Bob Hope Cultural Center Opens Tonight : Political, Hollywood Celebrities to Dedicate $20-Million Palm Desert Facility

Times Staff Writer

With lots of glitz and fanfare, a major arts and entertainment facility for Southern California opens in Palm Desert tonight. On hand to dedicate the $20-million Bob Hope Cultural Center will be a host of political and Hollywood celebrities, including President and Mrs. Reagan.

Hope, 84, who returned this week from entertaining U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf--his first Christmas mission for American forces overseas since 1983--will receive a special award from Reagan. The evening’s events will be taped for an NBC special to be aired next month called “America’s Tribute to Bob Hope.”

The center--built exclusively with private donations from individuals, foundations and corporations--consists basically of the 1,166-seat McCallum Theatre for the Performing Arts. Named for the late Pearl McCallum McManus, a member of a Palm Springs founding family, the theater is the first of several structures planned.

The Hope building contains a Ford Founders Room (for those contributing $50,000 or more), named for former President Gerald R. Ford, who lives down the road at Thunderbird Country Club. Leading into the structure is the Fred Waring Pavilion, whose centerpiece is a three-tiered fountain honoring the late musician and composer.


Ford is expected to make a brief appearance at the event, though his wife, Betty, is recovering from surgery Wednesday night for a “minor wound problem” after quadruple bypass surgery in late November. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon also were invited to the event, but both declined.

Lucille Ball is expected to be there, along with Kirk Douglas, George C. Scott, Mary Martin, Nancy Sinatra, Diahann Carroll and Yakov Smirnoff. So are Gov. George Deukmejian, Sens. Alan Cranston and Pete Wilson, White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker, National Security Adviser Colin L. Powell Jr. and CIA director William Webster.

Van Cliburn will play the national anthem, as well as the Schumann-Liszt piece “Widmung,” which he played at the White House dinner for Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev several weeks ago.

Also featured will be three songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Phantom of the Opera” and a 3 1/2-minute video tribute to Hope with bits from Johnny Carson and Ford, among others.


McCallum Theatre is decorated in “shades of mauve, plum and dusty rose.” It is “desert modern on the outside and inside there’s a feeling of European intimacy,” according to Michael Grossman, the theater’s executive director.

McCallum Theatre will feature popular entertainment, Grossman said. Besides providing a house for community-based performing arts groups, the theater will offer a great performers series beginning with Rudolf Nureyev and Friends (six dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet), who are scheduled for three nights starting Jan. 19.

An eclectic mix of upcoming performers includes violinist Yehudi Menuhin; mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne; actress Julie Harris doing her Bronte evening; Three Dog Night, and the Belgrade State Folk Ensemble.

Asked whether the center sees itself in competition with the Orange County Performing Arts Center, which opened in September, 1986, Grossman said, “The more theaters there are, that’s all the more excitement that is bred.


“At the moment, we’re selling tickets to people in the (Coachella) Valley cities, in Hemet and the High Desert, in Riverside and all the way to San Diego,” Grossman said.

“In our range of programming, like the Orange County center, like the Doolittle and the Ahmanson, we can do it all,” Grossman said.

McCallum Theatre was designed by Anthony and Langford/Architects of Huntington Beach. The firm also designed La Mirada Civic Center and Continental Plaza in El Segundo. The sound system consists of JBL speakers and components. There is special transmission equipment for the hearing-impaired.

The auditorium contains padded, fabric-covered seating at all levels, and according to theater officials, the intimate atmosphere results from the fact that the back of the house is 80 feet from the proscenium opening. Two out of three seats, or 722, are at orchestra level. Twelve audience side boxes contain 96 seats; there are 170 seats at the founders level and 178 balcony seats.


Mitchell J. Simon, president of the Hope center’s board, said future planning revolves around a Bob Hope “institute of memorabilia,” an art and music school and an outdoor amphitheater.

The Bob Hope Cultural Center begins its first year with a $5-million endowment in place. The center also has a half-dozen $1-million donors, including shopping center developer Ernest W. Hahn and his wife, the Marriott Corp. and the McCallum Foundation.

Gene Autry gave $250,000, according to Greg Willenborg, the center’s campaign director and executive producer. There were about 75 donors giving $100,000 apiece and 7,000 donations of $25 to $100, he said.

Willenborg said that neither the stock market crash nor changes in tax law appeared to have any major impact on contributions. In fact, he said, as the center opening drew closer, more donations came in.


“Any falloff was more than made up by the excitement of the opening this year,” he said.