PALM DESERT — President Reagan, the First Lady and other political and Hollywood celebrities honored Bob Hope at the gala opening Saturday of a $20-million theater complex named for the comedian.
"Tonight marks the inauguration of a bright new home for the preservation and development of culture in America--a special place to house the lively arts," Reagan said at the opening of the Bob Hope Cultural Center.
"Naming a cultural center for me is like naming a monastery for Gary Hart," quipped Hope, fresh from a worldwide tour entertaining U.S. troops.
Award to Comedian
The President, who is staying in nearby Rancho Mirage, presented a Steuben glass--"America's Hope Award"--to Hope, 84, in the ceremonies, which will be telecast next month.
The comedian was the first recipient of the award, which will be presented in future years to an individual who "best exemplifies the spirit of America."
"It's appropriate that the first award should go to a gentleman who has practiced the liveliest of arts--comedy--for over six happy decades," said Reagan. "Bob Hope has given generously of his valuable time and valuable talents in support of worthy causes, perhaps more than any human being alive today."
The Reagans shared a theater box with Hope and his wife, Dolores, and Ambassador and Mrs. Walter Annenberg, the Reagans' holiday hosts.
Accepting the award, Hope told the President, "After you finish your term, you should come here (to the theater) and do a stage version of 'Kings Row,' " referring to Reagan's 1942 film.
Built From Donations
An audience of 1,166 paid from $1,250 to $5,000 each to attend the gala.
Built exclusively with private donations, the center's main building is the McCallum Theatre for the Performing Arts, named for the late Pearl McCallum McManus, a member of a Palm Springs founding family.
Structures include the Hope building housing the Ford Founders Room, named for former President Gerald R. Ford.
Ford, who lives in Rancho Mirage, attended the gala without his wife, Betty, who was forced to cancel because of hospitalization for complications of heart bypass surgery.
Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard M. Nixon declined invitations, but those attending included White House chief of staff Howard Baker, national security adviser Colin Powell, CIA Director William Webster, California Gov. George Deukmejian and Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Pete Wilson (R-Calif.)
Taking part in the program were comedienne Lucille Ball, actor John Forsythe and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
"They say Moses and his people wandered in the desert for 40 years. If they were wandering in this desert for 40 years, they'd never have time to leave Bob Hope's property," Ball told the audience.
Pianist Van Cliburn, who entertained in last month's summit between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, played the national anthem. Other entertainment features included the first American stage performance of parts of Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera," the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Leila Josephowicz, 10, a violin prodigy, who drew the loudest ovation from the crowd.
The program represented the culmination of a four-year building and fund-raising drive that began when the Legislature passed a special act allowing private groups to construct facilities on public land.