One of the world's true superstars of entertainment is dead. Bob Hope, the internationally known comedian, died Sunday at the age of 100.
"Thanks for the Memory" was sung by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross in the motion picture titled The Big Broadcast of 1938. It became Bob Hope's theme song, played - at least in part - almost every time he made one of his numerous guest appearances on television, on stages throughout the world, or on radio broadcasts.
But that music was only an introduction to what would follow almost immediately: laughter, laughs from the belly and from the heart at Bob Hope's rapid-fire comedy technique and his encyclopedic memory for jokes.
Bob Hope was born on May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England, the fifth of six sons of a stonemason. His parents named him Leslie Townes Hope. It wasn't until 25 years later that he began to call himself Bob Hope.
His father brought the family to Cleveland, Ohio, when Bob was 4 years old, and it was there that he received his education. His mother, a former concert singer, gave him voice lessons. Although young Bob had a good soprano voice as a child, he always said he never wanted to be anything but a comedian.
He began collecting jokes and filing them away to use during performances. Later, after he had become famous, he put the jokes in what he called his "joke vault" at his beautiful home in Palm Springs, California. It was, literally, a fireproof, waterproof vault with a heavy, sealed door and a combination lock. This box held his jokes, meticulously filed and labeled by date and subject - the humor from four decades and three wars.
In 1941, when the United States entered World War II, Bob Hope attempted to enlist in this country's armed services. He was told he could serve better as an entertainer to build morale. So he took his entire radio show troupe to military bases around the country to perform his weekly broadcasts. These shows were patriotic and very popular with audiences.
"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," he said. "We went to a different base every week doing our radio show. And then we started going overseas. We [thoroughly enjoyed it], the excitement, the dramatics and the whole thing."
Bob Hope and his troupe of singers, dancers, and other entertainers performed for millions of American service men and women during World War II in the 1940s; Korea in the '50s; Vietnam in the '70s; Beirut in the '80s; and Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s. In 1994, though frail, the 91-year old Bob Hope traveled to the Normandy beaches for the anniversary of D-Day.
Often, the shows were performed during the Christmas holiday season. On his 81st birthday in 1984, Bob Hope explained why his Christmas shows had been so important to him and why he had taken his show to Vietnam for Christmas of 1972, when the war was all but over for the American troops. "The kids needed that show more then than ever because they had a peace coming on and they didn't know when, they didn't know what was going to happen," he said.
"You have to go and see that and be there to realize what it means to those kids to see ... all the Miss Worlds and the dancers, you know, and when you take it into those jungles for those kids, they really get a belt out of it, and it's a helluva moment of morale," he said.
Bob Hope made dozens of movies. His close friend and most frequent co-star was singer Bing Crosby. Together they made seven "Road" pictures - on the road to Zanzibar, to Morocco, to Utopia...
Few show business personalities in history have known so much fame, fortune, and popularity as Bob Hope. He had been a friend of every U.S. president from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton; colleges and universities conferred honorary degrees upon him; he was in demand as a speaker for both Republican and Democratic presidential nominating conventions; every U.S. military service awarded him citations; he wrote several best-selling books and a daily newspaper column; he sponsored a yearly professional golf tournament; and he won four honorary academy awards, including the "achievement in humanity" award in recognition of the great number of benefit performances he gave.
In 1988, a monument to his outstanding contributions was presented in the form of the Bob Hope Cultural Center. "Just to have all my friends here, and the ones that got together and got the money together to build this are all my buddies, you know. It's a nice thing coming from them," he said.
A constellation of Hollywood stars and washington politicians attended the January opening of the cultural center in Palm Springs, California. The highlight of the evening came when President Ronald Reagan paid tribute to the entertainer and presented him with the special "Hope Award." "It's my pleasure now to present this award to the man whose name is a description of his life," he said at the time. "And where there is life, there is hope."
Bob Hope has been honored by Congress four times, the most recent being in 1997 making him an "honorary veteran," the first individual so honored in the history of the United States. Hope said, "to be numbered among the men and women I admire the most is the greatest honor I have ever received." Always proud of his British origins, Bob Hope was made an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 in recognition of his contribution to film and song and his service in entertaining allied forces during World War II.
But, of course, to most people, the surprising thing about Bob Hope was that he continued to perform, continued to make people laugh, continued to travel the world and do his comedy act into his 90s, when most people are retired. But not Bob. He said all his activities kept him going. "I think that you've got to just get out and enjoy. I think [the real enjoyment] is that I'd rather do what we're doing now - play dates, 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," he said.
Bob Hope's most recent tribute is now a permanent exhibition at the Library of Congress. On May 9, 2000, the library opened its "Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment," including Hope's legendary "joke file" of more than 88,000 pages of jokes. Library curator Sam Brylawski says "we feel strongly that Bob Hope is one of the premier entertainers of the 20th century. And thinking about how his career lasted 70 years and represented American humor, if not America to an awful lot of people, we thought it belonged here at the Library of Congress."
At the exhibition opening, Bob Hope's wife of 66 years, Dolores Hope said Bob Hope's career was representative of the best of the century's entertainment." I really think he's the star of the 20th century," she said. "That's my personal opinion, and I think a few other people too."
Leslie Townes Hope, who became Bob Hope, who in turn became "the man with a million jokes," spent most of his life making people laugh. He died Sunday at the age of 100.