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Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!
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Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!

At an age when most Americans were facing mandatory retirement, comedian Bob Hope continued to maintain a punishing schedule of feature films, TV specials, public appearance and goodwill tours around the globe. After playing the apoplectic father of wayward teenager Tuesday Weld in United Artists' I'll Take Sweden (1965), the 62 year-old Hope traveled to the Dominican Republic to entertain US troops. At the behest of the Department of Defense, Hope, Weld and Joey Heatherton performed for Marines deployed there since 1965 to quell a percolating civil war and to serve as a bulwark against a feared Cuba-style Communist takeover. Back in the states, Hope dove straight into his fifty-first film. Produced jointly by United Artists and Hope Enterprises, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) costarred Berlin-born bombshell Elke Sommer, then coasting on the infamy of her near-nude appearance in Blake Edwards' A Shot in the Dark (1964), and was helmed by George Marshall, who had first directed Hope in The Ghost Breakers (1940).

Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! marked the first of three film collaborations for Hope and comedienne Phyllis Diller, cast as the acerbic housekeeper of Hope's scheming real estate developer. Born in Lima, Ohio, in 1917, Diller had aspired to the life of a comic after hearing Hope on the radio. Hope was a long-time admirer and supporter of Diller's trademark frazzled housewife act (Diller was at the time a newly-divorced single mother of five children), which she perfected in clubs and on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Dubbed by columnists "the female Bob Hope," Diller became a frequent guest on Hope's TV specials for NBC. A close friend of both Hope and his wife Dolores, Diller modeled the mordant, unpredictable domestics she played for Hope after his real life housekeeper, Eileen Taylor. In her 2006 memoirs, Diller suggested there was more than mutual respect to their professional relationship:

Bob was mad about me and I was nuts about him; yet nothing ever happened between us. I knew a relationship was an impossibility. Then again, I also had the theory that I reminded him of his mother. She sang and played the piano, and when I saw a picture of her I thought we resembled one another."

Postproduction, Hope invited Diller on his 1966 Christmas USO tour of Vietnam and helped her to retool her nightclub material to appeal to the troops.

Filmed at Big Bear Lake in California's San Bernardino National Forest (with interiors captured at the Producer's Studio in Hollywood, on the old Sam Goldwyn lot), Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! was a pleasant shoot for all involved – particularly for Diller, who had suffered through her film debut in The Fat Spy (1966) in mosquito-infested Cape Coral, Florida, opposite a dissolute (and pregnant) Jayne Mansfield.

Principal photography for Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! was marked by a couple of embarrassing experiences for Diller. Knowing that Hope used cue cards for his TV specials, Diller never learned her own lines – only to discover on set that Hope always memorized his lines for films. In one scene in which her character must ride a motorcycle, Diller was doubled by a slim-bodied stuntman, who donned Diller's costume and a "fright wig" to seal the illusion. Arriving late to the set as an observer was Diller's new husband, Warde Tatum, who approached the motorcycle rider from the rear, slapped "her" on the backside and planted a deep kiss on the rider's lips. Although Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! was a hit with neither critics nor moviegoers, Hope enjoyed Diller's second banana act enough to invite her on his 1966 Christmas tour of Vietnam, where he helped the comedienne tailor her act to appeal to US soldiers.

Producer: Edward Small
Director: George Marshall
Screenplay: George Kennett, Albert E. Lewin, Burt Styler; George Beck (story)
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Art Direction: Frank Sylos
Music: 'By' Dunham, Richard LaSalle
Cast: Bob Hope (Thomas J. 'Tom' Meade), Elke Sommer (Didi), Phyllis Diller (Lily), Cesare Danova (Pepe Pepponi), Marjorie Lord (Mrs. Martha Meade), Kelly Thordsen (Det. Schwartz), Benny Baker (Det. Regan), Terry Burnham (Doris Meade), Joyce Jameson (Telephone operator), Harry von Zell (Newscaster/Off-Screen Narrator), Kevin Burchett (Larry Meade), Keith Taylor (Plympton), John Todd Roberts (Newsboy)
C-99m. Letterboxed.

by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
Bob Hope: A Life in Comedy by William Robert Faith (Da Capo Press, revised edition, 2003)
Bob Hope: A Biography by Michael Freedland (Chivers Press, 1999)
Bob Hope: The Road Well Traveled by Lawrence J. Quirk (Applause Books, 2000)
The Secret Life of Bob Hope: An Unauthorized Biography by Arthur Marx (Barricade Books, 1993)
Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy by Phyllis Diller with Richard Bushkind (Tarcher, 2006)

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