Me and Bob Hope

I had grown up with Bob Hope. When I was a child growing up in the hills of North Alabama in the early forties, I was an avid reader of Bob Hope comic books. On late night TV, I had watched most of the movies he had made with Bing Crosby and others, and in 1976, when I was working in the Enquirer’s Washington, D.C. office, I met him for the first time.

I was sitting in the Insider office in the National Press Building one afternoon when a man popped his head in the door.

“Bob Hope is down in the press room if anybody wants to interview him,” he said.

I knew I had to meet the great man.

For almost an hour, several other reporters and I posed questions about his personal life and his career, but all we got back were snappy wisecracks designed to produce belly laughs rather than copy. Later, when I worked in Hollywood, I would occasionally see him in Palm Springs at his famous golf tournament or at local restaurants.

Here was a man who, in my opinion, had conquered every frontier of show business. Radio, television, vaudeville, stage, movies, singing, dancing, standup comedy, and his legendary Christmas Tours for serviceman overseas. He was truly “Mr. Show Business,” entertaining Americans for generations. From alpha to omega, this man had not only bedazzled the world, but he had done so in spades.

In the early fall of 1994, I was on assignment in Palm Springs when I stopped by a Long’s Drugstore to buy some toothpaste. As I started in, I saw a man walking toward me, his arm locked in the arm of another much older man to keep him erect. The older man was unshaven, wearing a baseball cap, and appeared to be slightly palsied. As I approached the pair, I could see that the older man was Bob Hope.

For a moment, I stared at the two men moving hop-step across the parking lot, the halting steps of the older man following stride-by-stride of the younger man. As I watched, I felt deep sadness. Great God! I thought. Is this all that life is worth? Here was a man who had bedazzled the entire world and now he required another human being to assist him in remaining erect. Is that all life was worth?

Somehow, I suddenly had a deep understanding that no matter who you are or what you have accomplished in life, this was your ultimate end. I remember thinking, there’s no justice or mercy or goodness on this earth, only despair and nothingness in the end. As always, at times like these, I felt that if I had been more of a religious man, such moments wouldn’t have overtaken me with such a pervasive sadness.