My friend, Norm Solon, was a journalist and speech writer for some of the major companies and trade associations in the country. Now retired, he recently shared with me some of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities he experienced in his long and distinguished career.
For starters, how being at the launch of Apollo 11 in July 1969, which sent Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon while Michael Collins orbited the command module Columbia around the moon, awaiting their return to the spacecraft before heading back to earth. Those of us who were around 53 years ago witnessed that historic occasion on television. Norm Solon was there up-close-and-personal.
I could fill up this space with all the famous people he has met and worked with over the years but one name jumped out at me in our conversations. Bob Hope. It was while at Texaco that Solon had the chance to meet and interview the legendary comedian who served as a spokesman for the company.
For those of you who are interested in what famous people are really like, Norm Solon says Bob Hope was as nice and genuine as you would have wished him to be. Born in England, he was nonetheless the epitome of a Great American. With a career that covered nearly 80 years, Hope appeared in some 54 feature films and was a long-time fixture on national television and who can forget “Thanks for the Memories,” his Oscar-winning theme song. But he may be best known for his dedication to supporting our military. For a period spanning a half-century, Hope made 57 tours for the USO, entertaining troops in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. I look around today and realize there are no Bob Hopes anymore. No Jack Bennys. No Red Skeltons. As with most everything going on in our society, comedy today is mean-spirited and it seems no comedian can get off what passes for a joke without inclusion of the “F-word.”
Speaking of the environment in which we find ourselves today, Bob Hope hosted the Academy Awards 19 times, more than anyone else. Fortunately, he wasn’t around to see actor Will Smith jump up on stage during this past year’s ceremony and slap host Chris Rock for a remark about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, which he found unfunny. How is that for comic relief?
Hope’s humor was topical but not abusive. He was known to pick on the current White House occupant, whether Democrat or Republican. However, unlike current nighttime TV yakkers, his jibes were never mean or malicious. Hope once remarked that the key to joking about the president was to make “an insult humorous so as to only dent the presidential ego, not damage it.” And that he did.
My favorite Bob Hope quip about presidents concerned Jimmy Carter’s interview with Playboy Magazine and perhaps the most famous unpresidential comment in the magazine’s history. Carter said, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” To which Hope remarked: “Wasn’t Carter’s interview in Playboy something? He talks like Billy Graham and dreams like Sinatra. Now we know what he’s always smiling about.”
President Clinton said of Bob Hope, “When he makes fun of me or any other president, I think we know he’s doing it with a genuinely good heart and a good spirit and in a way that helps us to laugh at ourselves. And I think we all need to laugh at ourselves a little more.” Amen.
That leads me to wonder how Bob Hope would have related to Donald Trump, clearly one of the most thin-skinned individuals to ever occupy the Oval Office. Whatever humor Hope might have applied would have probably been met with angry, insulting and hyperbolic tweets. Why should Bob Hope be different than any other person walking the earth?
And I get giddy thinking about Hope’s reaction to humor-impaired Marjorie Taylor Greene and her comments about the Gazpacho police and her concern that Bill Gates is trying to feed us meat grown in a “peach tree dish,” meaning, I assume, a petri dish. But who knows? All I know is he would have had a field day with her. It is too bad that Bob Hope is gone along with his unique brand of humor. I wish I could have met him but I am glad I know the man who did. To my friend, Norm Solon, I say thanks for the memories.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com.