You know, when your list of your Top 10 favorite Christmas specials gets tossed out you just have to improvise. I swear I had 10 items on the list. But, for the life of me, I can only remember nine. Is it the Scotch? Probably not. Johnny Walker wouldn’t do me like that. Where was I? Oh yeah, improvisation.
I recently had the occasion to tell a coworker, a young coworker, about what it was like to watch television this time of year in the 1970s and 80s.
I submit for your approval a ghost of Christmas past – Bob Hope.
Bob Hope Christmas Specials – 1968-1993
I know they predate my birth in 1969, but during the 1970s, the variety show was all the rage on television. From Sonny and Cher to Donny and Marie – singing, dancing, comedy sketches and more – the stars of the day could be found on weekly variety shows and specials. I grew up on Laugh-In reruns and the subject of this blog entry – the Bob Hope Christmas special. Many other entertainers had their Christmas specials – Bing Crosby, Perry Como et al, but Hope’s was the gold standard.
Crosby and Hope were longtime pals, especially after starring together in numerous “road” pictures. Crosby, who became the voice of the Yuletide with Christmas Sing with Bing on the radio and several TV specials, including an unexpected treat with David Bowie, couldn’t hold a candle to Hope’s TV specials if you ask me.
Hope spent many a Christmas entertaining the troops overseas and became a national treasure for doing so. His USO shows were the stuff of legend and featured talents like Ursula Andress and Ann-Margret.
I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the Playboy All-American, later AP All-American college football team. Each player was introduced and Hope would deliver a zinger with each intro.
Just as the annual Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer airing heralded the start of the Christmas season, Bob Hope’s special ushered it in with a one-liner or a patented, “This is Bob [insert sponsor or locale here] Hope…”
The show was formulaic and you put it on every year like a comfy sweater or pair of slippers. It started with a monologue of patented Hope jokes and would always feature a rendition of Silver Bells with Hope and the starlet du jour.
Eventually Hope grew old and frail and they started rolling him out on a hand truck and propping him up in the corner as his wife, Delores, took over hosting duties. I blame Hope for discovering Joey Lawrence. I wish he left him where he found him.
Several people have tried to emulate Bob Hope and recreate the magic of his Christmas specials. The one I had high hopes for was Michael Bublé but he’s managed to hose it up with guests like Justin Beiber and recent development of some vocal weirdness in both his speaking and singing voices. Larry the Cable Guy and Stephen Colbert have attempted such Christmas variety specials and have come off as caricatures of the genre.
There is an entire generation of people growing up not knowing who Bob Hope was or how he contributed to entertainment as we know it and that is a crying shame.
After the occasion of which I spoke earlier, the one where I told this millennial coworker about the Bob Hope Christmas special, Time Life released a new DVD collection of ALL of Bob Hope’s televised specials, including Christmas and the USO shows entertaining the troops deployed to combat zones, for $100. Now, as much as I would love such a thing, I have better things on which to spend $100. However, I thought it was a mighty coincidence that days after I pulled up YouTube clips for this colleague, a prototypical Time Life infomercial aired on TV during a trip to Detroit. As I flipped channels while sick in bed on a business trip, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I saw this set released.
Thanks for the memories, Bob.