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the most honored entertainer in the world
Leslie Townes Hope was born in Eltham, England, on May 29, 1903. His English father was a stonemason, his Welsh mother a concert singer. His father brought the family to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1907. Upon his father's naturalization in 1920, Bob (as he was always known) and his six brothers became U.S. citizens.
As a youth Hope earned money selling newspapers, jerking sodas, selling shoes, as a pool hustler, and as a constant entrant in amateur talent shows. After high school he took dancing lessons from entertainer King Rastus Brown and vaudeville hoofer Johnny Root. He was soon deemed good enough to take over some of the classes.
At the age of 18, Hope persuaded girlfriend Mildred Rosequist to become his dance partner. The pair were earning $8 a night at local vaudeville houses when Mildred's mother happened to catch their act and put an end to the partnership.
Hope next teamed with Lloyd Durbin, with whom he developed a new act. The pair honed their act in local bookings, and were eventually hired as a warm-up act for Fatty Arbuckle. After about a year with Durbin, Hope teamed with George Byrne, with whom he was able to secure gigs at major houses in New York City. Hope & Byrne were eventually chosen to appear on the Broadway show Sidewalks of New York. Although the show enjoyed a long successful run, the team of Hope & Byrnes did not.
Hoping to boost their careers, Hope & Byrnes went west, and finally got a three-day date in a tiny theater in New Castle, Pennsylvania. On opening night, Hope was asked to announce the coming attractions to the audience. The audience's response led him to expand the routine to five minutes, and by the end of the engagement he was a single act.
From vaudeville Hope moved on to Broadway, in the play Ballyhoo (1932). His first major recognition came when he played Huckleberry Haines in Roberta, in 1933. He also appeared in Say When (1934) and Ziegfeld Follies (1936), among others.
Hope first entered radio in 1933, appearing on the "Fleishmann Hour," starring Rudy Vallee. In May 1937, he was signed to a twenty-six week contract by NBC to perform on the "Woodbury Soap Show." That show went so well that, in 1938, he got his own show, "The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope," which became the highest-rated program on radio during World War II, and remained at or near the top of the ratings through April 1956.
Like many other vaudeville performers of his day, Hope did several minor movies in New York to help make ends meet. Unlike most of those other performers, however, he made the transition to Hollywood-filmed movies. His first major feature film was The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938), in which he debuted what would become his signature song, "Thanks for the Memories." While filming in Hollywood, he did his radio show via transcontinental hook-up.
Over the subsequent decades Hope would star in more than 50 feature films and make cameo appearances in another 15 or so. Many of those films were box-office hits, but he is probably best remembered for the "Road Films" he made with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, beginning with Road to Singapore (1940). His last major film appearance was in Spies Like Us (1985).
Again, unlike many of his contemporaries, Hope made the transition from big to little screen quite easily. His formal television debut came in October of 1950, when he hosted the NBC special "Star Spangled Revue," a 90-minute tour-de-farce of old vaudeville routines. He would subsequently host six more specials for NBC during the 1950-1951 season, and firmly established what would become another of his trademarks -- the extravaganza special featuring a small group of "regular" performers along with an impressive list of "guest stars." He would, essentially, spend the next thirty-plus years airing an extravagant vaudeville show, and scoring top ten ratings every single time.
In May of 1941, Hope took a group of performers to March Field, California, and did his radio show for the airmen stationed there. Throughout World War II every one of his radio shows, with the exception of two, were performed at and broadcast from military bases and installations, including those within the theaters of war.
In 1948 Hope did a Christmas show from Germany before troops involved in the Berlin Airlift. The show was such a success that he determined to make the Christmas show a tradition, eventually filming them for television starting in 1954. The 90-minute "Bob Hope Christmas Specials" were broadcast every holiday season until 1972. He did each of them from an overseas military base, and he always made it a point to include some of the servicemen in the show. Although regular television broadcasts of Hope's Christmas specials ended in 1972, his shows did not. He continued to visit overseas bases well into the 1990s, including during the first Gulf War.
Hope began hosting the Oscar Awards telecast in 1960, and performed those duties for a total of fifteen years, a record which is not likely to ever be broken. He did this despite the fact that he was never even nominated for a performing Oscar. He was, however, the recipient of two honorary Oscars, two special awards, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
In addition to his successes on the vaudeville stage, behind the radio microphone, and in front of movie and television cameras, Hope also enjoyed success on the golf course. Although he never considered himself a true professional in any sense of the world, he truly enjoyed the game and was, according to many actual professionals, a very capable golfer. In fact, he so loved the game that he helped develop the Palm Springs, California, area into one of the premier golfing destinations in the country. He also developed the Bob Hope/Chrysler Classic, a pro-am charity tournament held annually in Palm Springs. Over the last 44 years the tournament has raised over $35 million. Hope's book, Confessions of a Hooker, was on the New York Times best seller list for 53 weeks.
Bob Hope married Dolores Reade in February 1934. The couple had four children: Linda, Anthony, Nora, and Kelly.
In 1996, Hope published a collection of presidential humor, entitled Dear Prez, I Wanna Tell Ya.
Bob Hope died in Toluca Lake, California, on July 27, 2003, just a couple of months past his 100th birthday.
Awards and Honors
The Guiness Book of World Records lists Bob Hope as the most honored entertainer in the world, with more than 2,000, including 54 honorary doctorates and three Presidential citations -- President John F. Kennedy honored him with the Congressional Gold Medal, President Richard Nixon with the Medal of Freedom, and President Bill Clinton with the Medal of the Arts. In 1998, Queen Elizabeth II made him an honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Hope's long record of service to America's armed forces has earned him some unique honors. In May of 1997, the U.S. Navy christened the USNS Bob Hope in his honor. Not to be outdone, the Air Force dedicated a new C-17 in his name (the "Spirit of Bob Hope"), in June of that same year. In October of 1997, Congress passed Resolution 75, making him an Honorary Veteran, the first (and to date only) civilian to be so honored. On May 29, 2002, The Chapel at the Los Angeles National Cemetery was named The Bob Hope Veterans Chapel.
Among his many more "conventional" honors are:
Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences (the Oscars)
Going Spanish (1934)
"The Star-Spangled Revue" (1950)
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This page was last updated on 06/24/2017.