☰ Menu
The HeldenFiles Online

Bob Hope's Birthday Today

By Rich Heldenfels Published: May 29, 2013



It has been 10 years since the all-purpose entertainer and former Clevelander marked his 100th birthday; he passed away in July 2003. He still makes news; this year saw the release "The Iron Petticoat," a long-unseen comedy he made with Katharine Hepburn. But to mark this occasion, I have pasted below a May 2003 story I wrote about his Cleveland roots, and the obituary I wrote the following July. And there's a vintage TV clip between the two stories.

First, the roots story, which ran on Sunday, May 25, 2003:

Memorial Day and Bob Hope's birthday have never been far apart.
That makes sense even if Hope, who will be 100 on Thursday, is not as old as Memorial Day. His whole history is now tangled in our collective memory.
It was Hope, after all, who entertained troops around the globe in wartime and peacetime. In 1944, he came to Akron's Rubber Bowl to speak at a memorial service a honoring Summit County men who had died during World War II. The holiday even echoes in the title of Hope's theme song: Thanks for the Memory.
But there are memories about Hope that go beyond this weekend.
To be sure, some of his history remains unclear. Although his given name is usually reported as Townes Hope, biographer William Robert Faith has argued that it should be Towns. Hope's theme song routinely gets written as "memories." And new buildings have risen over many of his old haunts.
Still, certain things are evident, including these two: Hope was born in England, and his home town is Cleveland.
The future entertainer to the world was not yet 5 years old when he took a boat and then train with his mother, Avis, and brothers to join his father, Harry. A stonemason, Harry had earlier moved to Cleveland in search of work and opportunity.
Bob Hope was still young enough, then, that life in Cleveland shaped him in ways that no other place would. It was where he played his first game of golf, watched the Indians (whom he would later partly own), gave his first shows, learned to dance, squired the ladies and went to his first movies.
This was long before he became a show-business legend, conquering every major entertainment venue of his life -- vaudeville, Broadway, radio, movies and television. He would live to see his work on record, film, tape (audio and video), CD and DVD. He was named the most popular movie star of 1949 and hosted the Academy Awards ceremony 20 times, receiving four special awards.
Another Cleveland kid
Before he was 50 -- half a long century ago -- he was known as a "millionaire comedian." But long before that, he was just another kid in Cleveland.
Have Tux, Will Travel -- Hope's 1954 autobiography and a basic resource for his many biographers -- is studded with tales of Cleveland and locations in it.
It is there that you find him selling newspapers on a Cleveland street corner, and learning that one of his customers was John D. Rockefeller Sr. On another page, there's Hope tap-dancing with a neighbor, Lloyd Durbin, at the Bandbox Theater -- and meeting former movie star Fatty Arbuckle.
He was a delivery boy for Standard Drug Store and for Heisey's Bakery, and filled out stock orders at the Chandler Motor Car Co. (until he was caught recording songs on the manager's dictating machine). He pulled taffy at Humphrey's and went to the annual Cleveland Welsh picnic at Euclid Beach (the Welsh blood coming from his mother). According to Faith's book, Bob Hope: A Life in Comedy, Hope took dancing partner (and, briefly, girlfriend) Mildred Rosequist dancing at Zimmerman's and for ice cream at Hoffman's Ice Cream Parlor. Hope also taught at Sojack's Dance Academy, behind Zimmerman's.
But it all really began in the streets around Euclid Avenue and 105th Street, where his family lived and Hope -- then called Les -- roamed.
He was 9 or 10 when he gave his first performances on those streets, imitating Charlie Chaplin, a favorite from the movies.
Later, he would take the imitation to a competition in Luna Park -- an amusement center where he had earlier worked in a flower stand. Thanks to generous applause from his brothers and friends, he won the contest, bringing home a new stove for his mother.
The author of Have Tux, Will Travel bought his first tuxedo in Cleveland at the age of 19.
"It was real sharp, but it was secondhand and a tight fit," he said in the book, co-authored by Pete Martin. "It cost me fourteen bucks at Richman's. It would cost more than that now to have it let out enough at the seams."
He received his early spiritual instruction at Euclid Avenue Presbyterian Church -- later renamed Church of the Covenant, and still standing, with some modifications, where it was when young Hope attended.
When he revisited the church in 1982, he told the Cleveland Press how his father had helped to build it.
"We changed from Episcopalian to Presbyterian because we liked the church so much," Hope said (though the church has no record of the Hopes as members). "Every time I'm in Cleveland, I drive past it and take a peek at it."
Not that he was always happy about going there. In Have Tux, Will Travel, Hope recalled being being sent off to Sunday school, "clean and uncomfortably dressed."
"We had to go until we got a medal for perfect attendance before she (his mother) let us off the hook," he said. "We couldn't stop along the way and skate, either. When we went by Wade Park and looked at the kids ice skating, we drooled but we Hopes had to truck on down to church."
Nor was he much of a student. He attended Fairmount grammar school and junior high, then East High, where he dropped out after a year and a half. "Ohio has a lot of schools," he said in Have Tux, Will Travel. "I know. I avoided most of them."
Part of the problem was that name -- Les Hope -- which children quickly reversed to Hopeless. (As a performer, he became Lester Hope and finally Bob.) Fights ensued. "I was quite a sight coming home from school with my book in one hand and two front teeth in the other," he wrote later.
But through it all, the star was taking shape.
In The Road to Hollywood, a 1977 book about his movie career, Hope said his romance with movies started as a boy in Cleveland.
"Whenever I could scrape together a dime by doing odd jobs I'd hurry down to the Alhambra or the Park movie house," he said. "I sat in the dark for hours."
Besides Chaplin, he said, "I could see myself as Rudolph Valentino or Wally Reid behind the wheel of a mile-long Duesenberg. Or Richard Barthelmess winning World War I singlehandedly."
Hope's love of sports was so considerable that he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1963 -- in an Indians uniform. The accompanying article said that "he has been a fighter, a sprinter, a pool hustler, a four-handicap golfer, a professional football team's mascot and a holder of substantial shares of stock in enterprises such as the Los Angeles Rams and the Cleveland Indians."
The boxing, running, golfing and pool hustling all started around here. He also discovered baseball on Cleveland's fields and later lost an enormous bet to Jackie Gleason on the 1954 World Series -- where the Giants swept the Indians.
"We're betting for drinks," he told Sports Illustrated. "At the end of the fourth game I owed him a distillery."
Though Hope is no longer a team owner, the Indians have never forgotten his loyalty. Hope sang at the team's farewell to Cleveland Stadium in 1993. On Friday, the Indians will celebrate Hope's 100th at a game with the White Sox.
(I know, it's a day after his birthday. That's how things are going with the Indians these days.)
Better known for his love of golf, Hope took his first swing at it in Highland Park in 1927.
"I was a total failure," he said in the 1985 book Confessions of a Hooker. "I couldn't advance the ball. Some shots I'd whiff, some I'd just scuff along the ground. Foursomes of women were playing through me."
He quit the game, not taking it up again until 1930 in Seattle, where he "started hitting the ball pretty well. I got hooked on golf that day."
It was also in Cleveland that he saw Frank Fay, a now dimly remembered comedian who resonated with Hope. Not long before his 90th birthday, I asked Hope who made him laugh. "The finest comedian, talking comedian, was Frank Fay," he said. "I loved his delivery and everything else. In a lot of places, they didn't get him but I loved him."
Hope had long ago told of his mother taking him to see Fay at the Keith's vaudeville house on 105th Street in Cleveland. Hope had begun performing himself and his mother declared Fay was "not half as good as you." Hope didn't believe it.
Years later, he said, "I had one of my biggest thrills when I came back to Cleveland and played that same theater."

And then the obit, from Tuesday, July 29, 2003:

Bob Hope once said the laughter of a hundred people sounded like a symphony to him. If so, he was a comedic Beethoven, with compositions in the millions. Hope, who died of pneumonia late Sunday in his Toluca Lake, Calif., home, played many roles in entertainment and in life over his 100 years.
He was a millionaire comedian, a TV host, Cleveland's favorite son, a movie star, a radio jokester, an ambassador for golf, a friend of soldiers and a confidant of presidents.
Now he is on the road to heaven, knowing that Bing is waiting for him at the first tee. He's lined up all the best writers there, asking for 11 new versions of "How about that Supreme Being?" and wondering if the GIs would like a little show.
And so ends a century of Hope. His theme song, Thanks for the Memory, was often misquoted as "memories" but that's no surprise, given all the memories people have thanked Hope for over the years.
When Bob Hope was born in 1903, the twin peaks of the entertainment business were headlining in vaudeville and starring in a Broadway show.
By his mid-20s, Hope had reached both heights. But the entertainer didn't stop there.
As each new form of entertainment reached the mainstream -- movies and radio and television -- Hope conquered them, too. About a dozen books bear his name. And he made occasional recordings, among them a Christmas album, Hopes for the Holidays, with his wife, Dolores, in 1994.
In 1947 alone, Hope took his successful radio show to various cities around the country; entertained King George VI in London, then hopped over to Germany to amuse American troops there; co-starred with his friend Bing Crosby in the top-grossing film of the year, Road to Rio; and starred on his own in one of his most fondly remembered comedies, My Favorite Brunette.
But there were some lifelong frustrations. Though he received four special Academy Awards, he never won a long-wanted Oscar for acting.
Still, the kid from Cleveland, formerly Leslie Townes Hope, made it to the top. He combined cockiness and self-deprecation, jokes provided by gag writers and a facial expression all his own, a serenely confident manner and the drive of a true workaholic.
Often playing cowards, lechers and losers, Hope was anything but. He was known as a "millionaire comedian" before he was 50 years old. He stayed married to the same woman for almost 70 years, was knighted by the pope and the queen of his native England and was the first civilian formally named an honorary military veteran.
To be sure, Hope had a sizable ego and a list of detractors. His conservative politics rankled some audiences in the '60s and '70s, and others grew weary of his machine-gun-like delivery of jokes.
Setup. Punchline. Setup. Punchline. They rolled out at a rate of six gags a minute, on radio, in concerts and for more than 45 years on TV.
In the '80s, Steve Allen complained that Hope was "something of a parrot, a joke machine."
But a decade earlier entertainment columnist Earl Wilson had favorably compared Hope to another topical humorist, the revered Will Rogers. Hope's use of writers didn't bother Wilson, who remembered Rogers foraging for jokes among his show-biz confreres at lunch every day. "Will Rogers came up with two or three jokes a day," said Wilson. "Bob Hope has a dozen to 50."

Huge success
Hope's success was so considerable that he had numerous sleepovers at the White House, even as he made fun of its occupants.
More handsome than most comedians of his era, he made himself seem more common with jokes about his ski-slope nose.
His energy astonished even seasoned show-business observers. In 1986, having been named Ambassador of Golf for Akron's World Series of Golf, Hope was supposed to sit for an official portrait but could not find the time.
"I thought Gerald Ford was busy," said Cuyahoga Falls artist Jack Richard, who'd painted the former president the year before. "That was before I tried to make an appointment with Bob Hope." The portrait was prepared based on photographs.
As enduring as Hope was, it may be a stretch to say America loved him. He did not ask for love, only for laughs.
But it did rankle him when he was accused of being pro-war during the Vietnam era. Hope thought he was pro-America, pro-GI.
He took his laughs from the day's headlines, without favoring one party or policy over another. In the '50s, he jabbed Red-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy often enough that at least one McCarthy fan called him a Communist.
Still, he did not always discourage the idea that he was the middlebrow jester for the Silent Majority. In 1967, on tour in Vietnam, he got a big laugh with a joke about then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. But he became concerned when a reporter included the joke in a dispatch back home, since Hope did not want to seem disrespectful of the president.
His occasional deference to the powerful sometimes made him misunderstood, especially by the young. But young performers often saw Hope as a master.
"There are certain moments in his older movies when I think he's the best thing I've ever seen," Woody Allen said in 1973. Twenty-five years later, Conan O'Brien declared: "There are things that I do every night . . . (derived) from Bob Hope."
A college kid named Johnny Carson honed his comic craft by studying the radio work of Jack Benny, Fred Allen -- and Bob Hope. Close to 40 years before David Letterman was tweaking his employer, NBC, Hope had done likewise.
If we sometimes forget how great Hope was, it is partly because he was great for so long. Entertainment newspaper Variety reviewed his vaudeville act in 1929. ("He sings True Blue Love for laughs, and Pagan Love Song straight -- both very good," the paper said.) Thirty years later, there was some momentarily serious talk about his retiring, but 30 years after that he was still going strong.
Once asked about younger performers he liked, Hope mentioned "that kid who did the Academy Awards" -- Billy Crystal, then 46 years old. (Hope himself was host or co-host of the Oscar ceremonies 20 times between 1940 and 1978.) Of course, to Hope, about the only performers who weren't kids were Crosby -- who often called Hope "junior" in their movies -- and George Burns. Even the seemingly Methuselan Milton Berle was five years younger than Hope.
In 1986, Hope campaigned for former Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes, who was attempting a comeback at 77 and faced concerns about his age. Hope was 83 at the time.
100 years ago
When you survey Hope's life, you have to go all the way back to May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England, and the birth of Leslie Townes Hope, the fifth of seven sons of Avis Townes Hope and the hard-drinking stonemason William Henry Hope.
When Leslie was 4, the Hopes moved to Cleveland. (Hope became a U.S. citizen in 1920.) He would ever after refer to Cleveland as his hometown.
Hope returned often to Northeast Ohio for benefits, performances and public appearances. In 1944, he made a rare serious speech at a Rubber Bowl ceremony honoring Summit County's war dead.
A minority owner of the Cleveland Indians for decades, he sang Thanks for the Memory at the Indians' last game in the old Cleveland Stadium in 1993. He was the star attraction of Gov. George Voinovich's inaugural gala in 1991. He was feted during the National Basketball Association's All-Star Game weekend in Richfield in 1981. An October 1977 performance in Canton was Hope's first after the death of his friend Crosby.
As tough as that Canton show was to do, it was no tougher than his Cleveland childhood. Delivery boy, shoe salesman, soda jerk, chicken plucker, boxer -- whatever it took to make a few cents, he did. Sick of jokes about his first name, he also tried out new ones -- Lester, Packy, finally Bob.
Hope began performing around the age of 6, doing a Charlie Chaplin imitation outside a local firehouse. He made his official stage debut, as a dancer, in 1923 in Cleveland with a 15-year-old partner named Mildred Rosequist.
Although that act did not last, Hope continued to work in vaudeville -- the circuits of theaters on which a variety of performers, from singers and dancers to novelty acts, toured. In the '50s, he said, "If it weren't for vaudeville, I wouldn't be in television or pictures today. That's where I gained all my experience, such as timing and ducking."
First known as a dancer and singer, sometimes solo, sometimes with partners, he went into comedy almost by accident. "It was in New Castle, Pa.," he said. "I was playing a three-night stand with my partner George Byrne, and the first night the manager asked me to introduce the next week's show."
The next week's act included a Scotsman, and Hope said, "He got married in the back yard so the chickens could get the rice." The joke went over, the theater manager asked for more "and by the third night I was doing about an eight-minute monologue."
By the early '30s, he had become a vaudeville star and was ready to move up. He made a big splash on the Broadway stage with Fanny Brice in the musical Roberta in 1933. He later appeared in two television versions of the play.
Although other Broadway shows followed, Hope was again looking beyond the moment's success. He was sometimes wary of new media -- once saying "radio would never amount to anything" -- but he kept alert to possibilities. In 1932, he appeared on an experimental television broadcast in New York City. He made his first try at the movies in the short Going Spanish in 1934, and during this same period was beginning to guest-star on radio shows such as Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast Hour.
The year 1934 also brought an important personal change, as Hope married a young singer, Dolores Reade.
There has been some debate about the quality of the marriage. Allegations of womanizing arose over the years. In interviews he at least acknowledged that his spending up to nine months of the year on the road was tough for his wife and their four adopted children, Tony, Linda, Kelly and Nora. The towels in the bathroom, he said, read "Hers" and "Welcome Traveler." Still, the marriage lasted until Bob's death.
Radio breakthrough
As successful as he was in show business, Hope took a giant step in public recognition in 1938. He started The Bob Hope Pepsodent Show on radio, which took his act to listeners who'd never seen him on Broadway or in a vaudeville house.
Even as Hope's radio career boomed, he was making inroads into movies. Seven features in the late '30s were followed by a sort of golden age of Hope movies in the '40s, including the first of the famous Road pictures (Road to Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, and so on).
Buoyed by his radio appearances and the good will he generated with performances for troops in the United States and abroad, he ranked among the top 10 box-office stars 10 of the 11 years from 1941 to 1951.
By then, too, he was a very rich man, having invested in California real estate, oil wells, sports teams, a TV station -- still that kid on the Cleveland streets hustling for dimes. But he also had found his great calling, and became so identified with it that one critic surveying performers and their causes said simply, "Bob Hope owns the GIs."
It began in 1941, when Hope was asked to entertain the Army Air Force troops at March Field in Riverside, Calif. He asked why he couldn't just bring them to his radio show. Because there are about 1,000 of them, came the reply.
"A hundred people (laughing) is a symphony to me," he later wrote. "But a thousand people. . . . Sheer fantasy." Not only that, he realized, there were "military police guarding the gates so they can't get out."
The show was a success, and trips to other California military bases followed. Sales of Pepsodent toothpaste, Hope's radio sponsor, went up. With Pepsodent footing the bill for more travel, Hope made his first trip to real war zones -- England, Africa and Sicily -- in 1943. He'd continue to make them through World War II, Korea, Vietnam and, finally, the Persian Gulf War.
Although it can be argued that the trips were good for Hope's career, it should be remembered that he did not need to make them. He had success. He could have stayed out of harm's way.
But he did tremendous good. In 1943, the legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote that Hope was one of the best performers to visit the troops. "He can handle himself as well in a hospital full of suffering men as before a rough audience of 10,000 war-coarsened ones," Pyle said.
And still, Hope was restless. Once World War II ended, he plowed on to new endeavors, including television, where he began hosting annual specials beginning in 1950. Though not his best work, his specials were consistently popular. His Christmas shows, often including highlights from his troop visits, were a television staple until 1995.
By the late '50s, there were literally no entertainment worlds left for Hope to conquer, and still he drove himself on. "Give Bob an audience of one -- even if it's in a phone booth or a foxhole -- and he'll perform for two hours," an admiring profile said in 1959.
But even as those words were being written, it appeared Hope's career was about to end. In December 1958, during a tour of military bases in Europe, he collapsed from exhaustion. The following spring brought reports of dizzy spells, a blood clot in the vein leading to his left eye, high blood pressure, circulatory problems, and two more collapses during rehearsals for his TV show.
Hope slowed down to mere mortal levels for a while -- turning down even appearances for charity -- but he eventually got back on the air and on the road.
"An audience is like dope," he said in 1959. "Once you're used to it -- the applause and excitement -- you have to have it again."
But in his 90s, the effects of his advancing age began to catch up with him. His hearing was iffy, his eyesight poor, his memory at times erratic. He did his last TV special in November 1996 and he spent his waning years accepting tributes from the nation and the world. In a 100th-birthday tribute earlier this year, Hope appeared only in archival footage.
Yet sometimes the tributes proved premature. In June 1998, the Associated Press accidentally placed a Hope obituary on its Internet site. That led to a sad announcement on the floor of the House of Representatives that Hope had passed away, which launched a brief media frenzy.
Hope, meanwhile, was at home, eating breakfast and planning to play a little golf. And a few weeks later, there was Hope on TV again, playing a small role in a commercial for Kmart.
More recent days had not been so good. In April 2003, his daughter Linda said that Hope had finally had to give up his beloved golf. "There are days when he spends a good bit of time sleeping and keeping to himself," she said.
But as long as people want to understand American humor, they will have to turn to Bob Hope. The same when they want to understand about Americans at war, or just plain America over the last century. Or when they just want one more laugh.

Caption: (1) Bob Hope, then 90, doffs his hat to the crowd after singing Thanks for the Memory on Oct. 4, 1993, at the last Indians game played at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Hope died of pneumonia late Sunday at age 100. (2) Bob Hope clowns around with his fellow comedic legends, Milton Berle (left) and Sid Caesar, during the Emmy Awards show in 1996. (3-4) Bob Hope and wife Dolores, above, arrive at a ceremony at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif., in June 1997. Hope hobnobbed with several presidents during his decades-long career. At right, Hope pokes fun at actor Mr. T. during a skit. Many famous comedians, including Woody Allen and Johnny Carson, say they were inspired by Hope. (5) Bob Hope chats with former President Gerald Ford on Sept. 24, 1981, before the Bob Hope Golf Classic at Moore Park Golf Course in England. In April 2003, Hope had to give up his beloved golf.


The HeldenFiles Online Archives




Heldenfels' mailbag

  • Main Blog Promo
  • Cavs Blog Promo
  • Browns Blog Promo
  • Indians Blog Promo
  • Beer Blog Promo
  • Fracking Blog Promo
  • High School Blog Promo
  • Zips Blog Promo
  • Akron Dish Food Blog
Prev Next