TOLUCA LAKE, CA—Bob Hope's doctors and support staff have elected not to tell the 98-year-old show-business legend about the current military conflict in Afghanistan.
"Bob is a true patriot, and whenever he hears about a new war, he wants to get out there and entertain the troops," said Dr. Allan Reese, Hope's physician at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, on Monday. "We figured between his pneumonia scare in August and his advanced age, it'd be best if we kept him out of the loop on the whole attacking-the-Taliban thing."
Hope, who brought USO shows overseas to American troops for more than 50 years, is currently confined to bedrest in his Toluca Lake home, where his wife Dolores and various nurses shield the comedian from the news events of the day.
"Instead of CNN and the nightly news, we've been playing tapes of NBC News broadcasts from 1976," said Lorraine DiMarco, Hope's day nurse. "He doesn't seem to notice. In fact, just this morning after the news, he scribbled down a few Jerry Ford gags for his next Christmas special."
In addition to the TV-news blockade, Hope's daily copies of The Los Angeles Times and USA Today have been replaced with old issues of Golf Digest.
Hope last performed for American servicemen during the Gulf War in 1991, but the show was cut short when the comedian fell and broke his hip while tap-dancing to a drastically slowed-down version of "You Light Up My Life."
Though a lack of major U.S. military conflicts over the last 10 years has kept Hope off the performing circuit, sources say he continually updates a list of "hot new contemporary entertainers" in case world events dictate another trip overseas. Recent additions to the list include Lola Falana, Jamie Farr, Joey Heatherton, Paul Williams, and "the inimitable Charo."
"Bob has mentioned several times that he wants to bring along Perry Como and Frank Sinatra on his next tour of Europe," DiMarco said. "I don't have the heart to tell him."
In addition to his deteriorating health, Hope's handlers believe his vaudevillian brand of jokes and song-and-dance numbers may not go over well with the young servicemen of today.
"I know Bob means well, and God knows he does love doing it," said Hope's longtime publicist and friend Timothy Orenstam. "But I'm not so sure the morale of twentysomething soldiers would be helped by the sight of an incontinent old man shuffling painfully across the stage. These kids want to see rock bands like Limp Bizkit or pretty girls like Pamela Anderson, not a man born in 1903 struggling through an off-key rendition of 'Thanks For The Memories.'"
Despite efforts to shield the ailing comedian from current events, Hope has occasionally managed to glean tiny snippets of information. Communicating with low grunts and hand signals, a feeble but feisty Hope issued a press statement earlier this week condemning recent acts of terrorism.
"Ayatollah Khomeini must be brought to justice," he said. "Let's bring the Iranian hostages home."