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I Owe Russia $1200 … by Bob Hope

This tale of travel from the legendary Bob Hope is one with heart around all the laughs that features Bob giving us a narrative of the many USO tours he traveled in around the globe. Hope casts himself in the lead and in full cowardly character as he relates countless trips into war torn areas and a visit to the Kremlin.

The copyright in this one reads 1963. Thanks to my parents always keeping a keen eye open at flea markets, this one wound up in my hands after dad read it telling me he laughed up a storm. It’s really a time capsule of comedy. When reading it, one must realize plenty of the jokes are of course based upon the current events of the fifties and early sixties. It’s these tours that Bob writes about and the many people who gave of themselves over many Christmas seasons to travel with Bob to the many military bases throughout the world. Bringing smiles to those far from home.

The names that populate the book include many I don’t hear of anymore like fellow comic Jerry Colonna and I had absolutely no idea that gossip columnist Hedda Hopper traveled at times with Bob. As for the ladies to keep the fighting men happy, Bob enlisted the likes of Anita Ekberg, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Jayne Mansfield among others. Like any movie that Bob appeared in, he’s quick with the one liners on the written page as well when talking of these sexy ladies.

While Bing Crosby isn’t featured on any of the tours, that doesn’t stop Bob from throwing Bing under the bus with plenty of jabs in the stage shows and hitting the many golf courses the world over with the military brass. Always with tongue in cheek. As a matter of fact this is such an easy read that as I scanned the pages the voice of Bob Hope practically comes from beyond to narrate the pages.

Some of the funnier bits include Jayne Mansfield losing an earring in a snowstorm at an Arctic military base. She calls Bob in a frenzy and he breaks the news that there’s no finding that diamond earring. It’s dark and there’s a blizzard going on. Bob didn’t realize the power that a figure like Jayne’s might have on the soldiers. Bob couldn’t believe that moments after her call to him, a platoon of men with flashlights were seen out trudging through the snow in search of the elusive gem. Where was it? According to Bob’s story, in her ear the whole time.

While I chuckled more often than not, one image really got me laughing as Bob relates the story of his plane landing at a base when the CO tells him that plenty of army wives and kids are in a rec center watching a movie. Bob goes over and does a quick show of adlibs bringing cheer to the ladies. “Any questions?” he asks. At this point a little tyke in the front row stands up and asks/complains, ‘When are they gonna put the movie back on?” Or the Russian lady who wanted to know if America’s funny man had brought his violin?

That can sure bring a comic down to Earth.

The book eventually comes to Bob’s attempt to go to Russia and film a TV show. The book pokes fun but mirrors what I think I know from the history books on Russia under the communist rule. While Bob does poke fun, I think he came away somewhat saddened by the differences between his home and the Iron Curtain. What he and the free world had versus those in Russia at the time.

There’s a fantastic line near the end of Bob’s book that I’ll end with here. It’s a wonderful sentiment from Bob on different cultures that is just as meaningful today as it was when he put pen to paper here in ’63.

People trying to make a living. People trying to keep their families together. And Kids. Wonderful kids with great faces. It would be wonderful if someday their kids and our kids could grow up into a world that spoke the same language and respected the same things. Right now the world is building a bomb for every letter in the alphabet. That cannot be the answer. But there must be one. We must find some plan for peaceful co-existence so that human beings don’t become obsolete.

 

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