Hope, Bob 1903-2003
HOPE, Bob 1903-2003
See index for CA sketch: Born Leslie Townes Hope, May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England; died of pneumonia July 27, 2003, in Toluca Lake, CA. Comedian, actor, and author. Over the course of eight decades, Hope became a legendary entertainer of stage, radio, and screen, and was a cherished icon of American culture. Though it might come as a surprise to some that Hope was actually born in England, his parents brought him to the United States when he was only four, and he was a thoroughly Americanized citizen by 1920. After studying dance briefly, Hope's first foray into a career was as an amateur boxer under the name Packy East. He quickly gave up the sport in favor of entertaining, however. This began when he started doing dance routines with friend Mildred Rosequist in a vaudeville act. Not long after, he was hired by film star Fatty Arbuckle to be in his vaudeville act; Hope did a dance routine with Lloyd Durbin and later, George Byrne, and he would also ad lib jokes. By 1930 he was performing solo acts and began focusing more on his joke routine; soon, he was appearing on Broadway with such performers as Fred MacMurray, Eve Arden, Fannie Brice, Jimmy Durante, and Ethel Merman. His movie career also began in the 1930s, first in short films such as his movie debut Paree, Paree (1934), Watch the Birdie (1935), and Don't Look Now (1938), then on to feature-length films like Thanks for the Memory (1938), in which he sang the title song that became his theme music for the rest of his life, and The Cat and the Canary (1939). During this time, Hope, who also frequently appeared on radio shows, developed his trademark character: a brash, greedy egomaniac who, whenever the going gets tough, becomes a wisecracking coward. Hope's on-screen persona struck audiences as supremely human and humorous, and it gained its full force especially in the many "Road to…" films in which Hope starred with friends Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. In these movies, Hope and Crosby played a couple of hucksters who inevitably run into outrageous trouble and fight over the beautiful Lamour. One unique characteristic of these movies was the actors' willingness to stop in the middle of the action to speak directly to the audience, thus breaking the "willing suspension of disbelief." There were seven road films in all, beginning with The Road to Singapore (1940) and ending with The Road to Hong Kong (1961). Hope also starred solo in a number of successful films during this time, including Monsieur Beaucaire (1946), The Paleface (1948), Fancy Pants (1950), The Seven Little Foys (1955), Call Me Bwana (1963), and I'll Take Sweden (1967). At the same time, though, Hope was becoming renowned for his work entertaining American troops all over the world. He first started giving performances with the U.S.O. in 1941, during World War II, and continued actively touring during both war-and peacetime until his last show in Saudi Arabia in 1990. Hope often traveled to dangerous locations at great risk to his personally welfare, and this tremendous contribution to the morale of U.S. troops did not go unrecognized. He received numerous honors from the U.S. government, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Medal of Merit, the Presidential Gold Medal, and the Distinguished Service Medal, as well as being named a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the British government. On the other hand, Hope often joked for decades that the Oscar remained elusive to him. However, to compensate, he was presented with five special Oscars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including the Jean Hersholt Award. As a performer, Hope seemed to be indefatigable. He continued to appear in motion pictures into the 1990s, although later mostly playing himself in such films as Spies like Us (1985), Entertaining the Troops (1989), and Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's (1998). He also appeared in numerous television specials throughout his career, which ran from 1950 to 1996, and was the author of eleven books, including I Never Left Home (1944), I Owe Russia $1,200 (1963), The Road to Hollywood: My Forty-Year Love Affair with the Movies (1977), written with Bob Thomas, and Dear Prez, I Wanna Tell Ya!: Bob Hope's A Presidential Jokebook (1996). When he was not performing, Hope was an avid golfer, often teaming up on the links with celebrities and other actors, and he organized his own professional tournament, the Bob Hope Desert Classic, in Palm Springs, California. Becoming wealthy through smart investments and by insisting on maintaining ownership of a percentage of his films, Hope was also a philanthropist who gave away much of his money through the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Contemporary Theater, Film, and Television, Volume 42, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, second edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Writers Directory, 18th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Chicago Tribune, July 29, 2002, section 1, pp. 1, 16.
Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2003, p. A1.
New York Times, July 29, 2003, pp. A21, A22.
Times (London, England), July 29, 2003.
Washington Post, July 29, 2003, pp. A1, A7.