It All Went Down The Drain
Hope believed that allowing his guests too many rehearsals would give them more time to come up with objections to their lines. Ideally, he preferred to hand them their script just before the first read-through where the actors sit at a long table and recite their lines precisely as they appear in the script. We stood by in case new lines were needed — heaven forbid. It’s at this point that our guests had the opportunity to voice any reservations about their lines, but because of Hope’s “living legend” status, few ever did. A nice perk for us, to be sure.
Occasionally, a guest would bolster the courage to speak up. On our Christmas special in 1981, Hope and Loretta Swit —”Hotlips”on M*A*S*H — were dressed as department-store mannequins discussing the job after everyone had gone home. The sketch began with this exchange:
LORETTA: I feel so stupid standing there with hundreds of shoppers pointing at me and shouting, “I want what she’s wearing! I want what she’s wearing!”
HOPE: Yeah, those women can get pretty pushy.
LORETTA: What women? Those were the men.”
As soon as she delivered her line, the table erupted in laughter. Hope beamed. Everyone at the table liked the joke except Loretta. She explained that she had recently become active in several gay causes and found the line demeaning to homosexuals. Ordinarily, no problem. Hope would cut the line, and we’d write her a replacement. But not now — the joke had gotten a big laugh. Its value to the show had been tested and proven. Once Hope knew a joke worked, he’d protect it like it was his idea. And it was, almost — he’d paid for it.
While empathizing with Loretta, he convinced her ever-so-gently that as a professional entertainer, she should never allow personal feelings to get in the way of audience laughter. She “owed the audience that much,” he explained like a kindly grandfather. Loretta was no match for Hope’s logic and gave in. The line stayed and got one of the biggest laughs on the special.
Later in the routine, this exchange:
LORETTA: Have you ever been married?
HOPE: Almost. Once. We were modeling in bathroom supplies. She was the Liquid Plumber Girl, and I was the Tidy Bowl Man. We were meant for each other.
LORETTA: What happened?
HOPE: I guess it all went down the drain.
Excerpted from THE LAUGH MAKERS: A Behind-the-Scenes Tribute to Bob Hope's Incredible Gag Writers (c) 2009 by Robert L. Mills and published by Bear Manor Media: . The book was chosen by Leonard Maltin as a “Top 20 Year-End Pick“ for 2009. Order online at: