an island in the central Solomons, on Oct. 31, 1944.
Bob Hope, whose mastery of the comic monologue and the topical wisecrack carried him from vaudeville to Broadway musicals and then on to worldwide fame as a radio, film and television star of the first magnitude, died on Sunday July 27, 2003 at his home in Toluca Lake, Calif. He was 100.
There was nothing Bob Hope loved more than an audience, and audiences responded in kind, particularly soldiers facing combat who desperately needed a laugh. He once chartered a yacht for a cruise in Canadian waters. It was one of the few formal vacations he ever took, and he found he could not stand the serenity. He cut the cruise short and returned to Hollywood with the comment, "Fish don't applaud."
Mr. Hope, who made an art and a vast fortune out of the delivery of the one-line gag, thrived on applause. It was the secret of his youthfulness.
It was also an important source of the energy that allowed him to travel millions of miles to entertain American servicemen, far exceeding the effort of any other entertainer. From 1941 to 1948 he performed nearly all of his 400 radio shows at military bases. At an age when most performers curtail their activities, Mr. Hope made annual tours of Vietnam, playing to the sons of the servicemen he had entertained during World War II or the Korean War.
Several generations delighted in Mr. Hope's style of humor, epitomized by his breezy monologues, tightly woven gags that mixed the topical with the fantastic.
He arrived in Saigon on the day that Vietcong agents blew up an American officers' billet. "I was on the way to my hotel," he told an audience several hours later, "and I passed a hotel going in the opposite direction."
Mr. Hope excelled at a typically American brand of brash, timely humor. The wit was never very profound or subtle, but it was at its best irreverently poignant, carrying him through several immensely successful careers in the theater, radio, films and television.
Unlike most comedians who rose to success in the first decades of the century, Mr. Hope employed no special trick of speech, clothing or pantomime. His character, while essentially clean-cut, was that of a fast-talking wiseguy, a quaking braggart, an appealing heel with a harmless leer and a ready one-liner.
One of his legion of writers, Melville Shavelson, who went on to direct Mr. Hope in two of his best films, "Sorrowful Jones" and "The Seven Little Foys," once told John Lahr of The New Yorker: "We took his own characteristics and exaggerated them. The woman chaser. The coward. The cheap guy. We just put them in. He thought he was playing a character. He was playing, really, the real Bob Hope."
Mr. Hope was often at his best sticking barbs in politicians. In "Bob Hope: My Life in Jokes" (Hyperion, 2003), his daughter Linda helped compile some of his jibes decade by decade. His perspective on the 1984 presidential race between Ronald Reagan and Walter F. Mondale was vintage Hope, a theme and variations with only the slightest pause for laughter.
"Hey, what a victory for the Reagans . . . or, as they're now being referred to . . . `Dynasty.' "
"I wonder if anyone woke up the president and told him?"
"Mondale knew this was gonna be a bad day when he called Dial-a-Prayer and the taped message answered him by name."
"Remember, Mondale said God has no place in politics, and apparently God feels the same way about Mondale."
"George Bush decided to sleep late this morning. He left a wake-up call for 1988."
"The farmers hate to see it end. All those campaign speeches were good for the crops."
Woody Allen was among those comedians who often credited Mr. Hope as an influence on their work. "When my mother took me to see `Road to Morocco,' I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life," Mr. Allen once said.
Mr. Hope served a long apprenticeship in vaudeville and the theater before he appeared on the national scene in 1938. That was the year he began his popular series of Tuesday night radio shows for Pepsodent toothpaste and made his first feature motion picture, "The Big Broadcast of 1938." A bittersweet ballad he sang with Shirley Ross in the film "Thanks for the Memory," became the theme he used throughout his career.
He had made a half-dozen films of varying popularity when, in 1940, Paramount cast him in "Road to Singapore" with his friend Bing Crosby. Mr. Hope's often futile aggressiveness perfectly complemented Crosby's nonchalance. The film, a picaresque tale of a couple of con men told with songs, uncomplicated gags and the free use of outrageous camera tricks, was a huge hit at the box office. It set the pattern for other "Road" films, all starring Mr. Hope, Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, who played the exotic native girl over whom the two fought.
In all they made seven "Road" films, the last of which was "Road to Hong Kong," released in 1962. Perhaps the most memorable was "Road to Morocco" in 1942, with Mr. Hope and Crosby perched on a camel, singing the title song (with its lyric "like Webster's dict-ion-ary, we're Morocco bound").
The No. 1 Spot
In the mid-50's, as Hollywood began to feel the effects of television competition, Mr. Hope, who had made two and sometimes as many as three pictures a year, slowed his pace slightly to an average of one film a year and devoted more time to his weekly television show.
Although he was competing with himself on the free television medium, Mr. Hope was able to maintain his popularity at the movie theater box office. His later pictures included "The Seven Little Foys" (in which he dances memorably with James Cagney), "The Facts of Life," "Beau James," "Call Me Bwana" and "I'll Take Sweden"; he received a sizable percentage of the profits from each. "Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number," released in 1967, was his 52nd film. On his way to becoming an American institution, Mr. Hope, alone among the great entertainers, was No. 1 in film on radio and on television.
The comedian, whose original name was Leslie Townes Hope, was born on May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England, the fifth of seven sons of William Henry Hope, a stonemason with a weakness for drink. In reference to his famous profile, dominated by his ski-jump nose, Mr. Hope once commented that after his birth, "My mother thought the doctor had left the stork and taken the baby."
In interviews published nearly 50 years ago, at the time he was having his first major success on Broadway, Mr. Hope was referred to as "the scion of the aristocratic Hope family," who had been lured to Broadway from an ancestral castle, Craig Hall, Kent, England. In later years such references to Lord Hope of Craig Hall dwindled, and Mr. Hope spoke candidly of his family's straitened circumstances. In 1907 the Hopes immigrated to Cleveland, where he briefly attended public schools, briefly studied dancing and briefly devoted himself to amateur boxing under the name Packy East.
"Some fighters are carried back to their dressing rooms," he recalled. "I'm the only one who had to be carried both ways."
Dancing to the Punch Line
Fatty Arbuckle, the film star, gave him his first professional engagement when Mr. Hope was doing a dance act with Lloyd Durbin. After appearing for a short time as part of Mr. Arbuckle's vaudeville act, the team began to receive bookings on its own.
When Mr. Durbin died of food poisoning while on the road, Mr. Hope teamed with George Byrne. They did a little of everything, including the playing of saxophones, a blackface routine and for another brief period were the dancing partners for Daisy and Violet Hilton, the celebrated Siamese twins. ("They're too much of a woman for me," Mr. Hope joked.)
By 1930 Mr. Hope had become "a single," specializing in the kind of brash stand-up humor for which he later became world famous. He played the Palace Theater on Broadway, an engagement that led to parts in Broadway shows. He had an important featured role in the Jerome Kern musical "Roberta" in 1932, in which he appeared with Fred MacMurray and George Murphy.
It was Mr. Murphy who introduced him to Dolores Reade, a nightclub singer. Mr. Hope and Miss Reade were married that same year and later adopted four children, Linda, Tony, Nora and Kelly. His wife, children and four grandchildren survive him.
Between his legitimate-theater engagements, Mr. Hope continued to tour the vaudeville circuits with his wife as his partner, or "straight man." Along the way he honed his gift for delivering a torrent of snappy gags in such an easygoing manner that audiences liked him immediately.
Early in 1936 Mr. Hope went into the "Ziegfeld Follies," playing, among other roles, Daddy to Fannie Brice's Baby Snooks. The other members of the cast included Eve Arden and Gertrude Niesen. It was in this show that he sang a song that has become a pop classic, "I Can't Get Started." It was, however, sung for laughs, with Arden making caustic comments about Mr. Hope's passion.
Later in 1936 he gained full Broadway stardom in "Red Hot and Blue," sharing top billing with Jimmy Durante and Ethel Merman. Mr. Hope had another chance to stop another show, this time singing Cole Porter's "It's De-Lovely" with Merman. As usual he constantly ad-libbed while ontage. The audience loved it, but not Merman. She threatened, "If that so-called comedian ever behaves like that again, I'll use my shoe to remodel his ski nose."
Stardom in radio and Hollywood was just ahead. No one worked for it harder than Bob Hope. "I used to do four shows a day in vaudeville, then drop into a nightclub," he said. "I might do 30 or 40 minutes off the cuff. I thought nothing of working from 12 noon to 1 o'clock the next morning." By 1938 most of the country was listening to his radio show on Tuesday nights, with his fast-talking monologues and his occasional double-entendre exchanges with his guests.
Joking the World Over
The format for his touring shows was largely an elaboration of that for his radio show, which featured Jerry Colonna, the bug-eyed comedian with the handlebar mustache; the singer Frances Langford; a big band; and guest stars, with the emphasis on pretty women.
The Hope caravans traveled from Hollywood to North Africa, the South Pacific, Europe, Australia and Greenland. It was so cold at Thule, the comedian told the soldiers, that one G.I. fell out of bed and broke his pajamas. Kay Kyser, the bandleader, once accused Mr. Hope of having prolonged World War II because there were six Army camps he had not yet played.
In peacetime, when most performers had given up their U.S.O. shows, Mr. Hope continued to tour the outposts. At the same time he was an indefatigable master of ceremonies for charity functions as well as the most popular of the hosts for the annual Academy Awards program. Mr. Hope first appeared as an Oscar host on radio in 1940. Over the years he appeared 13 times, most recently in 1978. Along the way he made his hopeless yearning for an Oscar into the longest-running gag in the history of the Academy Awards.
In 1960 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted him a special Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Award, for his "humanitarian services." It was one of five "special" Oscars he received and one of his favorites among the countless awards and citations he received during his lifetime, including 54 honorary degrees and the keys to 500 cities.
Mr. Hope received the Medal of Merit from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1963 John F. Kennedy presented him with the Presidential Gold Medal in recognition of the star's "services to his country and to the cause of world peace." "I feel very humble," he said to President Kennedy, "but I think I have the strength of character to fight it." In 1998 when a false report of his death was circulated, he even heard himself eulogized by members of Congress.
In 1972 in Saigon, Mr. Hope gave the last of the series of annual Christmas shows for servicemen abroad that he had begun in Berlin in 1948. A project to take him into talks with the North Vietnamese on behalf of American prisoners of war fell through. This was probably the closest he came actually to working with the government, although he was friend and golfing companion to a succession of Presidents, among them Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, as well as former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. ("I love playing golf with Jerry Ford," Mr. Hope said. "If you beat him, he pardons you.")
Although Mr. Hope was among the first to make fun of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his crusades against Communists, he was careful that his political jabs did not cause genuine pain to either Democrats or Republicans. Only during the Vietnam War did he let his guard down a bit and permit his audiences to see his deep conservatism.
During the 1970's he still traveled at a pace that would have exhausted ordinary mortals. He made appearances in Central Park and in lesser-known places throughout the country, on behalf of charities and on his own business of comedy. In 1978 President Carter lent his presence to two days of tributes to Mr. Hope in Washington on the occasion of the comedian's 75th birthday. The celebration, on behalf of the U.S.O., included a series of laudatory speeches about him in the House of Representatives.
A Final Visit Overseas
His trip to the Saudi Arabia to entertain American troops in 1990 was the last of those journeys and one in which he ran afoul of Pentagon censorship. The Defense Department said it had "restricted media coverage" of Mr. Hope's visit for security reasons and because of the likelihood that the show would be "exploited by the Iraqis for propaganda purposes." Mr. Hope said he had been forced to censor his material heavily in consultation with the Pentagon and to remove a number of jokes, including those that dealt with "the clothing the women wear around here." He was also forced to leave many women out of his show, although an exception was made for his wife, Dolores, who was allowed to appear on Christmas Eve to sing "White Christmas" to the troops.
Mr. Hope was among those artists and performers awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton in a White House ceremony in 1995. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Distinguished Service Medal from each branch of the armed forces.
An Honorary Veteran
In 1998, just before his 95th birthday, Mr. Hope received the honorary title Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in a ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington. During the presentation, the British Ambassador, Sir Christopher Meyer, resurrected one of Mr. Hope's tried-and-true gags, noting that Mr. Hope said he "left England at the age of 3 when he found out he couldn't become king."
Mr. Hope was the author of seven books: "I Never Left Home," "They Got Me Covered," "So This Is Peace," "Have Tux, Will Travel," "I Owe Russia $1,200," "The Road to Hollywood," with Bob Thomas, "Don't Shoot, It's Only Me," with Melville Shavelson, and "Dear Prez, I Wanna Tell Ya!"
What was billed as his final television special was broadcast by NBC in November 1996, ending a run of 284 NBC specials that began in 1950. The show included clips of Mr. Hope entertaining presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Bill Clinton.
Mr. Hope was an avid golfer almost to the end of his life and called the game "my beauty secret." He was for many years the host of a professional tournament, the Bob Hope Desert Classic in Palm Springs, Calif. He was also known as an extremely shrewd businessman. In 1983 Forbes magazine put his worth at more than $200 million. In addition to owning a large percentage of his own film and television enterprises, he had extensive real estate holdings, especially in Malibu, Palm Springs and the San Fernando Valley.
He and his wife lived in the same house in the San Fernando Valley for more than 60 years. "The house cost $35,000," he said in an interview, "The first fix 20 years later cost $450,000." A feature of the house was a fireproof vault containing filing cabinets filled with jokes on every topic imaginable. In May 1998 Mr. Hope and his wife gave the Library of Congress his archive of personal papers, recordings of his radio broadcasts, prints of movies and videos of television shows, scripts for films and radio shows, photographs, clippings and hundreds of thousands of jokes. In 2000 the Hopes attended the opening of the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment at the library.
In his later years Mr. Hope funneled much of his wealth into charities through the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation.
In an interview in 1989, the 86-year-old Mr. Hope was asked what he still looked forward to, after a lifetime spent accruing fame, praise and a huge fortune. "More fun," he replied.
By VINCENT CANBY - NY Times