Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Road to Hope & Crosby

The silver screen has boasted many great comedy teams over the years. Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, and Martin & Lewis all left their mark on film history. Among the comedy teams that can be counted as having had an impact on movie history are the team of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. What set the team of Hope & Crosby apart from such classic duos as Abbott & Costello or Martin & Lewis is that they weren't actually a formal team. Bing Crosby was a highly successful singer, radio star, and a movie star, truly one of the first multi-media superstars in popular culture. Bob Hope was a very successful comedian, radio star, and movie star, whose films were among the most successful released by Paramount in the Forties and Fifties. That having been said, when they appeared together in the highly successful "Road..." movies, they operated as one of the best comedy teams in films. Watching the "Road..." movies one would never know that they were two individual artists with their own successful careers and not a formal comedy team.

While it would be the "Road..." movies that would immortalise the team of Hope & Crosby, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had worked as a team well before they made the first movie in the series, Road to Singapore (1940).  The two first met on October 14 1932 outside the Friar's Club in New York City. At the time Bing Crosby was the much bigger star of the two. As one of "The Rhythm Boys", a trio of singers with Paul Whiteman's orchestra, he had several hits in the late Twenties. As a solo performer he had his own radio show in 1931 and already had such hits as "Out of Nowhere", "Just One More Chance", and "I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store)".  In contrast, Bob Hope was still an up and coming comedian working the vaudeville circuit.

Despite the fact that Bing Crosby was already a highly successful entertainer, he and Bob Hope would perform as a team not long after the two had met. It was in December 1932 that Bob Hope acted as a master of ceremonies at a two week show held at the Capitol Theatre in New York City. Among the performers at the show was Bing Crosby. Together the two came up with various comedy bits that went over very well with the audience at the Capitol. Although the two would not become a formal comedy team, they discovered that they worked well together and, as a result, would work together many more times.

It would be in the next few years that Bob Hope's career would begin to flourish. It was in 1934 that he began appearing on radio. Eventually Mr. Hope made his way to Hollywood in 1937, signing with Paramount Pictures. It was then that he reconnected with Bing Crosby. In fact, an early publicity stunt not long after Bob Hope arrived in Hollywood was a charity golf match between him and Bing Crosby. The two would meet for lunch on the Paramount lot and Bing Crosby had Bob Hope as a guest on his radio show, The Kraft Music Hall. When Bing Crosby was hosting a special Hollywood night at  Del Mar, he and Bob Hope performed some of the bits that they had done at the Capitol many years before. It was the production chief of Paramount, William Le Barron, who suggested that the two make a movie together.

That having been said, it would be some time before the team of Hope & Crosby would appear in their first film. As surprising as it sounds, Road to Singapore did not originate as a project teaming Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, although the origins of the film are a bit obscure. Apparently it originated as a script for Mr. Crosby entitled Follow the Sun. Follow the Sun would be reworked as a script titled Road to Mandalay, with a view to it starring the successful team (and married couple) of George Burns and Gracie Allen. Burns & Allen turned the film down, whereupon it was rewritten for Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie. The two of them allegedly turned it down, although neither of them could remember doing so. The script was then reworked and retitled Road to Singapore. It was then that it was offered to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

It would be with Road to Singapore that a third member would be added to the team of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Although many people think of Hope & Crosby as a team, when it comes to the "Road..." movies, it should actually be Hope, Crosby, & Lamour. Dorothy Lamour was cast as the romantic interest in Road to Singapore. She was a former big band singer turned Hollywood actress who found herself playing exotic roles in such films as The Jungle Princess (1936) The Hurricane (1937), and Tropic Holiday (1938). She played so many exotic roles that by 1940 she had earned the dubious title of the "Sarong Queen". Dorothy Lamour learned on her first day on the set of Road to Singapore that it was useless to pay any attention to the script, as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby simply extemporised as they saw fit. Regardless, in the "Road..." movies she became very much a part of the team, playing straight woman to both Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Bob Hope would be billed third on Road to Singapore, beneath Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. It would be the only "Road..." movie on which he received third billing. With Bob Hope's film career taking off, afterwards the billing would always be "Bing Crosby," "Bob Hope", and "Dorothy Lamour".

Road to Singapore proved to be highly successful. It received generally positive notices from critics. It also did very well at the box office. With such success, it was probably no surprise that there would be a sequel. Road to Zanzibar (1941) was written by the same screenwriters, Frank Butler and Don Hartman. The director of Road to Singapore, Victor Schertzinger, returned as well. While Road to Singapore might have been the first film, it was Road to Zanzibar that would set the course for the rest of the series. It was Road to Zanzibar that introduced many of the in jokes and asides to the audience. To use a modern term, it was with Road to Zanzibar that the "Road..." movies became meta. Dorothy Lamour also became much more a part of the comedy in Road to Zanzibar, every bit the equal of Hope & Crosby in the film. Like Road to Singapore, Road to Zanzibar would prove to be highly successful. Of course, this meant that there would be another "Road..." movie.

Indeed, for many Road to Morocco (1942) is the best of the "Road..." movies. If anything else, Road to Morocco is by far the most frantic and most off-the-wall of the "Road..." movies. What is more, it is even more meta than any other entry in the series. In what is one of the film's most famous scenes, a camel speaks and says, "This is the screwiest picture I was ever in". The film's opening number, "(We're Off on the) Road to Morocco", contains references to both Dorothy Lamour and Paramount Pictures. At one point Bob Hope gives a recap of every difficulty they have gotten into (the blame for which he places firmly on Bing Crosby). Bing Crosby replies to Bob Hope, "I know all that!", to which Bob Hope responds, "Yeah, but the people who came in the middle of the picture don't!" 

Road to Morocco made more money than any of the other "Road..." movies up to that time, $4 million at the box office. It was also the fourth highest grossing film of 1942. Despite this, it would be several years before another "Road..." movie would be made. Road to Utopia would not begin filming until November 1943. It would not be released until 1946. The film is unique in the "Road..." series in that it is the only one that does not have an actual place in the title. It is also the only film in the series that is not set in modern times. Instead it is set in Alaska at the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. Road to Utopia proved to be another hit.

Curiously, Paramount had planned for Road to Utopia to be the last of the "Road..." movies. The studio faced two problems with the later "Road..." films. One was that the movies were expensive to make. Another was that they had problems working around Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's busy schedules. Fortunately, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby wanted to continue making the "Road..." movies. To this end they worked out a deal with Paramount in which they would share the costs of the movie with the studio. Dorothy Lamour was unhappy that she was not included in the deal. Sadly, no one ever asked her. 

Road to Rio was released on Christmas Day in 1947. Like the previous "Road..." movies it proved highly successful, ranking sixth at the box office for the year. Curiously, it would be another five years before there would be another "Road..." movie. Like Road to Rio, the film was financed by Bing Crosby Enterprises, Hope Enterprises, and Paramount Pictures. Road to Bali (1952) would the only "Road.." movie filmed in colour. It also featured a number of cameos, including Jane Russell, Humphrey Bogart (parodying his film The African Queen), and Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis. Sadly, Dorothy Lamour once again did not share in the profits of the film. Worse yet, she would be excluded from the soundtrack album after saying that she did not think it was fair that she would not be paid as much as Hope & Crosby for her songs on the album. Dorothy Lamour's songs on the soundtrack album would then be recorded by Peggy Lee.

Of course, this was only the culmination of a long standing problem for Dorothy Lamour on the "Road..." pictures. Even though she was every bit a part of the team in the movies, she felt she was often given short shrift with regards to the movies. While making Road to Utopia, Miss Lamour showed up to a shoot that was scheduled for 9:00 AM Saturday only to find neither Bob Hope nor Bing Crosby were there. She waited until the afternoon when Gary Cooper dropped by the set. Mr. Cooper told her that she should simply go home. Eventually Hope & Crosby showed up, claiming they were at a charity golf match and had simply forgotten about the scene being shot. Fortunately Bob Hope and Bing Crosby never pulled a stunt like that again. Still, it was another example of why Dorothy Lamour began to feel left out with regards to the "Road..." movies. 

As to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's feelings for Dorothy Lamour, the two men differed in that respect. Bob Hope liked Miss Lamour and would even include her on his television specials in later years. Unfortunately, she could not help but think that to Bob Hope she was only "the girl" in the movies. Sadly, although it never showed on the screen, Bing Crosby disliked Dorothy Lamour immensely. If they met in public he would barely acknowledge her. If Dorothy Lamour had reservations about Bob Hope and her place in the "Road.." movies, it was clear that Bing Crosby thought of the "Road..." movies as being Hope & Crosby, with Dorothy Lamour simply being "the girl".

Regardless, there would be one more "Road..." movie after Road to Bali. In fact, as soon as Road to Bali was released, there was a script for another "Road..." movie, Road to the Moon. It was set to begin filming in the autumn of 1953, but instead was shelved. Ultimately the next Road movie, The Road to Hong Kong (1962), would be based on an entirely new script. It would be the only "Road..." movie not made by Paramount, instead being made for United Artists. Sadly, it would also be the only "Road..." movie in which Dorothy Lamour was not third billed. Instead the leading lady in The Road to Hong Kong would be a young British actress named Joan Collins. Apparently Bing Crosby thought Dorothy Lamour was too old to play the female lead in the film. To his credit, Bob Hope did not want to make the film without Miss Lamour. Hope & Crosby finally reached a compromise where Dorothy Lamour received a cameo in the film. 

The Road to Hong Kong was not well received by critics. Despite this, it did respectably at the box office, ranking in the top ten highest grossing films of the year. If things had unfolded differently, The Road to Hong Kong might not have been the last "Road..." movie. It was in the early Seventies that screenwriter Ben Starr (who had co-written Our Man Flint, among other films) wrote a screenplay titled Road to Tomorrow. Unfortunately for Mr. Starr, Bob Hope scrapped the project. It was later that Mel Shavelson, who had worked on Bob Hope's radio show and written several of his films, wrote a screenplay entitled Road to the Fountain of Youth. The film was set to begin production in 1977.  It would have not only reunited Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, but Dorothy Lamour as well. It was being produced by Lew Grade, who had produced many classic British TV shows. Unfortunately, the project was delayed when Bing Crosby fell off a stage and hurt his back while filming a television appearance. It was then on October 14 1977 that Bing Crosby died, dashing any hope that there would ever be another "Road.." movie.

Of course, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's partnership went beyond the "Road..." movies. One would often appear on the other's radio shows and still later on the other's television specials. In fact, when Philco Radio Time debuted on October 16 1946, it was Bob Hope who was Bing Crosby's first guest. Even when the two were not appearing together, they would often take pokes at the other. It was a rare Bob Hope special in which he did not joke about Bing Crosby, and vice versa.

While Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were always close friends in the "Road..." movies and always seemed to be such in their various appearances together, in reality they were not particularly close. The simple fact was that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were two very different men. Bob Hope was very much an extrovert. On movie sets he was constantly joking with the rest of the cast and the crew. In contrast, Bing Crosby was very much a private man. On movie sets he was more likely to go off on his own. Bob Hope had several friends and acquaintances with whom he interacted. Bing Crosby kept to his family and a few close friends. While the two men might not have been particularly close, they were fond of each and enjoyed working together. When Bing Crosby died, Bob Hope cancelled a scheduled appearance, which was something he almost never did. On Bing Crosby's part, he clearly liked Bob Hope as well. Mr. Hope and his wife were one of only forty people to attend Bing Crosby's funeral, which by his request was closed to the public.

While Bob Hope and Bing Crosby may not have been particularly close in real life, they left behind a legacy of work as a team that is matched by only a few. The "Road.." movies remain popular to this day, to the point that even people who are not ordinarily classic movie buffs are familiar with them. Their success lie in the relationship between Hope & Crosby.  The two of them often act as rivals, always vying for the hand of Dorothy Lamour. They often make snide remarks about each other. They often get each other in trouble. At the same time, however, there is an underlying affection between the two and one will always go to help the other. While they were never actually a formal comedy team the way Abbott & Costello or Martin & Lewis were, they did truly make a great team. 


Caftan Woman said...

I don't count Road to Hong Kong as part of the series because Dorothy isn't the leading lady. That's just the kind of hairpin I am. Nonetheless, I am a huge fan of the "Road to..." pictures. Even if they weren't so darn funny, there are all the standards from Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke.

Michaela said...

Awesome post! I love Hope and Crosby together -- they were just so terrific. And it cracks me up that they would make appearances in each other's films. Very glad to see you acknowledge Lamour, too. It's a real shame that she wasn't always given credit or respect.

Silver Screenings said...

I didn't realize Dorothy Lamour was getting the short end of the stick when it came to the business deals with these films. And I also didn't realize Bing Crosby didn't like her. (I thought everyone loved Dorothy?) I agree that she should be considered a third member of the team.

Terrific essay, as always!