The Talented Bob Hope Part One
For other uses, see Bob Hope (disambiguation).
Bob Hope, KBE, KC*SG, KSS (born Leslie Towns Hope; May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003) was a British-American comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, athlete and author. With a career spanning nearly 80 years, Hope appeared in more than 70 short and feature films, including a series of “Road” movies. In addition to hosting the Academy Awards show nineteen times, more than any other host, he appeared in many stage productions and television roles, and was the author of 14 books. The song “Thanks for the Memory” is widely regarded as his signature tune.
KBE, KC*SG, KSS
Hope in 1978
Leslie Towns Hope
May 29, 1903
Eltham, Kent, England, UK
July 27, 2003 (aged 100)
Toluca Lake, California, U.S.
San Fernando Mission Cemetery, U.S.
Actor, comedian, singer, author, athlete
Grace Louise Troxell (m. 1933; div. 1934)
Dolores Reade (m. 1934)
Jack Hope (brother)
List of awards and nominations received by Bob Hope
Super Featherweight (128 lb)
5 ft 10 in (178 cm)
72 in (183 cm)
Hope was born in Eltham, Kent, England, arrived in America with his family at the age of four, and grew up in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. He began his career in show business in the early 1920s, initially on stage, then began appearing on the radio and in films in 1934. He was praised for his comedy timing, specializing in one-liners and rapid-fire delivery of jokes which often were self-deprecating. Celebrated for his long career performing United Service Organizations (USO) shows to entertain active duty American military personnel—he made 57 tours for the USO between 1941 and 1991—Hope was declared an honorary veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces in 1997 by act of the Congress. He also appeared in numerous specials for NBC television, starting in 1950, and was one of the first users of cue cards. He participated in the sports of golf and boxing and owned a small stake in his hometown baseball team, the Cleveland Indians. He died at age 100 at his home in Toluca Lake, California.
Writer Hal Block (far left) and Hope (second from left) meet George Patton in Sicily during World War II
Hope was born in Eltham, Kent (now part of the London Borough of Greenwich), the fifth of seven sons. His English father, William Henry Hope, was a stonemason from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, and his Welsh mother, Avis (nee Towns), was a light opera singer from Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, who later worked as a cleaner. William and Avis married in April 1891 and lived at 12 Greenwood Street in Barry before moving to Whitehall, Bristol, and then to St George, Bristol. In 1908, the family emigrated to the United States, sailing aboard the SS Philadelphia. They passed through Ellis Island, N.Y., on March 30, 1908, before moving on to Cleveland, Ohio.
From age 12, Hope earned pocket money by busking—public performing to solicit contributions (frequently on the streetcar to Luna Park), singing, dancing, and performing comedy. He entered numerous dancing and amateur talent contests as Lester Hope, and won a prize in 1915 for his impersonation of Charlie Chaplin. For a time, he attended the Boys’ Industrial School in Lancaster, Ohio, and as an adult donated sizable sums of money to the institution. Hope had a brief career as a boxer in 1919, fighting under the name Packy East. He had three wins and one loss, and he participated in a few staged charity bouts later in life.
Hope worked as a butcher’s assistant and a lineman in his teens and early twenties. He also had a brief stint at Chandler Motor Car Company. But, deciding on a show business career, he and his girlfriend at the time signed up for dancing lessons. Encouraged after they performed in a three-day engagement at a club, Hope formed a partnership with Lloyd Durbin, a friend from the dancing school. Silent film comedian Fatty Arbuckle saw them perform in 1925 and found them work with a touring troupe called 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 performed a tap dancing routine in the vaudeville circuit. Hope and Byrne had an act as Siamese twins as well, and danced and sang while wearing blackface until friends advised Hope he was funnier as himself.
In 1929, Hope informally changed his first name to “Bob.” In one version of the story, he named himself after race car driver Bob Burman. In another, he said he chose the name because he wanted a name with a “friendly ‘Hiya, fellas!’ sound” to it. In a 1942 legal document, his legal name is given as Lester Towns Hope; it is unknown if this reflects a legal name change from Leslie. After five years on the vaudeville circuit, Hope was “surprised and humbled” when he failed a 1930 screen test for the French film production company Pathé at Culver City, California.
In the early days, Hope’s career included appearances on stage in vaudeville shows and Broadway productions. He began performing on the radio in 1934, and switched to television when that medium became popular in the 1950s. He began doing regular TV specials in 1954, and hosted the Academy Awards nineteen times from 1939 through 1977. Overlapping with this was his movie career, spanning 1934 to 1972, and his USO tours, which he conducted from 1941 to 1991.
Hope signed a contract with Educational Pictures of New York for six short films. The first was a comedy, Going Spanish (1934). He was not happy with it, and told newspaper gossip columnist Walter Winchell, “When they catch [bank robber] John Dillinger, they’re going to make him sit through it twice.” Although Educational Pictures dropped his contract, he soon signed with Warner Brothers, making movies during the day and performing in Broadway shows in the evenings.
Bob Hope in The Ghost Breakers trailer (1940)
Hope moved to Hollywood when Paramount Pictures signed him for the 1938 film The Big Broadcast of 1938, also starring W. C. Fields. The song “Thanks for the Memory”, which later became his trademark, was introduced in the film as a duet with Shirley Ross, accompanied by Shep Fields and his orchestra. The sentimental, fluid nature of the music allowed Hope’s writers—he depended heavily upon joke writers throughout his career—to later create variations of the song to fit specific circumstances, such as bidding farewell to troops while on tour or mentioning the names of towns in which he was performing.
Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in Road to Bali (1952)
As a movie star, Hope was best known for such comedies as My Favorite Brunette and the highly successful “Road” movies in which he starred with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. The series consists of seven films made between 1940 and 1962 — Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (1946), Road to Rio (1947), Road to Bali (1952), and The Road to Hong Kong (1962). Hope had seen Lamour performing as a nightclub singer in New York, and invited her to work on his United Service Organizations (USO) tours of military facilities. Lamour sometimes arrived for filming prepared with her lines, only to be baffled by completely rewritten scripts or ad lib dialogue between Hope and Crosby. Hope and Lamour were lifelong friends, and she remains the actress most associated with his film career although he made movies with dozens of leading ladies, including such luminaries as Katharine Hepburn, Paulette Goddard, Hedy Lamarr, Lucille Ball, Rosemary Clooney, Jane Russell, and Elke Sommer.
From their first meeting in 1932, Hope and Crosby teamed not only for the “Road” pictures, but for countless stage, radio, and television appearances over the decades until Crosby’s death in 1977. Although the two invested together in oil leases and other business ventures, worked together frequently, and lived near each other, they rarely saw each other socially.
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby sing and dance during “Chicago Style” in Road to Bali (1952)
After the release of Road to Singapore (1940), Hope’s screen career took off, and he had a long and successful run. After an 11-year hiatus from the “Road” genre, he and Crosby reteamed for The Road to Hong Kong (1962), starring the 28-year-old Joan Collins in place of Lamour, who Hope and Crosby thought was too old for the part. They had planned one more movie together in 1977, The Road to the Fountain of Youth, but filming was postponed when Crosby was injured in a fall, and the production was cancelled when he suddenly died of heart failure that October.
Hope starred in 54 theatrical features between 1938 and 1972, as well as cameos and short films. Most of his later movies failed to match the success of his 1940s efforts. He was disappointed with his appearance in Cancel My Reservation (1972), his last starring film, and the movie was poorly received by critics and filmgoers. Though his career as a film star effectively ended in 1972, he did make a few cameo film appearances into the 1980s.
Hope was host of the Academy Awards ceremony 19 times from 1939 and 1978. His supposedly-feigned desire for an Oscar became part of his act. While introducing the 1968 telecast, he quipped, “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or, as it’s known at my house, Passover.” Although he was never nominated for an Oscar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which doles out the awards honored him with four honorary ones, and in 1960 presented him with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, given each year as part of the Oscars ceremony.