James Lipton

James Lipton responds to his faithful fans and recalls the great Bob Hope.

on Nov 21, 2007

Of all our walks and talks, the one that stands out took as its setting the deserted streets of Palm Springs, under a canopy of stars so thick and lustrous they looked as if they might collapse and smother us in diamonds. Bob had examined all the shop windows that interested him, and it appeared we'd run out of conversation as well, but Bob wasn't ready to call it a night. Casting about for topics, we came up with the hoary filler: If you could live in any other time and place than this, what would it be?

Bob considered the court of Louis XIV -- provided he could be Louis; I mulled Periclean Greece, Quattrocento Florence and Elizabethan England, rejecting them all finally for the poor quality of their medical care -- then suddenly I stopped dead with "I've got it!"

Bob turned to me, waiting, and I said, "I'd like to have been a star in Hollywood in the nineteen thirties."

Bob's response was unequivocal. "It was Paradise."

The next hour was one of the most entertaining of my life, as Bob strolled through the desert night, recalling Hollywood's Golden Age. "We didn't know it was Paradise. We just took it for granted. Everybody else had problems. The country was broke, but we were doing okay -- and no taxes!" Bob's eyes glittered in the starlight.

He relived riotous croquet games with Chaplin and Fairbanks and Pickford and Harpo. He described Will Rogers galloping along the bridle path that bisected Sunset Boulevard -- and that recollection reminded him of the Beverly Hills Hotel. "You know why they built those bungalows? To keep their stars out of trouble. Privacy!" he confided with a wink. "What happened back there was nobody's business. The studios made sure their bread and butter stayed out of trouble. And if you got in trouble, they got you out."

In Bob's account, Hollywood was alive and young and (moderately) innocent again, MGM was making good on its boast of "more stars than there are in the heavens," the Trocadero and the Brown Derby were crowded with America's idols, Palm Springs was a remote, private oasis for those fortunate few. Fred and Ginger danced across the desert floor that night, and Hope and Benny brought the populace together in front of their radios to laugh their troubles away. Plumbing his phenomenal memory, Bob replayed his favorite radio shows -- monologues that told the story of that time and place, sketches with Bing and Skelton and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. "Can you imagine? A ventriloquist -- on radio!" he exulted. As magically as the shepherds of Mycenae had once revived the Greece of 1200 B.C. for me, Bob resurrected the Hollywood of the thirties. It wasn't surreal. It was better than that. It was real: I discovered I was right about the blessings of being a star in Hollywood in the thirties because that night in Palm Springs one of them ebulliently took me there.

Inside Inside is about the heroes of my life, and Bob Hope is certainly one of them. There are many more in the book, but no room for them in this week's blog. Maybe next time, but until then, please let me know what you're thinking ... because, as you see, that starts me thinking.