- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

Bob Hope was wheeled into the Library of Congress Tuesday night, and at the first sight of him, one wondered why he was there.
He sat low in his wheelchair, eyes half-closed, and didn't acknowledge let alone speak to the adoring but curious audience at the Thomas Jefferson Building. The occasion was the new Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment, which opened to the public yesterday.
Mr. Hope's gray pallor, nearly bald head and sagging shoulders paled next to the robust, sharp comedian on the exhibit's video screens and in photos downstairs. (Small wonder that the family explicitly barred news-media cameras from the event.)
On the other hand, the man will be 97 on May 27, so what does one expect? With a dark blue suit accentuating his snow-white hair and his hands folded gracefully in his lap, Mr. Hope seemed more rested than out of it throughout the hourlong reception.
He was surrounded by an obviously tightknit family: his wife, Delores, who spoke to the crowd for her husband and can only be described by the cliche word "feisty," and his daughter Linda, who sat on the other side of him at a table before a podium in the Jefferson Building's grand foyer.
Mr. Hope's sons Tony and Kelly stood off to the side on one of the two sweeping staircases, and numerous grandchildren mingled about the room. (Mr. Hope smiled briefly when his granddaughter kissed him on the cheek.)
"He's doing fine," said Mrs. Hope, who lightly stroked her husband's cheek throughout the reception. "He sleeps a lot, as you saw, but his health is wonderful, you know; all his vital organs are fine, and he eats well.
"And when he's awake, he's great, but when he's asleep, he's asleep," she said, laughing gamely with a friend, "and when he's asleep, you can't do anything about it."
Invitees to the reception included Gen. William Westmoreland; Bing Crosby's widow, Katherine; former Irish Ambassador Margaret Heckler; and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has known the Hopes for 30 years.
"We send each other presents, and Mrs. Hope is always way ahead of me," Mr. Kissinger said. "She once sent me so many balloons, I couldn't even move in my house. She filled my house with balloons.
"I've even been on his [TV] show," he continued, remembering the skit. "I had lines. I was in a bookstore, and he was trying to buy a book, and I was trying to sell him mine."
The new Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment is sort of a peanut gallery, making up only three rooms. In room LJG19 of the Jefferson Building, on Independence Avenue SE, the gallery draws upon the massive Bob Hope Collection, a trove of memorabilia Mr. Hope donated two years ago. (Actually, Mr. Hope gets a better deal than George Gershwin, arguably the greatest American composer of the 20th century, whose similarly neat but one-room exhibit next door includes his piano and typewriter.)
Because Mr. Hope stayed on the tube longer than he should have, he still takes heat from TV critics and radio shock jocks. Yet a walk through the gallery offers clues to his durability.
Sheet music for his signature sentimental tune, "Thanks for the Memories," which debuted in his first film, "The Big Broadcast of 1938," is included.
An unabashed hawk, Mr. Hope toured military camps in every U.S. conflict since World War II, making the United Services Organization (USO) a household name. (A Vietnam prisoner of war wrote, in an exhibited letter, that Mr. Hope was the first person he contacted after his release.)
Video screens in the library exhibit scenes from such films as "Road to Hong Kong," which features not only Mr. Hope and Bing Crosby, but comedian Peter Sellers. (An autographed photo of Mr. Crosby, Mr. Hope's partner in seven "Road" pictures, reads: "To Bob I know you have yearned for an autographed photo but are too shy to ask so with love … ")
Mr. Hope's last NBC special aired Nov. 23, 1996, ending a 47-year contract with the network. Although they were derided for their lame spoofs and female guests stars that spanned generations Marilyn Maxwell, Anita Ekberg, Connie Stevens, Connie Selleca and Brooke Shields the radio and TV shows were highlighted by Mr. Hope's opening monologues. The subjects were always topical, combining quick delivery and deliberate pauses.
"The king of timing," former Hope writer Martha Bolton said. "It was the pause at the appropriate time and the right inflection. If he knew the joke was worth it, he'd wait and let the audience catch up."
Ms. Bolton, who also has written for Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers, started writing sketches, monologues and personal appearances for Mr. Hope in 1983. The first time he called, to compliment her for material she had submitted, Ms. Bolton thought it was a friend doing an impression.
"He was the best boss I ever had," she said. "He never said an unkind word to me in 16 years. You can't say that about a lot of people."
She added, however, that writing for Mr. Hope was "a lot of work."
When her husband, a Los Angeles police officer, was called in to work disaster relief after an earthquake hit, Ms. Bolton already had been called by Mr. Hope to come up with topical jokes. "While the earth was still shaking," she said drily.
"It was fast writing 15-minute deadlines, that kind of thing," she said, noting that Mr. Hope would beep her at any hour of the day. "If he got to a town and found something newsy about that town, he would do jokes on it."
She said no joke was wasted: If Mr. Hope didn't use it, he would file it away for perhaps another day. The Library of Congress has 85,000 pages of jokes. Part of this legacy is in an interactive display at the exhibit. With a press of a button, jokes can be called up by subject matter or narrowed down to such esoterica as, "Dogs Litter Laws in NYC, 1978."
"There was one show [where], between seven writers, we turned in 2,000 jokes," Ms. Bolton says.
The blond-haired, youthful Ms. Bolton recalled that the comedian was so good to his writers that he even would cover for them.
One writer was called by Mr. Hope at 1 a.m. The writer's wife, feeling sorry for her sleeping husband, responded that she had thought he was with Mr. Hope.
"So there was this uncomfortable pause," Ms. Bolton said, "and finally Bob said, 'Oh, yeah, here he comes now.' "

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