Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bob Mills' book The Laugh Makers

Interview with Bob Mills,
author of The Laugh Makers

1. What was your reason for writing this story?

Bob Hope employed scores of writers throughout his career, but until now no one had done a book on the day-to-day life we led providing him with comedy material. Neither had they set down for future generations of comedy writers Hope’s time-tested method (developed and refined in radio) of creating shows. I tried to provide the reader with the details of what I term in the book’s Preface, “the most unique performer-writer symbiosis” in the history of show business -- and by using actual examples from our scripts, give them plenty of laughs along the way.

2. What's one thing the average reader would not know about Bob Hope?

That he considered performing live on stage his true calling -- not
radio, not television, not movies -- but doing his 2-hour act as often
and in as many different cities as possible. He was a true
vaudevillian, a comic genius who never tired of the two sounds that
kept him going for over 100 years -- laughter and applause.

3. What's the funniest story in your book?

The story that appears on page 5 (I also open my cruise ship shows
with it). It goes like this: Hope was notorious for waking writers
up at all hours for material. Sy Rose who wrote for Bob in radio and
later TV was one of them. Sy’s wife became fed up with the late-night
calls and said, “I have an idea. Next time he wakes us up, let me
answer the phone.” Sy agreed, thinking she intended to read Hope the
riot act. Several nights later their bedside phone rings about 2:30
AM. “Hello?” she says. “Hi, this is Bob Hope. Is Sy there?“ “Gee,
Bob, Sy told me he was working with you tonight.” Without pausing,
Hope says, “Oh, yeah, here he comes now!” and hangs up.

4. Where did you meet the author of the book’s Foreword, Gary Owens?

We are both members of a professional association of old-time
performers, writers and producers named “Yarmy’s Army” that meets once
a month at Jerry’s Deli in Westwood, California. Named in memory of
Dick Yarmy, Don Adam’s brother, members produce and perform in variety
shows to benefit worthy causes like the Motion Picture and Television
Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California as well as
individual show folk down on their luck. Its generous and caring
members include Shelley Berman, Pat Harrington, Peter Marshall, Chuck
, Jack Reilly, Hank Garrett, Michael Callan, Ronnie Schell and
even former LA Mayor, Richard Riordan (a fledging standup comedian).

5. Okay, funny man, what's your favorite joke?

A TV writer’s favorite is usually the one that got the biggest laugh
from the studio audience. Here’s mine: In 1978, the LA Dodgers won
the Pennant so we taped a special saluting the 75th Anniversary of the
World series co-hosted by Danny Kaye. In his monologue Hope said:

“With the series in LA, there have never been so many stars in the
stands. Yesterday, I sat in the shade. I had a box seat in front of
Dolly Parton. In the third inning, Dolly caught a pop foul and
[Dodger catcher] Steve Yeager is still looking for it.”

Please enjoy this brief excerpt from Bob's book:

Seashell Shocked

In the early eighties, when Hope wanted to tape a special in the South
Sea Islands, what more relaxing locale could we have chosen than
lush, tropical Tahiti? Well, it sounded good on paper, anyway. Hope
entered what appeared to be be a mutually beneficial promotional
arrangement with America-Hawaii Cruises, a fledging company that had a
specially-outfitted 747 (leather seats among other luxuries) to
transport passengers to the one vessel in their fleet, the S.S.

The hour-long special would include guest stars John Denver, Howard
, Jonathan Winters, Morgan Brittany, and the reigning Miss
, Susan Aiken. It would be taped in and around Moorea and the
island chain’s capital, Papeete. Hope would perform an eight-minute
monologue from the promenade deck of the Liberte that
was docked in Cook’s Bay. We were in a tropical paradise known the
world over for its crystal clear lagoons and azure blue beaches
crawling with topless, grass-skirted beauties renowned for their
warmth, charm and indigenous friendliness. What could possibly go
wrong? Well for starters, Hope, introduced from off-deck, strode out
in a straw hat and multicolored Tommy Bahama shirt and began his
monologue with this line:

“Here we are aboard the S.S. Liberte on the island of Moorea. S.S.
Liberte. Spend a few days on a cruise liner, and you’ll understand
what the ‘S.S.’ stands for — ‘Swingin’ Ship.’”

The audience, huddled together on deck chairs, stared back at Hope
like they’d just been struck by an iceberg. If this bunch had ever
done any swinging, it was during the Roaring Twenties. And the roar
was down to a whisper. We had written a monologue for the “Love Boat,”
and it was being delivered on the “S.S. Geriatric.” In our rush to get
aboard and set up, no one had bothered to check the passenger
manifest, and now the vessel was scheduled to depart within hours. It
was too late to regroup, so Hope had no choice but to press on, hoping
we could edit in some canned laughter back home.

“This is the Liberte which means freedom in French, and judging from
all the cabin hopping I heard last night, it’s well Named.”

Again, the audience hasn’t a clue as to what he’s talking about. If
they had done any cabin hopping the night before, it was to borrow a
cup of Metamucil from a neighbor. As [fellow writer] Gene Perret and I
stood at the railing seriously considering a swan dive, Hope glanced
over at us with a look that said, “I should have become an
accountant.” But Gene, ever cheerful, mouthed the words, “Keep going.
You’re doing great.” Hope did, but he wasn’t.

“One guy’s been so busy at night, he couldn’t remember where his own
compartment was. He just found out it’s on another ship.”

Right about now, Hope looks like he’d prefer to be on another one,

“One gal asked the captain to perform a marriage ceremony and showed
up with four guys. The captain said, ‘Which one’s the groom?‘ and she
said, ‘Don’t rush me.’”

At last, a huge round of applause from a group of couples celebrating
fiftieth wedding anniversaries. After a few more jokes, the bellman
announces that it’s time for another buffet, the audience files out en
mass, and we hold an impromptu burial-at-sea for the monologue.

We had learned the hard way that Hope’s on-deck performances worked
best with audiences in uniform. Several months later, the cruise line
declared bankruptcy, and the Liberte was sold at auction, refitted,
repainted and renamed. We never found out if we had contributed to its


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