Thursday, June 30, 2011

Behind the Wheel, pt. 6: The One That Wasn't

I've written here before about my time as a chauffeur in Florida and the celebrities that I've driven. While watching some old footage of a USO engagement on Turner Classic Movies last night, I was reminded of the biggest celebrity that never made it into the back of the car.

Bob Hope by Al Hirschfeld
I got the call one day that we'd been hired to drive Bob Hope around for a weekend when he'd be in the area for his annual event entertaining troops at Eglin Air Force Base outside Ft. Walton. I was as excited as I'd ever been about a job, more excited about meeting Mr. Hope than I had about any other celebrity I'd driven. Certainly more than KC and his Sunshine Band. In fact, in the shadow of Hope, there were no other celebrities. He was a direct line to Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Groucho Marx, Myrna Loy, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn ... all the greats, and he was as great as any of them. This was 1995, so he would have been in his early 90s, but just to be around him, responsible for getting him from here to there, would have been quite an experience.

Alas, it was not meant to be as the event was canceled. Or, at least, his staying at the hotel we worked with in Panama City Beach was canceled. The story I was told is that that very hotel was to be occupied the same weekend by O.J. Simpson, who had only earlier that week been found not guilty of murder. You'll remember the first place he went after the verdict was PCB where his girlfriend lived. Dolores Hope, the story went, got wind of Simpson's impending occupancy and, instead of subjecting her husband to the certain media circus that would ensue, she canceled the whole thing. I don't know if this story was true or not, but I like to think that the Hopes had enough integrity and taste to not want to be associated with any (alleged) murderer.

On a side note, I took a group of attorneys from the Alabama Bar Association that was staying at that hotel out to dinner one night in a 15-passenger van and Simpson was entertaining guests at that same restaurant. I stood around outside and chatted with his body guard, the tall, swarthy looking brute seen in all the footage of Simpson going here and there after the verdict.

I would have much rather spent that time talking with, or just in the presence of, Bob Hope.