Bob Hope, Master of the One-Liner, Dead at 100
An American Entertainment Legend Dies of Pneumonia
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Bob Hope was an American icon and a tireless morale-booster for servicemen from World War II to the Gulf War.
Photo courtesy of Bob Hope Enterprises
July 28, 2003 -- Bob Hope's career stretched from the Jazz Age to the era of the V-chip. He vaulted to the top ranks of vaudeville, dominated the early days of radio, starred on Broadway and moved effortlessly into film and television.
His wiseguy delivery, fueled by a battery of joke writers on duty around the clock, propelled him to the forefront of show business. His service to American soldiers -- starting with tours of entertainment duty during World War II -- helped make him a national icon.
He died July 27 at the age of 100.
During his heydey, Hope seemed to be everywhere. "Trapped on the treadmill of his own acclaim," was the description provided by the writer John Lahr, who profiled Hope in a New Yorker article. Even in his 90s, Hope made as many as 300 personal appearances a year.
He could sing a little. He could dance a lot. And most of all, he could tell jokes. Giggles and gaggles of jokes, delivered to burlesque-house crowds and the boys on the battleships, from Southern California television studios to U.S.O. stages in North Africa, Korea and Vietnam.
One American generation grew up with Hope and his pal and friendly rival Bing Crosby in the On the Road movies. Another knew him from countless television specials and celebrity golf tournaments on NBC, or as a pitchman for Texaco gasoline and Pepsodent toothpaste.
Countless U.S. troops saw him as the guy who came to visit when they were far from home, bringing laughter and pretty actresses and an unsinkable supply of gags about military life.
"He never stopped working, he never stopped traveling," remembers Lahr. "He mostly got what he wanted throughout his life."
Hope was born in England and reached the United States at age 3, landing with his family in Cleveland, Ohio. He rose from poverty to become one of the richest entertainers in the nation's history.
Dancing was his first skill. When he was still called Leslie Hope -- his given name -- he studied with a performer called King Rastus Brown and later gave lessons himself.
He tried to make it as a prize fighter, calling himself Packy East, but met with little success. Dancing proved more successful. He started with vaudeville houses in the Midwest and -- with partner George Byrne -- reached Broadway in 1927.
By the late 1930s Hollywood had caught on to Hope's act, pairing him with Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in the first of the On the Road films. He was already one of the better-paid talents in America, having made a startling $1,000 a week for his vaudeville work at the depths of the Depression. And he was quickly establishing himself on the emerging medium of radio.
Bob Hope during a U.S.O. show in Vietnam, 1968. For nearly six decades, he traveled the globe to entertain U.S. troops.
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress
Then came World War II. An invitation to do a radio broadcast from California's March Field in the spring of 1941 led to stops at other pre-war installations. As part of the Victory Caravan -- a train full of 50 stars -- he traveled stateside to raise $1 billion worth of war bonds. In 1943 he moved to the combat zone, first on a U.S.O. tour of North Africa and Italy and eventually in the Pacific.
His efforts during the war built a loyal audience. Those fans supported a weekly radio show that lasted until 1956, his film career and his early and aggressive move into television. For a time he became America's favorite master of ceremonies, hosting the Academy Awards, charity golf tournaments and many corporate events. He defied the limitations of encroaching age to entertain troops during the Persian Gulf War. He was nearly 90.
He made his last movie in 1985, and co-hosted his last television special -- Laughing with the Presidents -- about 10 years later.
On July 27, he died at his California home, with his family at his bedside. He outlived many of the people who remembered him at the height of his talents, but the monologue style of comedy he perfected lives on in today's performers. He goes down in history as one of the most celebrated entertainers ever -- a friend of presidents, knighted by Queen Elizabeth, declared an honorary veteran by Congress and holder of more than 50 ceremonial degrees from colleges and universities.
"If I had my life to live over again," Hope once wrote. "I wouldn't have had the strength."
Bob Hope turns 100.
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Learn more about Bob Hope from his official Web site.
Visit Bob Hope Gallery of American Enterainment at the Library
Read about Bob Hope's film career at Internet Movie Database.