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Bob Hope's First NBC Special Aired 71 Years Ago Today

  • The legendary Bob Hope was synonymous with his NBC variety specials for decades, beginning with this first one on April 9, 1950, an Easter special titled the "Star Spangled Revue." Once upon a time, however, he wanted nothing to do with the fledgling medium, as the star of stage and the silver screen was among the many who viewed TV as somewhat "less than." But money talked, and that's why he appeared in a top hat and tails saying "Television... well, they finally got me... the last time I was in New York, I was at the Paramount Theater with Jane Russell, and here I am working for Frigidaire." 

    After an overture version of his signature song "Thanks for the Memory" from his movie The Big Broadcast of 1938, his opening monologue is full of his usual rapid-fire, self-deprecating one-liners, such as this joke about his formal attire: "The real reason I'm wearing this little outfit is the fact that a lot of performers die on television, and if that happens to me, I want to be prepared for it." 

    Kicking off the second half-hour of the show, he notes "A lot of people have asked me why I finally decided to do a television show. Well, I must tell you that really, I was against it, because so far, what has television been but cowboys, wrestlers, and dog acts. There have been so many dog acts on TV up to now that my set has to be taken out twice a day. I haven't considered doing a regular show, although a lot of TV sponsors have approached me, and it seemed that money was no object, so they didn't offer me any." 

    This full 90-minute special also includes movie star Douglas Fairbanks as co-host, "the world's only stand-up boogie-woogie pianist" Maurice Rocco, sketches and songs from comic actress Beatrice Lillie, a dance number from noted hoofer Hal Le Roy, a song from Dinah Shore who joins Hope for a painfully racist sketch about the origins of the then-new song "Baby It's Cold Outside," a sketch about British people doing Hopalong Cassidy-style westerns, a song from the Mexico City Boys Choir, and a lot of built-in commercials for Frigidaire home appliances, of course.

    Hope closed the show by saying "This really sells me on TV. In fact, from now on, I'm going to quit peeking through my neighbor's window and go out and get a small set of my own." 

    In the five decades following this first appearance, Hope headlined a total of 272 NBC specials, with the last one airing in 1996 when he was 93 years old.

    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: NBC, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore