The deja vu was considerable. Bob Hope again was donning pancake makeup and a USO hat to entertain U.S. troops on board ship.
But it's 1979, and there's no war. Instead of carrying a putter on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, he was performing on the Iwo Jima, a helicopter carrier moored on the Hudson River. Instead of palm trees and rice paddies, the backdrop was the skyline of midtown Manhattan, not far from 42nd Street, "where you need a vaccination to get into a movie," Hope quipped.
And instead of putting on a show purely for the troops, Hope was also taping what would be his 76th birthday special on NBC Wednesday night.
But Hope stayed with the same format he has used successfully since he first did a USO show at Marsh Field, Calif., in 1941. He gave the troops monologues full of soft, locker-room sex, double entendres about marijuana, and lowbrow broadsides at every politician he could think of.
As usual, he had an astonishing array of guests, ranging this time from Henry Kissinger to Charo. Along with about 1,000 Marines and Navy men in the audience were Happy Rockefeller and her two children; former ambassador to Britain Anne Armstrong; Rep. A1 Ullman and his wife; Kissinger, who gave a brief tirbute to Hope on stage, and host of highranking military brass.
It soon became clear to all those on board that this was to be no ordinary USO show. They learned early in the afternoon they were part of a participatory exercise called a television show taping, which involved mandatory applause shots, laughter shots, and a tremendous amount of patience during the extensive technical problems that plagued the show.
"i don't believe it," Hope murmured off stage as acts had be repeated because of audio snafus. The constant threat of rain on the exposed deck of the carrier added to his frustration. "These 15-minute delays could louse up this whole thing with the rain coming on," he added. "I don't mind the seagulls but the rain..." he told the audience.
The experience drew mixed reactions from the soldiers on board. Most appeared to love the man and his humor and were oblivious to any tarnishing of his image due to his support of the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War.
"he's still fuuny, and I like the guy a lot," one Marine Lance Corporal said after hearing Hope say "I really miss Navy food. I can't find anywhere in L.A. that serves anything on a shingle."
But other enlisted men, who had to sit behing the officers and dignitaries in the audience, were less sanguine about the show. Although they were officially at liberty while the Iwo Jima was in port, they were not allowed to leave the ship for the delights of New York until the taping had ended, they said.
"the only reason we're up here is because there are some good looking women on deck," one man said. "Besides, there's nothing down below to do."
They were particulary unhappy because the taping ran beyond its original schedule. The chorus of "Dancin'," bombs such as Raquel Welch, Charo was the real thing to the men on board. Dressed in a revealing red sequinned affair, she drew laughs of glee from Kissinger when she sat on his lap in the front row of the audience, and then enticed a congo line of enlisted Marines to return on stage with her to close her first number.
Throughout the taping, Hope displayed the professionalism for which he is known. Dressed in a light gray suit, a Countess Mara blue tie, a lot of makeup, and the ubiquitous USO hat, he drew laughs from the crowd when things went badly and posed patiently during breaks for endless snapshots of himself sitting with soldiers, soldiers' girlfriends and soldiers' mothers. He also got a good laugh from those around him when, off stage, he expressed fears about an accident of nature involving the dog that accompanied the star of "Annie" on stage.
Hope's famous timing was there, even if the audience did'nt always deliver its end of the bargain. He read the cue cards well and plunged into jokes on gasohol, which always involves Dean Martin and Congress, Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt, and sex.
He said he lost out to John Wayne for the starring role in the movie the Broadway musical, and Sarah Jessica Parker, the current star in the title role of "Annie," all had to rush to make their matinees yesterday. And the kinky rock group, The Village People, were three hours late for their plane to St. Louis, where they were to perform last night.
Any Hope show is an event, particularly when it involves television. The ineffable Henry Youngman and Dick Cavett showed up, not as guests, but to enjoy the day and gain a little publicity.
I'm here because he asked me to," Cavett said after some impromptu tap dancing with The Village People between two helicopters on decl. "He has friends in high places, so I do what he says."
Youngman litmited himself to a stageside seat where he bantered with Hope between Hope's stage appearances. Youngman also passed out his new creation, a dime mounted on a safety pin, which he calls "a dime 'n' pin." Forever shameless, he also had copies of a card that he called his "pride and joy." On the card were pictures of two well known kitchen products known by the same names.
It was Charo, the Spanish hootchy-kootchy girl, who drew the hoarsest cheers from the troops. Following in a grand tradition of out-and-out sex "Iwo Jima" because "they said I looked too tough to be a Marine." He met the inevitable guffaws with his long deadpan.
He thanked the Navy for drying out Billy Carter, but said that "they gave him a blood test, and it had a head on it." Cheers.
Kissinger, Armstrong and Rockefeller all appeared yesterday and co-chairmen of the Bob Hope USO Center, which was launched last year at Hope's 75th birthday gala event in Washington. A $10-million fund-raising drive is now underway to build the center there.
It was due in part to the huge splash Hope made in Washington last year that the decision was reached to celebrate his 76th birthday (which is actually tomorrow,) with a USO show. The return to the scene of some of his most memorable moments, it was felt, was one of the few ways of topping last year's celebration.
Hope was treated like the institution he is from the moment he posed on the gangplank with a Nathan's hot dog in his hand until the taping ended near 6 p.m. and he disappeared in a limousine.
"Beginner's luck," concluded Youngman as he watched Hope control the crowd and the weather the whole day. CAPTION: Picture 1, Happy Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, by Donal F. Holway for The Washington Post.; Picture 2, Hope dancing with The Village Pe ople.; Picture 3, Bob Hope on the deck of the Iwo Jima. by Donal F. Holway.