War was Hell in the 20th Century, but at least Bob Hope showed up at Christmas. Bob Hope was a major film star yet he was never too big to return to his vaudeville roots and put on a live show for the troops that were away from home fighting for their country. He started his good works during World War II and continued it through Korea, Vietnam and Operation Desert Shield. He would get friends and fellow performers to put their holiday plans on hold and hop a military plane toward the battle. Bob also brought along a camera crew so that he could give loved ones back home a chance to see their families overseas when the tours became NBC TV specials. Bob Hope Salutes the Troops are the vintage specials that demonstrate how important his USO show was to all involved.
While “Bob Hope: Memories of World War II” is a bonus feature, it does cover his early experiences of going on tour with military escort. You can watch this before the regular features. The special was made in 1995 so it’s a look back with Bob and his wife Dolores. The big highlight is footage of Bob and Bing Crosby on stage. The duo however never did make The Road to Berlin. “The Bob Hope Christmas Show” of 1962 isn’t done during a major time of combat. But Bob still wanted to entertain the troops in Japan, Korea, Guam and the USS Kitty Hawk. He brings out Lana Turner and Miss USA Amedee Chabot. There’s also a special from the Christmas of 1964 that included Jill St. John and Miss World Ann Sidney.
Vietnam was a major time for Bob and his crew. The boxset has three specials from the height of the battle in Southeast Asia. The first special of that era is “The Bob Hope Christmas Special: Around the World with the USO” is from the 1968 tour. Bob blows away the troops when he unloads Ann-Margret and the Golddiggers on them. The men sitting up front appear to forget that they are sitting in a hostile land as they watch Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas co-star burn up the microphone. The Golddiggers were Dean Martin’s back up dancers from his TV show. Also along for the ride is football legend and pop culture icon Rosey Grier. The former Ram had recently retired and was about to become a guest star staple on ’70s TV. The 1971 tour brings along baseball star Vida Blue, Jill St. John and Carmen Sevilla. Don Ho drops by during the stop in Hawaii to give us all a taste of “Tiny Bubbles.” Finally there’s the ’72 tour with Redd Foxx, Lola Falana and Fran Jefferies. The special capture all of the various bases they visited as they made their way to Vietnam. It gives the best of the nearly 2 1/2 hour show that was presented to those in uniform. Bob makes sure there’s as much footage of the troops’ faces as the star on stage. It’s a little bit of insight as to what things looked like when they could relax a little. It needs to also be noted that Les Brown and His Band of Renown backed the tours.
The final special is “Bob Hope’s Christmas Cheer In Saudi Arabia” is from his 1990 visit to the troops during the “Desert Shield” phase of the original Gulf War. While he brings along Ann Jillian, Marie Osmond and the Pointer Sisters; the ladies are not allowed to perform in Saudi Arabia. They remain on ships and other more friendly countries during the tour while Bob hits the sand of Saudi with Johnny Bench as his sexy co-star. Bob was in his late ’80s, but he seemed as young as the generals as he cracked jokes about Saddam. It’s hard to think how Hope would deal with wars that are now fought with Drones and cyber warfare. Would he still perform in an anonymous warehouse in California to the remote control jockeys and hackers? At least we have Bob Hope Salutes the Troops to get a feeling of his relationship with the troops over the decades when he hit the road with the USO.
The boxset is currently an exclusive at Walmart.
The videos is 1.33:1 full frame. A lot of the specials were shot on 16mm so there’s a bit of grain to them. The specials are documentaries about the tour so these don’t look like studio holiday specials. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The location recording isn’t too bad. Bob comes through clean on stage. There’s plenty of narration from Bob as he points out locations and guests. The levels are fine. The episodes are Closed Captioned.
Bob Hope: Memories of World War II includes the first time he performed during war time on the Queen Mary in 1939. He remembers the time with his wife Dolores in this special from 1995.
Time Life presents Bob Hope Salutes the Troops. Starring: Bob Hope, Dolores Hope, Ann-Margaret, Johnny Bench and Rosey Grier. Boxset Contents: 7 episodes on 3 discs. Released: May 2, 2017.
Tags: Bob Hope, Vietnam War