Bob Hope KBE (May 29, 1903 — July 27, 2003) was an English-born entertainer who appeared in vaudeville, on Broadway, in radio, television, movies, and on numerous USO tours for U.S. military personnel.
English birth of Bob Hope
Born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, London, England, Hope was the fifth of seven sons. His English father, William Henry Hope, was a stonemason from Weston-super-Mare and his Welsh mother, Avis Townes, was a light opera singer but later had to find work as a cleaning woman. The family lived in Weston-super-Mare, then Whitehall and St. George in Bristol, before moving to Cleveland, Ohio in 1908. The family traveled to the United States as passengers on board the SS Philadelphia. They were inspected at Ellis Island on 30 March 1908. Hope became a U.S. citizen in 1920 at the age of seventeen.
Early career of Bob Hope
From the age of twelve, Bob Hope worked at a variety of odd jobs at a local boardwalk. When not doing this he would busk, doing dance and comedy patter to make extra money. He entered many dancing and amateur talent contests, and won prizes for his impersonation of Charlie Chaplin. He also boxed briefly and unsuccessfully under the name Packy East, making it once as far as the semi-finals of the Ohio novice championship.
Fallen silent film comedian Fatty Arbuckle saw one of his performances and in 1925 got him steady work with Hurley’s Jolly Follies. Within a year, Hope had formed an act called the Dancemedians with George Burns (who would also live to see his own 100th birthday) and the Hilton Sisters, conjoined twins who had a tap dancing routine. Hope and his partner George Byrne had an act as a pair of Siamese twins as well, and both danced and sang while wearing blackface before friends advised him that he was funnier as himself. After five years on the Vaudeville circuit, by his own account, Bob Hope was surprised and humbled when he and his partner Grace Louise Troxell failed a 1930 screen test for Pathe at Culver City, California. (Bob Hope had already been on the screen in small parts, in 1927’s The Sidewalks of New York and 1928’s Smiles ).
Bob Hope returned to New York City and subsequently appeared in several Broadway musicals, including Roberta, Say When, the 1936 Ziegfeld Follies, and Red, Hot and Blue with Ethel Merman. His performances were generally well-received and critics noted his keen sense of comedic timing. He changed his name from “Leslie” to “Bob”, reportedly because people in the U.S. were calling him “Hopelessly”, although in the 1920s he sometimes used the name “Lester Hope”.
Films of Bob Hope
Bob Hope, like other stage performers, made his first films in New York. Educational Pictures hired him in 1934 for a short-subject comedy, Going Spanish. Unfortunately for Hope, he sealed his own fate with Educational when a newspaper columnist asked him about his new movie. Hope cracked,
When they catch John Dillinger, they’re going to make him sit through it twice.
Educational fired him, but he was soon back before the cameras at New York’s Vitaphone studio, where he starred in 20-minute comedies and musicals.
Paramount Pictures signed Bob Hope for the 1938 film The Big Broadcast of 1938. During a duet with Shirley Ross as accompanied by Shep Fields and his orchestra, Hope introduced the bittersweet song later to become his trademark, “Thanks for the Memory”, which became a major hit and was praised by critics. The sentimental and fluid nature of the music allowed Hope’s writers (whom he is said to have depended upon heavily throughout his career) to later invent endless variations of the song to fit specific circumstances, such as bidding farewell to troops while on tour.
According to Bob Hope, early in his film career a director advised him that movie acting was done mostly with the eyes, resulting in the exaggerated and rolling eye movements which characterized many of Hope’s onscreen performances.
Bob Hope became one of Paramount’s biggest stars, and would remain with the studio through the 1950s. Hope’s regular appearances in Hollywood films and radio made him one of the best known entertainers in North America, and at the height of his career he was also making a large income from live concert performances. During an eight-week tour in 1940, he reportedly generated $100,000 in receipts, a record at the time. (This is the equivalent of $1.4 million dollars in 2006 money.)
As a movie star, he was best known for My Favorite Brunette and the highly profitable “Road” movies in which he starred with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, (whom he had first seen performing as a nightclub singer in New York and subsequently invited to work with him on his USO tours). Dorothy Lamour is said to have shown up for filming fully prepared with her lines, only to be baffled by completely new material which had been written by Hope’s own staff of writers without the studio’s permission.
Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour were lifelong friends, and she is the actress most associated with his film career. Other female co-stars included Paulette Goddard, Lucille Ball, Jane Russell, and Hedy Lamarr.
Bob Hope was host of the Academy Awards ceremony 18 times between 1939 and 1977. His alleged lust for an Oscar became part of his performing shtick, perhaps most memorably in a scene from Road to Morocco in which he suddenly erupted in a crazed frenzy, shouting about his imminent death from starvation and heat. Bing Crosby reminds him that rescue is just minutes away, and a disappointed Hope complains that Crosby has spoiled his best scene in the picture, and thus, his chance for an Academy Award.
Although Bob Hope never did win an Oscar for his performances (nor a nomination), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored him with four honorary awards, and in 1960, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. While introducing the 1968 telecast, he famously quipped, “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or, as it’s known at my house, Passover”. Hope would also gain some recognition as “America’s Favorite Funnyman” as well.
Television career of Bob Hope
Bob Hope first appeared on television in 1932 during a test transmission from an experimental CBS studio in New York. His career in broadcasting spanned sixty-four years and included a long association with NBC. Hope made his network radio debut in 1937 on NBC. His first regular series for NBC Radio was the Woodbury Soap Hour. A year later The Pepsodent Radio Show Starring Bob Hope began, and would run through 1953.
Hope did many specials for the NBC television network in the following decades. These were often sponsored by Chrysler and Hope served as a spokesman for the firm for many years. Hope’s Christmas specials were popular favorites and often featured a performance of “Silver Bells” (from his 1951 film The Lemon Drop Kid) done as a duet with an often much younger female guest star (such as Olivia Newton-John or Brooke Shields).
Hope’s 1970 and 1971 Christmas specials for NBC — filmed in Vietnam in front of military audiences at the height of the war, and both of which actually aired in January, after he had returned from overseas — are on the list of the Top 30 U.S. Network Primetime Telecasts of All Time. Both were seen by more than 60 percent of the U.S. households watching television at the time they aired.
His final television special, Laughing with the Presidents, was broadcast in 1996, with Tony Danza helping Hope present a retrospective about presidents of the United States.
Bob Hope in the Theater
Bob Hope appeared as Huck Haines in the musical Roberta in 1958 at The Muny Theater in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri.
Bob Hope and the USO
Bob Hope performed his first United Service Organizations (USO) show on May 6, 1941, at March Field, California. He continued to travel and entertain troops for the rest of World War II and later during the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the 1990 – 1991 Persian Gulf War. When overseas he almost always performed in Army fatigues as a show of support for his audience. Hope’s USO career lasted half a century, during which he headlined approximately sixty tours. For his service to his country through the USO, Hope was awarded the prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1968.
Of Hope’s USO shows in World War II, writer John Steinbeck, who was then working as a war correspondent, wrote in 1943:
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 Clinton named Bob 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.”
In his biography, Bob Hope: The Road Well-Traveled (1999), Lawrence J. Quirk writes that Bob Hope was making sacrifices to entertain U.S. servicemen, whom he called “my boys”.
Bob Hope’s Interest in sports
Bob Hope had a widely reported passion for sports. He boxed professionally during his youth, was a pool hustler, enjoyed watching football and was at times a part owner of the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Rams. Hope, who was good friends with San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos, attended numerous Charger games and was even honored by the team during a halftime of a home game at Qualcomm Stadium.
One of the highlights of Bob Hope’s Christmas specials was his introductions of the Associated Press All-American college football players. Bob Hope would meet each of the players individually on the stage, introduce them, and tell a joke about them.
Hope was also famous for his interest in golf. He played in a few PGA Tour events and the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic is named for him. Hope played golf with nearly every President of the United States from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush and often used a golf club as an on-stage prop. He appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, “Lisa the Beauty Queen” as himself, on stage at Fort Springfield. His opening lines were “You know, that Mayor Quimby is some golfer. His balls spend more time underwater than Greg Louganis.”
Bob Hope got hooked on golf in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He played his first game at a local course in 1930 while performing on the vaudeville circuit at the Orpheum Theatre. The jugglers in the act would kill time between shows by playing golf and they invited him to join them, according to Bob Hope on an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show.
In 1978, he and Bing Crosby were voted the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. Both men are also members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
He is among the select few non-band members who have had the honor of dotting the “i” during The Ohio State University Marching Band’s ‘Script Ohio’ routine. This is considered the greatest honor the band can bestow to any non-band person and is an extremely special (and rare) event.
Marriages of Bob Hope
Bob Hope’s first wife was his vaudeville partner Grace Louise Troxell, whom he married on January 25, 1933. When the marriage record was unearthed some years later, Hope denied that the marriage had any substance and said they had quickly divorced. In 1934 Bob Hope married Dolores Reade, and adopted four children at The Cradle in Evanston, Illinois: Linda, Anthony, Laura and Kelley. From them he had four grandchildren.
Later years of Bob Hope
As Bob Hope entered his eighth decade, he showed no signs of slowing down and continued appearing in numerous television specials. After years of providing entertainment to millions of people, it was finally Bob Hope’s turn to be recognized. He was given an 80th birthday party in 1983 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. which was attended by President Ronald Reagan. In 1985, he was presented with the Life Achievement Award at the Kennedy Center Honors. He was presented with the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in 1997 by Nancy Reagan which is given to “those who have made monumental and lasting contributions to the cause of freedom worldwide,” and who “embody President Reagan’s lifelong belief that one man or woman truly can make a difference”. The following year, Hope was given his greatest honor when he received an honorary knighthood ‘Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ by Queen Elizabeth II. Upon accepting the award, Bob quipped, “I’m speechless. 70 years of ad lib material and I’m speechless”. At the age of 95, Hope made a memorable appearance at the 50th anniversary of the Primetime Emmy Awards with fellow television icons Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Just two years later, Bob Hope was present at the opening of the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment at the Library of Congress.
Bob Hope celebrated his 100th birthday on May 29, 2003, joining a small group of notable centenarians in the field of entertainment (including Irving Berlin, Hal Roach, Senor Wences, George Abbott, and George Burns.) To mark this event, the intersection of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles, California was named Bob Hope Square and his centennial was declared Bob Hope Day in 35 states. Hope spent the day privately in his Toluca Lake, Los Angeles home where he had lived since 1937. Even at 100, Hope is said to have maintained his self-deprecating sense of humor, quipping “‘m so old, they’ve canceled my blood type.”
Death of Bob Hope
Hope lived so long that he suffered premature obituaries on two separate occasions. In 1998 a prepared obituary by The Associated Press was inadvertently released on the Internet, prompting Hope’s death to be announced in the US House of Representatives. In 2003 he was among several famous figures whose pre-written obituaries were published on CNN’s website due to a lapse in password protection.
Beginning in 2000, however, Hope’s health began to steadily decline and he was hospitalized several times up until his death. In June 2000 he spent nearly a week in a California hospital after being hospitalized for gastrointestinal bleeding. In August 2001, he spent close to two weeks in the hospital recovering from pneumonia.
On July 27, 2003, Bob Hope died at his home at 9:28 p.m. According to one of Hope’s daughters, when asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, he told his wife, “Surprise me”. After his death, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, confirmed that Hope had converted to Roman Catholicism years before he died and added that he had died a Catholic in good standing. He was interred in the Bob Hope Memorial Garden at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles, where his mother is also buried.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. has a wing funded by Dolores and Bob Hope in memory of his mother. It is dedicated to a miracle in Pontmain, France.
Biography of Bob Hope courtesy of Wikipedia