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The Legacy of Bob Hope: A Biography of One of History's Best Known and Loved Comedians
Why Bob Hope was unique in his life and comedic style, and what made him the universally acclaimed and adored actor he became.
To some, it is a feeling, to others a way of life, to yet others it is a thing to be obtained or lost. But to millions of American servicemen and women, hope was a man, the man who gave them a smile and laughter to carry them back into battle or out into the desert, the face that lifted them out of hell for a few moments and made the world sane again.
Christened Leslie Townes Hope, the man the world knows as Bob Hope was, and remains, one of history's best-loved and universally admired showmen, not only for his classic wit and many unforgettable lines, but for his deep respect for humankind and his whole-hearted contributions of time and resources to providing entertainment for those who often needed it most-the men and women of the armed forces. Bob Hope's nearly sixty years of doing shows for the troops remain a unique accomplishment-no comedian before or since has come close to equaling his courage, commitment, and longevity in serving his country through comedy.
Bob Hope's shows for the troops began in 1941 at March Field, CA, with a radio show performed by Bob and a motley crew of performers. From there he and his show members went on to perform in military bases in the States, Europe, and the Pacific. In 1943 he would make his first excursion into a combat zone-Italy, North Africa and the Southwest Pacific, among other destinations-with a small band of USO performers that included petite Frances Langford, the "Sweetheart of the Flying Fronts" as she was known, Jerry Cologna with his trademark bushy mustache and bulging eyes, Tony Romano, dancer Patty Thomas, and Jack Pepper.
1948 saw the beginning of a new tradition for Bob and his wife Dolores, a Christmas show for the troops, the first of which took place in Germany for the troops carrying out the British Airlift. Although in 1972 with the end of the Vietnam war, Bob called his Christmas trip of the year his last, he continued to spend his Christmastimes doing shows at military bases or veteran hospitals around the country.
But none of this would have come about had it not been for the events that led Bob from a small audience in a vaudeville theater to performing for millions on radio and TV.
Bob Hope was the fifth of seven sons born to William Henry Hope and Avis Townes Hope of Eltham, England. Bob came naturally by his penchant for the spotlight, his mother being an aspiring opera singer from Wales. Just four years after Bob's birth on May 29, 1903, his father took the family Stateside, settling in Cleveland, Ohio. Then, because of their father's naturalization, all of the boys became US citizens in 1920.
Vaudeville was Bob's first sally into the world of acting; his two main ways of earning money as a boy were selling newspapers and frequently entering amateur shows. In high school he also worked part time as a delivery boy, soda jerk, shoe salesman, and pool hustler, but after high school began accumulating the talents he would use later onstage and in films, taking dancing lessons from professional dancer King Rastus Brown and from vaudeville dancer Johnny Root. Bob took to dancing like a fish to water, and was soon teaching classes for his former teachers. He dabbled in communications briefly, trying his hand at reporting, and then dubbed himself "Packy East" for an short attempt at amateur boxing.
Bob teamed up with his then girlfriend, Mildred Rosequist, at the age of 18, forming a dancing duo and performing at vaudeville houses. At one point they were making the grand pay of $8 per night. But Mildred's mother happened to see one of the performances, which cut their hopes of stardust on their heels abruptly short. Not unduly daunted, Bob then took up with Lloyd Durbin, and the two friends were shortly hired by the Bandbox Theater there in Cleveland to serve as a "cheap act" for Fatty Arbuckle's show. A year later Bob toured with George Byrne, doing tab shows and then moving on to larger houses such as Keith's Flushing in New York.
In New York Bob got his first chance at the next step in his career: Broadway, performing with Ruby Keeler and Smith amp; Dale in the show "Sidewalks of New York." Unfortunately, the show's popularity and that of the Hope/Byrne duo were polar opposites-the show had a long and successful run, while Bob and his partner went back west to recoup and reinvent their act. They managed to get a three-day slot with a small theater in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and Bob took advantage of his additional duty of advertising coming attractions to the audience to extend his introductions to 5 minutes long. After the three days were up, Bob became a 'single'.
Bob revisited Broadway in 1932 in "Ballyhoo", but it was not until a year later, in "Roberta", that he received his first major public and critical attention as the witty Huckleberry Haines. On the set of the musical he made one of the most important connections of his life as well-a co-performer named George Murphy introduced him to Dolores Reade, a young singer at the Vogue Club of 57th Street. They dated briefly and were married in February of 1934, a marriage that would defy all Hollywood conventions and keep the vow "till death do us part".
The next enterprise for Bob was another Broadway musical, this one called "Say When" (1934), after which he co-starred with Fanny Brice in the 1936 performance of "Ziegfeld Follies". That same year he also worked with Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante in "Red, Hot, and Blue". This last play would become the stepping-stone for the next niche in Bob's career-films-landing him a chance to do his first feature film, "The Big Broadcast of 1938", the Paramount Pictures movie from which his theme song, "Thanks for the Memories" was taken.
During his transformation from stage actor to film star, Bob also had a busy schedule doing radio shows, the first of which was the "Capitol Family Hour", where he would make a second life-changing acquaintance-Bing Crosby, who would become his co-star for the universally loved "Road" movies. They quickly became friends and would eventually develop the chemistry and trademark give-and-take, both onscreen and off, that would characterize their relationship to the world of movie-goers.
Although the Capitol show was an important one for Bob in many ways, his first major radio spot was on the "Fleishmann Hour", starring actor Rudy Vallee. Bob went on to enter into a contract for twenty-six weeks of radio time with the "Woodbury Soap Show", a production of NBC's. He continued with his show even through filming "The Big Broadcast of 1938", using transcontinental hookup to do the show. That same year he was sponsored for his own show by Pepsodent, airing again on NBC. The Tuesday night show quickly became a hit with American audiences, featuring actors such as Vera Vague, Brenda and Cobina, Bill Goodwin, Les Brown and his Band of Renown, Doris Day, Gloria Jean, and Frances Langford, Jerry Colonna, the last two of which, among others, would later work with Bob in movies and join him doing shows for the troops.
Bob Hope's more than 50 feature films are almost all known and loved by viewers of all ages, thanks to his timeless wit and classic comedic style, which used almost exclusively his unforgettable one-liners and trademark facial expressions to carry the scenes. While the material of some of his movies was slightly risquÃ© for the times, it was never overwhelmingly crude or gratuitously scatological like much of today's clichÃ©d humor. Even when making the joke everyone has heard a thousand times, he found ways to make it uniquely his, and to make you laugh at it one more time.
His film appearances, from his 1938 debut to his last movie, 1986 TV movie "A Masterpiece of Murder", included, from latest to earliest: Spies Like Us (1985) , The Muppet Movie (1979), Cancel My Reservation (1972) , How to Commit Marriage (1969) , The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968) , Carnival Nights (1968) , Eight on the Lam (1967) , Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966), I'll Take Sweden (1965) , A Global Affair (1964) , Call Me Bwana (1963) , Critic's Choice (1963) , The Road to Hong Kong (1962), Bachelor in Paradise (1961) , The Facts of Life (1960) , Alias Jesse James (1959) , Paris Holiday (1958) , Beau James (1957) , The Heart of Show Business (1957) , The Iron Petticoat (1956), That Certain Feeling (1956), Showdown at Ulcer Gulch , The Seven Little Foys (1955), Casanova's Big Night (1954) , Here Come the Girls (1953) , Off Limits (1953), Road to Bali (1952), Son of Paleface (1952), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), My Favorite Spy (1951), The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), Fancy Pants (1950), The Great Lover (1949), Sorrowful Jones (1949), The Paleface (1948), Road to Rio (1947), Where There's Life (1947), My Favorite Brunette (1947), Monsieur Beaucaire (1946), Road to Utopia (1946), The Princess and the Pirate (1944), Let's Face It (1943), They Got Me Covered (1943), Road to Morocco (1942), My Favorite Blonde (1942), Louisiana Purchase (1941), Nothing But the Truth (1941), Caught in the Draft (1941), Road to Zanzibar (1941), The Ghost Breakers (1940), Road to Singapore (1940) , The Cat and the Canary (1939), Some Like It Hot (1939), and Never Say Die (1939).
In addition to his feature films, Bob also appeared in 15 movies doing cameos, the last of which was the 1985 film "Spies Like Us". Two of his movies introduced Academy Award-winning songs: "Thanks For the Memory" from "The Big Broadcast of 1938" and "Buttons and Bows" from 1948's "The Paleface". Other notable songs from his movies are "Two Sleepy People" from "Thanks for the Memory", "Silver Bells" from "The Lemon Drop Kid", and "Put It There, Pal", "Teamwork", and "We're Off on the Road to Morocco", all from the "Road" movies with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.
The "Road" movies are among Bob's best-known successes. They began when Paramount offered the roles from the tentatively titled "Road to Mandaley", originally planned for comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen, to Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie. Getting a negative from both groups, Paramount gave the roles to Bob, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour, and renamed the movie "The Road to Singapore". They would go on to make film history with it and the following "Road" movies, which included "Road to Morocco", "Road to Zanzibar", "Road to Rio", "Road to Bali", and "Road to Utopia".
Bob's last televised appearance was an episode of "Highway to Heaven" called "Heaven Nose, Mr. Smith". He went on to celebrate his 100th birthday before sucumbing to pneumonia just a few weeks later on the 23rd of July, 2003. Responses to his passing included words from the President of the United States and the Queen of England, who promised to send a private message of condolence to his widow.
Bob Hope's unique accomplishments have been honored with more than 2000 awards, earning him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, including recognition by several US presidents, the Congressional Medal of Honor, an honorary knighthood, the naming of a new class of ships and a new Air Force plane after him-the 'Spirit of Bob Hope', the naming of a Bob Hope square in Hollywood, the naming of a Bob Hope Day in 35 US states, five accolades by the US Congress, his designation as the first Honorary Veteran in the history of the United States, a visit from the Pentagon to his home for the presentation of the Order of Horatio Gates Gold Medal, and the naming of a chapel in his honor-the Los Angeles National Cemetery chapel was renamed the Bob Hope Veterans Chapel. He received 58 honorary degrees for his witty and inspirational speeches at college commencements. But the greatest honor he held and holds, and the one I think this truly remarkable man would have been proudest of, is immortality in the minds of the millions of people who were entertained, uplifted, and revitalized by his words-serious or lighthearted-and by his masterful emoting through that endearingly imperfect face.