Some light-hearted vignettes from my new book: Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies!
Hope and Roosevelt
Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was the first of eleven presidents Republican Bob Hope entertained. The commander-in-chief loved the comedian on the big screen and appreciated Hope’s efforts entertaining the troops during World War II. Their paths crossed when Bob emceed a dinner in the president’s honor, a few months before Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term in 1944. In front of a crowd of luminaries, Hope told a story about a Marine in the South Pacific who was disappointed that he had not encountered an enemy combatant.
At the edge of a jungle, with his gun at the ready, he shouted out, “To hell with Hirohito!”
A Japanese soldier emerged from behind the trees. “To hell with Roosevelt!”
But the Marine lowered his weapon. “Darn it, I can’t shoot a fellow Republican. “The president threw back his head and laughed so hard Bob later said he almost considered voting for him.
Red Skelton the Loner
Comedian Red Skelton felt very little need to socialize during the twenty-one seasons his TV show ran on the air. Like his famed clown character, Freddy the Freeloader, the Indiana-born Skelton was a natural loner. Why should he spend time with fellow comedians, who were more interested in topping his performances rather than being his friend? Let others hang around Hollywood nightclubs, and give the impression to their fans that they were out-of-control drunks. In the turbulent 1960s, the very conservative Red felt even more isolated from younger comics whose humor seemed raunchy and inappropriate. His most important relationship was with his audience. One rare night when he ate out, Red observed a comedy writer entertaining his dinner mates. Appreciative of the man’s talents, Skelton walked up to his table and stated, “I wish you worked on my show.”
The scribe was startled. “But I do.”
The Unusual Speaking Engagement
One day in the 1950s, George Jessel was having lunch with some fellow comedians when he was approached by a stranger who asked him to speak at his dog’s funeral. The famous toastmaster, who often got into trouble professionally because of his outspoken conservative politics and his fierce support of Israel, was insulted. Jessel’s speechmaking was reserved for political and entertainment gatherings. This fellow was humiliating him; George’s friends would probably rib him about pet eulogies for the next five years. The cash-starved womanizer began to reconsider when the man quietly promised to pay him a great deal of money. Still, George hesitated. Could he really agree to this indignity in front of his pals? His would-be benefactor then stated that he would also donate heavily to George’s pet cause, the Jewish Relief Fund. Slowly, Jessel broke into a smile and then said, “Why didn’t you tell me your dog was Jewish?”
Dinner at the Hepburns’
Katherine Hepburn always laughed whenever Spencer Tracy told the story of his visit to her family home in Connecticut. One night at dinner, the outspoken actress got into a lively argument with her father Doc Hepburn about how to best help the less fortunate. Tired of their moralizing, Tracy went out to the porch for a smoke. After a couple of puffs, he looked up to see a very lost, very timid-looking Mexican fisherman who had somehow stumbled onto the property. Tracy yelled inside, “Hey, better get another plate ready in there, the poor are here to collect.”
Old man Hepburn came out on the porch. “Hey you, get the hell out of here! I’ll sic the dogs on you.”
After the frightened trespasser ran away, Thomas Hepburn told the startled Tracy, “Got to get the alarms fixed.”
Then the men went back inside, and the family resumed their discussion on aiding society’s downtrodden.