Bob Hope and Bing Crosby met while working in vaudeville. A mutual friend who thought they would compliment each other on stage, introduced them.
The friend was correct -- they seemed to have an immediate rapport and enjoyed visiting each other on the circuit where they would do short comedy bits called “cross-overs” (i.e., Two lawyers running into each other… they meet center stage and pick each other’s pocket.)
A producer at Paramount Pictures Corporation in Hollywood happened to see them on stage together and sensed they might be able to transfer the chemistry they shared from stage to screen. Thus, the “road” pictures were born -- a collaboration that would prove to be one of the most successful film franchises in the history of Hollywood.
On the night of October 14, 1977, only two months after I had joined Bob Hope’s writing staff, the phone in our Burbank condo rang. It was Hope calling from New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where he had just learned that Bing Crosby had suffered a fatal heart attack while playing golf in Spain.
He said he was suffering from the worst headache he’d ever endured, had canceled the show that was scheduled that night in New Jersey (Bill Cosby subbed for him), and was flying straight home. He asked me to write a press release for the press.
It was late and I wouldn’t have much time, so I snapped on my IBM Selectric — this was B.C., Before Computers — and set to work. I decided
to compose the tribute in much the same style as our one liners — “setup - payoff - setup - payoff” — and using this technique came up with:
“The whole world loved Bing with a devotion that not only crossed international boundaries, but erased them."
"He made the world a single place through his music and spoke to it in a language everybody understands — the language of the heart."
"No matter where you were in the world, because of Bing, every Christmas was white. And because we had him with us, it will always seem a little whiter."
"The world put Bing on a pedestal, but somehow I don’t think he ever really knew it. Bing asked the world, ‘Going My Way?’ and we all were."
"Yesterday, a heart may have stopped and a voice stilled, but the real melody Bing sang will linger on as long as there is a phonograph to be played — and a heart to be lifted.”
As a lifelong fan, it was with a sense of sadness that I dropped off the two-page tribute at Hope’s Toluca Lake house. The next morning, it was on his secretary’s desk with instructions to release it to the wire services without changes.
Over the next several days, the quotes appeared in newspapers throughout the country and in Europe as well and have been reprinted many times since. They appear as Hope’s tribute in "The One and Only Bing" by Bob Thomas.
News of Bing’s death stunned Hope since both were the same age (born twenty-seven days apart in 1903) and, while not the pals the Road pictures had led the public to believe — they seldom saw each other socially — they had been inordinately successful business partners and shared a mutual respect.
While interacting on the screen, the two men seemed a lot alike. In truth, they were not. Hope was gregarious and enjoyed his fans while Bing was more of a loner, preferring to get his work done so he could get back to the tenth tee.
Between takes on a movie set, Hope enjoyed exchanging banter with the crew working behind the camera and counted many of them among his friends. Bing, on the other hand, was notorious for sitting by himself, engaged in some lone activity like checking race results to see how his horses had done.
In the mid-forties, Hope had teamed up with Bing to buy a Texas oil well with some of their movie profits. Soon, the black gold began gushing in and a vial of it was still on display in Hope’s Toluca Lake office .
Besides sharing a mutual love of golf -- Bing was a 3 handicap, Hope an 8 -- both enjoyed baseball and once owned shares in the Cleveland Indians baseball team and constantly advised each other of investment opportunities.
In fact, Hope told me once that in the early 40s, when both hosted successful radio shows (Bing‘s was called “The Kraft Music Hall“) and the road pictures were packing them in, their weekly income could reach $150,000. “We couldn’t invest it fast enough,” he confessed.
In truth, Hope was something short of the “hail-fellow-well-met” that he appeared to be on the screen, but hardly the icy tycoon that some in Hollywood imagined him to be — a characterization that could, at times, accurately describe Bing.
In the early forties the Friars’ Club, an exclusive fraternity of successful actors and comedians, decided to honor Hope with a roast. Though a seat on the dais had been reserved for him, Bing, a Friars’ board member, failed to show up.
Later, when asked by a reporter why he hadn’t attended Hope’s roast, Bing replied, “I wasn’t hungry.”
Excerpted from THE LAUGH MAKERS: A Behind-the-Scenes Tribute to Bob Hope's Incredible Gag Writers (c) 2009 by Robert L. Mills and published by Bear Manor Media. The book was chosen by Leonard Maltin as a “Top 20 Year-End Pick“ for 2009. FREE sample chapters can be read at: : http://www.laughmakers.blogspot.com
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Also available in an unabridged audio version read by the author: http://www.audible.com/adbl/site/products/ProductDetail.jsp?BV_SessionID=....0545479184.1272211432....&BV_EngineID=cccjadekfdmleefcefecekjdffidfmf.0&productID=BK_BEAR_000001