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 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 intermission. 
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 with us 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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