What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The Great Ziegfeld Blogathon 2020 being hosted by Hollywood Genes. To quote her, this is an event about…
…Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. – the man himself, his Follies and shows, his spouses and romances, his performers and collaborators, his rivals, films produced by or about him, books about him or those in his sphere…anything goes, as long as it comes back in some way to Ziegfeld!
The link here is Bob Hope, who starred in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936; The Ziegfeld Follies were a series of musical revues presented from 1907 through 1931, 1934, 1936, 1943, and 1957.
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
While it may or may not make sense, for me “Road to Zanzibar” marks the beginning of the famed series known as the “Road” movies featuring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour. That’s because I saw this one first, so in my mind it’s the beginning even though “Road to Singapore” was released the year before. But to be fair, “Road to Zanzibar” is a sequel to “Road to Singapore” in name only; the major players play different character roles in “Singapore” than they do in “Zanzibar.”
Not to mention, the other thing which doesn’t make sense here…Zanzibar is actually a series of islands off the coast of present-day Tanzania in East Africa. There ain’t no road that goes there…
As for the film itself, the plot of “Road to Zanzibar” centers on the exploits of boyhood buddies Chuck Reardon (played by Bing Crosby) and Hubert “Fearless” Frazier (played by Bob Hope). They are carnival hucksters; Chuck is the classic smooth talking con-man and “Fearless” is the daredevil who gets shot out of a cannon. One day, they are using a dummy in place of “Fearless.” The trick was supposed to be the dummy being shot through a “ring of fire,” but the dummy gets set alight, lands on a tent, and the resulting fire burns the entire carnival to the ground.
Naturally, after having burned the carnival down, Chuck and “Fearless” have worn out their welcome and need to get out of town in a hurry. This results in a series of escapades, usually getting more ridiculous over time and frequently ending with “Fearless” getting hurt somehow. Naturally, after a while “Fearless” loses his interest in this, and wants to return home to the United States. The problem is “Fearless” discovers Chuck has blown all their money buying the deed to a diamond mine. Things only get worse when they discover the guy Chuck bought the deed from is a “looney-tuner” and it’s worthless.
As you would expect, “Fearless” is furious with Chuck and abruptly ends their partnership. The split is short-lived as “Fearless” returns a bit later claiming he unloaded the mine on a sucker for $7,000. Right about then, the “sucker” Monsieur Le Bec (played by Lionel Royce) shows up and wants “Fearless” to give him a tour of the mine. Once again, Chuck and “Fearless” realize they need to get out of town quickly, so they hop onboard a boat headed for Africa.
Once there, they are immediately approached by Julia Quimby (played by Una Merkel). She wants to enlist them for a rescue mission saving to help rescue her friend Donna LaTour (played by Dorothy Lamour) from being sold at a slave auction. They place a bid which secures her release, but what Chuck and “Fearless” don’t know is Julia and Donna are also con-artists. As such, Donna tells Julia about the money Chuck and ‘Fearless’ have. She also spills her plot to get Chuck and “Fearless” to take them across the jungle to see Donna’s “long lost brother,” who in reality is a millionaire named J. Theodore Brady who she intends to marry.
Along the way, a love triangle begins to form among Chuck, “Fearless,” and Donna; but that falls by the wayside when the boys discover that Julia and Donna are a couple of American showgirls-turned-fraudsters. This results in Chuck and “Fearless” being stranded and lost in the jungle. During their attempt to find their way back to civilization, Chuck and “Fearless” come across a cave full of skeletons and drums.
Being a pair of typical dumb-asses, they start banging on the drums which ultimately summons a tribe of natives. At first, the natives think Chuck and “Fearless” are gods and they adorn them with jewels, food, and other goodies. Things start to go sideways when the natives decide to test them by throwing “Fearless” in a cage with a gorilla. Being a supposed “god,” he is supposed to easily dispatch with the giant primate…which he comically does not. As a result of failing this test, the natives prepare to cook them.
This leads to what may very be the “signature” scene in this film; when Chuck and “Fearless” use the infamous “Patty-Cake” routine to confuse the natives and escape. Afterward, they manage their way back to civilization. Having been lost in the jungle, they are obviously haggard and dirty. But fortunately, they aren’t broke because they have the jewels the natives gave them. The return to civilization also sees them re-united with Donna and Julia, as Donna gave up the rich guy because she was in love with Chuck. The film ends by coming full circle; the four of them end up starring in a carnival act.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
The mind that sees these analogies between sports and movies spent it’s developmental years taking in plenty of both. I started with sports, but discovered the other as “Movie for A Rained-Out Ballgame.” But it wasn’t until I signed up for this blog-a-thon that I saw the similarity between the partnership of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and their equivalent in the sports world…the broadcast duo of Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola.
“Road to Zanzibar” was my introduction to Hope and Crosby; NBC’s “Game of the Week” served that purpose for Scully and Garagiola. In both cases, as teams Hope/Crosby and Scully/Garagiola became legendary. As individuals, they all became superstars. Bing Crosby spent decades as a huge name in Hollywood; both on the screen and as a recording artist…it’s pretty hard to say a guy who had 63 top-ten singles wasn’t a beast behind the microphone. He also paired with David Bowie for one of the great odd pop-culture moments of all time.
Vin Scully was nothing new to me as a kid; he had been the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers since before the team had come to California in 1958. The irony of his success as a pair with Garagiola was the fact that Scully was notorious for being a “one-man show” during Dodger games, a fact that remained right up until his retirement after the 2016 season and celebrated in what I think is one of the funniest things on YouTube I’ve seen in a long time.
Vin Scully became the voice of baseball, not just the Dodgers. Since he’s now retired, and if you never experienced the joy that is Vin Scully, here is one of the great Scully calls of all time re-enacted (1986 World Series, Game 6 – The “Error On Buckner” call) with Nintendo RBI Baseball. Simply put, of all the evils of Dodger baseball I’ve ranted (I hate the Los Angeles Dodgers more than earaches and tax audits combined), none can erase the joy that was listening to Vin Scully.
But Bob Hope and Joe Garagiola transcended their respective worlds.
The name “Bob Hope” will be one of those which will live as long as there are classic film fans, as evidenced by this very post. It lived in the sports world until 2020 on the placard for the Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) event he created in 1960; the Bob Hope Desert Classic; it fell victim to the trend of selling the naming rights to deep-pocketed corporations. But the name “Bob Hope” will surely live forever in the town where that golf tournament is held; Bob Hope literally built Palm Springs, California.
Despite the heights reached by Joe Garagiola’s fame, I’m afraid his name will be forgotten as soon as the guys like me who remember him are gone. But Garagiola transcended sports to become arguably the biggest star on television in the 1960s and 70s; he was everywhere in the pre-cable “rabbit ears” television world. It’s hard to argue that at his peak, Joe Garagiola was not one of the most recognizable faces on American TV.
To illustrate that, name somebody else who can check all these boxes:
Just look at the shots in this slideshow:
Garagiola’s first non-sports related television appearance came in 1960 when he appeared onstage at a campaign even for then-Senator John F. Kennedy. Being on live television surrounded by VIPs including including former President Harry S. Truman, Garagiola made a move that put him on the map. Growing up, Garagiola’s father had been skeptical of Joe’s career choices, and Joe knew that his father would be watching. Without skipping a beat, Garagiola threw his arm around President Truman, beamed directly into the camera and exclaimed “Hey Pop, I just want you to see who I’m hanging around with now!”
As the saying goes…a star was born.
Garagiola’s new-found “star” status propelled him beyond the world of baseball. He hosted a St. Louis area professional wrestling show titled “Wrestling at the Chase” in the early 1960s; Garagiola’s brother Mickey was the show’s ring announcer. Joe Garagiola also became the long-time regular host of the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami on New Year’s Eve. He was such a popular television figure that NBC saw fit to name him as a regular co-host of the “The Today Show” from 1967-1973 and again from 1990-1992. As such, Garagiola became a fixture amongst the professional journalists of the NBC News team.
Now as an established on-air personality for NBC, Garagiola became a regular guest-host of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” including the only live performance of any member of The Beatles on that program while they were still together when John Lennon and Paul McCartney were guests on the show in May of 1968.
If that weren’t enough, all during this time, Garagiola also hosted the game shows “He Said, She Said,” “Joe Garagiola’s Memory Game,” “Sale of the Century,” “To Tell the Truth,” and the short-lived “Strike it Rich.” When he wasn’t hosting game shows, Garagiola was a regular panelist on Gene Rayburn’s “The Match Game,” which was one of the most popular television shows of the 1970s.
Later on, Garagiola introduced himself to a whole new generation when he became the co-host of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for the USA Network from 1994-2002. But what endeared Joe Garagiola to me was NBC’s baseball “Game of the Week.” You need to remember this was the 1970s; well before cable-TV and dedicated sports channels. That meant if you wanted to see baseball which wasn’t your hometown team, “Game of the Week” was one of your only options.
When you are a kid developing what will become a life-long love for baseball, that’s huge. It didn’t take long for Garagiola’s true talent to shine through; he was a tremendous story teller. He wasn’t polished or eloquent; he was genuine and likable. He was everybody’s “Uncle Joe;” that one guy at ever family gathering who had a laughing crowd around him. He was never trying to be the center of attention, but somehow always ended up there.
NBC’s “Game of the Week” became “appointment television,” and it didn’t take long for Garagiola to become a bigger attraction than the game. I started hoping for a boring game, because that allowed far ore time for Garagiola to do what he did best…tell stories about baseball. But it wasn’t the stories that made Garagiola a star, it was his ability to connect with people. That’s how a guy who’s world was originally all about baseball ended up putting the world in his catcher’s mitt.
The Moral of the Story:
Never underestimate the power of being liked.
P.S. For the classic film fan segment of this audience, on my list of favorite actors and their sporting equivalents, Joe Garagiola compared favorably to Van Johnson.
P.P.S. To hear a roast of and eulogy for Joe Garagiola, check out Episode #39 of the now-defunct Radio J-Dub podcast* (forward to the 17:30 mark for the segment containing Garagiola)
* – Rated “R” for language
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