They were the greatest "officially undeclared" comedy team in the history of comedy. Together, they combined to make the most successful and beloved series of "buddy pictures" ever.
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby first met on October 14, 1932, outside the Friars Club on Forty-Eighth Street in New York City. The two first performed onstage together at the Capitol Theater in New York later in 1932.
In December of '32, Bob was asked to emcee a two-week engagement headlined by Bing, a young singer who was quickly becoming a national sensation. For their joint appearance, Bob and Bing dug up a few Vaudeville routines and were a huge hit with the crowds. Hope later recalled, “The gags weren't very funny, I guess, but the audience laughed because Bing and I were having such a good time- and I guess it was clear that we liked each other.” The groundwork of seven legendary Hollywood movies was laid.
In 1940, Paramount studios dusted off an old script they had fashioned for Jack Oakie and Fred MacMurray. The script was originally called Follow the Sun, but the title had been changed to Road to Mandalay. When both Oakie and MacMurray bowed out, the project was retooled for two of Paramount's most popular contract players- Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. To round out the team, and provide a romantic interest for Bing and Bob, Paramount cast one of its female stars, Dorothy Lamour.
The title of this first "road" picture was changed to the more exotic Road to Singapore. Interestingly, the billing for Road to Singapore, in both the film's posters and credits, was Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, and Bob hope, in that order. This was simply because both Crosby and Lamour were the bigger stars at the time.
During the shooting of Road to Singapore, Bob and Bing kept ad-libbing new dialogue. Their improvised jokes seemed to make up almost half of the movie's lines- and laughs. The exact percentage of Hope and Crosby's improvised gags in the "road" pictures is not exactly documented, but suffice to say, the "road" pictures are easily some of the loosest, most freely improvised films ever made- comedy or otherwise.
Road to Singapore is also unique among "road" pictures for one other reason- in it, Bing is actually an affluent member of society. True, he wants to escape his identity and go off and have some laughs with his less-affluent pal Hope, but nonetheless, it would be the only "road" picture where Bob and Bing are not on the same societal level.
The pattern for the next six "road" pictures would always have Bing and Bob, usually as down-and-out small-time performers trying to make a buck- either honestly or otherwise. They would also be rivals for the affections of the beautiful Lamour.
Road to Singapore was released in march of 1940 and broke box-office records all over America. It became the highest-grossing movie of 1940. A sequel was quickly brought together.
Interestingly, the sequel was originally titled Blue Lagoon. It took a while before someone at paramount realized the obvious and re-titled the film Road to Zanzibar. The billing of the film was changed, this time to Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour. It would remain thus for all the remaining "road" pictures. (Although Bing was billed before Bob in every "road" picture,” the team was almost immediately dubbed "Hope and Crosby" in the hearts of comedy fans around the world.)
Road to Zanzibar proved to be another box office bonanza and like the later Paramount studios Elvis Presley movies and Jerry Lewis movies, the formula was set.
Road to Zanzibar (1941) was quickly followed by Road to Morocco in 1942. Perhaps the most popular and quintessential "road" picture, Road to Morocco features the most beloved song by Bob and Bing- “We're Off on the Road to Morocco.”
Road to Morocco also features another hallmark of the "road" pictures- the breaking of the fourth wall. Bob and Bing would routinely say comments to the audience in the theaters watching their film. These hilarious asides added to the slightly surreal flavor of the “road" pictures.
The success continued, but the production of another "road" picture was put on the back burner because of Bob's now-legendary entertaining of the troops during World War II. After the war ended, Road to Utopia came in 1946, followed by Road to Rio in 1947.
Road to Rio is the only "road' picture where Bob gets the girl (Lamour) in the end. At the film's conclusion, Bob and Dorothy are married and Bing comes to visit them in their plush home. They introduce Bing to their son and he is a young Bing Crosby. “We adopted him,” Hope cracks. (Somehow, this slightly risque-for-the-time joke escaped the censors of 1947.)
The sixth "road" picture and only color "road" picture, Road to Bali, was made in 1952. Although successful (and quite funny), Road to Bali didn't quite capture the magic of the previous five Hope and Crosby endeavors. The movie audiences of the early '50's was now focused on a new madcap comedy team.
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were now churning out their comedies, also for Paramount, and one had the feeling that the old guard, Bob and Bing, was moving on, swept away by Martin and Lewis- the zany new guard. Ironically, Dean and Jerry have a hilarious cameo in Road to Bali.
The series could easily have ended there, and perhaps should have, but Bob and Bing returned for one last "road" picture a decade later.
1962's Road to Hong Kong was probably the worst of the "road" pictures. In a slightly cruel idea, smacking of sexism, Dorothy Lamour is given the ax and a much younger, sexier actress, a 28-year-old Joan Collins replaces her as Bob and Bing's romantic pursuit in the film. (The irony of this "younger female" angle is the fact that Dorothy was over a decade younger than either of her male co-stars.)
A falling out had already come between Dorothy and her two older "road" partners in previous "road" movies. While Hope and Crosby took a cut of the massive "road" movie profits, poor Dorothy was forced to accept a straight salary. When her role, basically a cameo, in Road to Hong Kong was offered to her, Dorothy at first refused. But after much coaxing and pleading, she finally relented and came aboard to make her token appearance- one scene and a song with Bob.
Road to Hong Kong shows us an older -and paunchier- Hope and Crosby. By this time, Bob and Bing were both pushing 60 and it shows, in their energy and vitality- two of the most appealing characteristics (especially in hope) of their previous six "road' movies. Road to Hong Kong was a sad last wheeze of a very memorable chapter in the history of comedy on film. Still, as with all the "road” pictures, the film features some good laughs, sight gags and one-liners.
An eighth "road" picture- Road to Tomorrow was actually planned as the team's swan song in the seventies, but those plans were scrapped with Crosby's death in 1977. Dorothy Lamour died in 1996 and Bob Hope passed away in 2003 (at the grand old age of 100).