This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bob Hope (1903-2003)

Leslie Townes Hope was born May 29, 1903, in London, England. His family moved from England and they processed through Ellis Island into the United States on May 30, 1908, when little Leslie was four years old. He was the fifth of seven sons of William Thomas Hope, a stone mason, and Avis Townes, a Welsh light opera singer who ended up working as a washerwoman. Her mother was Italian. The family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, after being inspected.

Bob would talk about starting school in Cleveland, just a few months after arriving in the country. He still had his British accent and, when children would ask his name, he would say it in the typical British manner of surname followed by given name. So he told the kids his name was, "Hope, Leslie," which sounded like HOPELESSLY! The other children didn't like that, so they started calling him the short version, Hopeless. He then worked to talk like the other kids and gave himself the nickname, Bob.

When he wasn't in school, Bob worked as an entertainer... a busker, which is a street entertainer who works for tips. He became a boxer and fought under the name, Packy East.

In 1920, at the age of 17, Bob became a United States citizen.

Fatty Arbuckle saw Bob working his busk act and put him in Hurley's Jollie Follies. He worked with a number of partners, including a comedian George Byrne (not to be confused with George Burns) and a pair of Siamese twins called the Hilton Sisters. For part of the act, George and Bob played the part of Siamese twins. Today this might be considered low, degrading humor, but back then they thought it was funny.

Bob spent five years in vaudeville before making it big in motion pictures. He had already done a couple of bit parts in movies... The Sidewalks of New York (1927) and Smiles (1928). He tried to to a screen test for the Pathe Studio in Culver City, California, in 1930, but failed.

So, he went to New York and began to work in Broadway musical plays. He was in Roberta, Say When, the Zigfeld Follies of 1936, and Red, Hot, and Blue (which starred Ethel Merman). Audiences loved how he his comedy was well timed.

The truth was that Bob wasn't an improvisational comedian, but rather one who performed what others wrote. Later, Groucho Marx would, when working with Bob, often knock his script on the floor and stand on it, watching to see what Bob would do. Some of Bob's fans were shocked to learned that it was difficult for him to perform without a script.

Bob was first heard on radio in 1933 on Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast Hour. He was introduced as a "promising new comic."

In 1933, Bob was briefly married to Grace Louise Troxell. Married in January, they divorced at the end of the year.

He was hired by Educational Pictures, a division of 20th Century Fox which made comedy shorts. He starred in a short called Going Spanish (1934). Unfortunately, when being interviewed for publicity, he tried to be funny and got in trouble for it. When asked about the new movie, Bob quipped, "When they catch John Dillinger, they're going to make him sit through it twice." Educational Pictures subsequently fired Bob Hope. This explains partially why Bob refused to work without a script. He was afraid to be left to his own devices after that. Vitaphone, which had studios in New York, had plenty of work for him for the next four years.

On February 19, 1934, Bob married actress Dolores Reade (1909- ). Not able to have children, the Hopes adopted four children: Anthony, Nora, Linda, and Kelly. They were all born in the Chicago area.

Bob Hope's big break was the Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938), which began his long contract with Paramount Pictures. It was in this movie that Bob sang his signature song, "Thanks for the Memory," with Shirley Ross. After this picture, Bob never lacked for acting work again.

His success in motion pictures spilled over into his success in radio. In October 1938, his Pepsodent Program debuted. Bob was one of the last of the major comedians to have his own radio program and it was partly because his career seemed to have a late start. But it was definitely successful. (He began the year before with a radio program sponsored by Woodbury soap.) The Pepsodent show would remain on the air through 1953.

It was just prior to World War II that Bob began entertaining U.S. military personnel. Bob's first show was at March Field, near Riverside, California, on May 6, 1941. He would go to the battle zones in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He did this proudly and took some of the greatest talent from Hollywood with him.

Bob was very careful to be a good role model in his professional and private life. With the large amounts of money he was earning, he parlayed this into even more money with real estate investments.

Bob Hope first appeared on television for an experimental broadcast by the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1933 in New York. But he is better known for being the emcee on January 17, 1947, for the first broadcast of station KTLA at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Reading the script, he misread the name of the station, calling it "KTL." He never had a regular television program (there was a show called the Bob Hope Theater on NBC, but it wasn't successful.)

He was a host for the Academy Awards 18 times. Bob never won or was nominated for an Oscar, but he won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1960.

There were many other awards, including the Order of the British Empire (KBE) from his native United Kingdom and the Order of St. Gregory (KCSG) by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1997, Congress voted to make him an Honorary Veteran.

In 1993, Bob converted to his wife's Roman Catholic faith and lived accordingly. He never had any bad habits in his life, except cigarette smoking. He quit smoking in the 1970s.

In 2000 his health began to fail. He was hospitalized in June of that year for gastrointestinal bleeding. And then there were recurring bouts of pneumonia. He died at the age of 100 at his home in the Toluca Lake section of Los Angeles. According to one of his daughters, when Dolores asked him where he wanted to be buried, Bob replied, "Surprise me." Those were his last words.

Bob is buried at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles.


Unknown said...

I thought Hope always got a bum rap over his faults. Was he egotistical? Maybe. He had a rep for treating people poorly. But he also entertained all of those troops, stationed all over the world. His daughter said that he had not been a "touchy-feely" person, but that she knew that he loved her. He supposedly ran around on his wife. Not something I'd condone, but I think the best way to describe him was "human", with all of the shortcomings that come with that.

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