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Monday, December 16, 2013

From Bob Hope's Christmas List

$ilver Bells Ring in The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Bob and Marilyn Maxwell --- A Longer Story Than Space Permits Here 
Bob Hope at early-50's Paramount, a peak period for his solo output. Direction is by Sidney Lanfield, but Frank Tashlin lent creative hand, as evidenced by cartoony gags to loosen verbal grip of Hope humor as served on radio/screen-previous. Tashlin had a distinct voice to breathe fresh fun into wise enabler Hope's act. Bob must have liked Frank's WB funnies to turn him so loose in live action, that being even more the case with following year's Son Of Paleface. Tashlin getting foothold into Hope universe is reflected by Variety reportage of scenes written/directed by him that were shot several months after The Lemon Drop Kid got otherwise done. Hope was unhappy over the film as wrapped by initial director Lanfield, previews in Santa Monica and Inglewood being sluggish, and since this was his production, BH could tinker till satisfied. That was annoyance for Paramount, the distrib set for Christmas 1950 release, but told by Hope there'd be no delivery short of his sign-off.

Paramount Pals BH and Bill Holden Confer On Lemon Drop Set
We don't think of Bob as a fussy filmmaker, but in many ways he was, and at least for 50's summit, he'd give no audience less than best achievable. Considering Hope was in for significant dose of Lemon Drop rentals, we can admire his holding out toward improving the pic. But here was the clincher: The Lemon Drop Kid was financed entirely by Hope interests, no money from banks or Paramount. That put Bob in virtual Chaplin category of total control, and makes it no wonder he took movies back to drawing board even when associates were OK by them (his cash, not theirs, after all). Missing a Christmas launch may have cost both Hope and Paramount, as The Lemon Drop Kid dipped from $2.5 million Fancy Pants had earned to $2.2 million in Lemon Drop domestic rentals.

Bob and Marilyn Stage a Fall 1951 Invasion of London
A historic Hope/Paramount deal came in the wake of Lemon Drop completion. Epoch-making too was money Hope had so far earned in 1950. His first TV host appearance in February of that year was for record paycheck of $40K; viewer response made NBC hot to pledge him for more. Para wanted to seal a deal for eight features, four done by Hope Enterprises, the remainder in-house for the studio. Each would be budgeted at $1.5M, with Hope's share being half of profits from the Hope Enterprise four and 25% of same off the Para quartet. Plan was to burn through the lot within three years, Bob being nothing if not prolific where work was concerned. Signatories to the bargain included television hirers as well, negotiation taking on League Of Nations aspect, at least in terms of complex terms and a novel-length agreement.

A Lemon Drop Break To Appear with Les Brown and Band Of Renown at Union Rally

Larry Stops Over From Carrie For a Visit
Crucial clause of pacting was negatives reverting to BH after Paramount distribution of Hope Enterprisers in first-run, this generating gifts that would keep on giving ... to Bob. TV stations in the 60's renewed value of the package by grabbing the Hopes at premium price (each expected to garner $150K in first sales) after the group came available to syndication in 1963 --- these among most valuable fillers around. We'd get The Lemon Drop Kid and others of the group on weekend afternoons from Channel 9-Charlotte, and now it's Shout! Factory distributing the Hope-owned backlog, with quality variable in DVD releases so far. Much of the lot exists in High-Definition --- four were issued as such years back on the old HD-DVD format, and looked fine, but who's got equipment to play them? (my HD-DVD player gave up and quit soon after Blu-Ray swept the format away)

Happy and reliable product of most Hopes, including The Lemon Drop Kid, was cast list filled with vaud vets he sidled since Palace and elsewhere days --- Bill Frawley, Jay C. Flippen, others glimpsed. One named Charles Cooley went all the way back to when teenaged Bob hustled at pool in Cleveland. In fact, it was Charlie who boosted Bob to a first meaningful job as vaud emcee in 1928. By way of reward for continued loyalty, he'd join and stay with the team for a lifetime, acting as personal masseur for Hope when he wasn't stooging at camp shows and tee-vee background. The Lemon Drop box was thus a who's-who of vets and novelty newcomers, something for everyone then/now, as for instance, Ed Wood-workers today who thrill at Tor Johnson dialoguing with Bob as opposed to his customary mute presence. If Tor had a Greatest (Mainstream) Role, The Lemon Drop Kid was it.

Sign Right Here, Says Para Chieftains, and a Historic Deal Is Done

Lemon Drop's story has a Yule theme, so it plays best in the season; holiday standard Silver Bells was introduced here, Bob and Marilyn Maxwell walking along snowy and busily shopped Para backlot streets, a nostalgic stroll for watchers as well. The Lemon Drop Kid was based on Damon Runyon and remade from a 1934 comedy with Lee Tracy. Runyon's name meant plenty and got possessory credit over the title. Producer Robert L. Welsh installed racing tout and "chum" to the stars "Society Kid" Hogan as technical advisor on The Lemon Drop Kid, Hogan having been inspiration for certain of Damon Runyon stories. Gamblers were compatible with vaudevillians, so Lemon Drop's set was happy reunion for those who'd made careers chance-taking. The Lemon Drop Kid comes closest to a Hope vehicle where he embraces life of crime, the quick-con artist here not far removed from pool-hustling Bob of aforementioned beginnings.

Now with regards Silver Bells: The Jay Livingston-Ray Evans song was spotted early for a hit by anyone with ears ... a possible standard, in fact, which indeed it became. Paramount and its tuning arm, Famous Music, had something with plus value to exploit in very plus terms, six records to be released with various artists trilling the number, including Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Margaret Whiting, Jimmy Wakely, others. Para put eight men in the field to lean on disc spinners nationwide, goal being to have Silver Bells played on heavy rotation for at least a six-day period beginning November 6, 1951. The Lemon Drop Kid was mostly played out by then, but this song would survive it, by generations, as things worked out. The studio's was a "concentrated plug" and experimental toward showing what a tune might do given sustained push by "nearly all of the firms' manpower," said Variety. Further advantage to effort was opportunity for the field force to form personal rather than purely biz relations with dee-jays that would profit later when Para and Famous returned to promote further music.

More Bob Hope at Greenbriar Archives: Shop Talk, Variety Girl, Parts One and Two, Son Of Paleface, Parts One and Two, The Facts Of Life, and It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Bob Hope Comeback.


Blogger John Cox said...

Thank you for this. This has always been one of my favorite Hope comedies and holiday movies. Great to learn the backstory.

8:25 PM  
Blogger aldi said...

I've been trying to see the 1934 movie for ages but it isn't easy to catch (I'm a big Lee Tracy fan). The 1951 version has a totally different plotline; other than using the central character and both starting off at the racetrack they have nothing in common with each other. I do love the Bob Hope version though, it's a great Christmas movie.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Ah, Marilyn Maxwell, the woman who gave Bob his only offspring by birth.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Great post on one of my favorite Hopes, and the only Runyon inspired film I was ever able to stomach! (Am I the only one who finds Runyon's irresistible Broadway denizens not only completely resistible, but fairly gag inducing?)

2:46 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Many years ago I believe the USA Network ran the 1934 version around Christmas time, no doubt assuming it was a holiday film. As aldi points out the two movies actually have nothing in common, other than William Frawley (I think he sings 'Carolina in the Morning' in the first.)The earlier film BTW follows original short story as I recall. Neely O., I do like many of the Runyon short stories (the funny ones, anyway).

4:48 PM  

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