Christmas in the Village

For those of us who have grown up or lived in the Toluca Lake area for many years it’s sad to drive by the Hope house and not see the Nativity scene that they always put up on the corner at Christmastime. With Bob and Dolores gone and the house sold (I think), Toluca Lake is a very different place now. The end of an era, as they say. Which reminds me of a quote I recently heard, “The idea that time goes is not true – time stays, we go.”?

Change is inevitable and life goes on. Christmas has come to Toluca Lake once again, many homes are decorated for Christmas, people are shopping, going to parties and singing carols, but still there is a missing element to the place now, one important bulb that is not lit up on our tree – the Hope house is dark.

And another Toluca Lake celebrity will not be celebrating Christmas with us this year, Jane Kean. Miss Kean, best known for her role as Trixie, the long-suffering wife of Ed Norton on the 1960s TV revival of The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, passed away on Nov. 26. She was 90.

At the risk of sounding like Methuselah, I have some wonderful memories of Toluca Lake at Christmastime. Restaurants that were packed with holiday diners and drinkers such as Alfonses, The China Trader, Jason’s, Sorrentino’s, The King’s Arms (or was it The Queen’s Arms? There were two of them at one time, one on Ventura, the other Toluca Lake), and later on, Val’s. So glad we still have The Smokehouse.

The good news is, Toluca Lake is still very much alive and kicking, (if you doubt that just try and find a parking spot at Trader Joe’s in the middle of the day) celebrating it’s 90th anniversary recently. Honorary Mayor Fritz Coleman headed up the Toys for Tots campaign and residents dropped off unwrapped toys into bins located with the various merchants of the area. By all accounts the annual Holiday Open House was a big success as businesses by and down Riverside Drive opened their doors to meet and greet and welcome in the season. The Christmas tree was lit and Santa was on hand for the kids. Yessir, life goes on.

But still … the loss of Bob Hope is felt so strongly for me at this time of year because I associate him with his Christmas performances for our troops. He entertained our military overseas for half a century, headlining 57 USO tours.

Bob started it all when World War II began in September 1939, while aboard the Queen Mary. He volunteered to perform a special show for the passengers, during which he sang “Thanks for the Memory” with rewritten lyrics. He performed his first USO show on May 6, 1941, at March Field, Calif. Bob began what was to become a Christmas custom in 1948. He, with wife Dolores, went to Germany at the request of then Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, to entertain the troops involved in the Berlin Airlift.

When the Vietnam conflict ended, he dubbed his 1972 trip as his “last Christmas show.” But it really wasn’t. Every Christmas that followed, he was somewhere in the country doing a show at a military base or veterans hospital. As late as May 1990, he embarked on a goodwill tour to entertain military personnel stationed in England, Russia, and Germany. At Christmas that year, he and wife Dolores, were in Saudi Arabia entertaining the men and women of “Operation Desert Storm.”

Bing Crosby had “White Christmas,” from Holiday Inn. Bob Hope had “Silver Bells” from The Lemon Drop Kid. Two talented men who had so much in common besides their friendship and those great “Road” pictures; both associated with Christmas, both former Toluca Lake residents. So yes, this Christmas as I drive by the Hope estate on Moorpark I will miss that full-size Nativity, but thankfully I have the memory. Thanks for that, Bob.

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