Bob Hope, an American Hero
Bob Hope lived to celebrate his 100th birthday and died seven years ago, on July 27, 2003. At San Diego harbor, next to the permanently docked aircraft carrier, “USS Midway,” is a tremendous exhibit honoring Bob Hope, which was dedicated July 8, 2009. And what a fitting place this is to set up these 15 larger-than-life bronze statues who represent all the men and women who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Bob Hope stands facing them, holding a microphone.
A cool bank of trees shades his bronze figure, while an American flag floats in the soft breeze blowing across the harbor. One of the service men figures is holding up a sign saying, “Thanks for the memories, Bob.” Others are clapping and some are taking his picture. One has an amputated leg and is standing with crutches. One is taking notes. One is an Air Force pilot with his flight jacket slung over his shoulder, looking like he’d recently landed his plane. Another soldier sits in a wheelchair, with only one Army boot on, backed by a laughing sailor standing by his side. They all have the look of appreciation and love on their faces for this man. They felt privileged to have Bob Hope do a show for them wherever they were stationed all around the world.
Leslie Townes Hope, whom we know as Bob Hope, was born in London on May 29, 1903. His family came to America when he was 4 years old, settling in Cleveland, a rough city at the time. His father was a stonemason; his mother was a Welsh concert singer. He learned how to box, calling himself “Packey East,” joking for the crowd as he danced away from his opponent in the ring. Bob had a natural flair for entertaining. Breaking into show business as a singer, dancer and comedian, he played in vaudeville’s small New York City theaters and nightclubs, until his big success on Broadway.
He met his wife, Dolores DeFina, a singer at the Vogue nightclub where Bob and his actor friend, George O’Brien, would go to hear her sing. Her stage name was Dolores Reade. Bob and Dolores were married in 1934. In the early years, she traveled the circuits with Bob as the show’s pretty, girl singer.
Years later, they adopted four children, Eleanora, Anthony, Linda and Kelly. She would stay home with the children while he toured with other entertainers with the USO. She always tried to be with him at Christmas time and would sing “Silent Night” to a hushed, homesick crowd. Only death has parted them.
During the peak of WWII, there were 6,000 performers for the USO, giving 700 shows a day for the troops. Movie stars Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, gorgeous Marilyn Monroe, and singer Frances Langford were a few of the well-known celebrities who visited bases and hospitals to entertain the men and women, sometimes simply by their presence there.
Author and war correspondent, John Steinbeck, in his novel, “Once There Was a War,” wrote an entire chapter about Bob Hope. In London, July 26, 1943, Steinbeck wrote, “Hope does four, sometimes five shows a day, moving about the country in camps, airfields, billets, supply depots and hospitals. He gets laughter wherever he goes from men who need laughter.”
“In the hospital ward, the men lie, eyes turned inward. They asked Frances Langford to sing ‘As Time Goes By.’ A boy with a head wound starts to cry. Frances finished the song, stepping out into the hall so they wouldn’t see her break down. The ward got silent. Bob walked into the aisle between the beds and said seriously, ‘Fellows, the folks at home are having a terrible time about eggs. They can’t get any powdered ones at all. They’ve got to use the old fashioned ones that you have to break open.'”
Steinbeck commented, “There’s a man for you. There’s really a man.”
From WWII on, Bob Hope traveled in every war to “entertain the kids.”
His final tour was in December 1990 for Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The U.S. Post Office issued a stamp honoring him. You can visit the Bob Hope Gallery at the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. His estimated worth at his death was listed at $200 million.
“Thanks for the Memories,” a song from an old movie, became Bob Hope’s theme song. When he was entertaining the troops, he would change some of the lyrics to fit a particular situation or a battle zone where he was playing that day. And what a fitting song that is for all of us. Bob Hope, we sincerely thank you for the many good memories you have given to us.