Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Local celebrities remember Hope

Johnny Bench went on USO tour, played in his golf tourney

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

From the Bob Hope House to Montgomery Inn to USO tours around the world, Bob Hope left his mark on the Tristate:


"He's the last, really true, if not the best, of all American heroes that we will ever know," says former Big Red Machine star and Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.

Bench first met Bob Hope in 1970, in a 12-day, around-the-world tour, performing shows for GI's from Anchorage to Vietnam. He sat next to Hope on the plane the entire way.

Bench's favorite memory is, "more than anything, the love and the joy he brought to those troops. I still experience it, because to this day, whenever I go for appearances, I still run into guys who were in Vietnam," he says. "It was amazing to see the happiness he brought to people.

"Sometimes we want to take for granted what he could do. By the same token, you really don't know what the feedback is until you get up close, and all these guys are (saying), 'Wow, I really appreciated you guys coming over. It made our trip; it made our lives.'

"On the John F. Kennedy battleship, I was supposed to sleep in one of the bays with the guys. I went all over that entire ship; I'd never been on a battleship. So I went down through everything, looking at everything you can look at.

"I never went to bed. I came out the next morning, and (Hope) looked at me, like, 'What in the world have you been doing?' It was almost like your parent saying, 'Why were you out all night?' I had never been out all night, so it was really an experience I had never done."

In the show that day, Bench forgot his lines.

"So I started to laugh, embarrassed as heck. We had rehearsed these lines, and here I was, not paying attention. So I got back into it, and I looked back at him and said, It's your line. The crowd just went wild."

After that, Bench was invited to play in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, Hope's famed golf tournament in Palm Springs, eventually playing 25 times.

"He was always going out of his way to make me a part of the show, a part of everything. ... I'd go to his house every year and have dinner with (Hope and his wife, Dolores).I would call him, two or three times a year, just to hear his latest joke.

"Of course, to enjoy his friendship and to know what he meant to this country, I feel honored and blessed," adds Bench, who also accompanied Hope on a tour to Desert Storm. (He played gin with Dolores for "something like 11 hours straight and we re-fueled mid-air twice.")

"When you get down to it, he is everything to all of us. I just admired and respected him," Bench says. "He suffered long and suffered hard. We've lost the best."


"I really think that this is the end of an era," says jazz vocalist Mary Ellen Tanner, who performed with Hope in August 1981, at the Ohio State Fair in front of crowds of more than 50,000.

"There are some brilliant comics and entertainers of today, but he was very special. I don't think there will ever be another one to come down the pike like Bob Hope. Never."

Hope needed an opening act for the 1981 state fair. His wife, Dolores, a singer, couldn't come, and Miss America was unavailable. On Friday night at midnight, Tanner's phone rang.

"I thought I was going to pass out when I heard that voice," Tanner says. "He said, 'Mary Ellen, this is Bob Hope.' I couldn't say anything."

The show was the next day. She was to open for Hope, and to appear with him in a comedy sketch. The next day, she went to his Columbus hotel room to learn the routine.

"He was sitting there in his chair in his robe and slippers - he was 78 then. But he was so sharp and so sweet," she says. "At 78, his mind was like a 45-year-old."

During the show, Hope was so funny, "you could hardly stand there without just cracking up," she says. "When you're actually onstage in front of that many people and you're doing comedy with Bob Hope, I mean, it's awesome.

"He ad-libbed his way through. He could think on his feet faster than anyone I've ever known. ... He would take shots at everybody, but it was always so funny, and never hurtful. It was just good clean humor. He could be risque, but it was never dirty.

"When they played 'Thanks for the Memory,' honest to God, just to see 50,000 people rise all at once - it was like being on the moon," she says. "It was unbelievable to be standing right there on the stage."

Even though she repeated the routine with him again - at Johnny Bench's retirement party in 1983 and at Ted Gregory's roast in 1993 - her debut with Hope was a "once-in-a-lifetime experience," Tanner says.


"I've never run into a greater humanitarian in my life. This man would give anything he had to make somebody smile or give help," says Harry Adler, Sr., 85, of Kenwood, former president of Bob Hope House, and president of Camargo Construction.

Adler knew Hope for more than 40 years. He recalls when Hope helped to establish the Bob Hope House in 1962 for Hamilton County's troubled boys, at the suggestion of then-Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Benjamin Schwartz. Adler was on the court's advisory council.

"He would come in once a year, and we would have a golf tournament. In the evening, we'd have a big show; Hope would bring in stars like Perry Como, Roy Clark, Wayne Newton, Pearl Bailey, Jack Nicklaus, and the Marx Brothers. And he never charged a nickel."

"You'd be surprised how big-hearted people are, when someone like Bob Hope asks them to do a benefit," he says.


Hope, says Kenton County Judge Dick Murgatroyd, 65, raised "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for the Bob Hope House in Cincinnati.

Judge Murgatroyd, former producer and director at WLWT, first met Hope in 1968, while raising funds for the Hope House.

"He was the key source of revenue for the Bob Hope House in Cincinnati; that was one of the many types of charities," he says. "His talent and his talent that he shared across so many generations can't go unnoticed. Many times he would drop in on Ruth Lyons' show or "The Bob Braun Show" unannounced.

"He loved Montgomery Inn ribs. He'd call and have me meet him at the airplane with a box of ribs to take back home with him.

"He loved to walk, especially after he did a show. That was some of the great moments I had with him. At 3 a.m., we'd be out walking somewhere on the street. He'd always say, 'You're a good audience, kid.' He would keep me going for hours on end.

"He was a man who truly loved what he did and was surely an inspiration for me and for anyone who knew and met him. If I had to pick a highlight in my life, it was knowing Bob Hope, and having an opportunity to work with him.

"He'll be missed, but I'm sure Bob is already up there joining up with (Bing) Crosby, and they're probably working on another road show."


Nick Clooney recalled that in the 1960s when his late sister, Rosemary Clooney, was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown, Bob Hope was able to get a message to her, even though her family was not allowed to contact her. She was in the psychiatric section of the same hospital where she had given birth to five children in five years, and Hope's message read simply, "I hope it's a boy."

"She got that message," Clooney recalled, "and started laughing so hard she knew she was going to be OK."

Clooney said his sister and Hope became friends working on the 1953 comedy Here Come The Girls. Years later, Nick said he heard Hope tell someone, "I had to be friends with Rosemary after I put her in the worst turkey I ever made in my life. ... Even my wife was embarrassed. I've done everything Rosemary asked me to do ever since."


"The great centenarian is now in that great airfield in the sky. Hopefully he's looking down on our great republic with the love and affection that he showed throughout his 100 years, especially for service men and women, whom he admired and really adored. He loved everybody. He showed that so well."

- Theodore Gardner, 82, Hyde Park, former fire (gunnery) control man under Admiral Chester Nimitz, who saw Hope in 1942 in San Diego before being shipped out to Guadalcanal.

Margaret A. McGurk contributed.

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