Until now, two pressing questions have been facing America: Just how much money did Bob Hope pay in taxes last year and what does his massive mushroom-roofed palace in Palm Springs look like inside?
Who would know the answers better than Hope? More on the taxes later--but the operative figure for last year was $4 million in taxes.
The question of money first came up at a charity dinner at the Hopes' extraordinary Palm Springs home. The occasion was a $2,500-a-couple dinner benefiting the Bob Hope Cultural Center. The heavy-on-the-diamonds crowd came to dine and dance in the 29,000-square-foot, Lautnier-designed hillside home. Getting inside was hot, since no pictures of the home's interior have ever been published since the Hopes moved in back in 1979.
Still, throughout most of the evening, the paying guests thought they'd shelled out their cash to sit in a tent erected in the giant center courtyard. Period. But, finally, they were told that they could indeed go up the winding stairs and walk through the living room and peek into the dining room and guest bedrooms.
On a private tour earlier, Hope showed off most of the living quarters, which wrap around the circumference of the large center courtyard. For a house that is topped by a massive, mushroom-shaped poured concrete roof--with a giant hole in the center, opening the court to the sky--the rooms have a surprisingly real feeling.
"Of course," Hope said, "I haven't been here since April." Being on the road isn't that bad. "In a good year"--Hope later estimated his income from appearances and TV shows--"I can make $6 to $7 million."
Hope, usually reticent on money matters, said that last year he donated $3 million to charity. After that, "the government comes in and takes the rest." Hope said he was happy that he had made "some real estate investments"--and that he could still work. "Uncle Sam just says 'Keep going, keep going,' " the 83-year-old comedian said.
On the road, Hope commands a now $75,000-up-from-$60,000 appearance fee. And he made 86 appearances last year, he said, totaling 92 days. Lots of money--but Hope said that more than half of the appearances were at charity events, and that he charges only about a third of them. Such charities, mostly hospitals, Hope said, "pay me my fee . . . a helluva lot of money because they charge a helluva lot of money."
(In addition to the fees, Elliot Kazok, a Hope staff member, said there are also four first-class tickets thrown in for every appearance--and the cost of a "girl singer.")
Of course, the massive Palm Springs home is only the tip of Hope's far-reaching real estate holdings in California. But what a tip. Enormous glass windows look out over the Palm Springs landscape, and somewhat bare shelves rise up 20 or 30 feet on the side. "I want to get enough trophies to fill it," he said. "Do you think I will make it?"
Hope swung along on the wooden-fenced brick terrace that runs around the living quarters, past the glass-walled dining room, through his bedroom and into the adjoining one. "And here's the queen," he said, referring to his wife, Dolores. Not a small room, its blue-and-white prints punctuate its size, with a baby grand piano tucked into one half and a several-feet-high carved black wooden Madonna in a niche near the bed.
Hope is never short on memorabilia. Like the picture of the First Reagans--"Our two friends--Nancy and Ron," he motioned, then talked about the large color photos of him and former President Richard Nixon hitting golf balls in the Oval Office.
Hope's honorary Oscar, holding a golf club--"Yeah, the golf Oscar"--sits on his desk in a small study and what looks like a Picasso hangs on the wall behind. There are lots of pictures, including one of him and the late Bing Crosby.
Downstairs, the event, chaired by Sue Rose and Sissy Schulhofer, was moving right along, with stalwart Palm Springs types like Jim and Peggy Greenbaum.
More than $12 million of a needed $20 million for construction and endowment has been raised for the "little jewel of a theater," the McCallum Theater of the Performing Arts, the first element of the center and set to open January, 1988.
Insiders confirmed that although Hope has not yet donated to the center, they were hopeful that he would donate his memorabilia. One person said that the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas was a great income-maker--and that with such a Hope facility, the center would be in great financial shape.
As for Hope's financial great shape, he was asked kiddingly, doesn't he make an enormous amount of money for a comic, even more than say a studio head?
Hope laughed. Of course he does, he admitted. But then "studio heads can't tell a joke."