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Bob Hope struts onstage carrying a parasol during a show in Southeast Asia in 1965.
Bob Hope struts onstage carrying a parasol during a show in Southeast Asia in 1965. (Ed Swinney/Stars and Stripes)
Bob Hope struts onstage carrying a parasol during a show in Southeast Asia in 1965.
Bob Hope struts onstage carrying a parasol during a show in Southeast Asia in 1965. (Ed Swinney/Stars and Stripes)
Kaye Stevens, playing an Army nurse conducting sick call (hours: 8 to 8:05 a.m.), presents patient Bob Hope with a questionnaire to be filled out before he can be treated. Hope: "Thank heavens it's the short form." The sketch was part of Hope's 1965 Christmas tour for U.S. troops in Asia.
Kaye Stevens, playing an Army nurse conducting sick call (hours: 8 to 8:05 a.m.), presents patient Bob Hope with a questionnaire to be filled out before he can be treated. Hope: "Thank heavens it's the short form." The sketch was part of Hope's 1965 Christmas tour for U.S. troops in Asia. (Ed Swinney/Stars and Stripes)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Maj. Ed Swinney was Pacific Stars and Stripes' executive officer at the time this story was written; in his previous assignment, he handled logistics for Hope's annual tours.

ABOUT NOW, the project officer for the 1964 Bob Hope Christmas show is trying to crowd approximately 58 people, nearly two tons of personal baggage, and another ton of scenery and show props aboard a single C-135 MATS jet.

And, for the first time since 1959, that human shoe horn won't be me.

Before joining Stars & Stripes late last summer, I served for five years as Air Force representative in a joint service activity that coordinates a worldwide live entertainment program for the Department of Defense.

While such an assignment may sound glamorous, it wasn't. Once in a white, a staff visit overseas would put me in contact briefly with a small USO show or a group of college entertainers, but most or the time, we three service representatives just sat there in Washington and "co-ordinated."

Our one big annual in-person brush with show biz, was the Hope Christmas trip, a somewhat frustrating end-of-the-year challenge that I managed to monopolize for five jolly seasons. I didn't plan it; it just happened that way after the first go-around. I was the only one who had any experience at that sort of thing.

When I charged onto the scene in December, 1959 (Hope claims I tried to hold reveille at 0600, followed by calisthenics). the whole project was on pretty shaky ground.

The main problem was that there had been no control in regard to the size of the previous three Christmas entertainment troupes, and the tours themselves had had about as much advance planning as the path of a tornado.

They had been a strain on everyone and, as a result, the areas where the unit toured in 1957 and 1958 had sent up warning signals that read loud and clear: Never again. They wouldn't touch the project with a ten-foot comedian.

Nothing very remedial could be done in regard to the 1959 show. Because of the time element, it was arbitrarily sent to the Alaskan Command, which accepted it with some trepidation because of its 1956 experience, when the Hope unit was as cumbersome as a pregnant elephant and about as co-ordinated as a bag of angle worms.

There wasn't touch time, but we managed to slap on a few Defense Department and Hope-approved restrictions on troupe size and logistical support. The result was an entirely successful tour of six main bases in Alaska.

Still, because of Hope's penchant to begin from a standing start about two weeks before the departure date, getting his show on the road in 1959 was like trying to handcuff an octopus.

Early in 1960, our tri-service coordinating office began to develop an SOP which has since resulted in a string of four straight successes without a miss. This included two forays into areas where initial rejection had to be overcome.

Basically, the plan was simple: Start early, co-ordinate everything fully, and light a psychological fire under Hope no later than September of each year.

I just put the troupe on a plane in 1959, crossed my fingers, and waved farewell. I went along on the next four trips, but, thanks to the Boy Scout motto, my job was reduced pretty much to that of an observer.

Many fallacies have evolved about the Hope Christmas Show over the years, not the least of which is that it's one great big boondoggle, a midwinter aerial pleasure cruise. Take it from me, friend — that's a rather large crock.

As project/escort officer these past four years, I was something of a Simon Legree in blue. Back in 1962, coming down in the hospital elevator on Okinawa, I heard Lana Turner behind me moan "My God, Bob: this schedule!" This was between the afternoon and evening shows at Stilwell Field House and I turned to find Hope pointing, a silent and accusing finger at me.

Lana had a point. That 1962 tour was probably the roughest trip Hope has ever made. The troupe did 15 shows in 12 days at 13 different locations on six separate geographic areas (Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Guam). In all, they traveled more than 18,000 miles.

During the four Christmas seasons I traveled with the show, the troupe was on the road a total of 43 days, did 51 shows in 30 locations and traveled an average of more than 1,000 miles a day. The total mileage of 55,000 miles doesn't sound like much until you realize that's twice around the world plus two round trips across the United States. You can call that boondoggling if you like, but I suggest you smile when you say it, pardner.

The question I'm most often asked at cocktail parties, after I've modestly dropped half a dozen hints about my lurid past, is: "What kind of a guy is Bob Hope?"

My stock, tongue-in-cheek response is that he's a pretty average millionaire. Accustomed, that is, to having his own way. But that wasn't always possible during the past four years. For example, Bob didn't always want to go where we wanted to send him at ho-ho time, but he went. After all, it was our airplane.

Actually, I'm not qualified to give a straight answer to the question. For reasons of my own, I scrupulously avoided becoming buddy-buddy with Hope, mainly on the premise that it might hinder my objectivity. Our relations have been friendly but somewhat reserved.

On stage, Bob is a veritable dynamo; no matter who else is in the cast, or what her measurements are, Hope is the glue that holds the whole schmear together. Off stage, he is convivial but serious; he is not one of those comics who are "on" all the time.

If I may wax philosophical for a moment, I'd say that he is a different guy to different people. To some, he seems to affect a "be reasonable, do it my way" attitude, and yet I have always found him genuinely reasonable when he was apprised of the facts.

His closest associates have told me: "'Bob's a funny guy, but we all love him." He is on the record as an active philanthropist, a good father, a soft touch for old friends, and yet I've heard him described as a cross between General Bullmoose and Pollyanna.

He has surrounded himself with a devoted and loyal staff of professionally competent people, and therefore limits himself to major decisions, such as the color of the baggage tags. In other words, Hope knows what's going on all the time.

But it is as an entertainer of the military that history will probably base its judgment of him and, as such, he has no peer. Even today's 18-year-olds seem to laugh more just because Hope has said something rather than because of what he has said. He is a legend in his own time, able to get bigger laughs from a burp than most comics get from a 10-minute routine.

BING CROSBY once said that Hope is a compulsive entertainer (and Hope says Crosby is a compulsive father). Hope admitted as much to a friend of mine in Alaska back in 1959. "At Christmas, I don't know," he said, ''I've just got to go entertain the troops."

Not many millionaires say that these days, much less do it.

Bob has said publicly that his greatest talent has been a knack for hiring writers who are ideally suited to his patented rapid fire, topical comedy style — fast, razor sharp writers who think funny on the fly (Hope scripts are under constant revision on the road by two traveling writers).

I understand Hope himself is not particularly religious, but Dolores, his wife of 30 years is, and Hope's attendance at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is an unbroken annual ritual. In fact, his pre-midnight departure signals the end of another Christmas Eve ritual, the cast and crew's cocktail and dinner party, a catered affair for which Hope personally foots the bill.

Not all of my memories of the Hope trips are pleasant ones, nor for that matter are any of them terribly unpleasant. A little rest the first week in January usually took away the sharp edges. In any event, they were all relative experiences, depending on one's point of view.

For example, in his book "I Owe Russia $1,200," Hope makes it appear that Zsa Zsa Gabor gave me a bad time during the Caribbean tour of 1900. Not so.

She kept pronouncing my name "Sveeney" so I began calling her "Miss Goober," After that we got along just fine.

Zsa Zsa is a name to reckon with in Hope Show folklore. It's not one to mention around some of the girls, and the wardrobe man is a little sensitive, too. Causes him to break out in a cold sweat. Nevertheless, Zsa Zsa did a lot to make the 1960 trip unforgettable, and you can lake that any way you want to.

Miss Gabor's variety show capabilities are marginal and limited, and her talents otherwise are, shall we say, highly specialized. Her forte seemed to be that of aggravating everyone in sight by being overbearing, demanding, temperamental, petty, and — when no one was looking — rather nice.

She quailed when I told her she might have to share a bath at Rainey AFB, Puerto Rico, with one of the other female stars, and stayed instead at the Caribe Hilton (where else?) in San Juan, a mere 90 miles away,

Then at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she promptly laid claim to the only VIP suite on base, which was conveniently located above the officers' club. The other girls stayed in quonset huts a couple of miles away.

ZSA ZSA also quickly staked a claim on two personal maids and immediately placed a strain on the club's limited room service capability.

The club manager, a redheaded Irishman named Jerry Egan, gritted, then gnashed his teeth; he growled, glared, and faced heavenward several times, but the voice in his ear wouldn't seem to stop. To make matters worse. Zsa Zsa came down with a common physiological ailment that frequently strikes travelers, and began pointing out that the regular menu of steak and similar goodies just wouldn't do; her condition called for a special diet.

She also implied that it was Egan's responsibility to furnish her dietary requirements for the following day, when the troupe was to fly out to do a show on one of the Bahama Islands.

"Dolling," grated Zsa Zsa, "I must have broth and hot tea. Understand? Clear broth and hot tea. My condition, you know." It was normal for her to furnish such information even verbally is duplicate and sometimes triplicate.

"All right, all right," Egan responded wearily, "you'll get your wet picnic basket. Just stop bugging me about it."

Next morning, when Zsa Zsa left her suite for base operations, Egan was there to hand her a stainless steel pot, a can of consomme, and one lone tea bag. I don't believe it, but Egan swore that Zsa Zsa was speechless — momentarily.

"Why is Zsa Zsa that way?" someone asked en route to Japan two years ago.

"This is why," replied Jack Shea, the TV show director. "Hasn't she dominated the conversation for the past hour, and she isn't even here. She's a walking press agent, just being herself."

Unfortunately, a good many of the stories about Zsa Zsa can't be repeated here. Not that they're off-color (necessarily), or libelous; it's just that the terminology required sometimes has a double meaning or is perhaps a bit quaint for a family newspaper.

The lady is sharp and naturally funny, often without intending to be. She broke us all up several times in rehearsal, and yet no one could remember exactly what she had said.

Because of her limited variety show capability, the writers used a gimmick for Zsa Zsa that had worked well with Hedda Hopper — a questions-from-the-audience routine.

A couple of questions would be planted in the audience and this usually inspired original questions from other spectators. One sailor in San Juan apparently thought he as throwing Zsa Zsa a curve when he asked "Which is more important, food or sex?"

Zsa Zsa thought a moment, then replied "I don't know which is the most important, but I know you have to eat in order to be strong." It took five minutes to restore order.

The next night, a Guantanamo sailor asked, "What's your cup size?" Before she could answer, Hope responded with "Whatcha gonna do, buddy, serve coffee?"

ANOTHER STEADY SOURCE of Hope show folklore is prop man Al Borden. Anything that goes wrong on stage is blamed on Al. probably because if it moves, he had something to do with it.

Al's specialty is sight gags; he's produced laugh-getting gimmicks such as beer foam that flies back on when you blow it off, trick musical instruments, collapsible chairs, and the like. Most of the things he cooks up work fine at rehearsal, but occasionally bomb out on camera, as though on cue.

Guns he loads either won't fire or explode 10 seconds late; cats he's placed in trick bass fiddles refuse to come out; a prop door will get nailed up backwards; or else Al will take a pratfall in escaping a playful kick from Hope for some real or imagined goof-up. This has been going on for 30 years.

Al is a respected craftsman, is a great improviser on the road and can build just about any prop needed right on the spot. A few years ago, the boys were commenting on the physical attributes of a beauty contest winner who had just joined the cast. "She's all right above the waist," said one guy, "but she hasn't got much of a rear end."

"That's okay," retorted writer Mort Lachman, "Al Borden's gonna build her one."

Another of the many fallacies about Hope is that he uses blue material. I've never heard him or anyone else say anything off-color on stage. Off-stage, the conversation is no more racy than that around a neighborhood bar in Omaha.

Another myth is that Hope has and is quick to use high powered influence in order to get his way. Poppycock.

Bob has many friends in high places; if he felt like it and had a good case, he might be able to do a little psychological arm twisting, but I know of no such shenanigans. Since I wasn't a hired yes man and we had many heated debates, I'm sure I'd know by now if he was.

FOR THE PAST four years, the Hope troupe has been my family at Christmastime and I'm going to miss them. I just hope that my replacement read my guidelines carefully, else he's liable to find that cue card man Barney McNulty is still on the ground taking a 35mm slide of the plane taking off and that John Bubbles is off in some dark corner of the terminal, writing post cards to friends dating back to his "Porgy and Bess" days.

This new guy will be in for enough last minute surprises. Hope himself is usually good for a few. Last year, he sprung Phil Crosby on me the afternoon before we left for Turkey; luckily, Phil already had a valid passport.

That wasn't the case a year before, when the guy at the passport office didn't have the combination to the safe. I've told Hope a dozen times that miracles are not covered in regulations, but somehow they always come to pass when Hope is getting ready to hit The Road. In this case, the solution was simple: they borrowed a safecracker who happened to be incarcerated at the Los Angeles County Jail. He opened the safe and the passport was issued.

Little things like that make me curious about what thrills await the Hope Show escort officer this year. There are always a few when you're working with a guy who not only burns the candles at both ends but also keeps a bonfire going in the middle.


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