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Bob Hope’s Fight Against Blindness . . .

Bob Hope sat staring at the frosted-glass hospital door in front of him, through which he could just make out the silhouette of the doctor, pacing up and down, evidently mulling over the charts and papers he held in his hand. The doctor paused at the door. . . . Bob clenched the polished arms of the chair, hardly aware of his own anxiety. “There’s so much . . . still so many things I want to see,” he thought to himself, as he waited for the doctor’s verdict.

He looked over at the black and white moonfaced clock high on the wall, watching the second hand as it moved very slowly around and around. Its ticking seemed unusually loud.

Then suddenly he shuddered and shut his eyes tight. He didn’t want to think any more, think what it might be like not being able to see the happy faces of his audiences when he cracked a joke because somehow he knew . . . you couldn’t make jokes at just a blur.

And he remembered the first time he’d seen the audience as a blur . . .

He had stood in the center of the improvised platform at Port Lyautey, in Morocco, looking out at sailors—hundreds and hundreds of them—gathered under the hot North African sun to see the USO troupe from home. He looked out at them, but suddenly he couldn’t see their individual faces. They all ran together—a fuzz of faces, a blur of uniforms.

The sailors guffawed and cheered. On the platform, he had waited for the noise to die down. Then suddenly he began to feel dizzy, too. He had to hold on to the microphone with both hands. Their white uniforms fused into one pulsating wave, but he kept talking, talking, talking. He introduced the last act, singer Molly Bee, but instead of standing on the side as usual while she was singing, he went over and sat on a chair at the side of the stage.

In Spain, the next stop of this whirlwind, thirteen-day Europe and Africa Christmas tour, he remembered having another attack of dizziness. But again he just ignored the dizzy spell in a staccato of rapid-fire gags.

In Frankfurt, Germany, the dizziness came once again, and with it the blurring and fuzzing. He had been chatting with some officers and their wives at a reception for the cast at Gen. Francis W. Farrell’s home when that spell began.

He excused himself and went upstairs. There he doused his face with cold water, looking at himself in the glass and joking uneasily, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, perhaps I’m really not well at all.” A few minutes later he returned to the party. But through the crowd he singled out an Army doctor and walked over and started talking to him.

After a while they left the room—so quickly and quietly in fact that no one saw them go. Once upstairs, the doctor had asked him to lie down on the bed and the examination began.

And when it had finished, he remembered joking, and saying, “I have one request. Send my body to the Lakeside Golf Course.” But the doctor hadn’t laughed. He hadn’t even smiled.

“I’d like to have a chance to really examine you,” the doctor had said instead. “A few days in our hospital here . . .”

“No,” he’d interrupted. “Impossible. We’re headed for Berlin and then Iceland and then home. Impossible. But what’s your verdict?”

“Extreme fatigue,” the doctor had answered. “That I know for sure. As for anything else, I’d have to. . .”

“You’ll have to hear it from my doctor at home,” he remembered telling the man. “I’ll have him write you. Fatigue? That means I need sleep.” He closed his eyes. “But thanks, doctor. Thanks a lot. Close the door gently when you leave, and don’t rattle your stethoscope.”

A half hour later he was back at the party, but he carefully avoided the doctor the rest of the evening.

And no one except the doctor knew about his attacks of dizziness and failing sight. He kept on going . . . he learned to lean back in the reclining seats of the planes, close his eyes, and try to sleep. At first his dreams were blurred and fuzzy—sunspots in my sleep, he thought, they’re after me—but then faces came sharply into focus . . . Dolores, his wife . . . and then the kids, Nora, Kelly, Linda, and Tony . . . five loving faces . . . and he smiled.

All five of them had been waiting for him when he landed at Lockheed Air Terminal, waving as the big plane settled down on the runway. And they had had a Christmas tree with them—an untrimmed tree that they were waiting for him to help decorate. He’d kissed them all, even though the boys protested.

“Good to see you,” he’d said, looking slowly at each one of them. “Great to see you.”

“But you knew we’d be here,” Dolores laughed. “We always meet you . . .”

“Great to see you, just the same,” he remembered repeating, laughing very loud.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’ve been celebrating,” said his oldest girl, 19-year-old Linda.

“It’s a private joke,” he’d explained. “Strictly Moroccan. Untranslatable.” Then, noticing the puzzled look on the faces of his family he laughed again, a quieter, more typical laugh, and said, “Let’s go home and trim the tree.”

He’d promised the doctor in Frankfurt that he would see his own doctors in America . . . and he did. He could picture them now, pleading for him to rest, explaining the poor condition of his left eye. After that he’d really tried to follow the doctors’ orders, and in a short while his blood pressure had come down, but the clot in his eye didn’t clear. The drugs seemed to drain him so much that he couldn’t even play 18 holes of golf any more.

Then came the night of February 10th, 1959. It was a nationwide TV show. He was right in the middle of a line, ad-libbing and laughing, when his face froze. He touched his left eyebrow, once, twice. three times. Then he laughed again and struggled to finish the line. As the laughter of the studio audience blotted out his own, he said, barely audibly, “I’ll be right back,” and walked off the stage.

In the wings, he slumped down at the side of the stage and buried his head in his hands. This is the first time, he remembered thinking, that I’ve ever walked off stage in the middle of a show when I wasn’t supposed to.

He could hear the show going on. The dancers danced, the singers sang. But out of camera range he saw the director and producer running frantically around, signaling and scurrying, trying to cover for their missing star while in the corner, his back to all, he lay helplessly slumped over in his chair.

But fifteen minutes later he was back out on the stage, facing a blurring, fuzzing audience, gazing into the relentless, blinking red eye of the camera. He joked, he ad-libbed, he laughed. Off on the side, however, he could see one of his doctors, who had hurried to the studio, waiting to examine him . . . yet again.

The next day there had been another thorough examination. “You’ve lost fifty percent of your vision,” the doctors told him. “You must take it easy. If you don’t . . . you may lose the sight of your eye . . . completely.”

“Yes,” he’d said, “I’ll do what you say. I’ll slow down.”

And then, near the end of February, the doctors called a halt to his five-drug-diet, explaining that he was becoming far too weak. And then they gave it to him straight: the eye was in worse shape than when the blood clot in the vein of the left cornea had first appeared. They suggested . . . then they insisted . . . that he go to New York and see one of the country’s top eye specialists, Dr. Algernon Reese, chief of the Institute of Ophthalmology at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital.

He agreed to go.

But before he left Hollywood, there was one thing he had to do. NBC-TV was taping a “Manny Sachs Memorial Show,” a tribute to the man who had helped so many entertainers get started in show business, a man who had been one of his own true friends. And in memory of Manny . . . well, a guy couldn’t duck out on that show . . . not on Manny Sachs.

So the day before he was to fly to New York to get the verdict on whether he would see or not see, he’d worked on a show . . . for Manny Sachs. In rehearsal, he’d jumped around a little too much, got a bit careless, but he shook off his dizziness.

Then suddenly the show was on, with “Thanks for the Memory” cueing him on stage. He ran out before the camera but a wave of dizziness pounded in upon him, more violent and insistent than anything he had ever felt before, and he almost fainted. He staggered and almost lost his balance. Then somehow he continued through his sketch, in slow motion, working foot by foot as if he were an amateur in summer stock following chalk marks on a barn-theater floor.

The next day at the airport in California, a crowd gathered to say good-bye. “It’s awfully hard for me to slow down,” he told them. “I don’t want to become an invalid, or even a semi-invalid.” Then smiling, he remembered to add, “My own medics have just got a little panicky and suggested I see Dr. Reese—one of the best eye men in the world. From now on,

I’m going to do just what my doctors tell me. Because I’ve got so many things I still want to see.” And he had taken a long look at his children, gathered to one side, and at his wife. Then he’d boarded the giant airliner. Soon he was winging his way to New York—to find out . . .

He didn’t sleep on that plane, not at all. Sure, he remembered lying back and closing his eyes, but all he could do was think about what was ahead of him in New York. Blindness . . . not to be able to see the faces of the people out there in the audience . . . the fellows and the girls in the Armed Services . . . looking up at him . . . laughing.

Then he’d opened his eyes again, gotten up, stretched his legs and walked slowly through the plane. A Marine sergeant sitting in an aisle seat had said, “Hi.”

“Hi,” he’d answered.

“I saw you in Korea in ’57,” the soldier said. “It was great. Kind of like being home on Sunday night and turning on the TV set. Only better.”


“You’ll be going overseas next Christmas again, won’t you, Mr. Hope?” the sergeant went on. “You’re like Santa Claus for us.”

“No. I’m not really Santa Claus. With this nose, I’m more like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Even now he could still see the startled expression on the soldier’s face at this terse remark.

I didn’t really answer him, he thought. I don’t even know the answer yet myself, he decided, looking at the frosted door.

As soon as he had landed he had come straight to this hospital for lengthy examinations by Dr. Reese and his associates. They’d thumped him, and X-rayed him, and tested him. They’d flashed lights in his eyes, put drops in his eyes, magnified his eyes. They’d attached eighteen wires to his skull, charting his brain wave and made him lie still in bed for hours.

Then about a half hour ago, they’d asked him to sit in the waiting room and he’d found a place, just in front of the frosted-glass door of the examining room, where he could see the silhouette of one of the doctors pace up and down . . . up and down . . . up and down . . .

Suddenly the door opened, and the break in the stillness made Bob turn abruptly in his chair.

“Tell me, Bob, when does your son | graduate from college?” the doctor was asking, coming towards him.

“Mmmm . . . in . . . not for a few years yet,” Bob answered, surprised. “Why?”

“Well, I’m sure you must be looking forward to seeing it,” he said kindly. “And you will.”

See it . . . Bob was beginning to understand what the doctor was trying to say.

“And your eldest daughter? She must be at an age when she’s thinking about getting married—you’ll be able to see her wedding, too, Bob.” See her wedding . . . see the graduation . . . and in time, maybe, even grandchildren?

Bob looked up at the doctor, and for the first time in weeks, a smile came naturally and easily. Then he followed him back into the examining room and listened to the full verdict.

He did not have glaucoma, the doctor told him. He did not need an operation, because with care, with rest, with a slower pace, and with continued use of drugs, it was very possible that the blood clot in his eye would dissolve and that full sight would be restored to his eye. Miraculously, a vital area behind the cornea had not been injured.

The doctor went on talking but Bob didn’t hear him anymore. To himself, over and over again, he said, “There are still so many things I’m gonna be able to see; there are still so many things I’m gonna be able to see; there are still so many things I’m gonna be able to see.”

“. . . and you must cut down on your schedule,” the doctor concluded.

Bob meant to thank the doctor, but what came out was the same phrase, “There are still so many things I’m gonna be able to see.”

The doctor grinned. “Yes, Bob. But remember, only if you take the warning about slowing down. You can’t continue at such a pace.” His face took on a very serious expression and he was looking straight at Bob.

“Yes, doctor. Of course, of course,” Bob muttered, thinking of the busy schedule he had ahead of him. “Sure . . . I’ll take it easy . . .”

When Bob got back to his hospital room, he made a phone call—to Dolores and the younger kids in California. Then he talked to his daughter Linda at St. Louis University in Missouri, and to his son Tony who had come up from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to be near him. And finally he talked to his brother George.

When he put down the phone at last, he was all smiles. He packed quickly, stuffing four large sacks with the more than a thousand fan letters and telegrams he’d received just during the two days he’d been in the hospital. Then he shook hands with the nurses and attendants who had helped him during his stay. “Sorry I have to hurry off,” he told them, “but I’m busy with some new plans. Gotta be on the moon to make jokes when our GI’s land there. Sure, there’s life on the moon. The GI’s will be there and where there are GI’s there’s gotta be me . . . And besides, where there’s Hope there’s life.”

At Idlewild Airport he told the newspapermen about “slowing down.” “I’ll not hop around so much,” he said, “on stage . . . or over the world. Sure, I’ll do my TV shows, and benefits, and the Academy Awards . . . and a movie this summer. My Christmas shows overseas? Of course, except maybe we’ll cut it down from four shows a day and not keep jumping overnight from one place to another. Have to do those shows. A Marine sergeant insists on it.”

Then he became serious and said, “You know, when you’re lying flat on your back in a hospital you often get what the doctors call a ‘ceiling philosophy.’ You begin to realize that taxes and money and some of the other things you worry about are not so important after all.

“Five people actually offered to give me their eyes while I lay there . . . their eyes,” he said. “They really meant it . . . And right across the way from my hospital room was a youngster who’d had one eye removed. . . . ‘I can see just fine with only one,’ he assured me. ‘I’ll be able to see you fine on TV.’

“He reminds me—that kind of courage reminds me—of the boys I’ve seen in all those hospitals overseas. The boys I’m going to see again this Christmas. . . . As long as fellows like that want to see and hear me, I’ll be up there pitching. . . . I want to do that right to the end. In fact, when they’re taking me to the cemetery, I hope they’ll open the box for a moment and let me tell a couple of jokes . . . just for old times’ sake.”

The newsmen laughed and, as he climbed up the stairway into the plane, Bob watched them and felt good. “See, I haven’t lost my touch,” he remarked to the stewardess, pointing down at the men.

She grinned and was about to answer him . . . but her words became lost in the roar of the engines.






1 Comment
  • zoritoler imol
    22 Nisan 2023

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