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Bob Hope Turns 100 - 2003-05-24

Bob Hope, one of the world's true superstars of entertainment turned 100- years-old on May 29, 2003. And this month the internationally known comedian is the subject of tributes and celebrations throughout the country.

Bob Hope and Shirley Ross sang Thanks For the Memory, in the 1938 film, The Big Broadcast of 1938. It became Bob Hope's theme song, played, at least in part, every time he made one of his numerous guest appearances on television, on stages throughout the world or on radio broadcasts. But Bob Hope is best known for his rapid-fire delivery and encyclopedic knowledge of jokes.

"Well, here we are at the U.S. Army air base," he once joked. "This base is located on a Mesa. Mesa, that's an Arizona goose pimple, but Yuma is really the old west. I started to drag the skeleton of an old cow off the sidewalk in Yuma, and the manager of the Western Union Office came out and told me to get my own bicycle rack." Bob Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England on May 29,1903 and moved with his family to Cleveland, Ohio when Bob was four-years-old. He says he never wanted to be anything but a comedian and, as a young man, got his start in vaudeville, which led to the Broadway stage and a radio and film career. In 1941, when the United States entered World War II, Bob Hope attempted to enlist in the armed services. But he was told he could serve better as an entertainer to build morale. It was the beginning of a tradition that would extend throughout six decades and five wars.

"Then the sponsor came in and saw how [successfully] commercial it was and he said, 'Hey, I'll pay for anywhere you want to go.' And we went for five years," remembers Mr. Hope. "We went to a different [military] base every week doing our radio show. And then we started going overseas. We got hooked on it, the excitement, the dramatics and the whole thing."

Few show business personalities in history have known so much fame, fortune and popularity as Bob Hope. He was a friend of every U.S. President since Franklin Roosevelt; was awarded honorary degrees from universities and citations from every U.S. military service; given four honorary Academy Awards; and, made an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth. When Congress honored Hope in 1997, making him an "honorary veteran," he said, "To be numbered among the men and women I admire the most is the greatest honor I have ever received." Bob Hope continued to perform, to make people laugh, and take his act around the world into his nineties. He said all his activities kept him going.

"I think that you've got to just get out and enjoy," says Mr. Hope. "I think the kick is that I'd rather do what we're doing now, play dates [performances], where you're with a great audience that laughs, and if I happen to have a routine that they're laughing at. And then play golf all day and meet all your friends, and I think that's the secret of it. I don't think there's anything else. I think excitement is what life is all about, excitement; keep that adrenalin punching, you know, all the way."

One of Bob Hope's recent tributes is now a permanent exhibition at the Library of Congress. On May 9, 2000, the Library opened its "Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment." Dolores Hope, Bob Hope's wife of 69 years, accompanied him to the exhibition opening.

"I really think he is the star of the 20th century. That's my personal opinion and I think a few other people's too," she said.

The Library of Congress is also hosting a 100th birthday celebration concert of performances and reminiscences of the legendary performer. And this month Bob Hope, with his daughter Linda just published his latest book, My Life in Jokes. It's a compilation of the best of Hope's 88,000 jokes, as categorized through his vaudeville years, to radio and television.

As for the day of his birthday, Bob Hope's daughter Linda says after all the celebrations taking place this month, the family plans to do something unusual spend a quiet evening together at home.