Jewish World Review May 5, 2003 / 3 Iyar, 5763

Greg Crosby

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Ski Nose and Der Bingle -- Just a Couple of Roadies | By now everybody in the world knows that Bob Hope, Toluca Lake, California's most famous resident, turns 100 years old on May 29. What many may not be aware of, is that Bing Crosby, fellow Tolucan (and Bob's partner in crime in all those great Road pictures) would have turned 100 this month too, had he lived. Bing was born on May 3, 1903 -- just 26 days before Hope. For many years, however, it was thought that Bing was the younger of the two. Why? Funny you should ask.

Mozelle Seger, Bing's personal accountant for 27 years, wrote to me recently and explained how the confusion over birth dates happened. She also enclosed a column written by Eddie Gannon for the Lakeside Golf Club News. In it Gannon writes that many years ago Hope and Crosby were playing a round of golf as a twosome and during the round Bing confided to Bob that he had shaved a year off his age when reporting it to the Screen Actors Guild. Bing's reasoning was, in show biz it's always a good idea to be a bit younger than you actually are. Crosby suggested that Hope do the same, but Hope never did. Consequently, Crosby was listed in SAG as being born May 2, 1904, while Hope's listing remained his actual birth date of May 29, 1903.

Bob and Bing first met in New York in 1932, appearing on the bill together at the Capitol Theater on Broadway. That was the beginning of a friendship and a working collaboration that would last until Bing's death. The pair appeared on each other's radio shows, did benefits together, USO tours, even golfed and went to the racetrack together. But their greatest fame as a twosome will always be the Road pictures. It started with "The Road to Singapore" in 1940.

"Patty-cake, patty-cake, baker's man..."

There have been a total of seven "Roads" -- Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio, Bali, and Hong Kong. All but Hong Kong were produced at the Paramount studios in Hollywood. The screenplays for the first three pictures were written by Frank Butler and Don Hartman who set the tone and developed the formula for the series. This simple, yet ingenious, formula was described in Bob Hope's book "The Road to Hollywood" in an essay by writer Bob Thomas:

"Crosby is the debonair adventurer with a bottomless bag of get-rich-schemes; Hope is his trusting friend, with enough bravado to attempt such schemes, which usually turn out disastrously. Crosby is the romantic, insinuating love songs to the exotic (Dorothy) Lamour; Hope has an adolescent's ambitions of amour, and often he appears close to his goal. But usually he walks into the sunset alone."

When you watch any of the Road pictures you can tell Bing and Bob were having an absolute ball. Although the lines themselves have a feeling of ad-lib spontaneity, for the most part they were carefully written. But the interplay between Bing and Bob, the back and forth repartee and side-glances are things that you could never write in a script. It's the kind of serendipitous chemistry you just can't cast -- no matter how much money you spend. Take a look at Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman in "Ishtar" and you'll see what I mean. "Paramount won't let anything happen to us -- -- we're signed for two more years..."

Crosby and Hope were a perfect movie team and, in fact, had wider appeal than most comedians. As Thomas points out, the primary audience for most comedians is male, but the Road pictures appealed to both sexes. Women found Crosby and Hope attractive in ways that the broader comics were not. The Road pictures were, and still are, pure escapism and great fun and hold up better than most comedies half their age.

Bing lived in Toluca Lake when it was really a sleepy little village (albeit a wealthy one) in North Hollywood. Bob moved in around that time, too. Bing lived in a couple of places in Toluca Lake before moving out of the area, and eventually up to Pebble Beach. Bob moved into his house and has stayed there ever since. I'm not sure about this, but I'll bet Bob Hope has lived in Toluca Lake longer than any other celebrity ...or non-celebrity, either!

Interesting how two friends, both of them show business giants on their own, had so much in common; the year and month of birth, the studio they worked for, music, sense of humor, sports interests, even where they lived. Two guys with so much in common -- with one exception -- Bing did not have the longevity that Bob has enjoyed -- he died while on a golf course in Madrid, Spain in 1977.

Fortunately Bob Hope is still with us, he's still Toluca Lake's favorite son and most famous resident. And anytime we need a laugh and a song all we have to do is throw on a video tape or DVD and just like magic we're off on one of the "Roads" -- and I'll lay you eight to five that we'll meet Dorothy Lamour.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2001 Greg Crosby