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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: America’s Favorite Funnyman

By Tom Morrow

Bob Hope was an American comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, athlete, and author. With a career spanning nearly 80 years, he was born Leslie Townes Hope, May 29, 1903, in London, England. He would spend most of the 20th century as one of the world’s most famous entertainers – especially among U.S. service men and women.

Hope appeared in more than 70 feature films and short films, including a series of “Road” movies with long-time friend, Bing Crosby. In addition to hosting the Academy Awards a record 19 times, he appeared in many stage productions and television roles and was the author of 14 books. The song “Thanks for the Memory” is widely regarded as his signature song.

Hope arrived in America with his family at the age of four and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He began his career in show business in the early 1920s, initially on stage, and began appearing on the radio and in films in 1934. He was praised for his comedy timing, specializing in one-liners and rapid-fire delivery of jokes.

Hope moved to Hollywood when Paramount Pictures signed him for the 1938 film The Big Broadcast of 1938, also starring W. C. Fields. As a movie star, he was best known for comedies, especially the highly successful “Road” movies in which he starred with pal Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. She often arrived for filming prepared with her lines, only to be baffled by completely re-written scripts or ad-lib dialogue between Hope and Crosby.

Hope will be remembered for his long career performing USO shows entertaining U.S. military personnel (he made 57 tours for the USO between 1941 and 1991). He performed his first USO show on May 6, 1941, at March Field near Riverside, and continued to travel and entertain troops for the rest of World War II, later during the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Also in the latter years of the Iran–Iraq War, and the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War.

During the Vietnam War, Hope had trouble convincing some performers to join him on tour. Anti-war sentiment was high, and Hope’s pro-troop stance made him a target of criticism. Hope recruited his own family members for USO travel. His wife, singer Dolores, performed from atop an armored vehicle during the Desert Storm tour, and his granddaughter, Miranda, appeared alongside Hope on an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean.

In 1943, John Steinbeck, then a war correspondent, wrote: “When the time for recognition of service to the nation in wartime comes to be considered, Bob Hope should be high on the list. This man drives himself and is driven. It is impossible to see how he can do so much, can cover so much ground, can work so hard, and can be so effective. He works month after month at a pace that would kill most people.”

A 1997 act of Congress signed by President Bill Clinton named Hope an “Honorary Veteran.” He remarked, “I’ve been given many awards in my lifetime — but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most — is the greatest honor I have ever received.”

1985, Hope was presented with the Life Achievement Award at the Kennedy Center Honors, and in 1998 he was appointed an honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. Upon accepting the appointment, Hope quipped, “I’m speechless. 70 years of ad lib material and I’m speechless.”

Hope celebrated his 100th birthday on May 29, 2003. He is among a small group of notable centenarians in the field of entertainment. To mark this event, the intersection of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles was named “Bob Hope Square.” Even at 100, Hope maintained his self-deprecating sense of humor, quipping, “I’m so old, they’ve canceled my blood type.”

In 1998, a prepared obituary by the Associated Press was inadvertently released, prompting Hope’s death to be announced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Like Mark Twain before him, Hope reckoned the report “was greatly exaggerated” – by five years.

On the morning of July 27, 2003, two months after his 100th birthday, Hope died of pneumonia at his home in Toluca Lake. When asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, Hope had told his wife, “Surprise me.” He was interred in the Bob Hope Memorial Garden at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles, joined in 2011 by wife Dolores, who died four months after her 102nd birthday.


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