Bob Hope in Russia: the jokes work -- sometimes
Moscow — Bob Hope's name might be a household word in many parts of the world. But in Moscow, USSR, it isn't. Take the Anglo-American International School for Westerners, for instance. American children started a petition in classrooms and corridors when word came that the comedian and film star was coming to Moscow. Would he visit the school to talk the crack jokes?
"But why should I sign?" objected a 10-year-old English boy, the son of a diplomat. "He's an American, and I have never even heard of him."
A quick-thinking teacher had the answer: "But he was born in England."
"Oh," said the youngster, "that's all right then." He signed.
Bob Hope was given the petition when he arrived recently as a personal guest of US Ambassador Thomas Watson and, generously, he agreed to talk to the children.
One nine-year-old boy distinguished himself by asking question after question: "What kind of car do you drive?" "What kind of house do you have?" He asked so many that Hope looked at him and asked, "Say, are you from the FBI?"
A girl of 11 was a shade more skeptical. "We asked him how old he was, and he said 29," she reported. "then later he said he'd been in show business about 50 years. So something wasn't right. . . ."
The children love it when he told them the very first joke he ever used in public: "Mary Rose sat on a pin. Mary rose." It brought the house down.
They also liked it when all received a photocopy of the Bob Hope autograph.
In Red Square, Hope went almost entirely enrecognized -- except by a group of British tourists, who were astonished. He was just about the last person they expected to see between St. Basil's Cathedral and Lenin's Tomb.
At the British Embassy, Hope was of course recognized and applauded -- though some of his very American jokes fell flat:
"I was going to play golf with Lawrence Welk, but then I found out he could only count up to 2." The British audience, which had never heard of the bandleader or didn't know he started each song by saying, "Ah onw, Ah twoi," simply stared.
Nor did a reference to Don Rickles becoming the US ambassador to Iran and calling Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini a "hockey puck" draw much of a response. Hope skillfully made use of the silences and made even them amusing.
But in both the British and American Embassies, his political jokes provided a welcome and topical note of relief from Moscow life: "We shouldn't pick on Carter. He hasn't done anything," and so on and on.
He said he had gone into the Kremlin and had thought it was his dressing room: "i saw a red star on the door. . . ."
Traveling with Clark Clifford, former White House special assistant and secretary of defense, and former Sen. Stuart Symington, Hope gig some sightseeing and shopping between appearances.
Hiw wife, Dolores, sang several songs during his performances, and a family friend also helped out in a soft-shoe number. Hope hired a European television crew to film his shows, and said he might use some of the footage in a future television special.
It was like a breath of fresh air to sit in the cream-and-gold ballroom of the Americna ambassador's residence and hear t he jokes and the references to topical American life. In Moscow there's little chance to keep up with what's happening back in the West.
At the end of his performance, Hope sang a musical trip around the United States, while the natives of each state applauded. He received a long, standing ovation and left us to say, "Thanks for the memory."