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Bob Hope and Gerald Ford: A Model Friendship


Bob Hope had many friends in public office.  He viewed his old-time political cronies as legitimate members of the show business fraternity who enjoyed a privilege he would have traded in his 12-handicap for — the power to call press conferences and get instant television coverage.

Like Hope, politicians must rely on a positive public image propagated by carefully managed press relations to ensure success.  The sudden sea change in the political fortunes of Newt Gingrich in 1996 or Trent Lott and Tom DeLay, John Edwards, Mark Sanford — the list goes on — are illustrative.  Though talk of Hope running for public office himself would surface now and again, he knew that the desk-bound life of a congressman, senator, city-councilman, whatever, would have been anathema to him.

Like his friend Arnold Palmer who was also mentioned as a possible candidate for Congress, (and who was as equally unqualified), Hope was flattered whenever he was urged to toss his hat in the ring. But he never seriously considered putting his name on a ballot unless it was for an Oscar.  (Although we did use this topic as the basis for a 1980 special entitled Hope For President … He lost.)  What impressed him about public office were the perks. Once during Reagan’s presidency, he was in Washington to receive an award and was invited to ride in a presidential motorcade.

Later, recalling his visit, it was obvious that the motorcade was the high-point of the trip.
“Isn’t it pretty much like any other limousine ride?” I asked.  “Oh, no,” he said, “the Secret Service blocks off the on-ramps so you have the freeway all to yourself. It’s really something.”  Forget the nuclear button — forget the hotline — forget the presidential veto. What most impressed him about the most powerful office in the world was the Gipper’s power to close down Interstate 95!

In the eyes of the public, Hope’s ties to Reagan appeared strong, but Gerald Ford was the politician who could truthfully be termed a “pal.”  Hope and Ford shared a genuine rapport that was obvious when they were together — which was often. Whenever a spot on one of our specials opened up for a former president, Gerry was a shoo-in. But he had passed on the Drama Club in favor of football at the University of Michigan and recited his lines like he was reading an eye chart. But Hope believed he added class to our guest lineups so he was invited back many times.

When in October of 1981, it came time to dedicate his new presidential library and museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ford called in all the markers he’d been collecting from Hope over the years. He asked him to host a gala to which he had invited world leaders, former Washington big-wigs, current office holders, their families and staffs. Warm and likable, Ford had accumulated a bevy of friends during his long career on the hill (especially Nixon following the pardon) — so the guest list would be top-heavy with luminaries.

To produce the NBC special, Hope hired Bill Harbach, the son of composer Otto Harbach, who’d had extensive experience with shows taped before an audience of wall-to-wall designer gowns and ,000 tuxes. Bill tapped Tony Charmoli, similarly qualified, to direct. The guest list

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