Bob Hope On TV: Thanks For the Video Memories
Publisher: BearManor Media (December 15, 2017)
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
No other modern entertainer can claim the longevity or scope of what Bob Hope accomplished between 1919 to 1997, nearly 80 years in show business. Before his death at the age of 100 in 2003, Hope was a vaudevillian, actor on stage, radio, film, and television. He helped define just what a “stand-up comic” is. He was also a singer, dancer, sometime athlete, and author. He starred in 54 feature films, appeared in many more, and hosted the Academy Awards show 19 times, more than any other host.
Those Academy Award Shows are among the seemingly countless Bob Hope TV appearances chronicled by Wesley Hyatt in his Bob Hope on TV. The heart of his book, not surprisingly, are the numerous specials Hope hosted for NBC television starting in 1950 which continued until 1997. Among those specials were a number of shows performed live before military audiences for the USO (United Services Organization), including the 1970 and 1971 Christmas specials taped in Vietnam, now listed in the Top 46 U.S. network prime-time telecasts. Both were seen by more than 60 percent of the U.S. households watching television.
Add in all the specials hosted by others and TV shows Hope guested on, it’s obvious Hyatt had a daunting task simply cataloguing but one part of the Bob Hope legacy. Gratefully, Hyatt gives us much more than capsule descriptions of each Hope TV outing. Decade by decade, Hyatt gives us useful introductions that describe what Hope’s career was like during each of these periods of his small screen life.
I must admit, Hyatt’s critical analysis of each special, in particular, make it surprising Hope’s tenure with NBC ran for as long as it did. After the 1950s, Hyatt uses few compliments to describe these programs. Hyatt claims that Hope got further and further out of touch with contemporary tastes and mores, especially regarding equal rights for women. During the Vietnam war, Hope was a conspicuous supporter of that unpopular conflict and was a known backer of beleaguered President Richard Nixon. Hyatt goes beyond these already well-known aspects of Hope’s public life and knocks most of the skits and monologues for much of Hope’s TV career. As Hyatt made every effort to screen as many of the Hope appearances as he could, one wonders if boredom crept into his critical eye or if Hyatt is using contemporary standards—as in his distaste for Hope’s targeting of gays—to measure broadcasts that might not have always earn high ratings, but remained popular for many reasons. Audiences kept coming back again and again even as the generations changed. Advertisers usually supported Hope for long periods of time, especially Chrysler (1963–73) and Texaco (1975–85).
Whether or not readers agree with Hyatt’s often unhappy critical analyses or not, without question, you got to be a major fan of Bob Hope to want this lengthy tome. There’s a whole lot of old-timers in that number. And we must all applaud Hyatt for his incredible task of doing the research for this volume. From hunting down rare and obscure copies of the old broadcasts to screening nearly everything he could find to interviewing surviving participants, notably joke writers like Bob Mills, Wesley Hyatt has compiled an impressive work of research most libraries should want to shelve, especially those with good collections of books dealing with entertainment. Bob Hope fans of whatever generation you belong to may well want to skim through these pages—Bob Hope on TV isn’t a cover to cover read unless, like Hyatt, all this television minutia is your cup of tea.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Aug. 2, 2018: