Newsletter: Classic Hollywood: Memories of Bob Hope, ‘Animal House’ and Marlon Brando

This is L.A. Times movie writer Susan King. Welcome to the latest edition of my Classic Hollywood newsletter, where I talk about my passion for all things vintage Hollywood. Every Friday I discuss such topics as movie and TV milestones, notable births of the week, fun events around town geared to fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and reminisce about the legends I have interviewed over the years.

This Monday marks the 12th anniversary of the death of renowned comic actor Bob Hope at age 100. (His good friend George Burns also died at 100).

Baby boomers grew up watching Hope's comedy specials on NBC--especially his tours performing for the troops in Vietnam--as well as classic films on television including the “Road” comedies with Bing Crosby, as well as 1940’s “The Ghost Breakers” and 1948’s “The Paleface.”

In 1991, I got the opportunity to interview Hope at his famous Toluca Lake estate, which is now for sale for $12 million, about his Christmas special, “Bob Hope’s Cross-Country Christmas.” Hope had been celebrating the holidays on NBC since 1957.

Hope preferred interviews over lunch--it was warm chicken salad with bacon and pumpkin pie--in one of the rooms in his spacious house that overlooked his expansive backyard.

That year also marked his 50th anniversary of entertaining U.S troops.

Bob Hope performs for servicemen at Munda Airstrip, New Georgia, in the Solomon Islands on Oct. 31, 1944. (Anonymous / U.S. Army)

“I was doing my [radio show] at NBC and the producer said they want you down at March Field,” Hope recalled. “It happened around April [1941]. I said, ‘March Field? Where is that?’ He said, ‘That’s an Air Force base in Riverside. They want you to come down and do the show down there. They would love you.’ Then, in December, war started and then it became dramatic. For five straight years we went all over the world ... wherever we had troops. It was something.”

Hope also noted that he and Bing Crosby had no idea that their 1940 “Road to Singapore” would spawn six sequels.

“We used to do anything [for a laugh]. We were always concocting something. I had my set of writers and Bing had a set working for him and we used to come up with new little slants all the time. It was fun.”

Here is the L.A. Times obit on Hope as it appeared on the paper on July 29, 2003.

Don’t touch that dial

TCM concludes its “Star of the Month” salute to Shirley Temple on July 27 with four of her final films. The best of the lot is 1947’s “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer,” in which she plays a teenager with a massive crush on playboy Cary Grant, much to the chagrin of her older sister (Myrna Loy), who happens to be a judge. Sidney Sheldon, who went on to write such novels as “The Other Side of Midnight,” won an Oscar for his original screenplay. Also airing Monday are 1949’s “Adventures in Baltimore,” which also stars Robert Young and her first husband John Agar; her final film, 1949’s “The Story of Seabiscuit”; and 1949’s “A Kiss for Corliss,” which also stars David Niven.

Around town

If you love juicy 1950s melodramas like I do, then head down to the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on July 29 for a screening of the 1959 CinemaScope classic “The Best of Everything.” It’s a fabulous wallow!

Who can resist a film with this tagline: “THESE ARE THE GIRLS who want the best of everything ... but often settle for a lot less!” And to further whet your appetite, “The Best of Everything,” which was just released on Blu-ray, was one of the films that influenced Matthew Weiner when he was creating “Mad Men.”

Based on Rona Jaffe’s debut novel, the drama revolves around three young women (Hope LangeDiane Baker and Suzy Parker) who work as secretaries at a successful publishing house in New York City. Joan Crawford in her first supporting role plays their very demanding boss. Stephen Boyd, Louis Jourdan and future uber-producer Robert Evans are the men in their lives. “The Best of Everything” earned Oscar nominations for song and the gorgeous costumes. And Baker will even be on hand Wednesday to chat about making the film.

Movie milestone

Dust off your togas! John Landis’ raucous comedy classic “Animal House” is celebrating the 37th anniversary of its New York premiere on July 27 and release on July 28. All I can say is where did the time go? “Animal House” is one of those comedies you can watch over and over again, especially for John Belushi’s iconic gross-out comedic performance as Bluto. The rest of the cast also hits the right comedic buttons including Tom Hulce, who later earned an Oscar nomination as Mozart in 1984’s “Amadeus”; Tim Matheson; Stephen Furst; James Widdoes; Karen AllenDonald Sutherland; and even a very young Kevin Bacon.

Salvatore Corsitto, left, and Marlon Brando in a scene from "The Godfather." (Paramount Pictures)

Sneak peek

In this Sunday’s Classic Hollywood I preview  the new film “Listen to Me Marlon,” which opens in limited release in theaters on July 31. The documentary on the legendary Oscar-winning Marlon Brando is told in the late actor’s own voice culled from more than 300 hours of audiotapes he made. Brando’s musings are interspersed with clips from his classic films including “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Godfather,” excerpts from interviews with him, historical and candid footage and even a digital Brando head. The end result is a haunting portrait of this influential, complex actor.

Tom Hulce, from left, John Belushi and Stephen Furst in a scene from "National Lampoon's Animal House." (Unknown / UNIVERSAL)

From the Hollywood Star Walk

Notable births this week include Walter Brennan (July 25); Gracie Allen (July 26); Marjorie Lord (July 26); Blake Edwards (July 26); Helen Mirren (July 26); Kevin Spacey (July 26); Norman Lear (July 27); Charles Vidor (July 27); Keenan Wynn (July 27); Rudy Vallee (July 28); Clara Bow (July 29); William Powell (July 29); Thelma Todd (July 29); and Vivian Vance (July 29)

For more vintage Hollywood, go to the Classic Hollywood Los Angeles Times Facebook page and follow me on Twitter @mymackie.

Get our weekly Indie Focus newsletter