During his long career he became the most recognized profile and talent in the world. He hosted the Academy Awards ceremony ("or as its known at my house, Passover") 18 times. Famous for entertaining the troops during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, in 1997 Congress made him an honorary US veteran-the only person to receive that distinction. He was given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998, and by the end of his life had received five special Academy Awards for contributions to the industry.
BiographyHe was born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, in South London, England on May 29, 1903, the fifth of seven sons of William Hope, an English stonemason, and Avis Townes. After a number of moves round southern England, the family emigrated to America and settled in Cleveland, Ohio in 1908.
Growing up in Cleveland he earned money with a variety of jobs including selling newspapers, a pool hustler, and delivering meat for his uncle's butcher's business. For a short time he boxed as an amateur, under the name of Packy East. He also constantly entered amateur talent contests winning prizes for his impersonation of Charlie Chaplin.
Hope's entry into showbusiness was through dancing. He teamed up, first with a girlfriend and then with his friend, Lloyd "Lefty" Durbin, to dance in local vaudeville houses. Eventually he and Durbin were seen by silent film comedian Fatty Arbuckle who hired them for his show at the Bandbox Theater in Cleveland in 1925. A year later Durbin died suddenly of food poisoning and Hope found another dancing partner in George Byrne. They made constant improvements to their act and were chosen for the hit Broadway show 'Sidewalks of New York' in 1927, starring Ruby Keeler.
When he returned to vaudeville Bob began making announcements to each audience about the forthcoming attractions and received an encouraging response so he gradually extended his routine and Hope the solo artist was born. He was still called Leslie or Lester at this time and in 1929 he changed his name to the more masculine sounding 'Bob', after racing car driver Bob Burman.
He spent the next 5 years in vaudeville, honing his act, including slowing down his too-rapid delivery. He appeared on Broadway again in 1932 in 'Ballyhoo' and the following year he achieved his first major hit with his portrayal of Huckleberry Haines in the Broadway musical, 'Roberta'.
On January 25, 1933, Hope married for the first time, to his vaudeville partner Grace Louise Troxell, but the union was extremely short-lived.
During 'Roberta's run he was introduced to a beautiful singer named Dolores Reade. On Feb. 19, 1934, she became his second wife. Theirs was to be a life-long marriage. They adopted four children, Linda, Anthony, Laura and Kelley and from them they had four grandchildren.
Hope made the break from small time actor to major star in New York and he did it by means of the two new popular media - movies and radio.
Bob continued on Broadway in 1934 in the musical 'Say When' and then in 1936 in 'Ziegfeld Follies' with Fanny Brice. In the same year he performed in 'Red, Hot, and Blue' with Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante which led to his first major movie for Paramount Pictures, 'The Big Broadcast of 1938'. It was in this show that he introduced the song that would always be associated with him, "Thanks for the Memory". In order to promote the movie Bob was asked to make a personal appearance at New York's Capitol Theater on the 'Capitol Family Hour' which was broadcast from the theater each morning. It was the start of his radio career and with his rapid-fire wisecracking style, he proved a natural for the medium.
He soon became well-known nationally, first as a guest star on different shows such as 'The Woodbury Soap Show', and Rudy Vallee's 'The Fleischman Hour' and then he hit major stardom with his own weekly show, 'The Pepsodent Show' which was voted the nation's favorite radio show and which continued with Bob as its star until 1956. The show was of consistently high quality with regulars such as Les Brown and His Band of Renown and guest singers including Judy Garland, Frances Langford and Doris Day.
Bob's success in radio naturally led to interest from Hollywood and Paramount signed him up to a long-term contract. His new movie career bedded easily with his radio career and very often his movie co-stars became his radio show guest stars.
Paramount Pictures partnered Hope happily with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in the 'Road to...' series from 1940 in 'Road to Singapore, but Hope was as funny without Crosby in 'The Cat and the Canary' in 1939, 'My Favorite Blonde' in 1942, 'The Paleface' in 1948, and others.
His screen character is a fast talking coward, braggart, and lecher who blunders blithely into tight spots: pursued by a zombie in 'The Ghost Breakers' in 1940 and swashbuckling villains in 'Casanova's Big Night' in 1954. His vehicles became more strained in the 1950's and 1960's, and a semi-serious politial biopic, 'Beau James' in 1957, didn't click, but he remained a familiar presence in US entertainment throughout his life on radio, TV, and the stage, always receiving awards and plaudits.
Hope hosted the Academy Awards ceremony ("or as its known at my house, Passover") 18 times. Famous for entertaining the troops during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, in 1997 Congress made him an honorary US veteran-the only person to receive that distinction. He was given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998, and by the end of his life had received five special Academy Awards for contributions to the industry.
Hope continued to make appearances on television well into his nineties and in November, 1996, he hosted his 284th television special, 'Bob Hope Laughing with the Presidents'. The show featured appearances by ex-Presidents Clinton, George Bush Senior, and Ford.
At the age of 95, Bob appeared at the 50th anniversary of the Primetime Emmy Awards along with Milton Berle and Sid Caesar and in 2000 he was present at the opening of the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment at the Library of Congress.
Hope celebrated his centenary on May 29, 2003, quietly at home, but still able to crack 'I'm so old, they've canceled my blood type.'
Bob Hope died on July 27, 2003, at his home in Toluca Lake. According to one of his daughters, when asked shortly before his death where he wanted to be buried, he told his wife, "Surprise me." He was buried in the Bob Hope Memorial Garden at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Bob Hope Filmography
The Big Broadcast of 1938
Give Me a Sailor
Thanks for the Memory
Never Say Die
Some Like It Hot
The Cat and the Canary
Road to Singapore
The Ghost Breakers
Road to Zanzibar
Caught in the Draft
Nothing But the Truth
My Favorite Blonde
Road to Morocco
Star Spangled Rhythm
They Got Me Covered
Show Business at War
Let's Face It
The Princess and the Pirate
The Story of G.I. Joe
Road to Utopia
My Favorite Brunette
Where There's Life
Road to Rio
The Great Lover
My Favorite Spy
The Lemon Drop Kid
The Greatest Show on Earth
Son of Paleface
Road to Bali
Here Come the Girls
Casanova's Big Night
The Seven Little Foys
That Certain Feeling
The Iron Petticoat
The Geisha Boy
Alias Jesse James
The Five Pennies