Classic Television's Funnyman: Bob Hope

By: Ben Anton

“I’m so old, they’ve canceled my blood type” quipped Bob Hope, upon reaching the age of 100 in July 2003. Indeed, Bob Hope has been around throughout the 20th century, becoming immortal to so many generations by entertaining the masses with countless films, TV and radio shows and of course his appearances with the troops overseas.

Bob Hope was born on May 29, 1903 in Eltham, England although his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio when he was four years old (“I left England at the age of four when I found out I couldn’t be king”). His first modest success in show business came in 1915 when he won a Charlie Chaplin imitation competition.

He began to work in vaudeville in the early 1920s and during the early 1930s was appearing on the stage in Broadway. His first film role was “The Big Broadcast” in 1938 in which he sang the song “Thanks for the Memory” in a duet with Shirley Ross. That song would become Bob Hope’s signature tune.

Bob Hope appeared in over 75 films throughout his career although he only won two honorary Oscars. He even joked about his lack of Oscar awards - “Oscar night at our house is called Passover!” He may not have won many Oscars but he enjoyed bringing his unique humor to the awards ceremony – he presented or co-presented them on a record 18 occasions up until 1977.

His most famous movies, of course remain the series of “road” movies that he made with Bing Crosby during the 1940s. He also starred in “The Paleface” along with Jane Russell which many consider his best film. Today, many of his classic movies are available on DVD or regularly shown on cable TV channels.

Hope took to TV fairly late in his career, not entirely convinced that the still fairly new medium would succeed. “Television – that’s where movies go when they die,” quipped Hope once. However, it was television that really made Bob Hope a star and a household name throughout the United States.

Easter Sunday 1950 was a memorable day. It was on that day that Bob Hope made his formal television debut. In addition to Hope’s appearance, the “Star Spangled Revue” featured other popular entertainers and stars of the day including Dinah Shore and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

The show’s formula was immediately successful and Bob Hope’s television shows remained successful for the next 40 years. NBC was his network of choice and Bob Hope appeared in many of the network’s Christmas and other holiday specials. His last TV special was in 1996 appearing alongside Tony Danza. Today these programs are rightly considered classic TV shows, television programs that translate for multiple generations.

Perhaps Bob Hope is most famous for his appearances with the troops, a gesture that almost certainly boosted morale far more than any appearance by the president. His first such appearance was in May 1941, when Bob Hope, along with various friends, appeared at March Field in California to entertain the airmen.

The rest, as they say, is history. Bob Hope was soon christened “G.I. Bob” by the troops and went on to perform all over the world during the next 60 years. He has entertained troops and broadcast from Europe, the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. He nearly always appeared in army fatigues as a further gesture of support for the soldiers.

Bob Hope has been honored five times by the United States Congress, has been made honorary mayor of Palm Springs and an honorary veteran. He also has several theaters, a battleship and an airport named in his honor and his love of golf lives on in one of the sport’s major events – the Bob Hope Classic.

But his biggest legacy is the wealth of entertainment he has given us over the years. And of course, his sharp wit; his one-liners and quotes are almost as well known as his TV shows and movies. As he accurately remarked once, “I’ve always been in the right place and time. Of course, I steered myself there.”

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