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Monday, August 08, 2016

Paramount's First "Road" Trip

Road To Singapore (1940) Introduces Crosby-Hope

Whose idea was it to combine Bing Crosby with Bob Hope? Several took credit, books have differed on the genius that plugged them in together, and we wonder if this was something just bound to happen. To that, I say not necessarily. Crosby was a romantic singing lead, comedy not a first priority so far for him, while Hope seemed all clowning, a song or three thus far where he was part of Paramount ensemble, but C/H as a team took time to jell, even after they were combined. The duo had joshed on stage in the early 30's, an apparently spontaneous event not repeated other than for industry function to which a public was not privy. "Buddy" teaming meanwhile thrived elsewhere: James Cagney and Pat O'Brien at Warners, Clark Gable with Spencer Tracy for MGM. From such mix could come a series, popularity of the format a guarantee of gross. Look how Metro upped terms for Gable/Tracy Boom Town in 1940, admission all round that lead-man combos could be absolute surefire. This was soon enough case for the Crosby-Hopes, showmen panting anew whenever a fresh one landed.

To credit question, publicity at the time gave nod to director/songsmith Victor Shertzinger, who allegedly did golf foursomes with Bing/Bob and observed their by-play between putts. According to scribes, Road To Singapore was in production "a few weeks later," which was then-way of letting us know how serendipitous Hollywood pic-making could be. Later, and likely more accurate, account (in Richard Zoglin's excellent Hope bio) says Para production chief William LeBaron had the brainstorm, and that Road To Singapore took a year to happen after that. All this might come under heading of success having many fathers. Would, or did, Crosby/Hope themselves claim idea of pairing? And who'd argue with either if they did? Outside of DeMille, these were Paramount's supreme power players, and for simply years, Crosby over twenty, Hope just under that. Both were a smash together or separate. It's easy to watch them now and forget radio as even bigger snowball rolling in the team's favor. With weekly audience of millions they could pitch movies to, how could any fail? Road To Singapore fascinates for insight into the juggernaut at birthing, hardly like Roads we'd travel later and enjoy more, but insight to stars/staff throwing ideas at the wall to see what might stick.

Among what audiences had then from Crosby/Hope that we lost since: newness (as a team), surprise (irreverence even toward movies they were in), and grip of media so firm as to make both impossible to avoid so long as you could read or have electricity in your house. What gave them reach beyond reckoning of biggest stars was broadcast following larger than what tracked films, reason for that simple fact listening was free. All either asked was weekly submit to cheese (Crosby) or toothpaste (Hope) as side dish to fun, sponsor ribbing a means to keep mirth uninterrupted and let us know nothing was sacred to these birds. Crosby and Hope let their audience inside entertainment’s process. Hope in particular stripped masks off biz baloney. It would define him for at least as many years as he hosted radio, TV, and most prominently, the Academy Awards. Success of their features, as a team or singly, was guaranteed by reminder each week to go see whatever of features was newest. The “Road” series got twice a hypo thanks to drums beat on both broadcasts, plus guesting Crosby/Hope did on other network programs. I’d say patronage for Roads had advance message pounded harder than for anything put before them save a Gone With The Wind or other such cultural phenomena.

It’s known that comedians edited their films to conform with audience reaction, breaks built in to allow for laughter. The device worked for hundreds, if not thousands, needing to catch breath between howls, but what of dead air this left for television viewers down the line? No one considered that at first-run point --- why would they? Movies weren’t constructed to serve posterity. The Road comedies, in fact all of Classic Era comedy, must be understood in this context. Many, in fact most, would say we owe no film such allowance. If they can’t please by modern standard, then why watch, let alone spend toward preserving such antiquity? The Road-shows do drag between gags … sometimes they drag within gags. What needs to be remembered is fact this was intent, not consequence of lazy edits or faulty tempo. Before a crowded enough house, these comedies rise brilliantly to occasion, each foot cut to measure of jokes, a seeming magic act for too few occasions these shows are revived theatrically.

Such was Crosby's association with Hope that he often cameo'ed in the latter's solo comedies. Unbilled at first, Bing dropping in became less a surprise as Hope continued to use him through the 40's, but early on at least, response could be tumultuous. Writer and film history instructor Conrad Lane describes an audience he sat with at the Ritz Theatre in Alexandria, Indiana "exploding" when Crosby showed up at the end of The Princess and The Pirate, 1944 early enough for this to still be a novelty. The Ritz was a small house, seating 340, but Conrad recalls laughter intense as to drown out dialogue left before the end title. Mere sight of Crosby set cacophony.  Again, Crosby and Hope were inviting us to laugh with them at the very process of fun-making. Tight fusion between radio and movies made Bing/Bob household members as much as entertainers. Few film stars achieved this so completely, though many tried. Finish to The Princess and The Pirate is still pleasing for its cheek plus collapse of the fourth wall (Hope declares "this is the last picture I'll make for Goldwyn"). Occurs to me that Hope did not turn up in any of the solo Crosbys ... or do I err?


Blogger Bill O said...

Much later, Hope literally tried to split the team by getting The Sunshine Boys rights. Neil Simon passed, unwilling to cast two goyim.

10:07 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Hope didn't invade Bing's solo pics, but he made up for it by cameoing in a number of Bing's later TV specials in the 60's and 70's. Oddly enough, they did not do much television together until the film teaming ran out, they probably didn't want to dilute the value of the pairing.

In 1968, they even did an NBC TV special where they spend the hour attempting to sell Paramount on a new Road picture. Around the time of Bing's death there was even talk of a new TV movie called THE ROAD TO THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH, which, for obvious reasons, didn't happen.


11:42 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

For the most part, Bing solo didn't make the kind of meta spoofs that Bob did, not lending his films to such cameos. And what I've read of him. he wouldn't welcome the intrusion.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

I think THE ROAD TO THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH was intended as a feature. From what I recall back then, I was pleasantly surprised when Crosby spoke of wanting script revisions to make it more "Monty Python-like." Who knew he watched?!

7:18 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Maybe there's a story in how some series films have everything in place from the get-go, while others take a movie or two to hit stride.

"Road to Singapore" is a more or less "straight" comedy, with Crosby as the good-hearted rich kid and Hope as his wrong-side-of-the-tracks buddy. Faintly recall an article on Hope claiming the script had been turned down by other would-be teams.

It's the second film that sets the formula: Wild gags, breaking the fourth wall, and Hope as an easily conned version of his vain wisecracking coward while Crosby does much of the conning (Did Crosby play a scoundrel, lovable or otherwise, anywhere else?). When you get right down to it, they're essentially Bob Hope movies with Crosby taking over the smoother side of Hope's stock character.

Interesting that Dean Martin played a similar character opposite Jerry Lewis, except that the marginally more "realistic" scripts tended to put him through a redemptive arc while Bing usually got away with pushing Bob into harm's way.

The British "Carry On?" films started out as fairly plausible little comedies, then edged into broad genre parodies while the franchise actors became more outrageous. Even entries set in the "real" world became much broader.

Universal horror, of course, started with a handful of seriously creepy A-pictures for adults before skewing much younger. Likewise, MGM's Tarzan films opened with major sex and violence before settling into kid-friendly tales of a respectable married couple living in a tree. And Godzilla ...

8:30 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

A major difference between the two. If Crosby didn't embrace societal changes, he didn't openly disdain them either - his David Bowie duet. Did a lot of uncredited charity work At one point offered to ransom ten Nam Pows, at a million a piece.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Scorcese said he partly based De Niro's NEW YORK NEW YORK character on the "ROAD" Crosby - a heel who inexplicably kept the audience's sympathy.

6:11 AM  
Blogger iarla said...

Not a single mention of Lamour....not that there is much to say, other than the warmth she projected. She always got short shrift. Its not her fault - Crosby and Hope singularly lacked sex appeal. Cold men. Today, it shows.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Crosby considered her lucky to be there. When she demanded a bigger to fee record an album of songs from one of the movies, he cut her out, replaced her with Peggy Lee. Got compensated on ROAD TO HONG KONG, tho replaced by Joan Collins, the studio insisted she be billed. According to her, she was paid well for her cameo.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

According to Lamour's autobiography (so consider the source), she was offended and hurt when she was offered a tiny cameo in HONG KONG, and was surprised when her insistence on having a song in the picture was agreed to. She says she later learned that the "money men" had told the boys, "No Dottie, no picture." She could have pushed for even more screen time and would apparently have gotten it.

At least the money men were seemingly aware of how essential she was to the franchise, even if Hope and Crosy devalued her contributions. (Speaking of which, Joan Collins brought absolutely nothing to the table, aside from her physical attributes -- as a singer, she was even less gifted than Dottie...)

5:05 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

All sorts of different takes--I read that Lamour was in HONG KONG only on Hope's insistence. Lamour always had nicer things to say about Hope, compared to Crosby. For what it's worth, when Hope celebrated his 90th birthday on network TV, the appearance of Lamour moved Hope to get up and greet her, slowly shuffling towards her from a distance. She was genuinely touched. Seems to reflect a real fondness between the two.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Hope's bio says her inclusion was distributor-mandated, who wanted it to seem as much like the originals, even tho not from the home studio. Or country for that matter. Lamour does take off about Hope to critic Carrie Rickey, also noted in the bio. She was also miffed that on Hope's special featuring his leading ladies, that she wasn't given special placement, or credit.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Overall, Lamour deserved a lot more than she got!

7:44 AM  

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