The Bootleg Files: A Bob Hope Special (15 Of My Leading Ladies)

BOOTLEG FILES 802: “A Bob Hope Comedy Special (15 of My Leading Ladies).”

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Mostly likely due to rights clearance issues.


On September 28, 1966, Bob Hope hosted his first comedy special of the fall television season with a stellar cast – the ski-nosed funnyman recruited 15 actresses who starred opposite him during his film career.

“I make love to 15 of my leading ladies in movies,” Hope quipped. “The title of the show is ‘Richard Burton Eat Your Heart Out.’” Hope complimented his co-stars with an insider’s cinematography joke: “They all look so gorgeous. They must have some secret – I’m the only one they have to use the fuzzy lens on. You’ve heard about the fuzzy lens, haven’t you? I hope I’m not giving away Bing’s secret.”

Hope’s opening monologue, as usual, was the best aspect of the show, and it included cracks about the then-current race for California’s governorship between Democratic incumbent Pat Brown and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. Hope threw in a crack about President Lyndon B. Johnson’s crass handling of his pet dogs by joking, “Ronnie Reagan’s very ambitious – I don’t know how he wants to go, but this morning he picked his agent up by his ears.” He also observed the dismal economy of the day by noting “I passed a bank yesterday and it had a poor box out front.”

After the monologue, the crux of the special begins with Hope being escorted to his NBC dressing room with gun-toting security guards. Hope is carrying is golf bag and insists, “It’s only September – they can’t be out of reruns already.” Hope goes into his dressing room and finds an NBC executive (Ken Murray) and his underlings Hubert and Humphrey. Hope is given a physical exam by the network’s physician (played by Paul Lynde in his typical bitchy-sneery manner). After a few stale jokes related to health care, Lynde plays therapist as Hope recalls his starring roles opposite beautiful actresses. Hope insists “when I make love, I’m sincere” before a montage of scenes featuring Hope with Madeleine Carroll, Anita Ekberg, Jane Russell and a gorilla from “Road to Zanzibar.” None of the ladies, nor the gorilla, showed up in this special – with home lamenting the gorilla was “the one time Crosby let me win the girl.” (Crosby is also absent from the show, despite the multiple mentions.)

From here, the special goes into an extended dream sequence of skits with Hope encountering the 15 leading ladies that he promised in the introduction. Each woman is barely on for a few minutes – they are cited by name (followed by some obviously pre-recorded applause) and they engage Hope in brief exchanges of silly dialogue before disappearing from view.

The 15 women corralled into the show were, in alphabetical order, Lucille Ball, Joan Caufield, Joan Collins, Arlene Dahl, Phyllis Diller, Rhonda Fleming, Joan Fontaine, Signe Hasso, Hedy Lamarr, Dorothy Lamour, Marilyn Maxwell, Virginia Mayo, Dina Merrill, Vera Miles and Janis Paige. At the time, Ball and Diller were the only actresses who were still working regularly and maintaining their star status – the others were either off the screen for a number of years or were slumming in crummy films and TV guest sports unworthy of their talents.

None of the women really stood out – not unlikely his movies, Hope steamrolled the leading ladies, getting the bigger jokes at their expenses. There were a few stylistic attempts to one-up the comic – Joan Collins’ severely unflattering haircut and Hedy Lamarr with uncharacteristic blonde hair made them stand out, if only for visual shock. Not surprisingly, Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller knew how to claw laughs and attention away from Hope, but only barely.

Hope got a lot of publicity mileage from this endeavor for being able to bring so many recognizable (if mostly past their prime) stars on his show. But this was one of his least invigorating TV specials of the era – Hope was able to do better and he was clearly on auto-pilot for most of the production.

To date, this special was never made available on home entertainment formats. A decent dupe can be found on YouTube, but it would be mostly of interest to Hope enthusiasts.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to Phil Hall’s award-winning podcast “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud, with new episodes every Monday and his radio show “Nutmeg Chatter” on WAPJ-FM in Torrington, Connecticut, every Sunday. Phil Hall’s new book “Jesus Christ Movie Star” is now available from BearManor Media.