Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
"God bless AMERICA ," shouted Charo, and with that she ripped off her top to reveal a low-cut sparkled halter. The audience at the Kennedy Center Opera House came momentarily to life and Charo began to jiggle and wriggle around the stage.
This was in honor of the 75th birthday of Bob Hope, who sat in the presidential box with his wife Dolores, Rosalynn Carter and former president and Mrs. Gerald Ford.
But it wasn't just a birthday party. Whoa, no. It was the raw material for a three-hour NBC special to be shown Monday night, which is in fact really the day of Hope's 75th.
But did that stop Elizabeth Taylor, George C. Scott, Kathryn Crosby, Telly Savalas, Elliott Gould, Lucille Ball and a host of others from singing "Happy Birthday to You" and "Thanks for the Memory" Thursday night. Of course not.
This wasn't just reality. This was television.
And so a crowd that also had been promised George Burns, Sammy Davis Jr., Ann-Margret, Don Rickles and Donny and Marie didn't seem to mind a bit when these stars appeared not in person but on tape, projected onto stage.
And if they did mind, so what? The TV audience will never know.And this was an event for charity - to benefit the USO, with whom Hope has been associated for decades.
What was happening on the stage often made it look like the Merry Griffin Show had gone on the road, albeit sans Merv. Performers so semilluminous as Mac Davis, Burt Convy ("WHO???" asked a woman in the balcony), David Soul ("WHO???" asked a reporter in the press room) and Shields and yarnell occupied much of the show, which ran well past 11 o'clock, prompting comic Alan King to tell Hope from the stage, "I hope you live as long as this evening seems to me."
Naturally, the night was made not just for Hope but for hype. George C. Scott got things off to a quiet civilized start when he said that as an entertainer. Hope "may very well be unique in our time." Of course, James Lipton, with Gerald Rafshoon the coproducer of the show, had told the audience before taping started that Bob Hope is "America's greatest entertainer."
But it remained for Tony Orlando to put the icing on the birthday cake by calling Hope "the greatest entertainer America has ever known."
This was part of Orlando's contribution to the evening: a Tony Orlando concert. He sang and sang and sang, then leaped off the stage and got USO President Michael S. Davison to sing along. And along and along and along.
Audience reaction to the acts was not universally enthusiastic, but some of the taped inserts, like the one with Don Rickles plugging NBC's already canceled "CPO Sharkey," came with the laughter already on the soundtrack. They don't like to take chances in television.
This may save the day for impressiionist Fred Travalena who, assisted by actor Charles Nelson Reilly, made three separate appearances on the program. The first time he imitated Frank Sinatra. He bombed.
The second time he imitated Clint Eastwood. He bombed.
The third time he imitated Jimmy Carter. He bombed again.
But by Monday, all this bombing can be salvaged with "sweetening," which means augmenting the laughter and applause electronically.
Pearl Bailey opened the show singing "Hello, Bobby," to the tune of "Hello, Dolly," accompanied by armies of military bands. "What a night, "Bobby," Bailey sand. "We're gonna do things right, Bobby."
She was followed by Kermit the Frog, in white tie and his own tail, and Miss Piggy of "The Muppets," who sang "Secret Love" to Hope.
If the numbing mediocrity of much of the entertainment tended to cool the audience's ardor for the ski-nose in the presidential box, the evening did reach an emotional climax with greetings and congratulations sent to Hope from not only the queen of England, and not only the pope, but also John Wayne.
Wayne, appearing by special hookup from Newport beach, Calif., where he is recovering from open-heart surgery, said, "Well, it looks like I made it to your party, Bob."
Regards from Queen Elizabeth of England, where Hope was born, were relayed by British Ambassador Peter Jay, who said that Hope represents "the triumph of laughter over darkness."
The dilemma obviously facing the editors at NBC is whether to sacrifice some of Tony Orlando's song marathon, another in his series of comebacks, in order to fit in the pope and the queen and, presumably. Hope himself, who finally emerged from his seat and came to the stage for a chorus or two of "Thanks for the Memory" at the show's conclusion.
This seemed to send the crowd out - some of them to a party upstairs - on a note of bliss, even though there were probably many who earlier might have agreed with comedian Danny Thomas who said of the show. "It's more than an honor to be here tonight. It's a damn nuisance."
Of course, he was only joking, Ahem.