In 1979, Linda Hope, Bob’s daughter, optioned a TV show my writing partner and I had written. She optioned it, but she didn’t pay us. Instead, she sold us into comedy slavery to her father as writers on his TV specials. I remember telling my kids I would be writing for Bob Hope. They asked if I thought he was funny. A “yes” answer would have consigned me to some parental purgatory. So I said, “He used to be funny.” But I was wrong. He was still funny.
He did a few NBC specials a year, but he worked almost every night of the year doing some benefit or other. And though it was against the Writers Guild rules, if you wanted the job, you wrote jokes for him every single day. I would answer the phone in the morning: “Joke Deli.” And Hope’s 74-year-old head writer would say, “Pacy, we need two Carters, a Reagan, a New York, a flood in Arkansas, a Pope, a Sumatra, and a Palmer and a Nicklaus — he’s doing a golf gig tonight.” And at 4 o’clock, we’d deliver the jokes to the guard at Hope’s Toluca Lake estate.
I remember for one “Back to School Special” Hope went around the country to various colleges. I got to watch him performing on the USC campus. I was standing behind him, watching him move across the stage, and it struck me that he was still the dancer he was when he first broke into show business. He had litheness, an ease of body that belied the years. He was almost 80, but he was still young.
He rarely rehearsed for the shows. We would rehearse everyone but him in a skit. He might do a quick run-through. Then we’d shoot. He’d make an exception if there were a beautiful woman on the show. Then he might rehearse. When Angie Dickinson was on, it was understood that whatever the skit, there would be a kiss. And that he would rehearse. Brooke Shields was on a lot. She was still a teenager. No kiss, just looking.
Two days before each show aired, he would shoot the opening — 10 minutes of topical jokes. The four writers would submit hundreds of jokes. I never quite understood his selection process. And the result was hit and miss. It began to get to me. It got so that each of my dreams would begin, “But seriously, folks . . . ”
We worked for him for a few years. The first year, I was also Dianne Feinstein’s media consultant and was spending a great deal of time in San Francisco. Though she knew I worked for Hope, he never found out I was moonlighting. Dianne once asked why I didn’t write funny stuff for her. I didn’t answer. And though Hope and I were at different ends of the political spectrum, he was pretty much an equal-opportunity comedian.
And Bob Hope saved my life. Danny Thomas, nearing the end of his career, was a guest on a special. Hope introduced us to Danny as the writers of the skit he was in. Thomas proceeded to pull a loaded pistol from his pocket and aim it at us, saying the skit wasn’t funny. Bob talked him down, promising we would make it funnier.
At Christmas one year, there was a big box from Tiffany’s. A gift from Bob. I was very excited till I opened it and found six beautiful water tumblers, all engraved with Hope’s signature. At the time, I thought it was tacky. But I wish I had them now.
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