Star-studded memories of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope

I hear George Lucas has decided to retire and take things easy, which may involve him selling off his companies and enjoying making home movies for pleasure rather than public release.


He is quoted as saying a planned television series based on Star Wars is too expensive to consider, but someone else may take up the idea in the future. I guess to hear of their idol putting himself out to pasture will make quite a few Star Wars fans feel old.


Personally, I cannot believe it is 36 years since I visited the set of the first film at Elstree and told George I doubted it would be a big success.


In my defence, the science-fiction genre at the time was considered old hat and I made my judgement before seeing the special effects and hearing the music.


However, this week I am turning back the clock even further and thinking about two stars my younger readers may have never watched on screen.


They are Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, who more than 60 years ago, were riding high in a series of movies they made together which all started with The Road To... in their titles.


Both stars were not in fact, a full-time double act and enjoyed successful individual careers.


Bing Crosby started his career as a singer in the 1930s and later combined that with starring in Hollywood movies. His screen persona was that of a laid-back pipe-smoking family man, but in reality, he had a problem with drink and his first wife committed suicide.


They had four sons who all died early, two from suicide and two from ill-health. One of them portrayed his father as a cruel man, often beating his kids.
However, the public never heard any of that and by the time of his death, Bing had become the biggest-selling recording artist of all time and an Oscar winner.


I briefly met him in Borehamwood in the summer of 1977 at ATV Studios, where he was pre-recording a Christmas television special with David Bowie and Stanley Baxter.


It was to be his last screen appearance and the last time he sang White Christmas on television.


Just a couple of months later, at the age of 74, Bing had just completed a round of golf at a course in Spain and, as he walked towards the clubhouse, he dropped dead of a massive heart attack.


I visited his modest lawn cemetery grave in Hollywood and was surprised he was buried near to actor Bela Lugosi, who had died 20 years earlier. Older readers may recall that Bela played Dracula on screen in the 1930s, but descended into B movies and drug abuse before being buried in his Dracula cape.


Bob Hope became an American institution, although he was actually born in England. He was a legendary comedian and in 1993, when I was visiting Hollywood, the mayor of Tinsel town asked if I would like to meet Bob, who was visiting my hotel opposite the Chinese Theatre, where all those famous footprints are located.


It was an honour to meet him and I reminded Bob of the time he visited Borehamwood to guest star on The Muppet Show.


He lived another ten years, dying at the grand age of 100 and I believe they have named an airport after him.


These were big stars in their days and I certainly got a big kick out of meeting them and am forever grateful for those memories.

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