The variety show was a common format in early television, in part because many of the performers were vaudevillians with vast experience performing live on stage, and most early television was broadcast live. The sale of thousands of television sets in the late 1940s and early 1950s has been attributed to the vast popularity of the early TV variety show featuring vaudevillian Milton Berle. In fact, the popular programs hosted by Berle and his contemporaries were termed "Vaudeo" by 1950s television critics. While variety is no longer a prevalent program format, successors to vaudeville include current television programs such as The Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live, and even Sesame Street.
Although the National Broadcasting Network (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) had been actively experimenting with television since the 1930s, seven-day-a-week programming did not begin until 1948. Shows were produced mainly by advertising agencies on behalf of their sponsor clients, but the networks were increasingly interested in developing programs as well. Bob Hope was approached by NBC in 1949 to host his own show and soon conquered the new medium even as he maintained his popularity in film and radio.
The Bob Hope Collection at the Library of Congress joins many important collections which document the entertainment arts in America. Several of the many great performers and creators whose collections have been entrusted to the Library have excelled in variety arts. The collections represented in the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment include outstanding television performances rooted in the variety tradition.
Look Magazine Tribute to Vaudevillians on Television
Look Magazine paid tribute to the former vaudevillians who occupied so much of the television schedule in the early 1950s: Top row (l-r): Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, and Eddie Cantor. Middle row: Ken Murray, Ed Wynn, and Bobby Clark. Bottom row: George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Jimmy Durante.
Look Magazine, April 10, 1951, cover. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (123)
Among the words coined by the show business newspaper Variety is "Vaudeo." Variety used the term in the early 1950s to refer to variety format television programs that starred vaudeville veterans such as Milton Berle, Ed Wynn, and Bob Hope.
NBC Woos Bob Hope
Given Bob Hope's record of success, it is no surprise that NBC tried to lure him into television. John Royal was vice president of the network, and this letter was his first lighthearted attempt to attract Hope's attention. Although Hope's reply indicated a willingness to cede the field to fellow vaudevillian Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater, within months he would agree to host his own show.
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Letter from John Royal to Bob Hope, June 29, 1949. Typed manuscript. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (128)
Letter from Bob Hope to John Royal, July 13, 1949. Typed manuscript. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (129)
Hope's First National Television Appearance
Although Hope had presided over television's inaugural West Coast broadcast in 1947, his NBC debut on April 9, 1950, was his first national television appearance. He agreed to be a regular host of Star Spangled Revue, a variety show produced by Max Liebman. Broadcast live from New York, the program was much like Hope's radio show-a monologue, skits, and musical performances.
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Page from a photo album, 1950. Page 2. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (130)
Advertisement for Star Spangled Revue, 1950. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (131)
Hope's Early Television Ratings
Hope was an immediate success on television, even as he continued to star in motion pictures and radio. Within a short time, his turns as host of Star Spangled Revue were renamed The Bob Hope Special, which continued as a bi-weekly staple of NBC's schedule. The last of Hope's 284 television programs for NBC was in 1997, an unparalleled run of popularity for a single performer.
Correspondence from Robert McFaden to Sylvester Weaver, April 14, 1950. Page 2. Typed manuscript. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (133)
Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour
The humor of Sid Caesar's 1950s variety shows, Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour, is among the most enduring of early television. His popular "Commuters" series of sketches, which was a recurring feature of Caesar's Hour, satirized suburban, middle-class, domestic life much as the contemporary "Honeymooners" skits of Jackie Gleason offered a comic look at a working-class couple living in the city.
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Hope on the Tonight Show
These production records from the Johnny Carson and Bob Hope Collections reveal the extensive preparation that went into Hope's December 15, 1989, Tonight Show appearance. Carson's staff scripted a list of questions for Hope, while Hope's staff provided a list of jokes for him to use in response to Carson's inquiries. The annotation in Hope's hand is a self-mocking acknowledgment of his reason for being on the Tonight Show in the first place -- to promote his own special.
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Notecard with Carson's introduction of Hope on December 15, 1989, show. Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (136)
Hope monolog for The Tonight Show, December 15, 1989. Typed manuscript, with annotations. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (138)
Hope and Carson
Johnny Carson donated The Tonight Show production records to the Library in 1995, providing valuable insights into the making of this venerable television institution. Hope was one of Carson's favorite guests, appearing more than one hundred times during Carson's thirty-year reign as the king of late night.
Red Skelton and Bob Hope with Johnny Carson
Bob Hope, dressed as a hobo, and Red Skelton (1913-1997), playing his well-known character "Freddie the Freeloader," chat with Johnny Carson during a December 21, 1978, appearance on The Tonight Show.
Red Skelton, Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, December 21, 1978. Copyprint. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (139)
Filming Caesar's Hour
The "Commuters" skits on Caesar's Hour regularly starred Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, and Howard Morris. An article in Look magazine went behind the scenes of the production of the January 16, 1956, Caesar's Hour. Pictured playing cards during the party are Howard Morris (left) and Sid Caesar.
Bob Fosse Produces Liza with a "Z"
Bob Fosse was one of the musical theater's greatest choreographers and directors. In 1973, he won the "triple crown" of performing arts direction: an Oscar for Cabaret, a Tony for Pippin, and an Emmy for Liza With a "Z." Fosse kept extensive choreographic notes in a series of simple composition notebooks. This example-in the Library's Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon Collection-is from his television collaboration with Liza Minnelli.
Proposal for Liza With a Z, 1971
Bob Fosse's initial concept for Liza With a Z called for the film to be a documentary of a Liza Minnelli concert filmed from the perspective of the Ms. Minnelli. However, the final film, aired September 10, 1972, differed considerably from this "first draft" of May 1971 and is a more traditional filmed version of a concert. An excerpt from Liza With a Z may viewed in the television section of this exhibit.
Bob Hope was one of a handful of comedians of the latter days of vaudeville who reached tremendous success in television. These men and women continued to perform with each other in the television era and conveyed a great sense of pleasure in doing so. They also inspired younger entertainers in the variety arts. One of those younger performers was Johnny Carson who began his career as a magician.
Honoring a Friend
George Burns, Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson paid tribute to fellow comedian Jack Benny on a 1981 television special, Love Letter to Jack Benny. This photo was used on the cover of TV Guide.
Photograph for TV Guide cover. Photograph, 1981. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (144)
Correspondence in the Bob Hope Collection includes many letters and telegrams from fellow entertainers. They express congratulations on an important occasion, thank Hope for an opportunity to appear on a broadcast, declare admiration for his work, or just pass along a good joke or gag.
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Letter from Jack Benny. Typewritten manuscript with holographic emendations, January 16, 1964. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (145)
Telegram from George Burns to Bob Hope. Telegram, May 21, 1991. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (147)
Letter from Johnny Carson to Bob Hope. December 3, 1997. Holographic manuscript. Copyright Johnny Carson. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (146)
"When vaudeville died, television was the box they put it in."
- Bob Hope