He gave us so many memories. From the movie screen to shows for troops far from home, from radio appearances to TV specials, Bob Hope entertained generations of Americans with his self-depreciating jokes and deadpan delivery.
Hope, who recently turned 100, died late Sunday of pneumonia at his home in California.
More than anything else, Bob Hope symbolized the changes America endured in the 20th century. Like many Americans, Hope was not born in this country. He was born in Eltham, England, as Leslie Townes Hope on May 29, 1903 — the same year the Wright Brothers flew the first powered aircraft. His family moved to the United States in 1907, settling in Cleveland. “I left England at the age of 4 when I found out I couldn’t be king,” his Web site (bobhope.com) states.
Hope’s life spanned an era that saw war, uneasy peace and the relentless advance of technology. When he was born, horse-drawn vehicles were still a common sight and telephones were relatively rare. A century later, the United States has transformed into a country built around the automobile and wired together in a tight net of audio and visual communications.
As the nation changed, so did the entertainment industry. Hope changed with it. He got his start as a vaudeville actor in the 1920s. He went on to Broadway musicals, where he met and married Dolores Reade, before his film debut in 1938. Hope and his wife have four children and four grandchildren, according to his Web site.
The highlights of his movie career are his “Road” pictures — a series of buddy comedies Hope made with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Once the medium of television gained wide acceptance in America, Hope became one of TV’s biggest stars. Generations of Americans who were too young to remember his movies or radio shows came to know him from his many television appearances.
Of course, Hope was also known for taking part in USO tours, those morale-building shows that entertained American military personnel in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. The troops loved him and he was ready to entertain soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from Saigon to Beirut, from Seoul to Kuwait.
However we came to know him, “Thanks for the Memory” became Hope’s signature song — and he gave the world more than a century’s worth of memories.
In this age of niche marketing and demographic-driven entertainment, it’s not likely we’ll ever see another star as prolific in so many different media as Bob Hope. And even if someone does eventually match his appeal and his output, there will never be anyone like him again. So thanks, Bob, for all those memories.