As I have mentioned ad nauseum, I get nostalgic this time of year. Perhaps no other entry in this countdown evokes more feelings of nostalgia than this one. In recent years, during my career with the Oakland Raiders football team, I found professional reasons to develop a deeper affinity for the entertainer I’m going to introduce here.
I know they predate my birth in 1969, but during the 1970s, variety shows were 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 – Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, The Carpenters, 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, White Christmas, 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.
6. Bob Hope Christmas Specials – 1968-1993
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 learned in my professional capacity that the very first Raiderette, Diane Shelton, toured with Bob Hope for one of his USO show tours to visit the troops.
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 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 Silver Bells duet 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 managed to hose it up. Larry the Cable Guy and Stephen Colbert have attempted such Christmas variety specials and have come off as caricatures of the genre. I’ve never liked the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree show or any of the other programs of that ilk.
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. Some time ago, 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.
Thanks for the memories, Bob. If you don’t know who Bob Hope was, ask an adult.
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