Born Leslie Townes Hope, May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England; died from complications due to pneumonia, July 27, 2003, in Toluca Lake, CA. Comedian and actor. Known as "Mr. Entertainment," "The King of Comedy," or "ol' ski nose," Bob Hope entertained the world for more than 70 years. He earned his stripes as a young vaudevillian comedian, did a turn on Broadway, made it to Hollywood, then onto radio and eventually television. Always busy, always touring, Hope logged more than a million miles of travel visiting American troops wherever they were stationed across the globe. Jack Kroll of Newsweek said of Hope, "His greatness was in his rapid–fire delivery, his rhythm, his fervent enjoyment of himself."
Born Leslie Townes Hope, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, with his family when he was four years old. His father, William Henry Hope, was a stonemason who moved to the United States with hopes of finding employment. Hope's mother, Avis Townes Hope, had been a concert singer. She taught Hope to sing and dance when he was young and often had him perform for visitors.
Hope held several jobs as a teenager including selling newspapers and shoes. He also worked at a meat market, a drugstore, and as a golf caddy. Eventually he was drawn to entertainment, spurred on by an award he won imitating silent screen star Charlie Chaplin. His first shot at stardom came as part of a duo who performed the opening act for entertainer Fatty Arbuckle's traveling show. Afterward his duo joined the vaudeville circuit. It did not take Hope long to decide to try a solo act and he spent some lean times in Chicago, Illinois, perfecting his routine.
Hope eventually changed his name from Leslie to Bob. He wrote about his reasons for changing the name in The Bob Book, excerpted by E! Online: "I thought, 'Hey, Leslie's a girl's name! I think what I'll do is change it to Bob. It's more chummy' Leslie had a little question mark behind it, you know?" Hope said the name change made all the difference in his career. He claims his earnings for each show increased and that he was booked more often.
By 1932 Hope was playing parts on Broadway in shows like Ballyhoo, Roberta, and Say When. In 1936 he and comedienne Fanny Brice shared billing in the Ziegfeld Follies. That same year he turned in a memorable performance in Red, Hot, and Blue opposite comedian Jimmy Durante and singer/performer Ethel Merman. His use of the ad–libbed one–liner infuriated Merman but pleased audiences. That role earned him a ticket to Hollywood.
In Hollywood, Hope had a role in the film The Big Broadcast of 1938. It wasn't his greatest film but his theme song, "Thanks for the Memory," was first sung in that film. In addition to film roles, including the highly successful horror comedy The Cat and the Canary, Hope was spending some time in front of the mike for NBC. He was so popular on radio that in 1938 NBC gave him his own radio show. His show soon became the number–one radio show in America. In 1952, Hope signed a two million dollar contract with NBC Radio—the largest ever for a radio star. Hope broadcast regularly until 1956.
Hope's film career took off in 1940 with the release of The Road to Singapore, a musical comedy pairing Hope with singer/actor Bing Crosby. Crosby and Hope, along with actress Dorothy Lamour, made a total of seven "Road" movies. Incredibly popular, these movies propelled Hope to the top of Hollywood's list of moneymakers. One of his most popular films made without Crosby was the 1948 movie Paleface. Hope's character in this film was cast in the same mold as that of his "Road" movies in which he had played a coward who made the best of his situation by joking and smirking while always trying to get the girl. Paleface was followed by the less successful Son of Paleface.
Success in radio and film did not lead to complacency for Hope. Instead he seemed to work even harder. In 1941 he made his first foray into entertaining U.S. servicemen. Until the mid–1990s, Hope traveled the world to deliver his one–liners to military personnel eager for distraction in the midst of wars and military actions, as well as during peacetime. From 1948 to 1972, he hosted annual Christmas shows at military bases overseas. The last of Hope's Christmas shows for the military was held in 1983.
Although Hope never won an Academy Award for any of his roles in more than 50 films, he was an integral part of their ceremonies from 1940 to 1978. He was the emcee and co–host of 20 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards ceremonies. For his contributions on screen and off, the Academy awarded Hope with five special honors. In addition to two honorary Oscars and two special awards throughout his career, Hope was also given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1959.
For the majority of his career, Hope kept his politics private. For all of his career he enjoyed the friendship of presidents from Eisenhower to Clinton. In the 1970s he was a frequent golf partner of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Hope had publicly supported Nixon's policy in Vietnam and organized a pro–Vietnam rally in Washington in 1970 called "Honor America Day." In 1971, he offered $10 million to North Vietnam for the release of prisoners of war. In 1972, he was a major fund–raiser for Nixon's presidential re–election.
Politics aside, Hope was one of the most honored entertainers in history, a fact that is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. Throughout his career Hope received more than 2,000 awards and honors. Some of his honors include the Congressional Medal of Honor, Knighthood, and being named an honorary veteran as well as part of American folklore. The Navy christened a ship and the Air Force a plane in his name in 1997. The United Service Organization's building in Washington D.C., is also named in his honor.
Hope is survived by his wife of 70 years, Dolores Reade, as well as his four children and four grandchildren. Hope made a significant and positive impact on generations of fans. He died on July 27, 2003, at the age of 100. Kroll wrote of Hope, "It sometimes seemed as if he'd ambled through the entire 20th century with a golf club in his hand, a sheaf of written–to–order wisecracks in his pocket and that so–false–it–was–true grin on his face."
E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/Features/Specials/Hope/Why/index.html (July 28, 2003); E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,12223,00.html (July 28, 2003); Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2003, p. A1, p. A20; Newsweek, August 11, 2003, pp. 62-63; New York Times, July 29, 2003, p. A1, p. A22; Washington Post, July 29, 2003, p. A1, p. A7.
— Eve M. B. Hermann