Comedy Bromance: On the Road with Bob and Bing
Two actors with successful careers in Hollywood, one known for his crooning skills and the other for his vaudevillian gags of comedy, paired together to make a series of films of chums on an adventure. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made a total of seven films from 1940 to 1962 where full-on silliness meets competitive buddies. All were made at Paramount with the exception of their final Road film, The Road to Hong Kong (1962).
Prior to 1940, Bing Crosby already had thirty on-screen acting roles and over forty soundtrack credits. He had been crooning his way into American hearts for a decade. Big ears that reviled with Clark Gable’s and large soft eyes, this Irish American lad didn’t look the part of your typical heart-throb of today, but that charming and easy-going songbird sure knew how to make the ladies swoon.
Born in Tacoma, Washington on May 2, 1903 as one of seven children, Bing studied law at Gonzaga University before realizing that music was more to his liking. His brother sent in a song recording of Bing’s to CBS, that resulted in a radio career, which then led to an appearance in a film featuring radio songs, The Big Broadcast (1932).
Coincidentally, Bob Hope was also born in May (but on the 29th) of 1903 and was also one of seven children. Born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, London, England, his family moved to the United States when he was five. Growing up performing comedy and dance on the vaudeville stage, Hope transitioned to the big screen, interestingly enough, in The Big Broadcast of 1938. This was the film in which he performed “Thanks for the Memories,” that later became his signature song for the rest of his life.
But it was back in 1932 that Hope and Crosby met in New York and first performed on the stage together at the Capitol Theater. They didn’t meet again until 1938 just outside San Diego where Bob joined Bing for his radio show to reprise old vaudeville routines. In the audience, a Paramount Studios exec was so impressed by their comedic chemistry that he immediately started to search for a film vehicle for the pair.
Under the working title “Road to Mandalay,” an old script that was originally intended for Burns and Allen, then Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie, was reworked for Bob and Bing with the final title, Road to Singapore (1940). Thus the Road films were born!
Dorothy Lamour’s exotic beauty and sultry singing voice was the reliable target of Bob and Bing’s rivaling affections
Dorothy Lamour, who was known for her sarong wearing exotic beauty and seductive singing voice, joined the pair and continued to be a mainstay love interest in the “Road” films. Lamour met Hope while performing in The Big Broadcast of 1938 but Road to Singapore (1940) would be the first time all three worked together.
While she was a top star at the beginning of the ‘Road’ films, her star status slowly dimmed with each film. By the time The Road to Hong Kong came along, Lamour was being replaced with Joan Collins for the female lead. Understandably offended, she only agreed to appear in the film after her part was rewritten and beefed up. Additionally, Lamour was not treated as an equal partner financially. She was paid a salary while Hope and Crosby shared profits with Paramount. For Road to Bali, Lamour requested to share a third of the profits to record the soundtrack; Bob and Bing responded by hiring Peggy Lee to do the album.
Extending the parody touch, each adventurous locale often panned the popular themes of the day (swashbuckling films, Arabian Night films, etc.)
In each “Road” film, the fellas are generally working some con or trying to wiggle out of a jam. As the titles imply, each film takes them on a different adventure to some exciting locale. Overall, there are several key elements and themes you can count on, more or less, with each film.
Another ongoing theme for each film was to never take itself seriously. Bob and Bing constantly poked fun at literally everything… each other… Paramount Studios… Hollywood… and often breaking Fourth Walls to chat directly with the audience to poke fun the entire film series. Nothing was sacred or off limits in the quest for transparent mockery.
For example, in Road to Morocco (1942) the guys sing, “I’ll lay you eight to five we meet Dorothy Lamour” and “For any villains we may meet we haven’t any fears; Paramount will protect us because we’ve signed for five more years.”
Bing was clearly the top crooner here, but Bob and Dorothy were no slouches in the singing department. As musical comedies, you could count on a variety of songs performed by one, two or all three throughout the films.
Road to Singapore: “Captain Custard,” “The Moon and the Willow Tree,” “An Apple for the Teacher,” “Sweet Potato Piper,” and “Too Romantic.”
Road to Zanzibar: “It’s Always You,” “You Lucky People You,” “African Etude,” (Lamour sings->) “You’re Dangerous,” (Hope sings->) “Home Sweet Home.”
Road to Morocco: “Road to Morocco,” “Ain’t Got a Dime to My Name,” “Constantly,” “Moonlight Becomes You.”
Road to Utopia: “Sunday Monday or Always,” “Goodtime Charlie,” “It’s Anybody’s Spring,” “Personality,” “Welcome to My Dream,” “Put It There Pal,” and “Would You?”
Road to Rio: “Apalachicola F-L-A,” “But Beautiful,” “For What?” “ Experience,” and “You Don’t Have To Know the Language.”
Road to Bali: “Road to Bali,” “Chicago Style,” “Whiffenpoof Song,” “Hoot Mon,” “To See You,” and “The Merry Go-Runaround.”
Road to Hong Kong: “Teamwork,” “Road to Hong Kong,” “Let’s Not Be Sensible,” “It’s the Only Way to Travel,” and “Personality.”
With the exception of only one of the ‘Road’ films, you could always count on the bromance bros to work in a patty cake routine to escape yet another tight spot. From a simple child’s play of patty cake to a punch in the jaw, this repeated tactic was one of their trademark running gags of physical comedy that audiences welcomed every time like an ole friend. Known for over the-top satire and frequently breaking fourth walls, before long even the bad guys became savvy to their routines like patty cake (indicating they had prior knowledge from previous Road films!)
Bob Hope’s characters with names like “Turkey” and “Fearless” were unapologetically and hilariously cowards, with Hope leaning into his vaudevillian background style. Bing Crosby took on the role of the straight man and romantic crooner. Competition to ‘get the girl’ was a constant thread, even when they would make pacts to not allow women to disrupt their friendship. Of course, they immediately broke those accords the moment an attractive female sashayed by. Here are some examples of zingers that reflect these characters, and make these Road flicks still entertaining to this day:
From Road to Morocco…
Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby): “We must storm the place.”
Turkey Jackson (Bob Hope): “You storm. I’ll stay here and drizzle.”
Breaking the 4th Wall in Road to Morocco…
Turkey Jackson (Bob Hope): “A fine thing. First, you sell me for two hundred bucks. Then I’m gonna marry the Princess; then you cut in on me. Then we’re carried off by a desert sheik. Now, we’re gonna have our heads chopped off.”
Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby): “I know all that.”
Turkey Jackson (Bob Hope): “Yeah, but the people who came in the middle of the picture don’t.”
Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby): “You mean they missed my song?”
In Road to Bali (1952), Bob Hope conjures up Jane Russell but, as expected, she still ‘went for’ Bing Crosby in the end.
CAMEOS and STAR POWER:
The Road films poked fun at Hollywood and despite never taking itself as serious cinema, it frequently included a talented lineup of supporting cast (Anthony Quinn, Una Merkel, Eric Blore, Yvonne De Carlo…) and A-list cameos (Jane Russell, Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin…)
Case in point from Road to Bali…
Princess Lala (Dorothy Lamour): “Look!”
George Cochran (Bing Crosby): “The African Queen! Humphrey Bogart?”
Harold Gridley (Bob Hope): “Boy, is he lost!”
To accentuate the transparent parodies, there were also repeated overt Academy Award pleas. Interestingly, Bob Hope hosted the Academy Awards nineteen times from 1939 to 1977 so this was a self-deprecating insider joke that the entire audience could share in.
Turkey Jackson (Bob Hope): “I can’t go on! No food, no water. It’s all my fault. We’re done for! It’s got me. I can’t stand it! No food, nothing! No food, no water! No food!”
Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby): “What’s the matter with you, anyway? There’s New York. We’ll be picked up in a few minutes.”
Turkey Jackson (Bob Hope): “You had to open your big mouth and ruin the only good scene I got in the picture. I might have won the Academy Award!”
Despite poking fun at the utter absurdity that such campy fun could be associated with the Academy Awards, the Road films did get Oscar nominated. Twice. Road to Morocco was nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and Best Sound, Recording.
Reflecting the Road films series immense popularity, famed artist Al Hirschfeld inked Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, and Bob Hope
Based on the huge successes of the Road films, in 1977 an eighth film, Road to the Fountain of Youth, was planned, yet cut short when Bing Crosby unexpectedly suffered a massive heart attack in Spain. After 18 holes of golf, he collapsed and died instantly walking back to the clubhouse. Crosby was cutting albums, performing in concerts, had a reunion Road flick in the works – something tells me that being at the top of his game career-wise and while playing his favorite game, was the way he’d prefer to go out when his time was up.
Bob and Bing created classic comedy magic with their bromance chemistry. They each possessed innate talents and their comedic instincts clicked perfectly in tandem. Bottom line, the Road films worked so well because they were fun. Fun to watch over seventy years ago and without a doubt, still fun to watch to this day.
–Kellee Pratt for Classic Movie Hub
When not performing marketing and social media as her day gig, Kellee Pratt writes for her own classic film blog, Outspoken & Freckled (kelleepratt.com). Kellee teaches classic film courses in her college town in Kansas (Screwball Comedy this Fall). Unapologetic social butterfly, she’s an active tweetaholic/original alum for #TCMParty, member of the CMBA, Social Producer for TCM (2015, 2016), and busy mom of four kids and 3 fur babies. You can follow Kellee on twitter at @IrishJayHawk66.