While we were planning our 1981 special saluting the 60th anniversary of the N.F.L., our producer, Janie Bell had an idea for a sketch that would involve the appointment of the National Football League’s first female commissioner. As a daughter of one (her dad Bert Bell, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles was an early commissioner), Janie was particularly interested in the concept. At the first of several writers’ meetings, she approached Hope with the idea and he liked it, too. But the big question was: Who could we book who would be a large enough screen presence to carry it off?
After discussing several possibilities, Hope himself came up with a “someone” we all agreed would be perfect: Elizabeth Taylor. Come again? Taylor didn’t do television, least of all a variety show that had a tendency to toss jabs at anyone or any institution within comic range. But Hope had an ace up his sleeve and we were about to learn what it was. He told Elliott Kozak, his co-producer, to call Elizabeth on the phone — Hope could get a hold of anyone, it seemed, at any time, including the president. Elliott scurried off and was soon holding Liz on the line for the boss. Hope spoke with her briefly, hung up, and announced that she had agreed to come on the show!
What had happened was reminiscent of the many times over the years Hope had booked guests with a promise to return the favor with a reciprocal appearance on their show. Even though Elizabeth wasn’t on television, she did have a show where Hope knew his presence would be invaluable. Each year, she hosted a huge fund-raiser at Wolf Trap for the benefit of AIDS research. Hope had her cornered, and he knew it.
We wrote a short sketch that wouldn’t tax our guest and could be taped in a few hours. The entire piece took place in the commissioner’s office where Liz fielded complaints from players accusing a George Steinbrenner-like team owner named Bobby Trueheart (Hope) of on-the-job harassment. They included Joe Namath, George Blanda and O.J. Simpson, whose appearance ironically gave rise to this exchange:
(Simpson enters, jumping over several suitcases)
LIZ: And you have to be O.J. Simpson.
O.J.: I don’t have to be, but with all the money I’ve been making on commercials lately, I think I’ll stay him a little longer.
LIZ: I don’t blame you. I see you on TV morning, noon and night.
We hadn’t seen nothin’ yet!
* * * *
Anxious to book Liz for the show and aware that he was getting her for scale, Hope agreed to cover the cost of any wardrobe purchases necessary for her appearance. A few months after the show aired, he was reviewing production expenses and noticed an entry that read: “$700 for one pair of Tony Lama snakeskin boots.” Liz had remained behind her desk throughout the sketch. Hope turned to Elliott and said, “Next time we lay out $700 for a pair of boots, make sure the writers work them into the plot.”
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: