Legendary entertainer Bob Hope performed at the California Mid-State Fair in August 1989. One lucky Tribune reporter got to follow him around for the day, from his rehearsal at an Atascadero Elementary School to backstage at his show.
Here's more about Hope's time in San Luis Obispo County, as found in the Aug. 16, 1989, article "A night out with Bob Hope."
The scene was a bit surreal.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a long, gray limousine stopped at a nearly deserted elementary school in rural Atascadero. A tall, blond female chauffeur got out of the limo, opened a rear door and out stepped Bob Hope.
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“Da-dum-da-da-da-dum,” Hope softly hummed, cracking his trademark smirk and strolling slowly toward a small group of people who had been waiting for him in front of the school.
Within the next five minutes, Hope did a television interview, greeted some old friends, got introduced to some friends of his old friends then finally stepped into the school building to get down to the business at hand: rehearsing for a performance he was to give in a few hours at the Mid-State Fair.
For the rest of his whirlwind visit to the North County, the 86-year-old Hope would continue to be besieged by fans, reporters and others.
Yet, somehow, he managed to rehearse, give a performance and turn away a few autograph seekers.
“The guy was wonderful,” said Russ James, coordinator of promotions at Mid-State Fair. “Here’s a guy who’s been in the business 60 years, yet he calls me and asks how he can help me sell tickets.”
That’s a far cry from behavior of other celebrities — like Jackson Browne, who played at the fair last week, James said.
“I just wanted a photo of (Browne), James said, “And I couldn’t get past his bodyguards.”
“This is a hell of a place,” Hope told his musicians just before practice started in the San Gabriel Elementary School multi-purpose room. “Did you have to get a passport to get here?”
Hope hadn’t liked the “long” limo ride from the Paso Robles airport to the Atascadero elementary school.
The conductor sparked up the band and Hope casually sang through a few songs. The rehearsal lasted about 30 minutes.
Before Hope got back in his limo and left, however, he stopped and talked awhile with an old friend — Warren Dorn of Morro Bay.
“We go back to my radio days,” Hope said, playfully slapping the 79-year-old Dorn in the belly.
Dorn was introduced to Hope in 1946 by actor William Holdan. Dorn had attended Pasadena City College with Holdan.
Dorn went on to become mayor of Pasadena and later Morro Bay.
But Dorn isn’t the only old friend Hope has in San Luis Obispo County.
Marjorie Hughes of Cambria was Hope’s secretary for 35 years.
“She was sensational,” Hope said. “Right now, I have four girls (working as secretaries). When Miss Hughes was there, I only had two. That’s how good she was.”
Hope said he planned to see Hughes before his performance Tuesday night.
Finished reminiscing, Hope made his way back to his limousine, stopping momentarily to shake hands with Morro Bay Councilman Tom Wuriu and former Morro Bay Mayor Dale Reddell.
Hope climbed in the two-tone gray limo then stuck his head out a window and spoke to his manager, Mark Anthony.
“We’ll need to meet you back at the motel in 30 minutes and go over that last part,” Hope told Anthony, and the limousine left for the Black Oak Motor Lodge in Paso Robles.
Asked what Hope meant, Anthony replied, “We’re going to write up some cue cards. He can’t remember every bit of that act.”
Hope was chauffeured to his motel, then to the Mid-State Fair Grandstand for a sound check, the back to the motel.
“He was pretty funny,” said his chauffeur, Kathleen Ashley of Atascadero. “He didn’t say much, but he did make some motel jokes. He also said this area looked like it needed some water.”
Mel Torme opened for Hope.
Clad in a tuxedo and standing on a stage festooned with potted ferns, Torme sang several jazz numbers.
“Da-doodly do-wa, I just remembered,” Torme sang at one point, “I went to Camp Roberts back in 1931, do-doodly do dow.”
While Torme performed, Hope was having car troubles. His limousine’s battery died. Mid-State Fair staff drove the superstar from his motel
then emerged to pose for photos with a long line of people who had gotten VIP passes. The line seemed endless and at times threatened to spill all around Hope. Security guards had trouble keeping order.
Hope posed with stage crew workers. With the fair’s beauty queens. With a little boy in a wheelchair. With group after group.
“What is this, the whole audience posing with me?” Hope asked in exasperation at one point.
Fred Smith of Morro Bay had wrangled a backstage pass, but he didn’t care to have his photo taken with Hope. He just wanted to talk.
Smith said he was a young Navy man stationed in the South Pacific during World War II when he saw Hope give one of his many wartime performances.
It was 1943. Smith said his fellow troops were intensely worried about the enemy at the time.
But “Bob calmed all those kids down,” Smith said. “Any by God, he even remembers it now. I feel much better having finally spoken to him. I just wanted to thank him.”
Hope also played Camp Roberts in 1941.
“The audience was so sensational,” Hope recalled. “I said, ‘Wow!’ and I started doing more shows on military bases after that.”
Hope walked onstage with a full moon behind him and a standing ovation before him.
He thanked the audience.
“It’s wonderful to be here in Paso Robles on this cold, windy night,” he joked. “It’s not like this all the time, is it?”
For the next 90 minutes, the crowd was treated to vintage Hope: topical humor, some slightly racy jokes and a casual medley composed of patriotic songs.
- “What’s the big deal with the Stealth bomber?” Hope asked. “It flies in undetected and bombs and gets out quick. Hell, I’ve been doing that for years.”
It was the quasi-vaudevillian act Hope has been performing on stage for 60 years. His voice was strong and his timing was right on.
The crowd — estimated at 7,500 — roared for more, but Hope gave no encore. He walked backstage, signed a few more autographs, got in the new limo — the one with a working battery — and slowly cruised away.