Biography of Bob Hope

Legend of Show Business Comedy

Bob Hope
Photo by Wally McNamee / Corbis Historical

Leslie Towns "Bob" Hope ( May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003 ) is credited by many to be one of the founding fathers of stand-up comedy. His rapid-fire delivery of one-liners made him a legend on the stage, in film, on the radio, and on TV.  He was revered for his dedication to entertaining U.S. military personnel during 50 years of participating in USO tours.

Early Years

Bob Hope was born in Eltham, Kent, England, now a district of London.

His father was a stonemason, and his mother was a singer. The family emigrated to the U.S. in 1907 and settled in Cleveland, Ohio. At age 12, Hope began busking on the streets of the city singing, dancing, and telling jokes. He also had a brief boxing career under the name Packy East.

After deciding to pursue a career in entertainment, Bob Hope took dancing lessons. At age 18, he began performing with his girlfriend Mildred Rosequist dancing in the vaudeville circuit. Unfortunately, Mildred's mother disapproved of their act. His collaboration with George Byrne fared better, but ultimately friends persuaded Hope that he would be better off as a solo act. In 1929, Leslie Hope legally changed his first name to "Bob." 

Broadway

Bob Hope's first major breakthrough occurred in 1933 when he appeared in the hit Broadway musical Roberta. He co-starred with Fanny Brice in the 1936 version of the Ziegfeld Follies.

During his Broadway years, Hope appeared in a series of short films. In 1936, he took the stage in the production of Red Hot and Blue which also featured Jimmy Durante and Ethel Merman. The latter two were already film stars, and they opened doors for Bob Hope in Hollywood. Long after he left Broadway for movies, radio, and TV, Hope returned to the stage for a 1958 production of Roberta staged in St.

Louis, Missouri.

Film

Paramount Pictures signed Bob Hope to appear in the variety show film The Big Broadcast of 1938. W.C. Fields, Martha Raye, and Dorothy Lamour received top billing. However, the movie introduced the song "Thanks for the Memory" as a duet between Bob Hope and Shirley Ross. It became his signature song. The film was a box office success, and "Thanks for the Memory" won the Academy Award for Best Song.

In 1940, Bob Hope starred in his first "Road" comedy The Road to Singapore. He co-starred with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Paramount threatened to stop the series in 1945, and they received 75,000 letters of protest from fans. Ultimately, seven movies were created in the series concluding with The Road to Hong Kong in 1962. From 1941 through 1953, Hope ranked as one of the top ten wealthiest box office stars.

After the 1940s, Bob Hope failed to maintain his popularity as a leading man in movies. Many of his efforts were panned by critics and his movies suffered from weak ticket sales. In 1972, he appeared in his final lead role in the movie Cancel My Reservation co-starring Eva Marie Saint. After the film bombed, Bob Hope stated that he was too old to play a leading man.

Although he was never nominated for an Academy Award as an actor, Hope hosted the ceremonies 19 times. During the 1968 TV broadcast of the event, he quipped, "Welcome to the Academy Awards, or, as it's known at my house, Passover."

Radio and TV

Bob Hope began performing on radio in 1934. In 1938, he launched the 30-minute comedy series The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope. It soon became the most popular show on the radio. He worked on radio into the 1950s until TV became a more popular medium.

Bob Hope is remembered fondly as a host of a wide range of TV specials. He resolutely refused to develop a regular weekly series, but Hope's Christmas specials became legendary. Among the most successful were his 1970 and 1971 Christmas specials filmed live in front of military audiences in Vietnam at the height of the war.

 

Bob Hope: The First 90 years, a TV special created to celebrate Hope's 90th birthday, earned an Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Special in 1993. Hope's last TV appearance came in 1997 in a commercial directed by Penny Marshall. 

Personal LIfe

Bob Hope was married twice. His first marriage—to his vaudeville partner Grace Louise Troxell—was short-lived. In February 1934, only a year and one month after he married Troxell, he married his second wife Dolores Reade, a nightclub performer and a member of Bob Hope's vaudeville troupe. They remained married until Bob Hope's death in 2003. 

Bob and Dolores Hope adopted four children named Linda, Tony, Kelly, and Nora. They lived in Toluca Lake, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, California located in the San Fernando Valley from 1937 until 2003.

Legacy

Bob Hope was frequently lauded for his rapid-fire delivery of one-liners. His joke-telling style makes him a pioneer in stand-up comedy. He was also known for the self-deprecating nature of his jokes. Hope resolutely stuck by his style of performance even when his popularity began to fade in the 1970s. In his later years, he was criticized for being sexist and homophobic.

First performing for a military audience in 1939, Bob Hope embraced the personnel stationed overseas and performed 57 headlining tours between 1941 and 1991. A 1997 act of Congress named Hope an Honorary Veteran.

Bob Hope was also known for his dedication to golf. His book Confessions of a Hooker, about his participation in the sport, was a bestseller for 53 weeks.

In 1960, he kicked off the Bob Hope Classic tournament which was revered for the inclusion of a wide range of celebrities as competitors. A peak achievement of the tournament was the inclusion of three living Presidents, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, in 1995.

Memorable Films

  • Road to Singapore (1940)
  • My Favorite Blonde (1942)
  • The Paleface (1948)
  • Fancy Pants (1950)
  • The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Awards and Honors

  • Academy Awards Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (1959)
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom (1969)
  • National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame (1977)
  • Kennedy Center Honors (1985)
  • Television Hall of Fame (1987)

References and Recommended Reading

  • “Bob.” Bob Hope, 26 Sept. 2017, bobhope.org/bob-dolores-hope/bob/.
  • “The Rise And Fall Of Comedian Bob Hope.” NPR, NPR, 24 Nov. 2014, www.npr.org/2014/11/24/366137941/the-rise-and-fall-of-comedian-bob-hope.
  • Zoglin, Richard (2014). Hope: Entertainer of the Century. New York: Simon and Schuster.
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Lamb, Bill. "Biography of Bob Hope." ThoughtCo, Nov. 29, 2017, thoughtco.com/bob-hope-biography-4155144. Lamb, Bill. (2017, November 29). Biography of Bob Hope. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/bob-hope-biography-4155144 Lamb, Bill. "Biography of Bob Hope." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/bob-hope-biography-4155144 (accessed December 12, 2017).