The Talented Bob Hope Part Three
Hope’s first Broadway appearances, in 1927’s The Sidewalks of New York and 1928’s Ups-a-Daisy, were minor walk-on parts. He returned to Broadway in 1933 to star as Huckleberry Haines in the Jerome Kern / Dorothy Fields musical Roberta. Stints in the musicals Say When, the 1936 Ziegfeld Follies with Fanny Brice, and Red, Hot and Blue with Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante followed. Hope reprised his role as Huck Haines in a 1958 production of Roberta at The Muny Theater in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri.
Additionally, Hope rescued the Eltham Little Theatre in England from closure by providing funds to buy the property. He continued his interest and support, and regularly visited the facility when in London. In 1982, the theater was renamed in his honor.
Hope with comic sidekick Jerry Colonna and his trademark handlebar mustache in 1940.
Hope was widely praised for his comedy timing and his specialization in the use of one-liners and rapid-fire delivery of jokes. His style of self-deprecating jokes, first building himself up then tearing himself down, was unique. Working tirelessly, he performed hundreds of times per year. Such early films as The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Paleface (1948) were financially successful and praised by critics, and by the mid-1940s, with his radio program getting good ratings as well, he was one of the most popular entertainers in the United States. When Paramount threatened to stop production of the “Road” pictures in 1945, they received 75,000 letters of protest.
Hope had no faith in his skills as a dramatic actor, and his performances of that type were not as well received. He had been a leader in radio until the late 1940s, but as his ratings began to slip in the 1950s, he switched to television and became an early pioneer of that medium. And, in keeping with his ever-hectic schedule, he published several books he dictated to ghostwriters about his wartime experiences.
Although Hope made an effort to keep his material up to date, he never adapted his comic persona or his routines to any great degree. As Hollywood began to transition to the “New Hollywood” era in the 1960s, he reacted negatively, such as when he hosted the 40th Academy Awards in 1968 and voiced his contempt by mocking the show’s delay because of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and condescendingly greeted attending younger actors on stage—such as Dustin Hoffman, who was 30 at the time—as children. By the 1970s, his popularity was beginning to wane with military personnel and with the movie-going public in general. However, he continued doing USO tours into the 1980s, and continued to appear on television into the 1990s. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, a close friend and frequent host to him at the White House, called Hope “America’s most honored citizen and our favorite clown.”
Bob Hope, a golf fan, putting a golf ball into an ashtray held by President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office in 1973
Hope was well known as an avid golfer, playing in as many as 150 charity tournaments a year. Introduced to the game in the 1930s while performing in Winnipeg, Canada, he eventually played to a four handicap. His love for the game—and the humor he could find in it—made him a sought-after foursome member. He once remarked that President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave up golf for painting — “Fewer strokes, you know.” He also was quoted as saying, “It’s wonderful how you can start out with three strangers in the morning, play 18 holes, and by the time the day is over you have three solid enemies.”
A golf club became an integral prop for Hope during the standup segments of his television specials and USO shows. In 1978, he putted against the then-two-year-old Tiger Woods in a television appearance with the actor Jimmy Stewart on The Mike Douglas Show.
The Bob Hope Classic, founded in 1960, made history in 1995 when Hope teed up for the opening round in a foursome that included Presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, the only time three U.S. presidents played in the same golf foursome. The event, now known as the CareerBuilder Challenge, was one of the few PGA Tour tournaments that took place over five rounds, until the 2012 tournament when it was cut back to the conventional four.
Hope had a heavy interest in sports beyond golf and his brief fling as a professional boxer in his youth. In 1946, he bought a small stake in the Cleveland Indians professional baseball team and held it for most of the rest of his life. He appeared on the June 3, 1963, cover of Sports Illustrated magazine wearing an Indians uniform, and sang a special version of “Thanks for the Memory” after the Indians’ last game at Cleveland Stadium on October 3, 1993. He also bought a share with Bing Crosby of the Los Angeles Rams football team in 1947, but sold it in 1962. He frequently used his television specials to promote the annual AP College Football All-America Team. The players would come onstage one-by-one and introduce themselves, then Hope, often dressed in a football uniform, would give a one-liner about the player or his school.
The Hope family. Back, from left: Tony, Dolores, and Linda. Front, from left: Kelly, Hope, and Nora
Hope’s short-lived first marriage was to vaudeville partner Grace Louise Troxell, a secretary from Chicago, Illinois, who was the daughter of Edward and Mary (McGinnes) Troxell. They were married on January 25, 1933, in Erie, Pennsylvania, with Alderman Eugene Alberstadt officiating. They divorced in November 1934.
The couple had shared headliner status with Joe Howard at the Palace Theatre in April 1931, performing “Keep Smiling” and the “Antics of 1931.” The couple was working together at the RKO Albee, performing the “Antics of 1933” along with Ann Gillens and Johnny Peters in June of that year. The following month, singer Dolores Reade joined Hope’s vaudeville troop and was performing with him at Loew’s Metropolitan Theater. She was described as a “former Zeigfeld beauty and one of society’s favorite nightclub entertainers, having appeared at many private social functions at New York, Palm Beach, and Southampton.”
Their long marriage was fraught with ambiguities. As Richard Zoglin wrote in his 2014 biography “Hope: Entertainer of the Century” — “Bob and Dolores always claimed that they married in February 1934 in Erie, Pennsylvania. But at that time he was secretly married to his vaudeville partner Louise Troxell, after three years together on and off. I found divorce papers for Bob and Louise dated November 1934, so either Bob Hope was a bigamist or he lied about marrying Dolores in February that year. He’d actually married Louise in January 1933 in Erie when they were traveling on the vaudeville circuit. When he claimed he had married Dolores in Erie he was miles away in New York, on Broadway. More intriguing, there is no record anywhere of his marriage to Dolores, if it happened. And there are no wedding photos, either. But he never forgot Louise and quietly sent her money in her later years.”
Dolores (DeFina) Reade had been one of Hope’s co-stars on Broadway in Roberta. The couple adopted four children through an Evanston, IL, adoption agency called The Cradle: Linda (in 1939), Tony (1940), Kelly (1946), and Eleanora, known as Nora (1946). From them, they had several grandchildren, including Andrew, Miranda, and Zachary Hope. Tony (as Anthony J. Hope) served as a presidential appointee in the George H. W. Bush and Clinton administrations and in a variety of posts under Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
The couple lived at 10342 Moorpark Street in Toluca Lake, California from 1937 until his death. In 1935, they lived in Manhattan.