Bob Hope Biography

Leslie Townes Hope, 29 May 1903, Eltham, London, England, d. 27 July 2003, Hollywood, California, USA. One of the all-time great entertainers; an actor and comedian, whose singing ability has usually been sadly under-rated. Hope was taken to the USA at the age of four and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. As a teenager he tried his hand at various jobs including boxing, and toured in vaudeville as a song-and-dance-man for a time. In the late 20s and early 30s he had small parts and some chorus work in a few Broadway shows before making a big impression in Roberta in 1933. He had the amusing duet, ‘Don’t Tell Me It’s Bad’, with Linda Watkins in Say When (1934), and in 1936 introduced the lovely ‘I Can’t Get Started’ in the Ziegfeld Follies, and (with Ethel Merman) Cole Porter’s amusing ‘It’s De-Lovely’ in Red, Hot And Blue!. By this time he had broken into radio, and in 1938 he was given his own show. In the same year he made his first feature film, The Big Broadcast Of 1938, in which he introduced (with Shirley Ross) yet another durable song, Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger’s ‘Thanks For The Memory’, which won an Oscar and went on to become his life-long theme tune. In 1939, Hope was highly acclaimed for his performance in the comedy thriller The Cat And The Canary, and he continued to appear in musicals such as College Swing, Give Me A Sailor, and Some Like It Hot.

In 1940, Hope teamed up with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour for Road To Singapore, the first of seven comedy musicals which took the trio to Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio, Bali, and finally, in 1962, to Hong Kong. Over the years the comedy pictures far outweighed the musicals, but during the 40s and 50s Hope still appeared in a few, such as Louisiana Purchase (1941), Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), Let’s Face It (1943), My Favourite Spy (1951), Here Come The Girls (1953), The Seven Little Foys (1955), and Beau James (1957). He also sang the occasional engaging number in other films, including two by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans: ‘Buttons And Bows’, another Oscar-winner, from The Paleface (1948), and ‘Silver Bells’ from The Lemon Drop Kid (1950). In 1958 he joined Crosby for one of their ‘insulting’ duets, ‘Nothing In Common’, which Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen composed for the zany Paris Holiday. Hope’s ongoing ‘feud’ with Crosby was a permanent feature of his act from the 30s onwards, and featured prominently on the comedian’s annual trips overseas to entertain US troops, events that were particularly newsworthy during the years of the Vietnam War. He also spent much of World War II in the South Pacific war zone, along with artists such as Jerry Colonna and Frances Langford.

Hope was signed to NBC radio and television from 1934 onwards, the year his first Pepsodent show was aired - his 1992 Christmas TV Special was his 43rd - and there was a good deal of speculation when, following the 1993 tribute Bob Hope: The First 90 Years, his annual contract was not immediately renewed. Two years later, he hosted Bob Hope... Laughing With Presidents, ‘his 284th and final special for NBC television’.

Hope’s hugely successful career in showbusiness made him reputedly ‘the most wealthy entertainer who has ever lived’, a point which was touched on by fellow comedian Milton Berle at a Friar’s Club Roast in Hope’s honour in 1989. Berle noted: ‘This guy owns so much property in America he should be Japanese.’ During his career Hope was showered with awards from many organizations and countries, including Emmys, a Peabody, 50 honorary academic degrees, and five special Academy Awards for humanitarianism and contributions to the film industry. He also hosted the Academy Awards ceremony itself on numerous occasions. In 1994, he appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the D-Day 50th Anniversary celebrations, and called in at the American Embassy to collect a Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces plaque to commemorate his war-time work. On 18 May 1998 Hope was awarded an honorary knighthood. It was presented by the British Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer on behalf of the Queen, in recognition of his long service as an entertainer, particularly for troops in wartime. In the following month he received an apology from Congress after a false report led to the premature announcement of his death. He finally succumbed to pneumonia in July 2003, two months after celebrating his 100th birthday.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.