the same time. So we'd call up American Steel and Wire, see—they'd be running the picnic at Euclid Beach—and we'd ask for the man in charge, and we'd tell him we're the Cleveland Plain Dealer and what time are the footraces going off?
"He'd say, 'Oh, about 2:30,' and we'd say, 'Oh, 2:30, huh? Well, that's a shame. We wanted to send a photographer out to take a picture of you and the race, but we couldn't make it that early. We're covering another event, but if you could make it 3:45 we'd be there.' And he'd always say, 'Oh, that's O.K., we'll eat first.'
"So then we'd go out to Luna Park and make our fare by singing and dancing on the streetcar. We'd go up to the starter, see, and we'd say, 'Do you start the race with one, two, three or do you say on your mark, get set, go?' And he'd say, 'I say on your mark, get set, go.' So now we know this, see, and we'd be off on 'set.' I mean, it wasn't the Olympic Games, you know. They wouldn't restart the race just for that. So we'd have five yards on the field and Charlie Paddock didn't have a chance, you know? We had our shoes off, our toenails grown long to dig in. We could move. We could move! Then we'd hop on the streetcar and go win the other race.
"The only trouble we ever had was from a guy named Henry Thomas. He started winning a few, so we had to bump him a little. I'd bump him at the start and Whitey'd bump him at the 50-yard mark, and Henry was out of the money."
Hope might still be around Cleveland running in the footraces if it weren't for an amateur fighter named Happy Walsh. There are many bizarre stories about Hope's boxing career, some of them disseminated by Hope in his fiendish willingness to get a laugh even at his own expense. "I am the only fighter who was ever carried both ways," he has said. "In and out of the ring." Once he was interviewed about his pugilistic career:
Hope: I was a three-and-three fighter.
Interviewer: Three wins and three losses?
Hope: No. Three times knocked out and three times failed to show.
The noted baseball-and-lasagna historian, Joe Garagiola, has described Hope as "a fighter. A loser but a fighter. A 50-50 fighter. He didn't hurt anybody in or out of the ring."
This is not entirely untrue. Hope had half a dozen odd fights around the YMCA, bringing harm to no one. One day Whitey Jennings came to Hope and announced that he had entered the Ohio state amateurs under the name of Packy West. Not to be outdone, Hope signed up for the lightweight division as Packy East. In his first fight he met a timid boxer who kept turning to his corner for advice. Hope hit him while his head was turned and won the fight. Then he drew a bye and found himself in the semifinals against the Ohio lightweight champion, Happy Walsh. "He was called Happy because he just smiled back when he was slugged," Hope said later. "Nothing bothered this fellow—fists, knives, guns, nothing. He looked as if he even had muscles in his hair."
In the presence of a posse of howling fans from the Alhambra poolroom, Hope trembled his way into the ring to do battle. Walsh engaged in the classical act of feeling his opponent out in the first round. Hope took this for weakness. He began showing off his fancy footwork, and even popped Happy on the button, whereupon the cheery warrior dropped his gloves to his side and smiled. Full of confidence, Hope went out for the second round, threw a flamboyant right, "and that's all I remember." Others recall that Hope went down in a sitting position, bounced once and fell over. "I got so much resin in my hair," he said, "I can still play two verses of Humoresque in it with a comb."
The fight decided Hope's life. Up to then he had been torn between a career as a star athlete and a career as a brilliant entertainer. "Walsh knocked me right into dancing school," Hope says. "I never missed a beat." His only encounter with fisticuffs since the Walsh fight came when he was refereeing a boxing match in a movie with Mickey Rooney. The mighty mite unleashed a punch from the fourth row and decked Hope, thus enabling him to keep his personal losing streak intact. Hope will drop everything to see a fight. He is still annoyed at missing Cassius Clay's debated win over Doug Jones. He flew from Nassau just to see the fight in New York, but the weather was bad and the plane landed instead in Montreal. Hope ran all over town looking for a theater showing the fight. Alas, there was none. He hopes to do better at the forthcoming Liston-Patterson fight. He thinks that Patterson deserves a rematch even though his showing in Chicago was "ridiculous."
Except for the night he won on "the onion picker," the former Packy East has fared about as well in his fight betting as he fared in his actual boxing. For some reason, he kept expecting Joe Louis to lose (except when Louis finally did lose). On the night of the Louis-Conn fight, Hope was doing his show from New Orleans, and he announced to the audience that he had a bet on Conn. After the second round he reported that Conn "is fighting it just like we planned it. He'll tire Louis and then it's curtains for Joe. If Conn wins, I may retire from radio. If he loses, I'm back in vaudeville. But we're winning, we're winning." After the eighth round Hope announced: "Well, money isn't everything."
Those were the years—the late '30s—when Hope discovered golf and Bing Crosby, a twin lode that has enriched both the field of humor and the coffers of more charities than even Mortimer Caplin could count. Wherever Hope and Crosby showed up, the mobs followed them, eager to catch a quip or two. "Here comes Crosby in his car," Hope would say. "He even drives a car with a slice." The "feud" waxed. "That Crosby is the most generous guy who ever lived," Hope told the press. "He'll spend two or three hundred bucks on a dinner party and think nothing of it. But if you clip him for a $5 bet on a round of golf you get plenty of moaning and you wait awhile for the five bucks."
Crosby would show up for a match and say, "How about the financial arrangements? Would 10, 10 and 10 [$10 for the first nine, $10 for the second and $10 for the match] suit you?"
"Yes," Hope would say, "but I want to see the money."
"You don't trust me?"
"Well, I don't want to bet unless you've got it with you. You have such a bad memory."
The game would start and Hope would shout: "Get that dog out of there before Crosby puts a saddle on him." Then he would begin a string of Crosby horse jokes. (As Hope had once explained to Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen: "Hollywood gives a comedian so many subjects to talk about. There's the movies, the weather, Crosby's clothes, Crosby's horses, Crosby's golf, Crosby's racetrack, Crosby's hair and Crosby.")
Hope would say: "I put $2 on one of Bing's horses and the horse balanced the $2 on his nose all the way around."
"Bing has the only horses I've ever seen that could start from a kneeling position."
"One of his horses is dying. It'll be the first one he ever saw finish. I should feel sorry, but I'll wait till Saturday to see if she runs before Bing decides to bury her."
"Did you hear about the strike Crosby's jockeys put on? They want to be paid by the hour."
"Those new streamlined trains go right past Crosby's stables, and every morning Bing goes out and lines up the horses. 'See,' he tells them as the train goes by, 'that's what I mean.' "
All this badinage effectively obscured the fact that Hope and Crosby, not necessarily in that order, were becoming fine amateur golfers. Hope now lists three holes in one and many a sub-par round; had he not been such a natural clown, had he approached the game with the funereal attitude of others, he might have become a serious threat in amateur championships. As it was, he contented himself with appearing in pro-am contests, almost always for charities. Playing for the first time on the Sacramento Golf Club with Babe Ruth, Crosby and the governor of California, Hope shot a 36, one over par, a remarkable round in view of the fact that Crosby had hired hot-dog vendors to shout at the top of their lungs every time Hope approached a ball. Hope recalls: "It was the morning after for the Babe. He hit left-handed and the crowd couldn't get used to his slice. It looked like the Normandy landings. He hit eight people. You could have made a fortune selling Band-Aids."
As recently as last February, Hope played with Arnold Palmer in the Phoenix pro-am. He matched Palmer's 35 on the first nine and took a 40 on the back nine, with a triple bogey on one hole. Palmer-Hope came in first. Said Hope: "I stole a little silverware." In England, Hope bet Palmer ¬£5 on a 15-foot putt and watched Palmer miss it. Palmer gave Hope the same bet and Hope dropped the putt. "It takes a real pro," he announced, pocketing the money. Still, he has not yet added Palmer to his list of pigeons, a list that includes Senator Frank Lausche of Ohio ("I keep him in an aviary and I pull him out once in a while to clip his wings") and Dizzy Dean ("If I could play Dizzy a couple of games every winter for stakes, I could retire"). Hope has even made a few dollars in his day from the famed golfer and President, Dwight David Eisenhower.
One day Hope found himself partnered with Ike against two Senators. Hope butchered the course for an 84, and he and Ike lost $4 each. The next day Hope drew General Hoyt Vandenberg for a partner against Ike and another golfer. Hope shot a 75 and Ike was a $4 loser again. Pulling out the money, the President said to Hope, without a flicker of a smile: "You didn't play this way yesterday."
Hope never tires of kidding the former President about his love for golf. "You're never lonely when playing golf with Ike," he said. "Three or four Secret Service men ride along in your golf bag to make sure you don't swing your clubs too wildly. If you knock a ball into the rough and it stops near a tree, the tree becomes a Secret Service man and walks away." Hope said Ike once bawled out his caddie for looking at his watch. The caddie said, "This isn't a watch, Mr. President. This is a compass." And when Ike shanked a ball onto the adjacent fairway, the caddie observed: "You sure freed that one, Mr. Lincoln." Last year Hope cracked: "President Kennedy is flying to California. His wife is flying to Italy and India. Bobby is flying to Japan. Remember the good old days when you knew where the President was? Out on the golf course?"
For all the ragging, past and present, Hope enjoys a warm friendship with the former President. Hope's friends like to tell the story of how he took his son Tony, then a student at Georgetown University, to meet Mr. and Mrs. Eisenhower at the White House. Mamie said, "Are you a freshman at Georgetown?" Tony explained that he was a junior.
"A junior?" Mrs. Eisenhower said. "How come you've never been to the house before?"
With President Kennedy, Hope is a trifle more distant, owing to the fact that the Kennedys seem to play everything but golf. But he still slips in an occasional barb. At a football banquet he bowed to the President and said, "Touch football is not a sissy sport. Up there in Hyannisport, roughing the passer is a federal rap." Hope swears that he once asked an athlete if he played touch football and the athlete answered, "No, I'm not interested in politics."
Only once in his long career in sports has Hope run into a sour situation, and that was in England. He showed up for the British Amateur at Porthcawl, Wales, announcing, "My putting's bad, but my long game stinks." Asked who else was playing in the Amateur, Hope said, "Oh, all the other great golfers." The late Bill Corum of the New York Journal-American wrote that Hope had an excellent chance to get into the second round; all he had to do was draw a bye in the first. Against this background of frivolity, Hope teed off and smacked the ball 50 yards dead ahead. To the 500 spectators, 24 stewards and assorted policemen, he said, "My usual drive. Always on the line, you see." Christopher C. Fox, a calm pipesmoker, eliminated Hope 2 and 1, commenting: "I didn't play my best by any means, but it was great fun." Not all of the high priests of British golf agreed; there was muffled criticism that Hope was making a travesty of the game. David Niven, shooting a picture at Pinewood, sallied into the fray: "I know him well enough to state that he entered the competition as a private sportsman with a great love of the game and of England, and not as a professional entertainer in search of publicity." That ended the fight till the next year, when Hope got a cable from the London News Chronicle, which wanted to know—harumph and ahem! whether Mr. Hope intended to play in the 1952 Amateur. Answered Hope: CERTAINLY HOPE I CAN WORK OUT MY SCHEDULE SO I CAN AGAIN BE A BIG THREAT IN BRITISH AMATEUR. BING IS COMING TOO IF HE CAN GET ENOUGH ADRENALIN.
That night, The Star, sister paper of the News Chronicle, let loose a blast: "However much cinema fans may rejoice, golfers will feel only dismay at the probability of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope playing in our Amateur. Bing came to St. Andrews in 1950 and was welcomed. Bob came to Porthcawl last year and was endured. Let us be spared the two of them together on one golf course.... Last year Hope never looked like a serious contender. His first match was a nightmare of gagging and tomfoolery. He departed leaving behind many sighs of relief."
Now having said the same thing in seven different ways, the crusading Star sat back and reaped the whirlwind. First to sound off was Jimmy Demaret, who had just finished winning the $10,000 Bing Crosby pro-am golf tournament with Hope as his partner. "England keeps talking of her golfers in comparing Crosby and Hope," Demaret said. "What golfers? Never heard of them." Demaret said he was stunned by the report. "I can't think of two guys who have done more for golf than Crosby and Hope. They have given everything to it and taken nothing from it.... I honestly believe that if Bob Hope or Bing Crosby could have the time to practice a little more they could lick 90% of the British amateurs."
Grantland Rice added: "Peevishness is breaking out all over the map, especially in England. Few first-class golfers would ever care to play in the British Amateur. It so happens Bing Crosby and Bob Hope have done more for golf along human and charity lines than any golfers in British history. Bob alone has given the British thousands in days of need, more than any Britisher ever gave to his own institutions."
Hope stayed away from the British Amateur, and instead issued a challenge. He and Bing would play any two British entertainers for any bet they wanted, "and they can have Lloyd's of London on their side." The match was played for charity later that year at the Temple Golf Club in Maidenhead, England, and the atmosphere was even more jolly than it had been at the Amateur. The British crowds mobbed Hope and Crosby, surrounded the greens before the tee shots and in general made such a howling mess of the match that it had to be called after nine holes, with Comedian Ted Ray and Singer Donald Peers 1 up. The New York Times commented: "Hope played his shots beautifully and consistently right where the crowds were biggest." A good time was had by all, and the News Chronicle and Star turned their cannons on weightier matters.
Hope and Crosby, having enriched another charity, returned to the United States to discover that the U.S. Olympic Committee was in financial trouble and would not be able to send a complete team to Helsinki. The pair promptly went on a 14½-hour telethon and raised more than a quarter of a million dollars. Said Avery Brundage, president of the committee: "This is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to us. It assures us of being able to send our strongest group of athletes to the Olympic Games. The Olympic Committee will be eternally grateful." Later that year Hope was elected chairman of the PGA Advisory Committee, and the association struck special medals for the three men they reckoned had done the most for golf: Bobby Jones, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Hope carries the medal with him and will show it at the drop of an eyebrow.
Hope has been ordered to slow down since he suffered an embolism (blood clot) in his left eye in 1958. For a while it was feared he would lose the sight of the eye, and Earl Wilson wrote in his column: "Bob Hope never made anybody sad until now." But specialists saved his eye and warned him to slacken his pace. Hope came out quipping on his television show. 'Tin happy to say this is Bob Hope coming to you live from Hollywood," he began his monologue. "I'm back again, courtesy of my sponsor and the New York Medical Center's Parts Department." Hope said the doctors "have thinned out my blood to the point where I'm just a normal athlete now."
A few days later he went out on the course and knocked off a 34 for nine holes. He has been going ever since, despite repeated warnings from the doctors. A few weeks ago, taping his last show of the current season with Arnold Palmer as a guest, Hope bounced around the NBC-TV studios in Burbank as if the word "embolism" were not in the new Webster. A harassed Palmer, on his way to Las Vegas for the Tournament of Champions, found himself backed against the drapes over and over again for free lessons. When everybody else was taking five, Hope was practicing his swing. Warming up the audience, he was a study in nonstop chatter. He teed up a ball and hit it softly into a curtain. "You notice I'm holding back on my swing," he said. "I'd hate to shank a drive and thin out the crew. Now I shall give you the full swing. Fore! Fore! Have the hands a little in front, eh, Arnie? That's pretty interesting. I'm usually holding my pocketbook.
"All right, let's go, I'm starting to melt. Get dressed, Arnie. You ready? Always hanging around me for lessons, huh? Golf is my regular business, you know. The other stuff is just a sideline. I'm out there every day, playing 5¢ a hundred. I love it, too. I'm really sick. Golf's a game for fellows that are too old for girls and still want to get into a trap.
"I played with Phil Harris the other day and he had a terrible accident. He stepped up to the tee, blew on his hands and they disappeared. He had to quit on the second nine; his golf bag sprang a leak. He has the only five-iron in the world with a cork in the end. Made by Seagram. He had a terrific hangover. On the first hole he bent over to knock this putt in. Just as he was lining up the putt a dog ran between his legs. He never even looked up. He just rapped the putt in. I said, 'Didn't that dog bother you?' He said, 'Was that a real dog?' "
Off camera his friends commingled to exchange their favorite Hope ad libs. "He hooked into an amberjack in the Bahamas last month. It almost broke his arm. The rod was bouncing all over the place. He looked up and he said, 'Man, I wish I had a bigger belly button.' "
"One time he told me, 'My great Dane came from a litter of five. He was third, and paid $3.20 to show.' "
"He said he and Bing dug so many divots in England that Sussex is now in Devonshire."
"He stepped into a hole at the Bermuda Dunes Club and hurt his leg. He said, 'It won't bother me with my act. I'm used to working from a kneeling position.' He said, 'Luckily there was a doctor behind me. He ran up, saw I was hurt and asked if he could play through.' "
On camera, there is trouble. The script calls for a bus driver to break Hope's golf club over his knee and proclaim: "And next time, leave the driving to us!" Peter Leeds, the actor playing the bus driver, breaks the stick with too much enthusiasm and hits Hope in the groin. Hope cries out in pain, shouts, "We'll do the retakes tomorrow," and hobbles to his dressing room. Ten minutes later he returns and says, "For a minute there I thought I was in the Peppermint Lounge." During the retake, the new golf club fails to break. The audience dissolves into laughter, and Hope cries, "That couldn't happen the first time, huh? I coulda been 10 years younger."
A little later he is singing Thanks for the Memory, and another television season is over. Then he goes off to New York for 30 theater appearances and five dinner speeches in seven days, and as many rounds of golf as he can play. So much for the doctors. Hope has one pace, and that is full-throttle. He has no regrets. He is like the Teasdale poem: "If we had it all to do,/It would be done the same again."
Except maybe he'd try to squeeze in a little more golf. Not baseball, however. "I'd like to have more time with the Cleveland club," he says, "but why should I louse them up?"