IN WHAT WAS surely a rare moment for Bob Hope, he found himself sitting in front of military men instead of performing for them.
The entertainer who has brought goodwill and one-liners to countless soldiers and troops during his five decades of entertaining got a taste of his own medicine this weekend when midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy treated him to a musical salute.
They also thanked Hope by naming a new performing arts center in his honor.
"This is the best thing that has ever happened to me since NBC named a speed bump after me," he joked to the audience of roughly 6,000.
The 88-year-old entertainer appeared Saturday afternoon in Annapolis with stitches, scratches and cuts to his face, which he received after falling last week during a concert rehearsal for troops in Florida. He walked slowly, taking careful steps with the help of midshipmen escorts. He had problems reading his script, and as he started a string of jokes about seafarers, he interrupted to say, "I can't read this damn stuff, and whoever wrote it was drunk."
He was in good spirits, however, and kidded about his age, proclaiming, "age doesn't mean a hell of a thing. It's how you feel. I don't feel anything. In fact, I don't feel anything until noon."
He said he was never a seaman, but has no fear of the water. "I'm not afraid of the sea," he said. "Actually, I'm a pretty good swimmer. When I play golf, I have to be.
"Everybody plays golf," he continued. "Even George Bush plays golf. He doesn't say fore. He says, 'read my lips.' "
During the two-hour musical salute, the academy's glee club and band entertained Hope and his wife, Dolores, with patriotic songs and sea chanteys. Dolores at one point took the stage to sing "It Had to Be You."
The musical salute took place in the Alumni Hall, the academy's new $30 million multi-purpose center that houses a dining room, rehearsal halls and the Bob Hope Performing Arts Center, which can be used as a 6,500-seat lecture auditorium, a 5,700-seat sports arena or a 1,500-seat concert hall.
Dolores said age has slowed her husband only a little. "It would be nice for him to take it easy," she added. "He's quite a trooper."
Hope first entertained soldiers and troops in 1941 in March Field, Calif., where he did a radio show for the Air Corps.
"And he said he got hooked," Dolores explained. "After the first show, I understood why he wanted to do it. All you have to do is be there once and you'll understand."
He continued performing around the country at different air bases and camps, and when World War II broke out, Hope went to England, North Africa and the South Pacific to perform for homesick soldiers.
Afterward, his tours of duty included such far-flung places as the Far East, Saigon, Moscow, Greenland, Berlin, and most recently, Saudi Arabia, where he entertained troops fighting the Persian Gulf war.
Hope, who has spent almost every Christmas entertaining troops, said he has no plans of stopping his busy schedule. His next task?
"Help Sonny Bono run for the Senate."