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Hope Won't Settle for Settling Down : At 82, Nation's Unofficial Court Jester Is Serious About Staying Active

September 16, 1985|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

Bob Hope--the San Fernando Valley's most famous resident--sat in one of several living rooms in his sprawling Toluca Lake house and recalled how he came to settle on this side of the mountain 45 years ago.

"In those days Laurel Canyon was the end of the city," said the comedian with the signature ski-jump nose. "The reason we came out here is Crosby lived a couple of blocks away. He wanted me to join Lakeside Country Club, which is next door. I was driving by here one day, and I saw this walnut grove, and I said, 'Hey, that's pretty good,' so I bought it. Six acres."

And, he added gleefully, "I stole it!"

The Valley has been a gold mine for the celebrity. Hope, one of the nation's wealthiest entertainers, made the bulk of his fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine at $115 million, in Valley real estate. He began buying local land, he explained, after he and Bing Crosby, his crooner sidekick in the famous series of "Road" pictures, got lucky in 1949.

Credits Oil Find

"Bing and I hit oil in 1949 in Texas, which gave us some important money, the first we ever had because the rest of the time we gave all our money to the IRS," he said. "So I bought property, a lot of property around here.

"They say I own the San Fernando Valley," Hope acknowledged, with a laugh. Hope still has hundreds of acres in Simi Valley and the Agoura area--some of them coveted for conversion to public land--but he once had even more.

He pointed out the window, past the pool. "See that mountain over there?" he said, gesturing toward Universal Studios. Several decades ago he paid $16,000 for 35 acres around what is now the eastern gate of Universal. About 20 years ago he sold it for $1 million. "I thought, 'Boy, what a deal!' You know what it's worth today? About $20 million. I could have kept it and put a studio in there, which I should have done, and then maybe rented the road to them to go out."

The principal source of Hope's wealth, the Valley is also the peripatetic comedian's place to come home to. When he is not on the road, he lives a comfortable, but not opulent, version of the good life in Toluca Lake. He tries to get nine holes in every day on the course next door, always has a daily massage from a live-in masseur and walks his dogs three or four times around the manicured grounds before he goes to bed.

Toluca Lake is the place of permanence in the life he shares with his wife of 51 years, the former Dolores Reade. It is the house where his four adopted children grew up, the house in which Crosby knew he was welcome anytime, no need to call first.

At 82, Hope could easily play the idle suburban multimillionaire if he so chooses. He chooses not to, as he explained in the course of a recent interview in which he talked about everything from Gen. George Patton to his continuing interest in beautiful women.

Indeed, he was a little taken aback when a reporter asked him why he continues to work so hard, doing benefits (for which he expects a fee, to the chagrin of critics), playing music fairs and college campuses, making commercials and continuing his NBC television specials, the first of which this season will air on Tuesday.

He Shuns the 'Dull Life'

"It's just a process that I enjoy," he said, dressed for a few holes in a white golf shirt with "Jerry Ford Golf Invitational" embroidered around the pocket and turquoise-and-white-checked Palm Desert pants. "If I didn't do that, I would be kind of lost. I mean, if I didn't do shows and different things, it would be a dull life."

His is not a dull life. "My schedule is such that I don't have a minute," he said. "I just move all the time." Last week, for example, he was preoccupied with taping and editing the new show, a theme or "book" show with the unlikely but not impossible premise that, in the mold of Ted Turner, Hope tries to take over the TV network he has been associated with for 36 years. Skits, including one in which Milton Berle wore a smashing purple dress, and musical numbers were shot and re-shot in NBC's studios in Burbank.

"It's wonderful," Hope told the studio audience during the taping. "It's only a 10-minute walk from my house and, after the show, a five-minute run."

At home, his king-size bed was stacked with memos and other paper work relating to the show, and, as the air date approached, he ruled on one detail after another. "It ran about 4 1/2 minutes long," he said of the rough version.

At a dinner meeting with producer Elliott Kozak, Hope decided to trim the jokes about Pee-wee Herman. "It only played fair," Hope said of the audience's response. He had yet to tape his opening monologue, however, and he was considering putting a Herman bit in there. After all, Hope explained, "He's hot."

Boost From Fatty Arbuckle

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