For whatever reason, my grandfather’s consumption of mass media fascinates me.
Regular readers will remember my extended meditation, at the start of this blog’s existence, on the movie “That’s Entertainment!” I’ve also mused on my grandfather’s newspaper readership, and on what he might have watched the day he got a new TV aerial installed.
So when I noticed a passing reference in yesterday’s blog entry to my grandfather watching a “BOB HOPE SHOW” on Oct. 24, 1975, of course I had to go find out what he saw.
(If you missed the mention, go back to yesterday’s post and look at the illustration of the witch flying east. Then, go north.)
Ol’ Ski Nose had a busy 1975 on the small screen. He co-hosted the Academy Awards telecast; appeared in a documentary about Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire; cracked wise about Lucille Ball on a Dean Martin celebrity roast; showed up on Tony Orlando and Dawn’s variety show; and hosted an improbable confection called “Bob Hope on Campus,” which included appearances by Aretha Franklin, John Wayne, America and Flip Wilson.
But the Oct. 24 show was one to trump them all, as Hope marked 25 years on television with special guests Wayne, Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Clips from previous shows featured the most popular mass-market entertainers of the post-World War II era.
A few parts of the show I might enjoy watching today, such as Sinatra singing “The Lady Is A Tramp.”
Other parts of it I would probably find groanworthy. (Bob and Steve McQueen play Japanese soldiers in a comedy sketch from 1960? Time to go wind the clock and make the popcorn, and maybe even steam-clean the rug.)
Still, while I wouldn’t necessarily like to watch this special, the idea of it gives me a mental snapshot — not just of my grandparents in their little house, but of an entire generation continuing to find humor and relaxation in its preferred brand of comedic comfort food.
Not many new laffs in a clip show full of familiar faces. But when you’re 65, as my grandpa was at the time, you’re not looking to be shaken up. You just want to sit for a while with old friends who entertain you.
The equivalent for my dad’s generation — and to some extent mine — would be a “Saturday Night Live” anniversary show.
Of course, I like to think of SNL as hipper and less middlebrow than Bob Hope — and at various points, it has been. But at this point, it’s a familiar cultural institution with its own well-worn riffs, just like Bob Hope was in ’75. The Bass-O-Matic? Gumby? The Church Lady? Sure, roll ’em out again.
(Bob might fare better than I care to admit in a clip-show cutting contest with SNL. The drug jokes of the Seventies seem just about as faded now as Bob’s brand of humor probably would. And which would you rather see — Sinatra bringing down the house on Hope’s show, or Leo Sayer doing “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” from the SNL archives?)
In subsequent years, Bob Hope would appear in a dizzying number of TV specials with titles like “James Bond: The First 21 Years,” “All-Star Look at TV’s Prime Time Wars” and “All-Star Celebration Opening the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.” I have no indication that my grandparents watched any of those — and actually, I rather hope they didn’t.
I’m being careful not to sneer, though. I know TV programmers, by and large, are no more intelligent and creative than they ever have been.
I wonder if, when I’m 65, I’ll check the TV listings and see “Adam Sandler’s All-Star Salute to The National Football League,” or “Will Ferrell With His Beautiful Easter Bunnies and Other Friends.”
If so, Bob Hope and Steve McQueen as Japanese soldiers might seem very funny indeed.