Leslie Townes (Bob) Hope

May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003

Bob Hope   “The publics “Stooge”.  Stand still for only a moment and someone comes up with a wise crack, Bob Hope explains in and article that appeared in LIFE Magazine October 27, 1941. Young boys ask for my autograph while explaining that they want to trade them for better ones. Men tell him they want them for weak-minded relatives.  This article is just the beginning of an affair between Bob Hope, LIFE magazine and the public. Just like LIFE, Bob became an icon to the American people and eventually the world. Articles recounting his life appeared in no less than 12 issues including 4 covers.

            Born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England on May 29, 1903, in 1907, Leslie’s father brought the family to Cleveland, Ohio. In 1920, by virtue of his father’s naturalization, ‘Bob’ — the name by which the world would later know him — and his brothers became US citizens. (Bob joked, “I left England at the age of four when I found out I couldn’t be king.”)

            As a youth in Cleveland he earned spending money selling newspapers and as a constant entrant in amateur shows. During his years at East High School he worked as a delivery boy in his Uncle Fred’s meat market. He was also a soda jerk, a shoe salesman, and a pool hustler.

            After high school, Bob took dancing lessons from entertainer King Rastus Brown and from vaudeville hoofer Johnny Root. A natural, he took over some classes for his teachers. Bob also worked briefly as a newspaper reporter and tried amateur boxing under the name of Packy East. Bob gave up boxing when he ” was not only being carried out of the ring, but into the ring.” At 18, Bob persuaded his girlfriend, Mildred Rosequist, to become his dance partner. Appearing at nearby vaudeville houses they worked their way to the princely wage of $8 a night and were ready to take their show on tour. However, the curtain fell abruptly on Hope and Rosequist when Mildred’s mother finally saw the act.

            Bob Hope’s life became an iconic symbol to all corners and people of the world. His work spanned the spectrum from street performances to Vaudeville, Broadway, Radio, Movies, Television and his most memorable and highly praised work of entertaining the troops in all theaters of war from WW II through the Iraq war of 1991 continuing until his death on July 27, 2003 at the age of 100. The United States Navy in 1997 christened the USNS Bob Hope (AKR 300) a new class of ships named after Bob. One month later the United States Air Force dedicated a new C-17 calling it the ‘Spirit of Bob Hope’

            He has been honored by the United States Congress no less than 5 times, an honor, that to this day has not been achieved by anyone else.  The culmination of his life work peaked when in October 1997 Congress passed Resolution 75 Making Bob Hope an “Honorary Veteran” the first individual so honored in the history of the United States.

            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 own fate with Educational when a newspaper columnist asked him about his new movie. Hope cracked, “When they catch John Dillinger, they’re going to make him sit through it twice.” Educational fired him, but he was soon back before the cameras at New York’s Vitaphone studio, where he starred 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, Hope introduced the bittersweet song later to become his trademark, “Thanks for the Memory“, which became a major hit and was praised by critics. The sentimental and 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 onscreen 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. (This is the equivalent of $1.4 million dollars in 2006 money.)

            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 first seen performing as a nightclub singer in New York and subsequently invited to work with him on his USO tours). Lamour is said to have shown up for filming fully prepared with her lines, only to be baffled by completely new material which had been written by Hope’s own staff of writers without the studio’s 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 alleged lust for an Oscar became part of his performing shtick, 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 in the picture, and thus, his chance for an Academy Award.

             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.”

            Bob Hope remained vibrant as an entertainer through his television specials during the 1980s, hardly losing a step despite his advancing age. However, as the decade ended, with Hope nearing his 90s, his trademark and seemingly invincible sharp delivery had finally begun to noticeably decline. Although still witty and true to his style, his appearances grew less frequent and dramatically less Hope-centric through the final decade of the century.

Excerpts from Bob Hope.com      Excerpts from Wikipedia.com

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