Bob Hope — Our Honorary Mayor is Palm Springs' Gift to the World

In totaling the assets of the United States of America, we should consider listing Lester Townes Hope on the credit side.

Hildy Crawford Arts & Entertainment 0 Comments

In totaling the assets of the United States of America, we should consider listing Lester Townes Hope on the credit side. As far as America is concerned, he inherited the mantle of the beloved Will Rogers, bringing laughter to a world sadly in need of it and poking fun at anything and everything. There are no sacred cows that escape the Hope humor. Even the H-bomb fear collapsed a bit when he used it as fuel for a joke. "Now they’re worried about whether the H-bombs are going to be clean . . . We’ll all be gone but it’ll be sanitary." As far as Palm Springs is concerned, he’s focused the world’s spotlight on his favorite town . . . bringing it millions of dollars in free publicity.

Britain really sent us a bundle when the Hope family migrated from England, bringing their fifth son in past the Statue of Liberty, which he has passed so many times since that she waves at him. The Hopes’ pride and joy, who dropped the name of Lester in favor of Bob, probably because he didn’t care for the nickname of "Hopeless," grew up in Cleveland. He first came to public attention when he entered a Golden Gloves tournament under the nom de fists of Packy East, distinguishing himself by his agile footwork which carried him through into the semi-finals.

Putting his boxing days behind him, he went to dancing school and learned the buck and wing and soft shoe routines. He found a dancing partner and went into vaudeville, reaching for the next rung on the ladder, climbing up to put his name in electric lights. He worked in blackface. He played the saxophone. He and his partner danced with Siamese twins (read that one again). He was in show business to stay and it wasn’t long before he threw away the crutches … he didn’t need the blackface or the partners. He had more talent than he knew what to do with. . .yet.

Born on May 29, 1903, Bob Hope is a true Gemini, quick, agile, adaptable and airy, interested in many things. Gifted at mimicry, excelling in repartee and fast-talking bantering humor, any listing of Gemini characteristics reads like a personal profile of America’s National Jester. Even the description "Gemini is the sad clown of life . . . the laughter that covers up pain" is pretty accurate too. Like this Christmas when he went flying across the Atlantic to join his troupe visiting Turkey, Greece, Italy and Libya, partly so the GIs overseas would not be disappointed . . . and partly because this is his life. "If I hadn’t gone on this tour, I’d have stayed in Palm Springs fretting all the time . . . and been in much worse shape," he claimed. Maybe he was right for as soon as he was home he whipped through his work and was down in Palm Springs playing in the Golf Classic.

He wasn’t an overnight success in show business. It took two or three weeks. He played the Palace and maybe he didn’t get rave reviews but now he was in show business to stay. He took pretty dimpled Dolores Defina (her stage name was Dolores Reade) into his act and then into his life as his wife. From vaudeville he progressed to the stage, appearing in "Roberta" and the Ziegfeld Follies, and then into movies (his first big one was the "Big Broadcast of 1938") and radio. Radio (that’s television without the picture tube) took him into every home and Bob "Pepsodent" Hope and his "Thanks for the Memory" theme song became as well-known and as standard American as Yankee Doodle, the Star Spangled Banner and Dixie. The Hope pattern was forming, smooth and rapid fire so that if you missed a joke there were always more coming up.

It is almost a shame to spoil one of Bob’s best jokes . . . "My mother thought the doctor had left the stork and taken the baby" . . . but the famous ski nose is not the one he was born with. He was 14 years old when the Hope biography and physiognomy were changed by a falling tree. He was helping his brother cut down a tree when it fell on him, damaging his face. He was out cold for 24 hours and when he recovered consciousness he found the doctor had molded his flattened features into a profile that is better known than Barrymore’s ever was. When he first started out in pictures, Hollywood tried to play down his nose, minimizing it by makeup. Makeup artists, the best in the business, struggled to make him look like one box office great after another. There are even pictures of him that look like Valentino. But it didn’t work. The Hope personality was emerging and The Nose became the symbol of his skyrocketing career.

The years went by and Hope began his travels down the Roads that led to Bali, Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia and Rio, frolicking through these smash box office hits with his friend Bing Crosby and the beauteous Dorothy Lamour. He found the road to Palm Springs all by himself although Crosby was here too.

Actually Hope was still in vaudeville when he came west to fulfill an engagement at the Orpheum in Los Angeles and made his first weekend visit to the desert in 1930. Coming down for week-ends, the Hopes stayed at Deep Well Ranch but it wasn’t long before they acquired a home of their own. It was called Honeymoon Cottage and is not too far from their present home on El Alameda, so that they still use it as a guest cottage. Hope used to say that he had a house in Palm Springs . . . "an $18,000 house," he’d say with that calculating look that gauged his audience, "of course, it cost me $65,000." Eyes gleaming, he’d stand back and watch while the audience howled with laughter.

One day Bob was out in front of his Palm Springs house enjoying the desert sunshine and doing a little digging around a tree when a tourist stopped his car and inquired how to find Bob Hope’s house. Bob leaned on his shovel and eyed the stranger quizzically. "Drive around the block and keep looking for a fellow in his shirt sleeves digging around a tree," he suggested. The man thanked him and drove off. Soon he came back around the block, eyeing the houses as he drove. As he went by he leaned out his car window and called, "I never did find the Bob Hope house."

Over the years Bob Hope has made numerous real estate investments on the desert, including 270 acres on Country Club Road and Rio Del Sol, which he bought from Hank Gogerty, and a 60 acre piece on Date Palm. He has consistently demonstrated his faith in the desert growth.

He has traveled millions of miles and been away from home so much that practically everyone everywhere has heard his joke that in the Hope house-hold the towels are marked "Hers" and "Hello, Stranger." It was during the war years that he began his camp show travels that kept him in orbit, flying to far flung camps and bases. He brought laughter and a bit of home to a lot of homesick guys, who gave him the sobriquet of "GIs Guy." One of the hospitals he visited was Palm Springs’ own Torney General that had been the plush El Mirador before the war. The wounded, the crippled and the sick laughed joyously when Hope tossed them a line like this . . . "Palm Springs . . . that’s where the Indians complain . . . ‘White man tore down tee-pee . . . built up Chi Chi.’"

Through the years he’d finish a picture or a broadcast or a spectacular and head for the desert, leaving fog and smog and problems behind him.. His own expression is that he heads for the desert "like a horse heading for the barn." He’ll say, "I come down here once in a while to see how the smog looks from the other side." He loves the peace and quiet of the desert and can scarcely wait to round Windy Point. In 1956 in the VILLAGER, George Wheeler wrote, "But at the first break he’ll be back here collecting little green pieces of paper from friends who had hoped against hope that they could beat Hope . . . You will find him on one of the three courses whenever he is in this area. Just look for a gent with a loud sweater doing a dance like a gooney bird before he hits the ball."

Hope was one of the first of the big stars to appear on Gus Kettmann’s Police Show. He’d saunter out on to the stage and give his audience his best pepsodent smile and give out with something like this … "I love the desert. It’s so slow and peaceful down here . . . I’m still getting the Daily Mirror." Then with that bad boy look that he has cultivated so assiduously, he’d come up with one that had the Chamber of Commerce writhing . . . "Palm Springs . . . it’s so rich the police picked up Howard Hughes on a vagrancy charge." Or he’d have the entire police force in convulsions with something like this … “A while ago Betty Grable was back stage in her dressing room. She heard a noise outside her window and called out, ‘Get away from there or I’ll call the Chief of Police!’ . . . and a voice answered saying, ‘This IS the Chief of Police.’”

Casually and happily he’d go on and on … "The wind never blows in Palm Springs. Well, nothing to speak of … of course, I was surprised the other morning when I went outside to pick up the paper and unfolded a copy of the Sacramento Bee." Palm Springs had no mortuary until 1950 and Hope even thought up a funny one on that . . . "Nobody dies in Palm Springs. If it looks like they are going to … they do the decent thing and go to San Bernardino." When Ray Ryan and Ernie Dunlevie built the clubhouse and golf greens out at Bermuda Dunes, an oasis of greens in a desert of sand, he said he’d heard the new pro at Bermuda Dunes was a member of the French Foreign Legion. A thousand people roared with laughter the night Bob spoofed, "Palm Springs isn’t really just for rich folks. If you own a sleeping bag and have a half million dollars . . . you ought to be able to make it through one season."

Year after year Hope has shown up for the Palm Springs Police Show and always with some new line like "This is the classiest desert spa in the world . . . Where else can you find a lizard wearing an alligator vest?" Once he promised and forgot the date and when he was reminded of it he found he’d been booked for an appearance in Boston with Jerry Colonna, Jane Russell and Les Brown’s Band of Renown. This would have ruined the Police Show . . . with no Bob and no band. Always conscientious about a promise, Bob called Boston to cancel his show there, but found the house had already been sold out. So he made a deal with Gus to cut the Police Show an hour short so that the Hope troupe could take off for Boston right afterward. They flew through 12 hours of bad weather and Boston was socked in when they circled the city so that they had to land at another airport and travel by bus for the last 50 miles. They reached Boston just 15 minutes before show time.

It was kind of expensive but Bob kept his promise and that’s one reason Gus couldn’t be mad last year when the star arrived after the show was over. Knowing the show started at 8:30 p.m., Bob left Hollywood thinking he’d have plenty of time to walk on and crack a few jokes. He might have, too, but he was delayed in traffic or took the wrong freeway or something and ran out of gas and had to go looking for a service station. When he neared the high school, all keyed up for a performance, he found himself bucking the go-home traffic. The show was over.

Grateful for the publicity Hope had given Palm Springs; the Village made him Honorary Mayor in 1948. Two years ago at the Police Show, Mayor Frank Bogert surprised him with a plaque confirming the 14-year-old appointment. Known all over the country as the King of Benefits, Hope has ridden in countless parades down Palm Canyon Drive, appeared on every platform in town and for who-knows-how-many charities.

In 1960 he appeared at the WAIF Ball and he’s never been funnier. Talking about television reviving all his old pictures, he wisecracked, "I’m not objecting to showing my old movies . . . I just want to be sure I have police protection afterward." Two of his friends, Desi Arnaz and Phil Harris, who have been on almost as many benefit programs as he has, were with him that night and were the objects of a little needling. "Phil Harris is the only man in the world with more flying time than I have," Hope joked, "only he did it the hard way . . . without a plane." And when Desi heckled Harris, Hope chided him, "Shut up, you rich wetback! Why don’t you go back to Cuba and fire Castro?" He always seems to have as much fun as his audience . . . like when he and Jane Russell dueted "Buttons and Bows" at the same ball. They had been well paid for singing that song in a movie and it was tops on the Hit Parade for seven months . . . but they appeared to have more fun doing it for charity.

Hope is a part of Palm Springs. He has hosted family parties at the Tennis Club, dropped into Chi Chi to applaud a friend on opening night, sauntered down the street nonchalantly licking an ice cream cone. He flies in and out of Palm Springs airport. It’s his town.

Often as not, when he’s on the desert he’s to be found whacking a ball around one of the golf courses. He still admits a fondness for O’Donnell which was Palm Springs’ first course, but he’s played them all and been associated with every major golf event in the desert area. A pioneer at O’Donnell, he was one of the first five stockholders at Thunderbird. Reuben Fleet bought the first, Bing Crosby the next two, and Hope the fourth. Frank Bogert, who helped launch Thunderbird, still claims it was Hope who put it over when even Ben Hogan laughed at the idea of a golf course out there on the desert. When Tamarisk Country Club was started later, he pitched in and helped with that, too.

"There’s no golf course that I don’t like," Hope says and reaches for a club to swing experimentally while he tells about where and when and how he learned to play golf. He had his first golf lessons from Alex Morrison on the driving range that was under the 59th St. Bridge in New York City. At that time Alex, who now lives in Riverside and is best known for his syndicated golf column, had a golf act for which he needed some comic relief. So they teamed up and Alex demonstrated golf technique while Bob and his current partner Louise Troxell provided the comedy. This went on for quite a while until Hope found out he was pretty good in both fields. Despite his endless jokes about his golf game he plays well. Last year, with Arnold Palmer as his partner, he was a winner in the pro-am tourney in Miami. He has played in the Palm Springs Golf Classic for years and he says, "I love it. Where else can you get swearing lessons from four different pros? … I sure learned a lot playing with these pros. I learned that my game is croquet."

He’s so hooked on the game that he has kidney-shaped golf greens and sand traps at his North Hollywood home and in Palm Springs there is a little green encircled by tees with an approach over the garage that is legendary among his golf cronies.

He’s pretty good but he still claims, "I’ve been beaten by more great golfers than any other amateur alive." He’s played all the great golf courses of the world with everyone from General Dwight D. Eisenhower to King Badouin of Belgium. Hope and Eisenhower, who are likely to meet on a desert golf course almost any fine winter day, first met in 1943 in Algiers, where Hope had gone to entertain the troops the General was commanding. He had just been through the bombings at Bizerte so he was hoping to get a good night’s sleep. The General assured him he’d come to the right place. "You’ll sleep tonight," he promised. So, that was the night Bob and Frances Langford and other troupe members spent three hours in the wine cellar while Algiers’ quiet was ripped to pieces by an air raid. They had distinguished company, for Quentin Reynolds, John Steinbeck and H. R. Knickerbocker were also in the hotel that night.

Since then Hope has met Eisenhower many times. It was the General who awarded Hope the Medal of Merit, highest civilian award the government can give, for his tireless work and Hope acted as emcee the night the General received his honorary membership at Burning Tree. Hope quipped, "Ike’s really hooked on golf. I heard that last election he voted for Arnold Palmer."

Among the coterie of Hope’s golfing friends is his doctor, Dr. Tom Hearn of Los Angeles, who also has a home at Palm Desert. Other golf course companions include Bing Crosby, Phil Harris, Dean Martin, Dick Snideman, George Doyle, Marvin Weiss, Freeman Gosden and Pollard Simons.

Hope emceed many Academy Awards dinners before he received his own Oscar. One year, when he handed the Oscar for best actor to someone from Germany, he demanded querulously, "Where was the Birch Society when we really needed them?"

His Palm Springs home has been the setting for many story conferences and there he has entertained such distinguished visitors as his friend Stuart Symington, former Secretary of the Air Force. The guest cottage, too, has served as a secluded hideaway for such world famous figures as the Douglas Fairbanks, who were there recently.

From New Caledonia to Thule, Greenland, from Alaska to Crete, from Africa to Korea, wherever the GIs went . . . there went Hope bringing jokes and music and pin-up girls. Homesick boys and battle-sick men, patients in wheel chairs or on crutches have been his audiences. Once on his Christmas visit to the Far East, there was even a soldier in the audience getting a blood transfusion while he laughed out loud at the Bob Hope Show.

These men and their families are the hard core of his worldwide fans and they will never let him retire. Bob doesn’t want to anyway. To a leading question, "If you ever retire . . . where will you live?" he came through like a true Villager, answering, "There’s no doubt about it. I’ve been all over the world and this is my favorite spot."

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