Bob Hope and The Desert Classic
by Ed DeBell
|| Bob Hope always wanted to be a stand up comic. At the age of four, when his personality was just developing, he was recognized as a born mimic. Whenever the Hope children were taken for a visit to the tiny cottage of their great-great-great Aunt - who was over one hundred years old - Bob would always make her laugh. He would assume the mannerisms of someone he had recently seen in the neighborhood and then imitate that person to perfection. Immediately, Aunt Polly would say: "That's right, Laddie; I hope you always leave 'em laughing." And for the last ninety years he has been doing just that.
Leslie Towns Hope was born on May 30, 1903, in Eltham, England, in a house which his grandfather had built. Eltham (pronounced without the "h") is about ten miles from Charing Cross Station (North West London), and Leslie's father worked there as a stonemason. His mother, who was Welsh, had a flair for the theatrical as a singer and also played the spinet, the dulcimer and the harp. She would often take her brood of boys - she had seven sons - for outings to watch the buskers, the puppets, the magicians, and the sword-swallowers on the boardwalk. At an early age, Leslie became quite familiar with show business.
But, being one of seven sons in a poor family meant that Leslie had to help with the family finances, so as soon as he was old enough he was out doing odd jobs, some of which included being a newspaper boy, a butcher's boy, a stock boy, a shoe shop boy...and a caddie. Even in those days, Leslie found a way to get out to the golf course!
By the time he was eight or nine, Leslie had developed a fairly good singing voice - a high tenor - and he began using his talent as a source of income. He and a bunch of his pals would board a streetcar - he was now living in Cleveland - and go to the local amusement park on Sunday afternoons. There they would form a quartet and sing popular songs on the street corners. Afterward, they would pass the hat and split the proceeds. You can bet Leslie, who sang all of the solos, usually came out the best.
Leslie's first name was sometimes an embarassment to him. During his first day at school in Cleveland - when he was registering - he introduced himself as "Hope, Leslie", in true British tradition. From then on, he was known to the whole school as "Hopelessly". He accepted it with his usual good humor, however. And it wasn't until he went on Broadway and was on the marquee that he adopted the name of "Bob".
Bob got his start in vaudeville as a song and dance man with a partner named Lefty Durbin who was a neighborhood pal and who "was a stylish, energetic, clever - a good dancer." They opened in 1924 in the "Jolly Follies" and played most of the theatrical cities in the Midwest. Billed as "Les and Lefty", it was then that Bob developed a strong liking for travel. He had not as yet played golf, but when he finally discovered the game his love for traveling and his love of golf took him to some of the most exotic courses in the world. He enjoys the challenge of playing different courses each time he goes out, and no doubt the variety of courses around Palm Springs inspired traveling to a different course each day of the Desert Classic.
It was during his days in vaudeville on the Orpheun Circuit that Bob began playing golf. He was recently quoted as follows: "During the Spring of 1930 on the Orpheum Circuit I'd be waiting around the hotel lobby in the late morning when the Diamond Brothers, another act, would come down with their golf clubs. They played every day. One day I said. "Well, Hell, I'll go out there with you." He's been playing the game ever since.
After playing vaudeville, Broadway, radio, television, and movies, Bob Hope had become a familiar face. So it was inevitable that with his popularity and love of golf and reputation as a master of ceremonies he should become the figurehead for a big golf tournament. Consequently, in 1965, the Bob Hope Desert Classic was begun.
The event had its origins in the old Thunderbird Invitational, a $5,000.00 thirty six hole pro-am initiated in 1952 at the Thunderbird Country Club. Playing along with Bob were Phil Harris, Hoagy Carmichael, Randolph Scott, Jimmy Demaret, Dutch Harrison, and Lawson Little. In 1960 the tournament became the Palm Springs Golf Classic, a $100,000.00 event of ninety holes over four courses. Among the professionals were Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Billy Casper.
The Classic has the largest field of any tournament on the P.G.A. tour; it consists of 136 professionals and three times as many amateurs. It is played on ninety holes over Bermuda Dunes, Indian Wells, La Quinta, El Dorado, and Tamarisk. Bob likes to tell of an incident that occured to him one year at La Quinta and left him speechless - if you can believe it: "Players occasionally have to contend with these gusty desert winds. I hit a ball into the wind one day... but I shouldn't have watched it with my mouth open. I'm the only guy around here with an Adam's Apple marked Spalding Kro-Flite."
A list of celebrities who have given their time and talent to the event would include Jack Lemmon, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, Gordon MacRae, and Scatman Crothers. Among the multitude of gags, bits, and routines that Bob has developed over the years is one that has a special sentiment for everyone: "I came from a pretty tough neighborhood. We'd have been called juvenile delinquents only our neighborhood couldn't afford a sociologist. They (once) nabbed me for swiping a bike. I was walking down a hill when the damned thing rolled under me and we coasted downhill right into a cop's arms...fortunately he knew me....so he arrested me. I pleaded for mercy, but the judge turned me over to my parents. But then came the moment of decision. Was I going to go out and earn a living, or was I going to spend the rest of my life stealing? I decided to forget the job and stay with Show Business. And I'm not sorry."
And neither are the rest of us, Bob. You have earned more than just a living; you have earned a place in the hearts of people from all walks of life.
So thanks for all the laughs, Bob...and thanks for the memories.