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Given the kaleidoscope of jobs that acting legend Bob Hope held growing up, it is really not so incredible that he became an actor, and an enormously entertaining one at that. We are just lucky that he chose acting over golfing full-time.
Leslie Townes Hope was born in Eltham, England, on May 29, 1903, and was the fifth of seven sons. His father, William Henry Hope, was a stonemason and his mother, Avis Townes, was a light opera singer who later worked as a cleaning woman. After his family moved to Cleveland in 1908, he sold newspapers. He also worked as a delivery boy, soda jerk, shoe salesman and a pool hustler throughout high school. After graduating, he took dancing lessons while working as a newspaper reporter and even tried boxing.
At 18, Hope and his girlfriend danced at vaudeville houses for eight dollars a night, until his girlfriend's mother saw the act and ended it. Then, he and a chum were hired for low pay on the Fatty Arbuckle Show. (It was around this time that he changed his first name to "Bob," believing it had a nice "Hiya fellas" ring to it.) Hope also teamed up with friend George Byrne and went to New York where they were hired for the popular Broadway show Sidewalks of New York. However, the team was not appreciated and moved on to an obscure theater in New Castle, Pennsylvania where Hope would announce the coming attractions. This stint was to last three days, but he was asked to stay by the theater manager.
In 1933, he gave a witty performance in the hit Broadway musical, Roberta, and was also introduced to a singer, Dolores Reade. The couple married in February 1934 and had four children: Linda, Anthony, Nora and Kelly.
Hope opened many box office attractions until he secured a role in Red, Hot, and Blue (1936) with Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante, which led to his first film for Paramount, The Big Broadcast of 1938.
More good fortune impacted his career, beginning at New York's Capitol Theater. Since radio was used to spark interest in its box-office attractions, he appeared with singer Bing Crosby and the radio gigs followed. By 1937, he had his own show every Tuesday night, which provided entrance for many entertainers needing work. It ended in 1956 but was a great feed into a long-term contract with Paramount.
Although Hope never received an Academy Award, his "road pictures" with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour made him a star. He would appear in over 50 feature films, and was Number One at the box office, establishing him as an important part of film history.
If movies were responsible for his stardom, it was television that increased his star wattage. He debuted on Easter Sunday, 1950 for the NBC special, Star Spangled Revue, which featured many guest stars with which he would co-star in the movies.
Hope became a legendary hero to America's military personnel beginning in May, 1941. All of his shows were aired from military bases throughout the United States, in Europe and the South Pacific. In 1943, his small USO troupe visited our military facilities in England, Africa, Sicily and Ireland. (Later, his schedule included the South Pacific.) He also began visiting the troops each Christmas beginning in 1948 along with his wife.
In 1972, with the Vietnam War on the wane, Hope said he would no longer have Christmas shows, but it wasn't true, for he was always performing at a military base or veterans' hospital in America. He never really stopped. In 1987, at the age of 84, he flew around the world to cheer up troops and in May 1990, he was off to England, Russia, and Germany. At Christmas, he was in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm.
In 2000, he officially opened the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment at the Library of Congress. Then, a year later, members of the Pentagon visited his home in Toluca Lake, CA, to honor him for his life-long contributions toward maintaining the high morale of soldiers.
Beginning in 2000, Hope's health declined and he was hospitalized for gastrointestinal bleeding and pneumonia. On July 27, 2003, he passed away at home, and according to his grandson Zach, when asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, the actor told his wife, "Surprise me." Bob Hope was a joy until the very end.
Joan Voss is a freelance writer living in Libertyville, IL.