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Bob Hope
Bob Hope, 1978.jpg
Name: Leslie Townes Hope
Born: May 29, 1903
Birth Hometown: Eltham, London, England
Died: July 27, 2003
Place of death: Los Angeles, California
Occupation: Comedian
Vaudevillian
Actor
Singer
Dancer
Athlete
Author
Years active: 1925–1998

Leslie Townes "Bob" Hope KBE KC*SG (May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003) was a British-American comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, and author. With a career that spanned nearly 80 years, Hope appeared in more than 70 short and feature films, with 54 feature films with Hope as star, including a series of seven "Road" musical comedy movies with Bing Crosby as Hope's top-billed partner.

In addition to hosting the Academy Awards show 19 times, more than any other host, Hope appeared in many stage productions and television roles and wrote 14 books. The song "Thanks for the Memory" was his signature tune. Hope was born in the Eltham district of southeast London, arrived in the United States with his family at the age of four, and grew up near Cleveland, Ohio.

After a brief career as a boxer in the late 1910s, Hope began his career in show business in the early 1920s, initially as a comedian and dancer on the vaudeville circuit, before acting on Broadway. Hope began appearing on radio and in films starting in 1934. He was praised for his comedic timing, specializing in one-liners and rapid-fire delivery of jokes that were often self-deprecating. He helped establish modern American stand-up comedy.

Between 1941 and 1991, Hope made 57 tours for the United Service Organizations, entertaining active duty American military personnel around the world. In 1997, the United States Congress passed a bill that made Hope an honorary veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces. He also appeared in numerous television specials for NBC during his career and was one of the first users of cue cards.

Hope retired from public life in 1998 and died on July 27, 2003, at the age of 100 in his Toluca Lake home.

Early years[]

Leslie Townes Hope was born on May 29, 1903, in Eltham, County of London (now part of the Royal Borough of Greenwich), in a terraced house on Craigton Road in Well Hall, where there is now a blue plaque in his memory. He was the fifth of seven sons of an English father, William Henry Hope, a stonemason from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, and a Welsh mother, Avis (née Townes), 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. After a brief period living in Southend Road, Weston-Super-Mare, in 1908, the family emigrated to the United States, sailing aboard the SS Philadelphia. They passed through Ellis Island, New York 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 20s. He also had a brief stint at Chandler Motor Car Company. In 1921, while assisting his brother Jim in clearing trees for a power company, he was sitting atop a tree that crashed to the ground, crushing his face; the accident required Hope to undergo reconstructive surgery, which contributed to his later distinctive appearance.

After deciding on a show business career, Hope and his girlfriend 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 on the vaudeville circuit. Hope and Byrne also had an act as Siamese twins; they sang and danced 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 racecar 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 appears as Lester Townes 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.

Career[]

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 mostly with NBC radio, and switched to television when that medium became popular in the 1950s. He started hosting 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] 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.

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.

As a film star, Hope was best known for such comedies as My Favorite Brunette and the highly successful "Road" movies in which he starred with rosby 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 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 many stage, radio, and television appearances and many brief movie appearances together over the decades  until Crosby died 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.

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, whom 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; critics and filmgoers panned the movie. 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 between 1939 and 1977. 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 honored him with four honorary awards, and in 1960 presented him with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, given each year as part of the Oscars ceremony.

Hope's career in broadcasting began on radio in 1934. His first regular series for NBC Radio was the Woodbury Soap Hour in 1937, on a 26-week contract. A year later, The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope began, and Hope signed a ten-year contract with the show's sponsor, Lever Brothers. He hired eight writers and paid them out of his salary of $2,500 a week. The original staff included Mel Shavelson, Norman Panama, Jack Rose, Sherwood Schwartz, and Schwartz's brother Al. The writing staff eventually grew to fifteen. The show became the top radio program in the country. Regulars on the series included Jerry Colonna and Barbara Jo Allen as spinster Vera Vague. Hope continued his lucrative career in radio into the 1950s, when radio's popularity began being overshadowed by the upstart television medium.

Hope did many specials for the NBC television network in the following decades, beginning in April 1950. He was one of the first people to use cue cards. The shows often were sponsored by Frigidaire (early 1950s), General Motors (1955–61), Chrysler (1963–73), and Texaco (1975–85). Hope's Christmas specials were popular favorites and often featured a performance of "Silver Bells"—from his 1951 film The Lemon Drop Kid—done as a duet with an often much younger female guest star such as Barbara Mandrell, Olivia Newton-John, Barbara Eden, and Brooke Shields, or with his wife Dolores, a former singer with whom he dueted on two specials.

On April 26, 1970, CBS released the Raquel Welch television special Raquel!, in it Hope appears as a guest.

Hope's 1970 and 1971 Christmas specials for NBC—filmed in Vietnam in front of military audiences at the height of the war—are on the list of the Top 46 U.S. network prime-time telecasts. Both were seen by more than 60 percent of the U.S. households watching television.

Beginning in early 1950, Hope licensed rights to publish a celebrity comic book titled The Adventures of Bob Hope to National Periodical Publications, alias DC Comics. The comic, originally featuring publicity stills of Hope on the cover, was entirely made up of fictional stories, eventually including fictitious relatives, a high school taught by movie monsters, and a superhero called Super-Hip. It was published intermittently, and continued publication through issue #109 in 1969. Illustrators included Bob Oksner and (for the last four issues) Neal Adams.

Hope made a guest appearance on "The Golden Girls", season 4, episode 17 (aired February 25, 1989) called "You Gotta Have Hope" in which Rose is convinced Bob Hope is her father. In 1992, Hope made a guest appearance as himself on the animated Fox series The Simpsons in the episode "Lisa the Beauty Queen" (season 4, episode 4). His 90th birthday television celebration in May 1993, Bob Hope: The First 90 Years, won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music Or Comedy Special. Toward the end of his career, worsening vision problems rendered him unable to read his cue cards. In October 1996, he announced he was ending his 60-year contract with NBC, joking that he "decided to become a free agent". His final television special, Laughing with the Presidents, was broadcast in November 1996, with host Tony Danza helping him present a personal retrospective of presidents of the United States known to Hope, a frequent White House visitor over the years. The special, though different from his usual specials, received high praise from Variety, as well as other reviews. Following a brief appearance at the 50th Primetime Emmy Awards in 1997, Hope made his last TV appearance in a 1997 commercial about the introduction of Big Kmart, directed by Penny Marshall.

Personal life[]

Hope's short-lived first marriage was to vaudeville partner Grace Louise Troxell (1912–1992), 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. 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". They worked 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 troupe and was performing with him at Loew's Metropolitan Theater. She was described as a "former Ziegfeld beauty and one of society's favorite nightclub entertainers, having appeared at many private social functions at New York, Palm Beach, and Southampton".

His long-alleged marriage to Reade was fraught with ambiguities. As Richard Zoglin wrote in his 2014 biography Hope: Entertainer of the Century,

Dolores had been one of Hope's co-stars on Broadway in Roberta. The couple adopted four children: Linda (in 1939), Tony (1940), Kelly (1946), and Eleanora, known as Nora (1946). Bob and Dolores were also the legal guardians of Tracey, the youngest daughter of famous New York City bar owner Bernard "Toots" Shor and his wife, Marion "Baby" Shor.

In 1935, the couple lived in Manhattan. In 1937, they moved to 10346 Moorpark Street in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, where they would reside until their respective deaths.

Hope had a reputation as a womanizer and continued to see other women throughout his marriage. Zoglin wrote, "Bob Hope had affairs with chorus girls, beauty queens, singers and showbiz wannabes through his 70s; he had a different girl on his arm every night. He was still having affairs into his 80s..."

As just one example among many, in 1949 while Hope was in Dallas on a publicity tour for his radio show, he met Barbara Payton, a contract player at Universal Studios, who at the time was on her own public relations jaunt. Shortly thereafter, Hope set up Payton in an apartment in Hollywood. The arrangement soured as Hope was not able to satisfy Payton's definition of generosity and her need for attention.Hope paid her off to end the affair quietly. Payton later revealed the affair in an article printed in July 1956 in the tell-all magazine Confidential. "Hope was ... at times a mean-spirited individual with the ability to respond with a ruthless vengeance when sufficiently provoked." His advisors counseled him to avoid further publicity by ignoring the Confidential exposé. "Barbara's ... revelations caused a minor ripple ... and then quickly sank without causing any appreciable damage to Bob Hope's legendary career."

According to Arthur Marx's 1993 Hope biography, The Secret Life of Bob Hope, Hope's subsequent long-term affair with actress Marilyn Maxwell was so open that the Hollywood community routinely referred to her as "Mrs. Bob Hope".

Rosemarie Frankland was a beauty queen (Miss World 1961) who, according to Zoglin, took part in a 30-year affair with Hope. He said she was "the great love of his life".

Hope's infidelities are a part of the plot of the 2020 film Misbehaviour, which follows the Women's Liberation protests at the Miss World 1970 competition that Hope hosted; Greg Kinnear plays Hope.

Illness and death[]

In 1998, five years before his death, a prepared obituary written by the Associated Press was inadvertently released, resulting in Hope's death being announced on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. However, Hope remained in relatively good health until late in his old age, though he became somewhat frail in his last few years. In June 2000 at age 97, he spent nearly a week in a California hospital being treated for gastrointestinal bleeding. In August 2001 at age 98, he spent close to two weeks in a hospital recovering from pneumonia.

On the morning of July 27, 2003, Hope died of pneumonia at the age of 100 at his home in Toluca Lake, California two months after his 100th birthday. His grandson Zach Hope told TV interviewer Soledad O'Brien that, when asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, Hope told his wife, Dolores, "Surprise me." His remains were temporarily placed in a mausoleum vault before the construction of the Bob Hope Memorial Garden at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles, joined in 2011 by Dolores when she died four months after her 102nd birthday. After his death, newspaper cartoonists worldwide paid tribute to his work for the USO, and some featured drawings of Bing Crosby, who had died in 1977, welcoming Hope to Heaven.

Shows appeared[]

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