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THIRTEEN’s American Masters Closes Season 31 with the Exclusive Broadcast Premiere of This Is Bob Hope

THIRTEEN’s American Masters Closes Season 31 with the Exclusive Broadcast Premiere of This Is Bob Hope…

 

By: Judy Shields

For those of us who grew up watching Bob Hope and all those USO Christmas shows, will most definitely need to watch this show. It is wonderfully directed and produced to show the man who entertained us and many of the troops fighting the wars from WWII, Vietnam and to his last show at Desert Storm Gulf War.

Bob Hope on stage entertaining the troops in Vietnam (Photo Courtesy of Bob Hope Legacy, LLC.)

Please share this amazing show with your family and friends, it’s a great way to show all the younger generation the man who brought us stand-up comedy and wonderful TV shows and how the talk show host of today got their starts in the business thanks to Mr. Bob Hope.

American Masters: This is Bob Hope…  the unabridged director’s cut of the film, featuring over 35 minutes of additional footage, premieres nationwide Friday, December 29 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). It will be available to stream the same day via Passport for PBS station members (contact your local PBS station for details) at pbs.org/americanmasters and on PBS OTT apps.

Features Hope’s writings voiced by Billy Crystal and new interviews with Conan O’Brien, Kermit the Frog, Tom Selleck, Brooke Shields, Dick Cavett, Margaret Cho and others Unabridged Director’s Cut premieres nationwide Friday, December 29 on PBS (check local listings)

During his eight-decade career, Bob Hope (1903-2003) was the only performer to achieve top-rated success in every form of mass entertainment: vaudeville, Broadway, movies, radio, television, popular song and personal appearances, including his annual USO Christmas military tours and hosting the Academy Awards more times than anyone else. A comedy innovator, Hope invented the topical monologue that later became a late-night TV staple and comedy tropes like talking while backing up. He refined a spontaneous, conversational, improvisational style of comedy as a vaudeville master of ceremonies that created a blueprint for acerbic standup comics.

Written, directed and produced by John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon, Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary), American Masters: This is Bob Hope… presents a candid look at a remarkable life with unprecedented access to Hope’s personal archives, including writings voiced by Billy Crystal and clips from Hope’s body of work to reveal a gifted individual who recognized the power of fame, embraced its responsibilities and handled celebrity with extraordinary wit and grace, becoming a model for public service in Hollywood.

Bob Hope, circa 1955 (Photo Credit Bob Hope Legacy, LLC.)

“Alongside an examination of Bob Hope’s extraordinary career achievements is a portrait of a gifted man with enormous personal contradictions,” says filmmaker John Scheinfeld. “Even in the longer cut, I barely scratched the surface of his huge impact and influence.”

American Masters: This is Bob Hope… features new interviews with Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, Margaret Cho, daughter Linda Hope, Kermit the Frog, film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, Conan O’Brien, Tom Selleck, Brooke Shields, Connie Stevens and biographer Richard Zoglin (Hope: Entertainer of the Century). Edited to evoke the fast, fun pace of Hope’s classic monologues, clips include highlights from numerous TV specials, his Pepsodent radio shows and classic films like The Cat and the Canary, My Favorite Blonde, his iconic Road pictures with Bing Crosby, and The Big Broadcast of 1938 featuring his signature song “Thanks for the Memory.”

The unabridged director’s cut also features Hope’s 1930s comedy shorts and delves further into his radio and TV career, USO tours and charity work. It will be available on DVD January 9, 2018, from PBS Distribution and is also available as part of Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection DVD box set on November 14 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Launched in 1986, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, a Critics’ Choice Documentary Award, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, the American Masters website (http://pbs.org/americanmasters) offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, the Inspiring Woman web series, educational resources and In Their Own Words: The American Masters Digital Archive: previously unreleased interviews of luminaries discussing America’s most enduring artistic and cultural giants. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel.

American Masters: This is Bob Hope… is a production of Crew Neck Productions and American Masters Pictures. John Scheinfeld is writer, director and producer. Dave Harding, Richard Gurman, Richard Zoglin and James Hardy are producers. Peter S. Lynch, II is editor and co-producer. Michael Kantor is American Masters series executive producer.

Bob Hope’s Paramount photo by Bud Frake, circa 1953 (Photo Courtesy of Bob Hope Legacy, LLC)

Major support for This is Bob Hope… is provided in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and Roslyn Goldstein. Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional support is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Judith and Burton Resnick, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, and public television viewers.

About WNET

WNET is America’s flagship PBS station and parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21. WNET also operates NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings. WNET’s groundbreaking series for children and young adults include Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase as well as Mission US, the award-winning interactive history game. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Theater Close-Up, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the daily multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. In addition, WNET produces online-only programming including the award-winning series about gender identity, First Person, and an intergenerational look at tech and pop culture, The Chatterbox with Kevin and Grandma Lill. In 2015, THIRTEEN launched Passport, an online streaming service which allows members to see new and archival THIRTEEN and PBS programming anytime, anywhere: www.thirteen.org/passport

About Bob Hope

When Bob Hope died in 2003, he left behind a legacy as one of the best known, most loved, and longest lasting stars in the entertainment business. For six decades, Hope made us laugh in vaudeville, in the movies, at the Academy Awards, on stage and in print. He was renowned for his longevity (he was 100 years old at the time of his death), his love for golf, and his contributions to charity. But perhaps Hope’s greatest legacy is his work entertaining the troops.

Beginning in 1941 and continuing for half a century, Hope headlined 57 USO tours, bringing a bit of joy to the lives of U.S. military men and women serving in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, and beyond. And he was deeply proud of this work. When President Bill Clinton named Hope an honorary veteran in 1997, Hope responded, “I’ve been given many awards in my lifetime – but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most – is the greatest honor I have ever received.”

Bob Hope Special Around the Globe with the USO-Danang 1969

1944: A World War II show presented “somewhere in the South Pacific”

https://youtu.be/j2CD2MXSTTU

1966: Entertaining the troops in Cu Chi, Vietnam on Christmas Day

https://youtu.be/BHYnb5sRK40

1984: Christmas in Beirut

https://youtu.be/IVmzsqOuA74

1990: One of his final USO tours, with Rosemary Clooney

https://youtu.be/gdregl0SHgY

Memorials to Hope have proliferated across the American landscape. You can walk down streets named for Bob Hope in El Paso, Texas, Miami, Florida, and Branson, Missouri; cross the Cuyahoga River on the Hope Memorial Bridge in Cleveland, Ohio; and bypass the congestion at Los Angeles International by flying into the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California. Hope’s name is memorialized on hospitals, theaters, chapels, schools, performing arts centers, and American Legion posts from Miami to Okinawa. The US Air Force named a transport plane for him, and the Navy christened a cargo ship in his honor. Bob Hope Village, in Shalimar, Florida, provides a home for retired members of the Air Force and their surviving spouses. The World Golf Hall of Fame, in St. Augustine, Florida, features an exhibit celebrating Hope’s passion for the game, “Bob Hope: Shanks for the Memory.” A dozen colleges offer scholarships in Hope’s name. Another dozen organizations give out awards in his honor, among them the Air Force’s annual Spirit of Hope Award and the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

His punchy, two-syllable name, so emblematic of the optimistic American spirit; the unmistakable profile, with its jutting chin and famously ski-slope-shaped nose; the indelible images of Hope performing for throngs of cheering GIs in World War II and Vietnam—it was once impossible to imagine a time when the first question that needed to be answered about the most popular comedian in American history would be: Who was Bob Hope, and why did he matter?

By the time he died—on July 27, 2003, two months after his hundredth birthday—Hope’s reputation was already fading, tarnished, or being actively disparaged. He had, unfortunately, stuck around too long. The comedian of the century, who began his vaudeville career in the 1920s and was still headlining TV specials in the 1990s, continued performing well into his dotage, and a younger generation knew him mainly as a cue-card-reading antique, cracking dated jokes about buxom beauty queens and Gerald Ford’s golf game. “World’s Last Bob Hope Fan Dies of Old Age,” the Onion’s fake headline announced a year before his death. Writer Christopher Hitchens expressed the disaffection of many of the baby-boom generation in an online dismissal of Hope just a few days after his passing: “To be paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny is a serious drawback, even lapse, in a comedian. And the late Bob Hope devoted a fantastically successful and well-remunerated lifetime to showing that a truly unfunny man can make it as a comic. There is a laugh here, but it is on us.”

Bob Hope with NBC Microphone for The Pepsodent Show

This was something of a revolution. When Hope made his debut on NBC in 1938, the popular comedians on radio all inhabited self- contained worlds, playing largely invented comic characters: Jack Benny’s effete tightwad, Edgar Bergen and his uppity dummy, Charlie McCarthy, the daffy-wife/exasperated-husband interplay of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Hope’s monologues brought something new to radio: a connection between the comedian and the outside world.

On a podium, no one could touch him. He was host or cohost of the Academy Awards ceremony a record nineteen times—the first in 1940, when Gone With the Wind was the big winner, and the last in 1978, when Star Wars and Annie Hall were the hot films. His suave unflappability—no one ever looked better in a tuxedo—and tart insider wisecracks (“This is the night when war and politics are forgotten, and we find out who we really hate”) helped turn a relatively low-key industry dinner into the most obsessively tracked and massively watched event of the Hollywood year.

The modern stand-up comedy monologue was essentially his creation. There were comedians in vaudeville before Hope, but they mostly worked in pairs or did prepackaged, jokebook gags that played on ethnic stereotypes and other familiar comedy tropes. Hope, working as an emcee and ad-libbing jokes about the acts he introduced, developed a more freewheeling and spontaneous monologue style, which he later honed and perfected in radio. To keep his material fresh, he hired a team of writers and told them to come up with jokes about the news of the day—presidential politics, Hollywood gossip, California weather, as well as his own life, work, travels, golf game, and show-business friends.

When television came in, Hope was there too. Others, such as Milton Berle, preceded him. But after starring in his first NBC special on Easter Sunday in 1950, Hope began an unparalleled reign as NBC’s most popular comedy star that lasted for nearly four decades. Other comedians who made the move into television—Berle, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Danny Thomas, even Lucille Ball—had their heyday on TV and then faded; Hope alone remained a major star headlining top-rated TV shows well into his eighties. His 1970 Christ- mas special from Vietnam was the most watched television program of all time up to that point, seen in a now-unthinkable 46.6 percent of all TV homes in the country. (The final episodes of Dallas, M*A*S*H, and Roots are the only entertainment shows ever to beat it.)

Bob Hope All-Star Christmas Comedy featuring Bob Hope with the Muppets Kermit the Frog & Miss Piggy Dec 19 1977

This was something of a revolution. When Hope made his debut on NBC in 1938, the popular comedians on radio all inhabited self- contained worlds, playing largely invented comic characters: Jack Benny’s effete tightwad, Edgar Bergen and his uppity dummy, Charlie McCarthy, the daffy-wife/exasperated-husband interplay of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Hope’s monologues brought something new to radio: a connection between the comedian and the outside world.

Hope was the first to combine topical subject matter with the rapid- re gag rhythms of the vaudeville quipster. His monologues became the template for Johnny Carson and nearly every late-night TV host who followed him, and the foundation stone for all stand-up comics, even those who rebelled against him.

He transcended comedy; he was the nation’s designated mood-lifter. No one else could perform that role; few even tried. Comedians for years did impressions of Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, George Burns, and other classic clowns. Almost no one did Bob Hope. His ordinariness was inimitable.

This excerpt was written by Richard Zoglin and originally published in the introduction to his biography, Hope.

Hope Book by Richard Zoglin
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