By Mark Neuling
Field Camera Operator for TechTV
San Carlos, California
A long, long time ago…
The Circle Star Theatre was torn down four or five years back. It
was replaced by some dot.com company just before the bubble burst and
the economy turned sour. It stood sentinel along the freeway in
San Carlos. In it’s day it had held court to the toast of
the entertainment industry. When people like B.B. King or Frank
Sinatra played there, limousines lined the parking lot, women wore
fur wraps and searchlights crisscrossed the night sky.
It seated a little over three thousand patrons. What was unique
about the place was that it was a theatre in the round. Somehow,
I don’t know how, the stage slowly revolved, making a complete
three hundred and sixty degree circle. There was not a bad seat
in the house.
Thirteen, maybe fourteen years ago we had a shoot scheduled there for
one Sunday night. Since it was a Sunday evening and since there
was considerable over-time involved this was a big deal. Since
the entertainer we were to interview was Bob Hope it added an even
greater air of importance to the occasion.
Brian was our Creative Services Director at the station. He had
toiled away as the Assignment Editor for seven years in the news department
and still did the occasional entertainment story for the newscast. Paul
and I were his crew of choice. Why I don’t know. There
were more experienced shooters in the shop. Maybe it was because we were
all friends; maybe it was because we came through in the clutch for him
time and time again. The three of us worked together for well
over a decade.
Whenever a major star from the entertainment industry passed through
the Bay Area Brian would contact the various public relations and press
people and attempt to arrange an interview for us. Since we were
a small, independent television station with no network affiliation most
often his requests ended up unanswered in some publicist’s wastebasket. Somehow
though he had gotten through to Bob Hope’s people. So here
we are, driving north from San Jose in our beat up old microwave van
on the road to the Circle Star.
I don’t remember if there was even much of conversation as we spent
the 35 minutes or so on the ride up to San Carlos. Like an athlete
before a big game I just prayed I did my job and that we came away with
a successful shoot. The wonderful advantage of working so closely
with the same group of people is that you cover for one another. Short
of a total equipment malfunction things almost always turned out successful. Still,
it was Bob Hope we were going to be talking to.
We arrived hours before the show was to begin. The plan was for
us to interview Mr. Hope prior to his show that evening. Even though
he was well into his eighties by then, he was still out touring and entertaining
audiences. But he had begun to slowdown. There wouldn’t
be many more performances left in the old vaudevillian.
We unloaded the gear onto our cart and headed in. They took us
to one of the earth- colored dressing rooms set aside for our TV interview. It
was all mirrors and light bulbs. Reflection hell to shoot in. There
was another television crew waiting backstage in the hallway that
evening. They were from the local PBS station. The only crews
with older, more antiquated equipment than we had were the PBS stations. I
wondered what Bob Hope was going to think when he was confronted by
a gaggle of TV crews, all of us with our beat up old gear.
Brian was called off; there was a phone call for him. As I recall,
I think Paul and I had set up only one light during Brian’s brief
Mr. Hope’s jet, his personal jet, was having mechanical difficulties. He
would have to fly into SFO aboard a commercial flight and he wouldn’t
arrive until close to show time. He’d only have enough
time for a short rehearsal with the band. But he would gladly meet
after the conclusion of his performance; of course it would be pretty
late by then.
Paul and I looked at each other and then at Brian, it was his call. He
gripped his clipboard and eyeballed us through his glasses. “Let’s
go home,” he said. I know the decision killed him. An
opportunity to meet with one of giants in the entertainment industry
and it slips through our fingers.
For years, like fishermen who’d had the big lunker hooked, we talked
about the one that got away. The story had a happy ending of sorts. The
very day following our cancelled shoot, Bob Hope went into the NBC Studios
in Burbank and cut promos for our station. For years these short
little snippets would pop up at all unlikely hours of the day. “This
is Bob Hope and you’re watching KICU TV 36 in San Jose.” The
delivery was pure Bob Hope, he was a class act.
© Mark Neuling 2003
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
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