BOB HOPE has reduced life to terms so simple a shark would envy them. He performs, he plays golf. And like a shark, he has to move, apparently, to stay alive. He has almost pathological need to keep working; an amateur psychiatrist might say this maniacal drive has something to do with dodging the old grim reaper. Hope will be 80 in May.

There is something terribly impressive about the way Hope keeps up this breakneck schedule. There is also something a little mortifying about it. But seriously, it's hard to turn down an interview with Bob Hope because, who knows? The next time he comes through town, you might be dead.

Tonight, Hope kicks off his 32nd TV season with a one-hour special at 8 on Channel 4, just before Johnny Carson's 20th anniversary show. Hope already got a ton of publicity by snaring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor to make their first joint TV appearance in a couple of decades on the special. They reportedly got carried away with the kissing called for in a lampoon of "General Hospital." Hope was also in the news because Forbes magazine had just named him one of the 400 richest people in America, with an estimated net worth of $280 million.

Hope zoomed into Washington a few weeks ago to appear before America's assembled postmasters. (He zoomed right out again; he does a lot of zooming.) After a man knocked at the door and Hope shooed him off, it suddenly dawned on him that this might have been his host, Postmaster General William Bolger, whom he has never met, and he laughed like a naughty kid at the thought of inadvertently chasing Bolger away (as it turns out, it wasn't Bolger).

From his room at the Washington Hilton, Hope was told, he could see the spot where President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley. First he said, "What?" because he sometimes has trouble hearing. Told again, he opened the curtains and looked out, emotionlessly. Then he said, "I love the way he makes announcements to the press from the mental ward," and flashed his knowing, simmering, rascally grin. It is still an American icon, yes it is.

"Well," says Bob Hope, "I just came from Vail where it was 40. And I played golf and it snowed. Up at Jerry Ford's tournament."

You were playing golf in the snow? You'll play golf in anything.

Well, it got so cold that I quit. I quit about the 11th hole. Tomorrow I'm going to Jackson, Miss. I'm doing a big hospital thing there. Then I gotta rush back, finish this show with Tom Selleck and Linda Evans and then go on the Emmys for a minute and then jump on a plane for Paris that night so I can get there. It's a wild little mess, I'll tell you that.

Who arranged to get Liz and Dick for your special?

You know, we . . . The phone rings, and Hope answers it . Who's that? Oh yes, how are you? I'm fine. Yup. Okay. No, I'm in the middle of an interview here. What do you want to do? What? Well, call me back in about 45 minutes. Right. He hangs up . Postmaster general wants me to get together with some blind fella, whatever that means.

You were talking about getting Liz Taylor for the special.

What were we talking about?

Liz and Dick.

Oh. I didn't even know whether I could get her or not, and I called her up and she said, "Well, I don't think I can do it. I've gotta go see my brother in New Mexico. Of course if you delay it a couple of weeks . . ." So I said, "Well, I don't know." I hung up and started to think, and I called my production guy and I said, "Could we do it on the 12th?" and he checked the studio and said yeah, so I called her back and said, "What about the 12th?" and she said, "Yeah, I can do it." So then I started calling people because we're doing "Not-So-General Hospital," you know, we're satirizing. Did you know about this?

Yes.

Anybody tell you the whole scam?

Basically.

Well you know about it. And then I just called Tony Geary. You know him, don't you -- "Luke"? Well, I didn't know what he looked like. But I knew he was famous. You should have heard the shriek that went up when he came out from behind that screen. He's a young, good-looking guy with a sort of a bushy hair style.

I read that Burton and Taylor got carried away in the kissing scene. Is that true?

I don't know. I don't know. They were doing pretty good. Lot of dialogue there, marvelous.

How does she look?

Well, she lost about, I would say, 15 pounds and she starts to look great. You know how she got very heavy, you know. But she thinned it out and she looks pretty good.

You've heard Joan Rivers do some of those jokes about how fat she is?

About what?

How fat she is. Joan Rivers does a lot of those.

She's going to do a big Wolf Trap here --

We got used to having her around.

You enjoyed her didn't you? I think she's a nice gal.

I think it's too dull a town for her, that's all. The last time you were here you were talking about gun control, remember? But nothing much came of that.

Well, you know they wanted me to head the thing up in Chicago and all this stuff, and I don't have time to do that. I hate to take some kind of a job like that where I have to neglect it, you know? So I told them I just couldn't handle it. I am for gun control. I'm for gun registration. I think it would help us a helluva lot. If we would just pick up all the guns that aren't registered. That's the way I feel about it.

Have you ever talked to President Reagan about it?

Yes, I have. He shies away from it. I don't know what happens with it. He thinks everybody should be entitled, I guess, to have a weapon or a gun or something, and it shocked me a little bit after what happened to him. But a lot of people ask me about it around the country and I just think it's so important we do it. It doesn't seem to be moving along. I guess the NRA fights it a lot.

Do you have any idea how many hotels you've been in in your life?

OH GOD!

Ever wake up and not know where you are? What city you're in?

No. But don't forget one thing: the president and Nancy campaigned for 12 years and she had one great line. She said, "I'm so happy we don't have to go to another Holiday Inn." You know how he won that presidential thing? He's awful clever. He's the best they've ever had on television without a doubt. He could sell an inflatable doll to Burt Reynolds. Or a Datsun to Lee Iacocca. I did those two jokes on my show, talking about him. But they campaigned all over this country, you know, and that's why he was smiling during the campaign--because he knew he had a lot of delegates locked up. And that's how Jack Kennedy won. Jack Kennedy toured this country with Bobby and Teddy. And also Goldwater picked up the format and did the same thing. Just fly around and appear at every banquet in every town.

Did anybody over the years ever approach you about running for office?

Yeah. About 22 years ago, they had a poll up in Washington on radio about whether they would like to see me run for president. And 81 percent came out and said yes. And then two senators asked me to do it and I said I can't. I was born in England, you know. They said, "We can change the Constitution." Seriously, they said that. And I finally said, "Wait a minute!" And then Jack Warner wanted me to run for the Senate about the same time. I said, "No go." But I've enjoyed myself so much, doing what I'm doing. And, God, it's something else. You've never seen me in person, have you?

Yes, somewhere in suburban Washington. Shady Grove? Does that sound right?

Yeah! That's right. Well, during the last campaign -- in '79 was, it? -- I was doing a lot of Reagan and Carter stuff. People would yell, "How 'bout you, why don't you go?" And I'd say, "The money's not right." Had a lot of things like that. But I'm not qualified to do that. You know, I'd have to change my whole way of thinking. That's a big job. A great job.

Everyone thinks of you as a Republican. Ever vote for a Democrat over the years? Must have voted for FDR.

I've known so many Democrats -- from Roosevelt on. I've known everybody and had a lot of fun.

Have you taped the monologue yet for the show? I thought you always did that at the last minute.

Well, yeah, I taped one. The only thing that could alter it is some big news event, you know. The only thing I would be missing would be the Emmy Awards. And I don't know whether I even want to fool with it. I've got to get to England. I get back the 27th. I could tape something the 29th, the show doesn't go on until the third. Anything happens I'll jump in there and get it. But I got a lot of stuff -- the Middle East situation, a few things, and about what's happened over the summer. Choice jokes. I got enough. I got about 60 pretty good jokes. I tape a long monologue. Then I edit it and it works pretty good.

How many jokes get on the air? 40?

It all depends. We're running a little long so I may only be able to do a seven-minute monologue, which would mean about 40 jokes. Sometimes we use the monologue as a buffer, sometimes I get nine minutes, sometimes eight.

You're Johnny Carson's warm-up in a way. With his anniversary show.

He follows me with a two-hour show.

Is there a kind of friendly rivalry between you two?

I don't think so. I don't think John feels that way at all. You know, he's so secure. He doesn't worry about me. I'm sure he doesn't worry about me because he's always been friendly and when he did his dinner, the big dinner they threw for him, they asked me to emcee it, you know. He's a pretty solid guy. He doesn't forget where he's been and I don't think he's got a fat head at all. I think he's a pretty shrewd guy. Thinks pretty good.

I've heard he tells friends he marvels at how active you are. Maybe it even bugs him a little.

I think it's because of the way John is. John is, he doesn't move that way after the thing. He played Vegas and then finally quit that and doesn't get around a hell of a lot. He plays tennis and takes it pretty easy. That's . . . I'm so used to doing things and keeping moving. I only do the things I like to do or want to do. So it's not slave labor. Tomorrow I pick up a friend of mine's plane and fly to Jackson. I'm always in a private plane, you know. Except today I flew in from Denver because I had to get here in a hurry. I left at 11, was supposed to get here at 4:20, got here at 4:35. Then I had to wait for my man, he was getting here at 4:50 and then by the time we got the luggage and everything we ran into rough, rough traffic.

But couldn't you turn down a lot of things that you do? You must turn down dozens of them anyway.

Well, you know, did you read Forbes magazine? It'll make me put on another secretary! All I'll do is get mail now, because it's such a phony thing. I tried to get to them. I should fire my secretary for not calling me. They sent me a notation that said we're going to print this, with a figure on it. And a lot of other little stuff, information. Instead of her telling me that so I could get in touch with the editor immediately and straighten him out, which I finally did and he said, "Too late, we've already published it." That is so erroneous. They put the decimal point in the wrong place.

$280 million I think they said.

Yeah, yeah, now if I had 280 million, would I be flying commercial at all? It's so ridiculous.

Maybe you're thrifty.

It's so silly because in 1970, you won't believe this, but Time magazine did a cover story on me and they asked a fellow backstage that was just around there. They thought he was real close to me. They said, "What do you think Hope is worth?" He said, "Oh about half a billion dollars." Fell into a plate of fettucini or something! And they put it in the magazine. They put in on the front page! And I was in Bangkok on one of my tours and Les Brown came up kissed me and said, "I'm for you." I said, "What happened?" He showed me the magazine. I wired the editor and said, "If you can find it, I'll split it with you." And I started a whole routine about it. I told these people at Forbes what I thought my estate was worth right now. And they said, "It's too late." But I'm going to get at it. It'll be a monologue subject with me: "When I talk E.F. Hutton listens."

What do you want them to say as a correction?

I told them if I sold all my property -- which I've been holding and has cost me a fortune because I've paid a million dollars in property taxes a year for quite a while and that's not easy to find after you pay your government tax and state tax and everything, and keep four homes like I do -- if I sold my property I would be worth, at my price, about $80 million. But I haven't sold anything. It's gorgeous and it's going to keep me in pretty good shape, because they're nibbling at it all the time. It's very good property.

Don't you own some or all of Westwood a fashionable business district near UCLA ?

No, I wish I did. Mine's in the San Fernando Valley. It's acreage, it's still agriculturally zoned. I've got to switch a lot of it. But that's all I ever did. Bing and I hit it rich one day down in Texas and I collected $3.8 million. That was in 1950 in oil. One of the great finds down there. And so I called my brokers and said, "What should I do?" and they said, "We don't like the market right now. We think you ought to go into real estate." So all around the Valley I just picked up pieces of real estate that I've held. It's cost me a fortune to hold it. I'm glad I was fortunate enough working and I could handle that kind of nut. But that's how I got it, because I certainly couldn't get it doing the pictures and the radio; the government just reaches in and says, "Hello, Daddy!" They get it. They just let you touch it for a while, if that.

Don't you think that when people read you have $280 million they'll have a hard time finding you funny?

No, not at all. I'm going to make a couple of statements about it, in joke form, which I did before. I said, "If I had that kind of money I wouldn't go to Vietnam, I'd send for it." And I told about how I had to put a moat in 'cause once my family tree started developing different kinds of branches and the relatives came out by the busload. But I've got to get a hold of Forbes. I know Malcolm and I'm going to ask him to print the truth about it. A slight pause, then a sly smile. But when you say what I am worth, I'm still a rich bastard. Isn't that true?

Didn't you once entertain thoughts of going to another network?

Well, I haven't, but ABC has, because ABC Inc. chairman Leonard Goldenson and I have been friends since 1950; when we started National Cerebral Palsy. As late as three months ago I played golf with him and he said to me, "I'm going to say it again, when are you coming over?" Since he's been telling me about every two years, "We're waiting for you, c'mon, come on." But I've been damn lucky with NBC, and I can't knock it. They're five minutes from my house. And I just get in there and coast right over there.

You still have the house in North Hollywood?

Yeah, and then we have our new house in Palm Springs. I was there for 41 days all year, last year. All spread out. And my wife said to me, "Are you sure you want to keep this house?" So I have to better that record this year.

I watched "The Princess and the Pirate" the other day. It was on the Ted Turner station. One of my favorites. It was a scream.

I'm in the middle of a deal now to sell a lot of my old pictures to cable, a lot of the pictures. I don't own "The Princess and the Pirate." We're shopping around. I own "Seven Little Foys" and I have a third interest in " The Road to Rio," a third interest in "[The Road to] Hong Kong" -- Bing had the other third, and then Panama and Frank the producer-writers .

Have you seen the guy who does the impression of you on SCTV, Dave Thomas?

He's the best I've ever seen. He also does the makeup. And that's something. He looks a little like me. But I was playing O'Keefe Center up in Toronto two years ago, and he came over there and showed me all the clips in the dressing room, and I don't know what he wanted me to do, but he was on the Carson show and he told about this and said, "Then Hope got in his limousine and drove away." I guess I was supposed to kiss him, I don't know. But I thought he was damn clever. And now they're doing pretty good, aren't they? Don't they have a team? They've got the team doing pretty good.

The MacKenzie brothers, Bob and Doug. Did you laugh?

Yeah, I enjoyed it. Every once in a while they come up with some pretty nice stuff, and especially when they do impersonations. They're very good at that. I guess that show does pretty good. I know NBC likes it.

Do you do any jokes in the monologue about the Capitol Hill page scandal?

Yeah. I didn't do it in the monologue, but I've been doing it in person: Some of the congressmen have let their fingers do the walking on the Senate pages.

You know what they were calling it on the Hill for a while? "Tailgate."

Hah! I love that. I love that.