Bob Hope, KBE KCSG (May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003), was an 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.
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. 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, once making it to the semifinals of the Ohio novice championship.
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 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. 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 hired him in 1934 for a short-subject comedy, Going Spanish. Unfortunately for Hope, he sealed his fate with Educational when a newspaper columnist 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. 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.
According to 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 on-screen performances.
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.
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 seen as a nightclub singer in New York, and invited to work on his USO tours). Lamour is said to have arrived for filming prepared with her lines, only to be baffled by completely new material, written by Hope's writers without studio permission.
Hope was host of the Academy Awards ceremony 18 times between 1939 and 1977. His alleged lust for an Oscar became part of his act, 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, and thus his chance for an Academy Award. He also expressed this in The Road to Bali, in which Crosby finds Humphrey Bogart's Oscar for The African Queen, and Hope grabs it, saying "Give me that. You've got one."
Although Hope never did win a 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 first appeared on television in 1932 during a test transmission from an experimental CBS studio in New York. 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 Radio Show Starring Bob Hope began, continuing through 1953. 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. These were often sponsored by Chrysler, and Hope served as a spokesman for the firm for many years. Many were also sponsored by Texaco and much like Chrysler, he became a spokesman for them as well, sometimes introducing 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 or Brooke Shields).
In the 1950s, Hope appeared on an episode of the most-viewed program in America at the time, I Love Lucy. He is reported to have said, upon receiving the script: "What? A script? I don't need one of these." Supposedly, he 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."
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 when they aired.
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:
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."
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.
A golf club became an integral prop of Hope's during his standup segments of his television specials as well as during his USO Shows, and at his peak in the 80's.
In 1960, the Bob Hope Desert Classic was founded, eventually picking up the sponsorship of Chrysler, a company long associated with Hope. In 1995, the tournament made history 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.
Frequently, Hope would 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.
As Hope entered his eighth 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 lived so long that he 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, Roger Cardinal 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.