Thursday, August 4, 2011

Loving Lucy Blogathon: Lucy and Bob Hope

True Classics is hosting a blogathon salute to Lucille Ball on the occasion of the centenary of her birth on August 6. In Caftan Woman's universe Lucy has a prime spot on the ruling counsel.

A few years ago, Carlton Cards issued a Bob Hope Christmas ornament that featured Bob dressed as Santa with three gifts. One was labeled for Dolores, another for Bing and the third for Lucy. In my memory it seems Bob Hope was always popping up on one of Lucy's programs and she was was always popping up on one of his. They always seemed as delighted with each other as the audience was to see them. While their output as a big screen team doesn't rival that of Loy & Powell or Rogers & Astaire, Ball & Hope made four movies together from 1949 - 1963.



Lucy and Bob's first movie was 1949s Sorrowful Jones, a remake of the Shirley Temple vehicle Little Miss Marker based on Damon Runyon's Markie in which an orphan girl is left with a bookie as collateral and changes everyone's life. I'm a sucker for a Runyon story and while the earlier version has a raw originality, this version has an adorable Mary Jane Saunders and Lucy and Bob working their magic.

In her posthumously published autobiography Love, Lucy, she wrote:

This year was the beginning of my great association with Bob Hope. Going to Bob's set every day was like going to a party. I couldn't wait to get there. And I loved working with him.

Bob is predictable and never moody. He's fun, sweet, kind, good; a gentleman and a trouper. I can bounce vitriolic remarks off his big chest and they come out funny, not like acid. Because he's such a strong male figure, he makes me appear more feminine.

Like everything Damon Runyon wrote, Sorrowful Jones had pathos as well as comedy, and Bob at first was rather afraid of the straight scenes. "What if the audience laughs in the wrong place? he worried. He was feeling his way, and so was I. And this was the first movie I'd ever made with Bob. But after a few days, when he still seemed a bit uneasy, I found the courage to take him aside and say, "Don't be afraid to play it straight. If you believe in the scene, the audience will, too."



The following year saw the dynamic duo in another remake as Fancy Pants turned Ruggles of Red Gap on its ear. The director was George Marshall, a Hope veteran of The Ghost Breakers and Monsieur Beaucaire, who had worked with Lucy on Valley of the Sun. He would also work on her series Here's Lucy.

The 1935 movie starred Charles Laughton in a funny and touching story as a misplaced butler finding a new sense of self in the new territory of the old west. In Fancy Pants Hope is an actor pretending to be a butler and turning tomboy Lucy into a lady. It's loud, garish and filled with zany slapstick. Lucy rides, ropes, tumbles and fights. It's also very funny by not trying to ape the earlier classic. John Alexander has a chance to trot out his Teddy Roosevelt impersonation. They even throw in a couple of songs by Livingston and Evans of Buttons and Bows fame. Lucy is dubbed by Annette Warren, but Bob gets to do his own singing.



My favourite of Lucy and Bob's collaborations is 1960s The Facts of Life, a movie I call "Brief Encounter with Laughs". This is my slightly worn review first posted 2008.
Directed by Melvin Frank and written by Frank with Norman Panama, The Facts of Life is an adult love story that will surprise you.
Kitty Weaver and Larry Gilbert are two perfectly nice suburbanites. If Kitty's husband (Don DeFore) seems a little preoccupied with work and his gambling habit, and Larry's wife (Ruth Hussey) a little too caught up with the kids - well, that's life. They have no thought of straying. They certainly have no thought of straying toward each other. However, Fate (in that way of hers) forces these two perfectly nice people to spend time together. Kitty discovers that "the jerk who tells the lousy jokes at the country club" is a genuinely warm and funny fellow. Larry sees a softer side to that stuck up Kitty. Love blossoms with the added complications of vows and conscience.
How Larry and Kitty deal with their feelings, their need to be together and the realities of their lives is played out in a frank, touching and very funny manner. It is wonderful to see two actors who happen to be bona fide comic geniuses working together in such perfect sympathy. The humour of character and situation also involves some gut grabbing slapstick, and some quiet moments that will make you smile or sigh a sentimental sigh for two perfectly nice people.


Lucy and Bob's final movie is 1963's Critic's Choice based on a Broadway play by Ira Levin. Lucy is Angie, a devoted wife and stepmother. Bob plays her husband, Parker Ballantine, a renowned and ascerbic theatre critic. He treats Angie's playwriting ambition as a whim to belittle. Sweet Angie turns stubborn at this and the household routine is thrown to the wind in the cause of art. Parker pans the completed play and scathingly backs up his opinion. Angie forges ahead by taking the play to their producer friend (John Dehner) and while he thinks it needs work, he also thinks it is doable. Family life becomes more unsettled with a little sideline help from Parker's ex, an actress played by Marilyn Maxwell and an egocentric director played by Rip Torn.

The climax of the story concerns whether or not Parker should or will review the play on opening night. He has already stated he doesn't like it. He has also turned down a plea for help from Angie. Parker looks upon it as a matter of self-respect. For Angie it is all about love and support. Our couple finds common ground by the end, but how this is achieved left me a little unsettled, however I think the movie is still a worthwhile watch. Lucy is marvelous in the role of a loving and determined woman trying to come out of her shell. The funny stuff is mostly left to Bob with nifty one-liners and a drunk scene.


Lucy's legacy of movie work is a tribute to her talent, her versatility and her commitment as an actress. All this can be found in the four movies she made with her most felicitous co-star, Bob Hope.

33 comments:

  1. Oh how I love Lucy - especially with Bob (sorry Desi!). They were wonderful together - and were so generous with one another. I was so lucky to have grown up when they were a part of the TV landscape! Thanks for reminding us how fabulous these 2 greats were! You write the stuff I love to read!

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  2. Great article on Lucy and Bob Hope. I remember when Lucy passed away Bob did a quick special and it was one of his best shows! Good work!!!

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  3. "The Facts of Life" is also my favorite of the Lucy & Bob movies. It is really well done - funny, yes, but thoughtful, too, and, as you mention, touching. Kinda wish Lucy and Bob had gotten together after she and Desi split (with apologies to Dolores Hope).

    So glad you chose to write about them...both were so individually successful that it seems their great work together has ended up overlooked or forgotten. Thanks for an excellent write up (and a reminder) of their magic together.

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  4. It's funny...I remember each of the movies you described, but somehow never realized that Lucy and Bob had starred in so many movies together. Very entertaining article...but I have a question: Did Bob show up in I LOVE LUCY when the Ricardo's went to Hollywood?

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  5. FlickChick, more than ever as I look at television these days, I am grateful I grew up when I did.

    Thank you for the kind compliment.

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  6. Dave, I agree. I thought the special was also a kind way to share with fans.

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  7. I'm not surprised that The Lady Eve would be a fan of such a special movie.

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  8. Rick, Mr. Hope did not show up during the Ricardo's sojourn in Hollywood. Oh, but he ran into Lucy later on in the series. Did he ever! He was trying to enjoy a baseball game and Lucy was trying to get to him in order to finagle Ricky a guest spot with Bob. You can imagine the lengths she went to! As I recall, Bob hired Ricky out of sympathy.

    Or something like that.

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  9. "Slightly worn review"? Never. I love re-runs. If it weren't for re-runs, I'd never have gotten to know Lucy.

    What a talent, and her partnership with Bob Hope is such a nice spin on sharing what you love about her talent with your readers.

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  10. Thanks, Jacqueline. Let's hear it for reruns!

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  11. Thank you, Caftan Woman! I've been practically drooling over the prospect of a Lucy blogathon for over a month. Your article completely satisfied me!

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  12. I agree Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, make a wonderful team. The Facts of Life", is also my favorite of the Lucy and Bob films. The comedy includes some surprisingly spicey view on the lifestyles of the 50's. But, the fun really begins when they are sneaking around town to trying to be alone. I really enjoyed reading your fun review.

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  13. Lucie, I'm so happy to have gotten things off to a good start on this weekend of weekends. Cake and Lucy all the time!

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  14. Dawn, "The Facts of Life" never turns up on any classics lists, but maybe we can turn it into a cult film.

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  15. CW, I love Bob and I love Lucy! I have seen Sorrowful Jones and Critic's Choice, but not the others! What a pair of comedians! You can hardly go wrong. I was interested to see that they were directed by George Marshall -- I think The Ghostbreakers is Bob Hope's funniest movie next to the Road To movies.

    I really enjoyed this look at two of my favorite people. Great job!

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  16. Thanks, Becky. You've got to catch up with the others, especially "The Facts of Life". Our stars do not disappoint.

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  17. I love Lucille Ball's early screen work and her television shows. Thanks for posting these reviews of her teaming with Bob Hope, I now have a whole new aspect of her career to discover.

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  18. Novabreeze, the great thing about older films is that there is always something new.

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  19. I re-watched Sorrowful Jones not too long ago and was actually impressed with how Bob and Lucy handled the material--so much so that I prefer it to the 1934 original. Even the little girl was okay, and you know how kiddie thesps give me a rash.

    But I'll deviate from the majority opinion here in tabbing Fancy Pants as my favorite Bob & Lucy vehicle. The Facts of Life is a good movie, but I don't think it completely lives up to its intentions of having the two of them play characters (Hope still has to play the wisecracking jokester). I like Fancy because even though it's a remake of Ruggles of Red Gap it doesn't completely ape the original (a film that would be impossible to beat), plus the supporting players are great...I think this is the only movie in which Hope worked with longtime radio stooge Jack Kirkwood (how did they overlook hiring Kirkwood to be in The Lemon Drop Kid, a film with fake Santas?--"Put something in the pot, boy..."). (Fancy Pants also has that great musical number, "Home Cookin'"...)

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  20. Ivan, I agree about "Fancy Pants". It works precisely because they wrapped it around Bob and Lucy, not trying to capture what made the original so...original.

    "Sorrowful Jones" really accomplished something in getting you on board. Next stop - a Bobby Breen festival!

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  21. This was an enjoyable read! I knew that Bob & Lucy were great friends, but I never realized that they did those movies together. :)

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  22. I droop my head in shame ... I love Bob and Lucy, remember well the "I Love Lucy" episode Bob appeared on, and remember various live pairings together -- I believe they were on the Oscars together in the late 1980s. But have not seen one of these films. How could this be??? Thank you for your post on a memorable pairing!

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  23. Thanks, Lisa. Knowing Lucy and Bob's genuine fondness for each other make the movies extra special.

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  24. Classicfilmboy, should I resist the temptation to say you have a lot of 'splainin' to do? I will. You now have four "new" movies to add to that must-see list. Thanks for the comment.

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  25. Loved reading this post, Caftan Woman. Loved it so much I linked to it from my own Lucy post. :)

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  26. Thanks, Yvette. Did I remind you of a favourite Ball & Hope film?

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  27. Lucy & Bob Hope do sound as if they make a great screen couple. I remember FANCY PANTS as very funny and Lucy adorable in the film. I haven't seen the other three films, but your excellent post now will make me look them up. Thanks!

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  28. I hope you do get the chance to see the other movies, grandoldmovies. Lucy and Bob are a pleasure to watch.

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  29. Can you even imagine being on set with Lucille Ball AND Bob Hope? Too perfect. Thanks for contributing to the blogathon!
    -Carrie, True Classics

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  30. Thank you for the opportunity, Carrie. The blogathon was a beautiful success.

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  31. I really enjoyed reading this piece, Caftan Woman! My favorite Bob/Lucy pairing is Fancy Pants--I love seeing them be "zany" together--but there are strong points to each of their pairings, as you've pointed out.

    Let me echo Carrie's thanks for participating in the blogathon, especially with such an interesting post!

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  32. Thank you, Brandie. I don't think a DVD set to the pair is out of order, do you?

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  33. I've never seen one, but wouldn't it be a perfect addition to TCM's Greatest DVD series?? Who do we talk to about that? ;)

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