Bob Hope, KBE, KCSG (born Leslie Townes Hope; May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003) was a British-born, American comedian and actor who appeared in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in radio, television and movies. He was also noted for his work with the US Armed Forces and his numerous USO tours entertaining American military personnel. Throughout his career, he was honored for his humanitarian work. In 1996, the U.S. Congress honored Bob Hope by declaring him the "first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces." Bob Hope appeared or hosted 199 known USO shows.
Hope was born in Eltham, London, England, the fifth of seven sons. His father, William Henry Hope, was a stonemason from Weston-super-Mare and his Welsh mother, Avis Townes, was a light opera singer who later worked 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 emigrated to the United States aboard the SS Philadelphia, and passed inspection at Ellis Island on March 30, 1908. Hope became a U.S. citizen in 1920 at the age of seventeen. In a 1942 legal document, Hope's legal name is given as Lester Townes Hope; it is unknown if this reflects a legal name change.
From the age of 12, he worked at a variety of odd jobs at a local board walk. He would busk, doing dance and comedy patter to make extra money (oftentimes on the trolley to Luna Park). He entered many dancing and amateur talent contests (as Lester Hope), and won prizes for his impersonation of Charlie Chaplin. He also boxed briefly and unsuccessfully under the name Packy East, once making it to the semifinals of the Ohio novice championship.
Silent film comedian Fatty Arbuckle saw one of his performances with his first partner, Lloyd "Lefty" Durbin, and in 1925 got the pair steady work with Hurley's Jolly Follies. Within a year, Hope had formed an act called the Dancemedians with George Byrne 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 Hope that he was funnier as himself. In 1929, he changed his name to "Bob", after racecar driver Bob Burman. After five years on the vaudeville circuit, by his own account, Hope was surprised and humbled when he and his partner (and future wife) Grace Louise Troxell failed a 1930 screen test for Pathé at Culver City, California.
Hope, like other stage performers, made his first films in New York. Educational Pictures employed him in 1934 for a short-subject comedy, Going Spanish. Hope sealed his fate with Educational when Walter Winchell asked him about the film. Hope cracked, "When they catch John Dillinger, they're going to make him sit through it twice." Educational fired him, but he was soon before the cameras at New York's Vitaphone studio starring in 20-minute comedies and musicals from 1934 through 1936.
Paramount Pictures signed 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 song later to become his trademark, "Thanks for the Memory", which became a major hit and was praised by critics. The sentimental, 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.
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.
As a movie star, he was best known for My Favorite Brunette and the highly successful "Road" movies in which he starred with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Hope had seen Lamour as a nightclub singer in New York, and invited her to work on his USO tours. Lamour is said to have arrived for filming prepared with her lines, only to be baffled by completely re-written scripts from Hope's writers without studio permission. Hope and 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.
Hope was host of the Academy Awards ceremony 18 times between 1939 and 1977. His feigned lust for an Oscar became part of his act. In one scene from Road to Morocco he erupted in a frenzy, shouting about his imminent death from exposure. Bing Crosby reminds him that rescue is just minutes away, and a disappointed Hope complains that Crosby has spoiled his best scene, and thus his chance for an Academy Award. Also, in The Road to Bali, when Crosby finds Humphrey Bogart's Oscar for The African Queen, Hope grabs it, saying "Give me that. You've got one." Although Hope never was nominated for an Oscar for his performances (Bing Crosby won the Best Actor for Going My Way in 1944), 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 quipped, "Welcome to the Academy Awards, or, as it's known at my house, Passover."
Hope first appeared on television in 1932 during a test transmission from an experimental CBS studio in New York. In January 1947, Hope was master of ceremonies for the first telecast by California's first television station, KTLA. His career in broadcasting spanned 64 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 Show Starring Bob Hope began, continuing as The New Swan Show in 1948 (for the same sponsor, Lever Brothers). After 1950, the series was known simply as The Bob Hope Show, with Liggett & Myers (1950-52), General Foods (1953) and American Dairy Association (1953-55) as his sponsors, until it finally went off the air in April 1955. Regulars on his radio series included zany Jerry Colonna and Barbara Jo Allen as spinster Vera Vague.
Hope did many specials for the NBC television network in the following decades, beginning in April 1950. These were often sponsored by General Motors (1955-61), Chrysler (1963-73) and Texaco (1975-85), and Hope served as a spokesman for both companies for many years. and would sometimes introduce himself as "Bob, from Texaco, Hope." 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, Barbara Eden, and Brooke Shields).
In October 1956, Hope appeared on an episode of the most-viewed program in America at the time, I Love Lucy. He said, upon receiving the script: "What? A script? I don't need one of these", and ad-libbed the entire episode. Desi Arnaz said of Hope after his appearance: "Bob is a very nice man, he can crack you up, no matter how much you try for him to not." Lucy and Desi returned the favor by appearing on one of his Chevy Show specials (with Vivian Vance and William Frawley) later that season.
Hope's 1970 and 1971 Christmas specials for NBC—filmed in Vietnam in front of military audiences at the height of the war—are on the list of the Top 30 U.S. Network Primetime Telecasts of All Time. Both were seen by more than 60% of the U.S. households watching television.
In 1992, Bob Hope made a guest appearance as himself on The Simpsons, in the episode "Lisa the Beauty Queen" (season 4, episode 4). The episode attracted 11.1 million viewers when it premiered on October 15. His final television special, Laughing with the Presidents, was broadcast in 1996, with Tony Danza helping Hope present a personal retrospective of presidents of the United States known to the comedian.
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 60 tours. For his service to his country through the USO, he was awarded the 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 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."
Hope appeared in so many theaters of war over the decades that it was often cracked (in Bob Hope style) that "Where there's death, there's Hope".
In 2009, Stephen Colbert carried a golf club on stage each night during his own week-long USO performance and taping of The Colbert Report and explained in his last episode that it was an homage to Hope.
Hope's first Broadway appearances, in 1927's The Sidewalks of New York and 1928's Ups-a-Daisy, were nothing but mere walk-ons.
He returned to Broadway in 1933 to star as Huckleberry Haines in the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields musical Roberta. Stints in the musicals Say When, the 1936 Ziegfeld Follies (with Fanny Brice), and Red, Hot and Blue with Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante followed. His performances were generally well-received and critics noted his keen sense of comedic timing.
Hope reprised his role as Huck Haines in a 1958 production of Roberta at The Muny Theater in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri.
Hope was an avid golfer. He was introduced to the game in the 1930s, and eventually played to a four handicap. His love for the game, and the humor he could find in it, made him a much sought-after foursome member. He once remarked that President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave up golf for painting - "fewer strokes, you know." In 1978, he putted against a then two-year-old Tiger Woods in a television appearance on The Mike Douglas Show. By the 1980s, a golf club became an integral prop for Hope during the stand-up segments of his television specials and USO Shows.
The Bob Hope Desert Classic was founded in 1960. The tournament made history in 1995, when Hope teed up for the opening round in a foursome that included Presidents Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton - the only time ever that three presidents participated in a golf foursome.
Hope would frequently use his television specials to promote the annual College Football All-America Team. The team members would enter the stage one by one and introduce themselves, and Hope would then give a one-liner about the player or his school. Hope would often don a football uniform for these presentations.
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. There were rumors that he fathered a daughter with Troxell and that he continued to send generous cheques to her despite a widely documented reputation for frugality. 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.
As Hope entered his ninth decade, he showed no signs of slowing down and continued appearing in numerous television specials. 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. The following year, Hope 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".
At the age of 95, Hope made an appearance at the 50th anniversary of the Primetime Emmy Awards with Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Two years later, Hope was present at the opening of the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment at the Library of Congress.
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, Adolph Zukor, 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 was said to have maintained his self-deprecating sense of humor, quipping, "I'm so old, they've canceled my blood type."
Hope had 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, Hope's health steadily declined and he was hospitalized several times before 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 in Toluca Lake 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.
In 1969, President Lyndon Johnson bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom upon Bob Hope for his service to the men and women of the armed forces through the USO.
He was a member of the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in the radio division.
Order of St. Gregory the Great - 1989
Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) - 1998
Member of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels
One of the few non-members given the privilege of dotting the 'i' in the Script Ohio routine performed by The Ohio State University Marching Band.
The Burbank, California public airport was renamed Bob Hope Airport in 2003.
Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1983.
USNS Bob Hope (T-AKR-300) of the U.S. Military Sealift Command was named after the performer in 1997. It is one of very few US naval ships that were named after living people.
The United States Air Force named a C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft after Hope, the Spirit of Bob Hope.
Hope received the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in 1997.
In 2008, the research library at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum was renamed by Congress with the consent of the President, as the Bob Hope Memorial Library.
For contributions to the live theater, radio, motion picture, and television, Bob Hope was honored with four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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.
Photograph Hand Oil Tinted by Artist Margaret A. Rogers.