About Leslie Townes Hope
A superstar of radio, film and television during the 1940s and 1950s, Bob Hope was also noted for his work with the US Armed Forces and his numerous USO shows 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." He was also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bob Hope appeared in or hosted 199 known USO shows. For contributions to the live theater, radio, motion picture, and television, Bob Hope was honored with four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He was born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England on May 29, 1903, one of Harry and Agnes Townes Hope's seven surviving boys. His father was a stonemason (a construction worker), and his mother had been a concert singer in Wales. By the age of four Hope was a skilled mimic and loved to sing and dance. In 1908 the family left England and settled in Cleveland, Ohio. For Hope, who looked and sounded British, the adjustment was difficult. Neighborhood kids turned his name around to create the nickname "Hopelessly." When he shortened his name to Les, they began to refer to him as "Hopeless." As a result of all this teasing, Hope often got in fights and developed into a boxer of some skill.
The first signs of his vocation manifested at age 10 when he won a Charlie Chaplin imitation contest. After a series of odd jobs, including amateur boxer, Hope during his late teens embarked on an entertainment career and later performed with a succession of partners in vaudeville. He gained experience in an act he formed with a comedian from Columbus, Ohio, named George Byrne. Using the name Lester, Hope went with Byrne to New York City in 1926. They performed in cities and towns throughout the state. They finally appeared in a New York City vaudeville production called "Sidewalks." They were fired within a month, however.
Hope got his first chance to work as a solo act at the Stratford Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, in 1928. He changed his name to Bob because he felt that would be "chummier" and would look better on a theater sign. He worked hard and succeeded but soon left the Stratford to tour Midwestern cities.
By 1932 Hope was earning a thousand dollars a week during a time when millions of people were out of work. Still, he was not satisfied. He always wanted to improve and to become an outstanding comic in the business. After additional work in vaudeville and a failed Hollywood screen test, he landed his first substantial stage role in the Jerome Kern musical Roberta (1933).
In January 1936 he opened in the "Follies" at New York City's Winter Garden Theatre. The "Ziegfield Follies" was the musical highlight of Broadway, consisting of beautiful girls and costumes, witty dialogue between the actors and actresses, and music by such great composers as Vernon Duke (1903–1969) and Ira Gershwin (1896–1983).
Just as silent films had popularized physical and slapstick comedy, the encroachment of sound motion pictures and radio during the 1930s paved the way for Hope's style of brash verbal comedy. Hope made his feature-film debut in The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938), in which he first sang his signature tune “Thanks for the Memory,” and he launched the long-running The Bob Hope Show on radio in that same year. The first films to showcase Hope's familiar persona were The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Ghost Breakers (1940), two horror-film spoofs that costarred Paulette Goddard.
In 1940 Hope made Road to Singapore, the first of seven popular “Road” pictures in which he costarred with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Characterized by lighthearted irreverence, absurd sight gags, and an abundance of in-jokes, the “Road” pictures embody the brazen style of comedy in vogue during the 1940s. The films, of which Road to Morocco (1942) and Road to Utopia (1946) are usually cited as the best in the series. By the end of the decade, Hope was one of America's most popular comics. He went on to appear in fifty-two movies.
Hope has always been strongly patriotic. On December 7, 1941, when Japanese attack planes bombed Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, causing the United States to enter World War II (1939–45; a war in which Germany, Japan, and Italy fought against Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States), Hope spoke out against the attack. During a radio broadcast on December 16, Hope declared his love for his country: "There is no need to tell a nation to keep smiling when it's never stopped. It is that ability to laugh the makes us the great people that we are … Americans!"
In 1942 Hope was asked to make an entertainment tour of Alaskan army bases. Hope brought other performers along and put together a variety show for the troops stationed there. That was the beginning of a commitment on Hope's part that has never ended. Every year, especially during the Christmas season, he has led a drive to present shows to American men and women in the armed forces. At the Academy Awards in February 1941, Hope was given a special award for his many benefit performances. He also won honorary (awarded without meeting the usual requirements) Oscars in 1940, 1944, 1952, and 1965.
Some of Hope's charitable activities involve golf. Hope has played the game all of his life, including with several U.S. presidents. In 1964 he agreed to have the Palm Springs Classic golf tournament renamed The Bob Hope Desert Classic, which he has hosted ever since. Since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945), Hope has appeared many times at the White House. Hope's seventy-fifth birthday party, held in the Washington Kennedy Center, was attended by members of Congress and by many of Hope's acting friends. Another celebration was held at the Kennedy Center in 1983, when Hope turned eighty years old. This time President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, hosted the celebration. At the celebration Hope showed no signs of slowing down.
In May 1993 NBC celebrated Hope's ninetieth birthday with the three-hour special "Bob Hope: The First Ninety Years." The show featured tributes from every living U.S. president at that time. By then, according to TV Guide, Hope had made more than five hundred TV shows and seventy movies. Hope concluded his sixty-year contract with NBC in November 1996, when his final special, "Laughing with the Presidents," aired.
The Guinness Book of World Records called Hope the most honored entertainer in the world. By mid-1995 he had received more than two thousand awards, including fifty-four honorary doctorate degrees, The Saturday Evening Post reported. In 1998 Hope and his wife Delores announced that they would donate his personal papers and collection of almost 90,000 jokes to the Library of Congress. A partial list of his honors can be found here.
Beginning in 2000, Hope's health steadily declined and he was hospitalized several times before his death. On July 27, 2003, Bob Hope died at his home in Toluca Lake at 9:28 p.m. According to the Soledad O'Brien interview with Hope's grandson Zach Hope, when asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, Hope told his wife, "Surprise me." He was interred in the Bob Hope Memorial Garden at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles, where his mother is also buried.
According to biographer Arthur Marx, 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 checks to her despite a widely documented reputation for frugality. In 1934, Bob Hope married Dolores DeFina, and adopted four children at The Cradle in Evanston, Illinois: Linda, Tony, Kelly and Nora. From them he had several grandchildren, including Andrew, Miranda, and Zachary Hope. Tony (Anthony J. Hope), who served as a presidential appointee in the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations and in a variety of posts under Presidents Ford and Reagan, died at age 63 in 2004.
Books by Bob Hope
- Hope, Bob. They Got Me Covered. Hollywood California: Bob Hope, 1941.
- Hope, Bob. I Never Left Home. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944.
- Hope, Bob. Bob Hope's So This is Peace. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1946.
- Hope, Bob and Pete Martin. Have Tux, Will Travel: Bob Hope's Own Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1954. ISBN 0-74326-103-8.
- Hope, Bob. I Owe Russia $1200. New York: Doubleday, 1963. ISBN 978-0017450395.
- Hope, Bob. Five Women I Love: Bob Hope's Vietnam Story. Amarillo , Texas: Hale Publishing, 1967. ISBN 978-0517504550.
- Hope, Bob and Pete Martin. The Last Christmas Show. New York: Doubleday, 1974. ISBN 0-70915-660-X.
- Hope, Bob and Bob Thomas. The Road to Hollywood: My 40-year Love Affair with the Movies. New York: Doubleday, 1977. ISBN 0-38502-292-1.
- Hope, Bob and Dwayne Netlund. Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair with Golf. New York: Doubleday, 1985. ISBN 0-38517-442-X.
- Hope, Bob and Melville Shavelson. Don't Shoot, It's Only Me: Bob Hope's Comedy History of the United States. New York: Putnam, 1990. ISBN 0-39913-518-9.
- Hope, Bob and Linda Chandler Munson. We Could've Finished Last Without You: An Irreverent Look at the Atlanta Braves, the Losingest Team in Baseball for the Past 25 Years. Longstreet Press, 1991. ISBN 0-92926-484-3.
- Hope, Bob and Ward Grant. Bob Hope Remembers World War II: The European Theater and D-Day. Hollywood, California: Hope Enterprises, 1994. ISBN 1-88599-701-9.
- Hope, Bob and Ward Grant. Bob Hope's Dear Prez, I Wanna Tell Ya!: A Presidential Jokebook. Los Angeles, California: General Pub. Group, 1996. ISBN 1-57544-009-1.
- Hope, Bob, Delores Hope and Ward Grant. Thanks for the Memories. Los Angeles, California: General Pub. Group, 1998. ISBN 1-57544-040-7.
- Hope, Bob. Greater Late Than Never: Fulfilling Your Dreams After 50. Atlanta, Georgia: Longstreet Press, 1998. ISBN 1-56352-470-8.
- Hope, Bob and Linda Hope. Bob Hope: My Life in Jokes. New York: Hyperion Books, 2004. ISBN 1-40130-742-6.