As hundreds of fans waited patiently in the hot afternoon sun at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, Bob Hope did what he has been doing for decades. He made a great entrance.
Arriving on Sunday to dedicate the Pat Nixon Amphitheater, a gift from Hope and his wife, Dolores, the couple drove in to Orange County and then climbed aboard a golf cart, joining Julie and David Eisenhower. The two famous couples then rode up a library walkway, smiling and waving to more than 2,500 spectators.
Many among the audience were old enough to remember Hope’s years as America’s No. 1 entertainer and his numerous holidays spent overseas performing for the nation’s military personnel. Some had arrived hours before the 1 p.m. dedication just to get in line early for autographs.
“Bob Hope is the king of comedy,” said Tina Hernandez, 44, of Huntington Beach, who had five copies of Hope’s new paperback, “Dear Prez, I Wanna Tell Ya,” for the comedian to sign. “Yes, it is a different generation that remembers him, I go all the way back to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, especially Bob Hope’s movies, which are still fun watching.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” she added.
Hope was introduced by the library’s director, John H. Taylor, as the “most legendary entertainer of the 20th century,” which brought a smile to the comedian, who began in vaudeville. The Hopes, longtime friends of the Nixons, paid the amphitheater’s construction costs.”
However, the 94-year-old comedian remained in his seat and declined to say anything publicly. His wife, Dolores, who recently turned 88, did the honors and spoke briefly about her special relationship with the young Eisenhowers, then thanked the public for attending the event.
During the dedication, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of Richard and Pat Nixon, retold a joke Hope had used in the ‘60s while he was in Thailand on one of his many Christmas visits with U.S. troops.
“He knew how to go the heart of every issue,” she said, recalling that at the time, the Nixon family was in its New York apartment when Hope’s TV special came on.
“You have to understand that my mother wanted a woman named to the Supreme Court,” Eisenhower said. “Instead, my father nominated two men. Hope said, ‘Poor Nixon is in the White House and for two weeks he’s been having frozen dinners . . . only they’re really frozen.”
The amphitheater is located just south of the library’s main building. Already it has become the library’s social center, Taylor said, serving as a convenient setting for weddings, dinners and other activities.
It is a simple bowl area covered with freshly cut grass and terraced in concrete with planters of marigolds and white and pink roses. There is no plaque, only the words “Pat Nixon Amphitheater, a gift from Bob and Dolores Hope” in large letters. The cost has not been divulged.
For Republican Party activist Robert Davis, 47, of Monrovia, attending the event was more of a personal homage to Julie Eisenhower. Davis came to the Yorba Linda event with his wife, Adelina, and the couple’s 8-year-old daughter.
“I especially wanted to meet Julie,” Davis said. “I admired the way she stayed by her father [during Watergate] so much that I named my daughter after her.”
After the dedication, Jim McWilliams, 53, of Yorba Linda got Hope’s autograph.
“I said to Bob Hope, ‘Thanks for the memories.’ I didn’t get to shake his hand but I did reach out and touch him,” said an excited McWilliams. “We came here to get his autograph because we wanted to get a piece of history.”