MUST HAVE SENSE OF HUMOR! Looking for a secretary with top skills to work in office near Burbank,” the newspaper want ad read. The year was 1983; 33-year-old Carol Shaw had just graduated from Glendale Community College and needed a job, so she dialed the phone number listed. After passing a typing test with flying colors, she was told to drive to a Toluca Lake address the next morning for an interview. Although the recruiter wouldn’t tell her the identity of the employer, Shaw surmised that all the secrecy meant it must be a celebrity. But it still came as a surprise when her skills and experience made a favorable impression on the office manager who interviewed her, and she was offered the job of “Secretary #2” for Bob Hope.
“I absolutely was a big fan of Bob Hope,” Shaw says. “Both my parents loved him.” Their experiences in World War II — her British mother lived through the German bombings of England and met her Canadian future husband while he was serving in the Army there — added to their affection for Hope, who famously dedicated himself to lifting the spirits of the troops overseas in countless USO shows. “He played to the biggest and best audiences in the world, the military,” Shaw explains. “When you’re depressed, you need to laugh, and that was Bob Hope’s specialty. He loved the men and women in the military and respected them and everything they did for our country. He was one of a kind: He could tell jokes, he could act, he could sing and dance, and most of all he loved the audience and the applause.” She reminisces about how she and her parents “laughed our heads off” watching Hope on TV while she was growing up in the ’50s and ’60s. “To me, Bob was so funny, especially when he looked over at the audience to see if they were getting his jokes.” (Shaw’s favorite Hope gag is the one he used to open the 1968 Academy Awards ceremony, in perfect deadpan: “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as they’re known at my house, Passover.”)
Hope was 80 years old when Shaw came to work for him, but “he was exactly as I remembered him from television,” she says. “He was fun, jovial and someone you wanted to hang around with.” Hope still maintained an active showbiz career — including TV specials, talk show appearances, nightclub performances, USO tours and film cameos — and it was Shaw’s job to answer daily phone calls from each of his 10 or so staff writers, who would dictate dozens of jokes for her to type up verbatim. The ad hadn’t exaggerated the need for a sense of humor, and the jokes and the writers became her favorite part of the job. Shaw was an enthusiastic audience, so “if I didn’t burst out laughing after hearing a joke, the writer on the other end of the phone decided the joke wasn’t funny enough to present to Bob Hope and had me delete it from the list.” Luckily, she recalls, the writers were usually hilarious, and “I was laughing like a hyena by the end of each phone call as tears of laughter rolled down my cheeks.”
Shaw also fielded calls from celebrities including Liz Taylor, Milton Berle, John Ritter, Shirley Temple, Dorothy Lamour, Jonathan Winters (who lived nearby) and former President Gerald Ford — as well as all the football and golf stars of the day, because “Bob liked to send congratulatory telegrams to any player who was outstanding in the game. I’m sure it was a kick for the athletes to receive them.” Furthermore, she had the unusual task of autographing, on Hope’s behalf, the items mailed to him by fans from all over the world. “Being a perfectionist, I practiced and practiced how to sign Bob Hope’s name to perfection,” she confesses. “In fact, I got so good at it, people couldn’t tell the difference. One day Fran, the bookkeeper, commented to Mr. Hope over the phone that it was impossible to tell the difference between our two signatures. That got him hustling down the driveway to see for himself!” (“Keep Carol away from the checkbook,” he quipped to Fran.)
The office where Shaw worked was located in “the Bungalow,” a smaller house separated by a courtyard from Hope’s famous mansion. “It was a treasure trove of memories of old Hollywood,” she remembers. “Bob had many keepsakes squirreled away in the den inside the Bungalow. Everything was old and dusty, but that’s what made it special. It was like panning for gold when I went into the den and ate my lunch. Over in the corner of the room stood the life-size Oscar statue made of Styrofoam. It was a joke from the Academy because Bob kept complaining about never winning an Oscar. There were loads of pictures on Bob’s desk of World War II, including our soldiers, guns, victims of the Holocaust and warfare in general, which were memorialized in tons of old photographs taken by our very own GIs who fought over in Europe. Such a contrast to see these terrible pictures and in the next minute, to be on the phone listening to jokes from the writers that had me doubled over in laughter.”
Shaw enjoyed working with the other employees at the Hope estate, from the guard at the gate to the driver, bookkeeper, gardeners, masseuse, cook and maids: “They were all genuinely nice people. They all had a story to tell which was either heartwarming or funny or both.” She also has fond recollections of 1980s Toluca Lake, with its pristine lawns and quiet atmosphere. When she wasn’t hard at work in the Bungalow, her local outings included visiting the drive-in at Bob’s Big Boy, eating pie at Marie Callender’s, shopping for makeup at Cinema Secrets and attending St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood, where Dolores Hope was a devoted parishioner. But in 1984, Shaw realized she needed to move on from the job, which offered no chance for advancement. “I couldn’t buy a condo in Glendale and was told by the realtor flat out that it was because I didn’t earn enough money!” she says. “That was sobering.”
Yet despite the paltry pay, the job had imparted valuable lessons. “Working for Mr. Hope actually helped me develop my own sense of humor and my drive to improve myself,” Shaw says, adding that it motivated her to earn her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Northridge, after which she was hired by Disney in Burbank and found her dream house in Valencia, California. But she never forgot her larger-than-life stories of working for Hope, which became especially inspiring during the dark days after the COVID pandemic struck. “I thought the only way I could get through this depressing time was to remember what it was like when I was laughing every day,” she says. “I started writing my memoir for my own enjoyment and then realized other people would be laughing, too.” The resulting book, Bob Hope’s Bungalow: Tales From the Typing Trenches, was published in early 2022 — a lighthearted account of her year as Hope’s secretary, full of anecdotes about the star and his family, staff and celebrity friends, as well as her own misadventures.
Shaw says her ultimate takeaway from her brush with Bob Hope is simple: “I learned not to take life so seriously and enjoy the laughter. It was a dream job where I laughed every single day! How many other people can say that about their jobs?”