A bunch of Washington journalists sat around a large square dining table last week to learn about Bob Hope from two people with a lot of information: his biographer and his nephew.
Richard Zoglin, the man of the hour, wrote 2014’s HOPE: Entertainer of the Century. He’s covered entertainment for TIME for 20 years. He’s now a senior editor there.
The diners: Janet Donovan, editor of the Hollywood on the Potomac website who organized and co-hosted the dinner, Michael Kosmides, co-host, owner of LOOK restaurant, Tom Malatesta, Bob Hope’s nephew, Beverly Malatesta, wife of Tom who runs Beverly Malatesta Interiors, Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent, WaPo, Lissa August, TIME, Matt Cooper, Contributing Editor, Newsweek, Andy Oros, director of international studies, Washington College, Steve Clemons, editor- at-large, The Atlantic, Erica Moody, associate editor, Washington Life, Kristen Holmes, producer CNN, Brendan Kownacki, Hollywood on the Potomac, Bill Press, host, “The Bill Press Show,” Pat Harrison, CEO Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kevin Chaffee, Washington Life, and Annie Groer, freelance writer.
During pre-dinner cocktails, Press, who drank Diet Coke, explained that he was moving into a four-day-a-week work schedule with fill-in Friday hosts like BuzzFeed‘s Evan McMorris-Santoro, WaPo‘s Clinton Yates, Guardian‘s Sabrina Siddiqui, and occasionally his executive producer, Peter Ogburn.
“If Howard Stern only works three fucking days a week, I can work four,” he explained.
Donovan was clear about one thing: Everything is on the record. So talk at your own risk. And no whining about it later — you’ve been warned (I’m paraphrasing here).
With Clemons and Press at the table, there was never going to be a quiet moment.
Soon enough, after drinks and hors’ d’euvres that included mac n’ cheese on a stick, guests were seated.
The empty seat next to mine bore a name tag: “Becket.”
Which could only be The Washington Examiner‘s T. Becket Adams. So I tweet-shamed him. He told me he was in a meeting with his boss (at 7:42 p.m.) and would likely arrive late.
Which indeed happened. He arrived in time for dessert — which was an absolutely delicious dollop of key lime pie that diners could consume in four bites. Becket missed the garden salad with shavings of fancy cheese and the delectable crab cake main course.
Zoglin, a quiet, studious type with graying curly hair, opened up about writing the book. Time it took him to complete it: Three years.
“It was tough,” he said. “It was a lot of work dealing with this family. It was really the greatest experience of my life creatively. …I felt a weight on my shoulders to do a good job.”
The book is in its third printing.
Soon the microphone was passed around. (And passed around and passed around some more.)
Clemens wanted to know about Hope’s politics and his real estate dealings. He mentioned that he once met Hope at a dinner at the Nixon library in 1993.
“He made his money early in his career in oil and bought up thousands of acres in the San Fernando Valley,” said Zoglin, adding that Hope wasn’t too open about his politics.
Like Clemons, Hope made a personal impression on Tumulty. When she was in the fourth grade, she went to a Bob Hope show in the Philippine. Her father was stationed there.
She wanted to know more about Hope’s personality. “We all felt like we knew him but we didn’t,” she said.
A noteworthy side note: Zoglin is Tumulty’s former editor.
“Bob was unusual,” the author explained. “He was a closed off guy. He wasn’t very introspective. He was friendly, but there was a wall, maybe some British reserve — he had a tough childhood. He was one of seven boys, didn’t get a lot of attention. He was a difficult man to get inside.”
Kownacki played the millennial role at the table. “As a younger person, I’ve loved Bob Hope for a long time,” he said. “How do we make sure he keeps the credit? I don’t think many people in their 20s think of him at all.”
Zoglin agreed, “I do think he set a standard for Hollywood that you have an obligation to use your celebrity for good and not just buy homes in Malibu.”
The author said stars who do what he did — George Clooney, Angelina Jolie — owe a debt to Hope.
Philanthropy aside, the journalists really wanted the dirt on Hope. Come on, they clamored. Tell us about his infidelities.
“He could be cold,” said Zoglin. “There was a nasty side to Bob Hope. He was a womanizer. Some people thought he was mean. People liked him despite his flaws. Boy, I’m sure he wasn’t easy to work for.”
The author described a time in the 50s when stars could create their own images.
Despite all that philandering.
Hope’s wife would “dance around the question and you would kind of get she knew what was going on. I think they had a good marriage. They were close. They were best friends. [She was] a major advisor for him, a sounding board.”
At different points in the evening, the microphone was passed to Hope’s nephew, Tom.
“It was no secret to anybody that he enjoyed the company of other women. I think from the family’s point of view they [Hope and his wife] had some connection. They were clearly a team. Somehow it [the infidelities] existed and Bob was Bob. I think the kids — my cousins — had a tough time with it. Sometimes you trudge through.”
By 8:14 p.m., Becket had settled into his seat. He promptly began cracking his knuckles. (I did not give him a hard time about it, but was thinking, Who does that at dinner?)
Before the night concluded, Tom, the nephew, would give Zoglin the best compliment a biographer could hope for after writing such a book.
After all that talk of Hope’s infidelity, someone asked, “Was there something Zoglin missed?”
Tom paused. “I would say Richard found out everything you were supposed to find out,” he replied in a rather formal tone. “He was out to do the facts and he did a wonderful job on the facts.”
He said relatives would inevitably tell him they enjoyed talking to Zoglin. They’d say something to the effect of, “I liked talking to him because he had no ax to grind.”
Tom Malatesta, Bob Hope’s nephew
T. Becket Adams’ entire dinner.