Memories of Bob Hope and Disneyby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
Comedian Bob Hope's handprints are in the cement in the forecourt of the Great Movie Ride at Disney Hollywood Studios in Florida. Minutes away in the Magic Kingdom in Adventureland there is a small souvenir building called Bwana Bob's in tribute to Hope's film Call me Bwana (1963).
Yet, if you look in the index to any biography of Walt Disney, there is no listing for Bob Hope. If you look in the index to any biography of Bob Hope, there is no listing for Walt Disney.
While they never officially worked together on a project, it was evident that they had affection and respect for each other and their paths crossed several times during their careers in Hollywood. For instance, Hope didn't hesitate to invite Walt to attend a surprise birthday party for Ronald Colman at Ciro's nightclub that Hope was hosting.
Born almost two years after Walt Disney, not only was Bob Hope a contemporary of Walt's, but he was also equally beloved as an American icon.
Probably Hope's first encounters with Walt Disney were the famous Academy Award ceremonies. Hope presented the short subject awards in 1939 at the Biltmore Hotel and personally gave Walt his latest Oscar for the short, Ferdinand the Bull. Bob Hope was the host of the entire ceremony in 1942 when Walt picked up several Oscars, in addition to the prestigious Thalberg award.
On March 19, 1953, Walt Disney presented the music awards at the 25th Academy Awards, held at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Host Bob Hope introduced Walt:
"You know when we called Walt Disney and asked him to present the music award tonight, we said, 'Walt with all the songs you've commissioned for your pictures and what with Fantasia and all, you would be the right man to do it. After all, think about how much you have done for music and Hollywood.'
"And his warm reply was 'I would have thought it was the other way around'. In any case Walt fought his way through all the Oscars in his living room to our stage tonight. One of the great theatrical inventors of modern times, Mr. Walt Disney."
I have a short newsreel clip from the 1940s where Hope personally presented to Walt an award from LOOK magazine for his "wonderful work in producing special training films for the Armed Forces."
After Walt gave a short acceptance speech, Bob Hope quipped, "Say, Walter, before you go, how would you like to have me in one of those pictures?" Walt responded, "No, thanks, Bob, I'm doing all right with a real duck."
This response garnered a big laugh from the audience as Hope feigned being taken aback about a reference to his duckbill nose.
On February 27, 1951, Bob Hope's Radio Program guests were Marlon Brando, Robert Surtees, Judy Holiday, Stanley Kramer, James Stewart, Joseph Mankewitz, Bette Davis and….Walt Disney. That was quite a line-up!
Walt and Hope had several mutual acquaintances, like composer Buddy Baker, who had written musical arrangements for Hope's radio show and later penned memorable music for the Disney Studios, artist Dorothea Redmond who designed the sets for Hope's film Road to Bali and later designed the mural in Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom; and actor Jerry Colonna who romped about on Hope's radio show, troop tours and several movies before contributing his voice to several Disney projects, like the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland and the narrator of Casey at the Bat from Make Mine Music.
Unlike Warner Brothers, the Disney Studios produced only a handful of cartoons with celebrity caricatures, and most of those were done before Hope found fame in films so he doesn't appear in any Disney cartoons. Most fans probably can name Hope's appearance in Popeye's 20th Anniversary (1954), where a caricatured Hope emcees a special award ceremony for Popeye — which features other caricatured Paramount movie stars like Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Jimmy Durante.
However, Hope had already appeared in two earlier Little Lulu cartoons: A Bout With a Trout (1947) where his picture appears in a star as Lulu sings "Would you like to swing on a star?" (perhaps a jab at Hope's faux rivalry with Bing Crosby who introduced the song in his movie Going My Way) and The Baby Sitter (1947) where Bob Hope is just one of several caricatured celebrities at The Stork Club. Hope, who is caricatured this time as a penquin, pops up in the Little Audrey cartoon (Paramount's version of Little Lulu when they no longer owned the rights to the character) The Case of the Cockeyed Canary (1952). Don't blink or you'll miss an animated version of Hope in Warner Bros.' Malibu Beach Party (1940) along with many other Hollywood stars at Jack Benny's party.
Another interesting Disney connection is that former Disney artist Owen Fitzgerald designed a classic Hope caricature which he used when he illustrated 80 consecutive issues of Bob Hope comic books published by DC Comics.
Although, with great storytellers, it is often difficult to separate the truth from the story. Hope loved to recount that when the Disneyland theme park was in development that Walt Disney tried to persuade Hope, who was known as a shrewd purchaser of real estate, to buy property around the Disney park in order to help control the use of that land. Hope declined and jokingly shared how he regretted that missed financial opportunity almost instantly when Disneyland became a huge success.
Bob's wife, Dolores, commented in 1996 that: "Always a thrill to be at Disneyland. We came here when the park first opened. I remember being here with my children. Now, I bring my great-grandchildren."
Hope also told an alternate version of the famous Khrushchev-Disneyland story. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev only visited Los Angeles for a single day during his 11-day stay in the United States in 1959. The official plans were for the Soviet Premier to visit housing projects in Los Angeles. On September 19, 1959, Khrushchev and his family were at a special luncheon with a host of celebrities at 20th Century Fox studios before his housing tour.
Supposedly Hope was seated near to Mrs. Khrushchev and told her something along the lines of "You should really try to go to Disneyland. It's wonderful." Then, according to Hope, she passed a note to her husband telling him that they should all go to Disneyland. Khrushchev asked the Secret Service about visiting Disneyland and was told for security reasons it was too dangerous to arrange.
That response prompted Khrushchev's famous rant which received world-wide publicity.
Later, that year, Hope used it as a springboard for a gag when he was entertaining troops in Alaska during one of his Christmas tours when he joked: "Here we are in America's 49th state, Alaska. That's halfway between Khrushchev and Disneyland."
Another brief brush with the World of Walt Disney occurred on The Jack Benny Hour (November 3, 1965), which featured miser Jack Benny trying to manipulate free tickets to Disneyland from Walt Disney. After receiving the tickets from a bemused Walt, Benny informs him that on his television show as a "thank you," he'll be doing an Italian movie but will give it a "Disney twist." That Italian movie parody was a version of Mary Poppins with Elke Sommer as the nanny and Bob Hope as a shifty chauffeur! Hope and Disney never had any screen time together, although they did appear in the same show.
Hope was also a guest on a pre-recorded 90-minute special in "living color" on NBC titled The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World, which aired on October 29, 1971, to publicize the opening of the newest Disney theme park. Singer Glen Campbell pointed to the then-innovative Contemporary Hotel and introduced "Bob 'Ex-Mouseketeer' Hope" who enters the scene via the monorail and, with the famous Mary Blair tile mural in the background, launched into a monologue that was obviously prepared by his writers and not the legendary Disney writer/producer Bill Walsh—who is credited as the writer of the special.
"It's really two buildings leaning against each other. And I want to congratulate the architect … Dean Martin. I have a lovely room with complete privacy, except in the bathtub which Donald Duck shares with me. Have you ever tried bathing with a duck who was playing with his rubber man? I ordered lunch from room service. Snow White brought it in and I was afraid to eat the apple. I don't dare drink the water because that was delivered by Pluto. This is the biggest vacation-entertainment complex in the world. And to think it all started with a gentle mouse, a bad-tempered duck and seven mixed-up dwarfs. It's a fantastic achievement. They took a swamp and turned it into a Magic Kingdom. It wasn't easy. Have you ever tried to relocate 8,000 angry alligators?"
Hope ended his monologue on a more serious note when he added:
"Walt Disney always believed in the beauty and natural wonders of the world. But he felt as we passed through that we should try to add a little wonder and beauty to it. Maybe you'll understand that Walt's dream was just a beginning. The dream doesn't stop here. This is the start of it. I think you'll want to tell your grandchildren you were there when it happened."
Near the end of the program, Hope returned with an even more moving tribute:
"Walt Disney World is the culmination of a lifetime devoted to bringing joy and excitement and laughter to children and adults in America and throughout the world. There is a spirit here everywhere. All of this is Walt. This is what Walt wanted for all of us … an escape from our aspirin existence into a land of sparkles and lights and rainbows. Walt Disney loved America. He loved its children and their moms and pops. Walt Disney loved America because his dreams came true. The entire world owes Walt a great debt. He achieved much, but perhaps his greatest accomplishment is that he made children of us all."
Tom Nabbe, who was in charge of the monorails during the opening of Walt Disney World, shared with me this behind-the-scenes story of the filming of that monologue:
"For the filming of the opening special, we drove Bob Hope into the Contemporary Hotel concourse on the monorail to do his bit. I was standing on the platform waiting for him when one of the co-ordinators came up to me. These were the days when the monorails had individual air conditioners in them and they made quite a noise. So this guy says, 'Tom, the noise is drowning out Bob's monologue. Can you do something about it?' And I went over and hit the power button. Then I picked up the phone and called the monorail shop and said, 'You'd better get over here because we've got to haul Bob Hope out of this building in 15 minutes and you need to re-set the rectifiers because I just turned them off.' And they got over and were standing by so that the minute Hope finished they could re-set the rectifiers. The only way I could shut off the air conditioning units on the train was to kill the power to the train which I did. Then I had to get it started back up so we could take Hope on his merry way back to the Polynesian."
Hope was a guest on NBC Salutes the 25th Anniversary of the Wonderful World of Disney (1978) and Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday celebration on The Wonderful World of Disney (1978). He was at the Walt Disney World Tencennial in 1981, where he helped lead a 1,000-piece marching band and he spoke at the ribbon cutting and dedication of Disney-MGM Studios in 1989.
Sadly, one of Hope's last official appearances was also connected with Disney. In 1999, the then 96-year-old entertainer did not share the holiday season with servicemen overseas as he had for every holiday season from World War II through Operation Desert Storm.
"It's your turn to entertain the troops. I'm going to Disneyland," the ailing Bob Hope said to honorary Hollywood Mayor Johnny Grant when Grant took over Hope's holiday tours for the overseas troops.
Hope was at Disneyland on Monday, November 22 at 5:45 p.m. to inaugurate a new tradition, the first official lighting of the holiday lights at Disneyland.
The lights all along Main Street were dimmed while hundreds of guests, some of them uniformed men and women, heard a tape of Bob and Dolores Hope singing the song "Silver Bells." A golf cart brought Hope and his wife to the stage. Executive Vice President Cynthia Harriss declared both of them to be "honorary citizens of Disneyland" and a large framed certificate was presented to the couple by Mickey Mouse.
Major General T. Irby, United States Army (retired) who was then vice-president of Facilities, Engineering and Construction at the Disneyland Resort stood next to Hope and said, "Sir, please accept this crystal castle on behalf of all of the veterans that have worked for the Disney company over the years. We salute you, sir, and we wish you a very merry Christmas."
The castle stood about 14 inches tall. A small plaque on its base read, "Bob Hope—Thanks For the Merriest Lighting on Earth. — From Your Friends at Disneyland—November 22, 1999".
With Mickey Mouse at his side, Hope, with the help of his wife, took a short swing with a golf club to tap a large silver golf ball with mouse ears on the small stage where he had been sitting in a director's chair. Hundreds of thousands of holiday lights instantly illuminated Disneyland. A small set of fireworks lit up the sky behind Sleeping Beauty Castle. It was planned to be the start of a an annual tradition.
So while Bob Hope never appeared in a Disney film, never voiced a Disney character and never invested in the Happiest Real Estate in the World, he still enriched the World of Disney—and Disney fans thank him for those memories.