"It's your turn to entertain the troops. I'm going to Disneyland."

- Bob Hope to honorary Hollywood Mayor Johnny Grant in 1999 when Grant
took over Hope's holiday tours for the overseas troops while an ailing Hope
participated in the first Disneyland official Christmas lighting ceremony.

With the recent passing of the Bob Hope at the age of 100, I was thinking how often his life brushed against the Disney Universe. Born almost two years after Walt Disney, not only was Bob Hope a contemporary of Walt's, experiencing and exploiting the same rapid technological changes of the 20th Century, but he was also equally beloved as an American icon.

Probably Hope's first encounters with Walt Disney were the famous Oscar ceremonies. Hope presented the short subject awards in 1939 at the Biltmore Hotel and personally gave Walt his latest cartoon Oscar for FERDINAND THE BULL. Bob Hope was the host of the entire ceremony in 1942 when Walt picked up several Oscars that evening in addition to the fabled Thalberg award. And, it was Bob Hope who hosted the Academy Awards in 1965 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium when Julie Andrews walked away with her Oscar for the title role in MARY POPPINS.

I have a short newsreel clip from the Forties where Hope personally presented to Walt an award from LOOK magazine for his "wonderful work in producing special training films for the Armed Forces." After Walt gave a short acceptance speech, Bob Hope quipped, "Say, Walter, before you go, how would you like to have me in one of those pictures?" Walt responded, "No, thanks, Bob, I'm doing all right with a real duck." This response garnered a big laugh from the audience as Hope feigned being taken aback about a reference to his duckbill nose.

There is no evidence that the Hope family and the Disney family socialized as they seemed to run in different celebrity circles despite having mutual acquaintances like composer Buddy Baker, who had written musical arrangements for Hope's radio show and later penned memorable tunes for Disney including the music for the Haunted Mansion, and actor Jerry Colona who romped about on Hope's radio show, troop tours and several movies before contributing his voice to several Disney projects like the March Hare in ALICE IN WONDERLAND and the narrator of CASEY AT THE BAT.

Unlike Warner Brothers, the Disney Studios produced only a handful of cartoons with celebrity caricatures and most of those were done before Hope found fame in films so he doesn't appear in any Disney cartoons. Interestingly, Hope caricatures did appear in several cartoons for Paramount, the studio that had contracted the comedian for several classic films.

Most fans probably can name Hope's appearance in POPEYE'S 20th ANNIVERSARY (1954) where a caricatured Hope emcees a special award ceremony for Popeye and which features other caricatured Paramount movie stars like Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Jimmy Durante. However, Hope had already appeared in two earlier LITTLE LULU cartoons: A BOUT WITH A TROUT (1947) where his picture appears in a star as Lulu sings "Would you like to swing on a star?" and THE BABY SITTER (1947) where Bob Hope is just one of several caricatured celebrities at The Stork Club. Hope, who is caricatured this time as a penquin, pops up in the LITTLE AUDREY (Paramount's version of LITTLE LULU when they no longer owned the rights to the character) cartoon THE CASE OF THE COCKEYED CANARY (1952). Don't blink or you'll miss an animated version of Hope in Warner Brothers' MALIBU BEACH PARTY (1940) along with many other Hollywood stars at Jack Benny's party.

Another interesting Disney connection is that former Disney artist Owen Fitzgerald designed a classic Bob Hope caricature which he used when he illustrated eighty consecutive issues of BOB HOPE comic books and which was later used as the model by artists Mort Drucker and Bob Oksner when they took over the art chores on the book.

Although with great storytellers it is often difficult to separate the truth from the story, Bob Hope loved to recount that when the Disneyland theme park was in development that Walt Disney tried to persuade Hope who was known as a shrewd purchaser of real estate to buy property around the Disney park in order to help control the use of that land. Hope declined and jokingly shared how he regretted that missed financial opportunity almost instantly when Disneyland became a huge success.

Bob's wife, Dolores, commented in 1996 that: "Always a thrill to be at Disneyland. We came here when the park first opened. I remember being here with my children. Now, I bring my great-grandchildren."

Hope also told an alternate version of the famous Khrushchev-Disneyland story. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev only visited Los Angeles for a single day during his eleven day stay in the United States in 1959. The official plans were for the Soviet Premier to visit housing projects in Los Angeles. On September 19, 1959, Khrushchev and his family were at a special luncheon with a host of celebrities at Twentieth-Century Fox studios before his housing tour.

Supposedly Hope was seated near to Mrs. Khrushchev and told her something along the lines of "You should really try to go to Disneyland. It's wonderful." Then, according to Hope, she passed a note to her husband telling him that they should all go to Disneyland. Khrushchev asked the Secret Service about visiting Disneyland and was told for security reasons it was too dangerous to arrange.

That response prompted Khrushchev's famous rant which received world-wide publicity: "Just now I was told that I could not go to Disneyland. I asked, 'Why not? What is it? Do you have rocket-launching pads there?' I do not know ... What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken over the place that can destroy me? For me the situation is inconceivable. I cannot find words to explain this to my people."

The State Department apparently said that Mrs. Khrushchev and her daughters were free to attend Disneyland but the final decision was that none of the Khrushchev family ended up going to the Disneyland.

So supposedly, it was a harmless compliment about Disneyland by Bob Hope that sparked an international incident. Later, that year, Hope used it as a springboard for a gag when he was entertaining troops in Alaska during one of his Christmas tours when he joked: "Here we are in America's 49th state, Alaska. That's halfway between Khrushchev and Disneyland."

(For a more detailed version on this story, be sure to read Jim Hill's delightful and informative "Did you ever hear about ... 'Khrushchev at Disneyland?'")

Another brief brush with the World of Walt Disney occurred on THE JACK BENNY HOUR (November 3, 1965) which featured miser Jack Benny trying to manipulate free tickets to Disneyland from Walt Disney. After receiving the tickets from a bemused Walt, Benny informs him that on his television show as a "thank you," he'll be doing an Italian movie but will give it a "Disney twist." That Italian movie parody was a version of MARY POPPINS with Elke Sommer as the nanny and Bob Hope as a shifty chauffeur! Hope and Disney never had any screen time together although they did appear in the same show.

Hope was also a guest on a pre-recorded ninety-minute special in "living color" on NBC entitled THE GRAND OPENING OF WALT DISNEY WORLD which aired on October 29, 1971 to publicize the opening of the newest Disney theme park. Singer Glen Campbell pointed to the then-innovative Contemporary Hotel and introduced "Bob 'Ex-Mouseketeer' Hope" who enters the scene via the monorail and with the famous Mary Blair tile mural in the background launched into a monologue that was obviously prepared by his writers and not the legendary Disney writer/producer Bill Walsh who is credited as the writer of the special.

"It's really two buildings leaning against each other. And I want to congratulate the architect ... Dean Martin. I have a lovely room with complete privacy, except in the bathtub which Donald Duck shares with me. Have you ever tried bathing with a duck who was playing with his rubber man? I ordered lunch from room service. Snow White brought it in and I was afraid to eat the apple. I don't dare drink the water because that was delivered by Pluto. This is the biggest vacation-entertainment complex in the world. And to think it all started with a gentle mouse, a bad-tempered duck and seven mixed-up dwarfs. It's a fantastic achievement. They took a swamp and turned it into a Magic Kingdom. It wasn't easy. Have you ever tried to relocate 8,000 angry alligators?"

Hope ended his monologue on a more serious note when he added: "Walt Disney always believed in the beauty and natural wonders of the world. But he felt as we passed through that we should try to add a little wonder and beauty to it. Maybe you'll understand that Walt's dream was just a beginning. The dream doesn't stop here. This is the start of it. I think you'll want to tell your grandchildren you were there when it happened."

Near the end of the program, Hope returned with an even more moving tribute: "Walt Disney World is the culmination of a lifetime devoted to bringing joy and excitement and laughter to children and adults in America and throughout the world. There is a spirit here everywhere. All of this is Walt. This is what Walt wanted for all of us ... an escape from our aspirin existence into a land of sparkles and lights and rainbows. Walt Disney loved America. He loved its children and their moms and pops. Walt Disney loved America because his dreams came true. The entire world owes Walt a great debt. He achieved much, but perhaps his greatest accomplishment is that he made children of us all."

Tom Nabbe, who was in charge of the monorails during the opening of Walt Disney World, shared with me this behind-the-scenes story of the filming of that monolog: "For the filming of the opening special, we drove Bob Hope into the Contemporary Hotel concourse on the monorail to do his bit. I was standing on the platform waiting for him when one of the co-ordinators came up to me. These were the days when the monorails had individual air conditioners in them and they made quite a noise. So this guy says, 'Tom, the noise is drowning out Bob's monolog. Can you do something about it?' And I went over and hit the power button. Then I picked up the phone and called the monorail shop and said, 'You'd better get over here because we've got to haul Bob Hope out of this building in fifteen minutes and you need to re-set the rectifiers because I just turned them off.' And they got over and were standing by so that the minute Hope finished they could re-set the rectifiers. The only way I could shut off the air conditioning units on the train was to kill the power to the train which I did. Then I had to get it started back up so we could take Hope on his merry way back to the Polynesian."

Hope was a guest on NBC SALUTES THE 25th ANNIVERSARY OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY (1978) and Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday celebration on THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY (1978). He was at the Walt Disney World Tencennial in 1981 where he helped lead a thousand piece marching band and he spoke at the ribbon cutting Disney-MGM Studios dedication in 1989. (His handprints are in the cement of the forecourt of THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE.)

On January 4, 1998, Cardinal Roger Mahony presided over an Investiture ceremony in Los Angeles for the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great where over sixty Los Angeles citizens were granted papal Knighthood as Knights and Dames of the Order. The honorees were cited for their contributions to the Catholic Church, the Christian faith and their service and charity work. Both Bob Hope and Roy O. Disney (Walt's brother) were so honored. Hope and Disney were not practicing Roman Catholics but apparently their wives were. (Hope was baptized Catholic and married his wife in a Catholic church.)

Sadly, one of Hope's last official appearances was also connected with Disney. In 1999, the then ninety-six year old entertainer did not share the holiday season with servicemen overseas as he had for every holiday season from World War II through Operation Desert Storm. Instead, he made a personal appearance at Disneyland on Monday, November 22 at 5:45 pm to inaugurate a new tradition, the first official lighting of the holiday lights at Disneyland.

The lights all along Main Street were dimmed while hundreds of guests, some of them uniformed men and women, heard a tape of Bob and Dolores Hope singing the song "Silver Bells." With Mickey Mouse at his side, Hope took a short swing with a golf club to tap a large silver golf ball on the small stage where he had been sitting in a director's chair. Hundreds of thousands of holiday lights instantly lit up Disneyland.

So while Bob Hope never appeared in a Disney film, never voiced a Disney character and never invested in the Happiest Real Estate in the World, he still enriched the World of Disney and Disney fans thank him for those memories.