I never watched the Bob Hope Christmas TV Specials when I was a kid in the sixties. I thought of him as a clueless old warmonger, to be blunt. He wasn't of my generation.
When I recently discovered one of his Vietnam performance diaries, a morale-booster documentary for the Armed Forces, the effect was startling.
His 1967 USO tour in Indochina covered thousands of soldiers in a dozen different hot spots. You see Hope doing his homework on every stage to crack wise about each hellhole's particular circumstances.
Look at all those fresh faces. What happened to all young men? I couldn't stop thinking about it.... how many dead? How many homeless? How many broken pieces? How many were part of the G.I. Movement?
The guys whose names they print every day in the "Police Blotter" of my hometown newspaper, found lying in the gutter, "Vietnam vet..." — were they here, with Bob Hope?
There's a laugh track and crude editing, but something about these audiences grabs you like it was your own baby brother.
Hope, as much as I disagreed with his flag-waving, was passionate in his support for enlisted men. Many of his jokes, to my surprise, turn on grim humor to the effect that the war is stupid, useless, corrupt— that no one in their right mind would want to be there.
Here's my favorite... he makes a joks about how sexy mini-skirts are all the rage, Stateside.
He says, "Yeah, even some guys are wearing them."
This is part of his "hippie-fag-draft dodger" shtick.
But then! He says: "Don't laugh— you'd have worn one too if you'd thought of it first." And everyone roars with agreement.
Speaking of skirts... the female entertainment in this movie, is, well, unbelievable.
Raquel Welch, in a crocheted mini-dress and go-go boots... indelible kitsch. The women are ditzy pin-ups all the way, but a couple of them are stagehoofing songbirds, too. It's interesting to note they're a black, Latin, and white girl tag team. Barbara McNair, baby! That was not typical of Hollywood entertainment at the time.
Bob taps out a little soft shoe like he was still a young sprout. You know, I didn't know he was British. Came over to Ellis Island. Started performing for soldiers in 1941, before the US entered WWII.
This is an hour and a half program but I couldn't tear myself away. I defy anyone to watch it through and not get a lump in their throat. Only the dead— like Mr. Hope— have seen the end of war.
Thanks to Boingboing for steering me to this gem.