Bob Hope and I....And the Day He Forgot!

My years in talk radio were my favorite career years.  Of course my very , most hilarious, rewarding years have been being mom to my son, who will leave for college in August...( cue hysterical loud crying sounds and loads of Kleenex).  But even my years on the soap DAYS OF OUT LIVES never compared to my days on the radio.  There is something intimate...personal...just a sweet closeness that happens between a host and her guests...and especially a host and her audience.  I love the LIVE element of radio.  No going back and fixing it in post production.  Nope.  It's out there.  That made it real, and authentic and genuine for me.  I loved interviewing celebrities, showing them as just real people.  I seemed to always be able to disarm them with my Southern hospitality and actual manners we are raised on in the South.  A smile and hug hello and the ice was broken.  Well, all except the one time I flew all the way to LA from Birmingham to sit with ultra famous comedian and actor Bob Hope. And he forgot I was coming! And he was not happy to see me.
Me in front of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Nathan Purdee, Bill Harris, a Disney artist and Charles Shaunnessy

When I was on WAPI in Birmingham, I interviewed so many celebs....all THE GOLDEN GIRLS, so many soap actors, broadcasted live from the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, interviewed famed celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, (he LOVED the Southern Belle that sat with him for Breakfast!..Me!)  I had a blast with the Hollywood royals, and decided before the big ones die, like George Burns and Bob Hope, and a few others, I MUST interview them.  So, being that Steel Magnolia that my Mama taught me to be, I never take NO for an answer...I decide I will do something....then ...just do it.  I had become fairly close friends with famous blind golfer, Charley Boswell.  Yes, I did say BLIND GOLFER.  That is entirely another story...especially when I tell you how Charley described DRIVING a car as a blind man while he was on the air with me!!  He was a sight...no pun intended.  Well, Charley held a huge celebrity golf tournament every year to raise money for the eye sight foundations and when I found out Bob Hope would be there nothing would do but I somehow needed to catch him and, you know, ask a few questions.  Translation: Get him in my studio!  The problem was, he was only there over a weekend and I was a Monday through Friday show.  I had to figure out something.  My husband the Yankee was a TV reporter at the time, but he was not about to be dragged into another "Great Idea" of mine.  But, he could drive the Get-away car!  My mind set to figuring how to get Bob Hope and quick.
Me with Wolfgang Puck at SPAGO in Hollywood
I called Charley's office and begged...(read: Bribed) someone to tell me some of his locations while he was in town.  The nice lady tried her best to make me understand that all of the events were invitation only and were screened by Mr. Hopes "People" to ensure security. "Ms. Albright, even if I tell you where he will be, you will not be able to get in at this late date."  Uh-huh.  I managed to get a few of the locations from her...all public knowledge by now, like where the banquet would be, the hotel, and of course the tournament itself.  But I knew just showing up and throwing a bag over Mr. Hope's head and shoving him into the get-away car driven by the Yankee probably wouldn't work. I had to think of something else.  This situation reminded me of when I was only 14 and I had the ultimate teenaged crush on Leif Garrett.  He was performing in Atlanta and nothing would stop me from meeting this guy...absolutley nothing!  So I, with my mother who taught me, of all things NEVER GIVE UP...devised a plan.  Make a press packet and a press ID and get over to Atlanta.  I did and I got to meet my dream man.  It was then that I made up my mind to be a REAL member of the press when I grew up. The power was intoxicating!.  Now, though Mr. Hope was not my heart throb, I was a legitimate member of the press. Thats It!!  Press packets, delivered with crossed fingers to the locations and only a tiny white lie to accompany them.  And with the Yankee driving the get-away car, I wouldn't have to have parking permits to do the deliveries.  I made up all the packets filled with info on me, WAPI, my show, the audience demographics, my picture, and we headed out to the venues that Saturday.  I walked straight up to the guards at every spot and said..."Mr. Hope is expecting this for a radio interview he is doing on Monday."  ( He just didn't realize it yet...that's all.)  I delivered five packets and said a prayer.
The very next morning I lay sleeping next to my Yankee, when the phone rang.  Yankee answers, and rolls over and wakes me and says it's for you.  A sleepy Hello....here is what I heard..." Hi, Beth, it's Bob Hope.... I almost fainted and at the same time wanted to say...yeah and I am the Queen of England...but OMG it was really BOB!!!
I quickly sit up and say in my best voice trying not to sound like the loser sleeping in on Sunday morning, "Yes, Mr. Hope, thank you for calling me."
"I got all five of the press packets and it looks to me like you wanna do a show.  How 'bout you come to my house in Toluca Lake next month and we will do it form there...that work?"  Pardon me Mr. Hope, I have just swallowed my tongue and am unable to speak...AAAGGGHHHHH....silent scream, followed by dignified voice...."Why yes, Mr. Hope, that would be wonderful!"  He follows with, "Okay, here is my home number, talk to my secretary and get it all arranged.  See you next month.  You certainly are persistent.  I like that.  Talk to you soon."  And he hung up and I sat dumbfounded in my bed, not sure if that had been a dream.
All of the arrangements were made.  All the ads, created for the Birmingham news, and placed. All set.  A month flew by and I had managed to arrange for my Yankee to go with me, and be the engineer and board operator.  I was thrilled my station let him go since he worked at a TV station and not the radio station.  We were newly married and it would be the trip of a life time for both of us.
I settled in at my hotel and called Mr. Hopes house.  My stomach dropped to the floor, along with my mouth.  WHAT?????  "He forgot you were coming and cannot see you." His secretary informed me. Yep!  Thats what I said...NOOOOOOOOO!  "I confirmed this last week,"  I said, in my thickest Southern accent trying to make her feel sorry for me.  This cannot be.  I have full page ads going in the Birmingham news and MY NAME is on them.  No way I am letting my audience down while ruining the reputation of my show, my station, not to mention myself, lady.  No! I will be there and someone will let me in that gate!  Of course this was my conversation in my head, not to the secretary.  I figured the threats and anger should be saved for when all else failed.  And that was looking like a strong possibility.
The secretary set me up with with another person to get it worked out.  I had been handed off.  I had one day to work this out.
This was back in the 80s and cell phones were rare and so every hour we were stopping at a pay phone to call Mr. Hope's house.  I became a sore in their side and I wasn't going back to Birmingham without this interview. They soon realized that!  I began to get sick.  My Program Director in Birmingham would die.  I decided not to call him until the last second.  It was 2pm the day before the interview.  Another call from a pay phone to the HOPE house.  Again, "We are still working on it Ms. Albright. Mr. Hope will have the house full of writers tomorrow planning for his NBC special and he is very busy."  It was not looking good.  My stomach began to swell.  When I get anxious, it swells and I look three months pregnant.  Not the best look for a girl who has had one too many fried green tomatoes!  To this day, when I am anxious and freaking out about something, my Yankee will say, "Are you okay?  You have Bob Hope stomach."  It's a joke now, but it sure wasn't then.  At 8pm that night, I decided I needed to let my boss know what was happening.  He was wonderful and encouraging and said it would be okay.  The ads could be pulled and to come home and not worry.  After that phone call I sat down on the curb of the convenience store parking lot and cried.  It was not in me to accept defeat.  I had to call the HOPE house one more time. The young male assistant answered.  It was 8:30pm.  "Okay Ms. Albright.  We have it worked out.  Mr. Hope will see you for 30 minutes tomorrow at 1pm."  AAAGGGHHHH...happy screams and jumping and more screams! I am in a convenience store parking lot and some homeless folks and hookers are wondering if they can get some of what I just had!  "Oh Thank you! Thank you so much!"  I hung up and called my boss.  Okay, maybe I can sleep now!  Are you kidding me????
 Me with Bob Hope during the Interview at his home
  We arrived at the Toluca Lake home and were passed through the gate.  We set up in Mr. Hope's office and waited.  He arrived on time and was in house shoes and everyday clothes, hands in pockets and not happy to see me.  Maybe I had pushed a little to hard for this.  He sat at his desk and the interview began...awkwardly at first, as I held the mic to his mouth.  I was a sick, nervous wreck, sitting in Bob Hopes home, and trying to be cool and remember my questions.  I decided to heck with the questions and to just do my usual, have a heartfelt conversation.  He reminded me more than once, he had NBC writers waiting for him in the kitchen and he was in a hurry.  It was not going well.  I suddenly remembered something I read in my research.  Bob, as a child, had to stand in line in the kitchen for a bath.  His mother lined up all her children in the order of whom had been the best behaved that day.  The best child went first, getting the clean, hottest water, while the one at the back got the cold, dirty water.  Bob was always playing pranks, so he would up at the back of the line.    Breakthrough!  Bob laughed out loud and started talking....TWO HOURS later, after what was supposed to be 30 minutes, with NBC writers waiting, BOB HOPE had just chosen to be with me, from Birmingham, Alabama!  I had done my station and my state proud!  When we were finished, he took me to his book shelves and pulled out his photo albums and showed me his mother.  "She was such a handsome woman, I look just like her," he said laughing.
He had softened and I had managed to put him at ease.  We took a picture that I have treasured forever.
The station ran the 2 hours worth of tape over a week instead of one day and we ran big ads for all of it.  I was the talk of Birmingham and I was so happy I did not let down my precious, priceless audience.
Needless to say, I had no trouble the next year getting into the tournament in Birmingham.  I hung with my man, Mr. Hope.

Me with Bob Hope at the Charley Boswell Invitational the next year

I know I am tenacious to a fault.  But, if you believe and work tirelessly, and never give up, anything is possible.  Anything.  even sitting in the home of an angry celebrity, and turning him into mush before it's over.  Thank God, he loved his Mother!