Thanks for the Memories

The public tributes to Bob Hope will stress his patriotism, his numberless trips to entertain the troops overseas, his notable backing for Richard Nixon during Vietnam. Nothing is amiss here. Bob, born in England, was a bona-fide American patriot who labored for the troops out of proportion to any return he received for it.

Fame he had when his USO appearances began, during World War II.

Moola? Only a few Hollywood types, such as Gene Autry, equaled or topped him in the pecuniary sweepstakes.

What he did-travel during war and peace, bringing home and memories and comfort to weary servicemen-he did because he wanted to. Just that. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.

Vietnam roiled show biz as nothing before it had done, including the Communist brouhahas of the ’50s. The Hollywood establishment, then as now, was overwhelmingly liberal, anti-war and anti-Nixon.

Over against the establishment stood a sparse if prestigious handful-Bob, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Roz Russell, yes, and, for a time, that most implausible of conservatives, Frank Sinatra. “I just hated,” said Bob, “to get involved in politics. . . . I got a very negative feeling that the country was getting very little support from the news media.”

He could have said that again! Much more than that, politically speaking, he abstained from saying. He was no Roseanne Barr of the Primitive Right.

He had a livelier, more vital distinction: He was funny. Fall-down, knee-slapping funny. The funniness of Bob Hope (so it seems to a longtime admirer) is a better point to address than the patriotism of Bob Hope-commendable as the latter trait manifestly was.

Analyzing humor is the most sterile of pastimes. What’s the point? You laugh, or you don’t. Not everyone laughed with Bob, I am sure. But his one-liners and double takes were great; so also his self-satire.

His favorite movie role was that of puffed-up coward and lovelorn Romeo. He was a loser who won-provided Bing Crosby didn’t cross him up in the last reel. His non-stop wit (and does anybody care that he had a stable of able writers?) raised him just an eyebrow above the average-high enough for him to watch us, wryly, across the footlights, never so high as to put him out of touch with those laughing so heartily with him.

The humor of Bob Hope was sharp, discerning, self-depreciatory: very, very American. Ah, and genial. Let’s not leave that out.

Bob lived and laughed in an age when Americans liked themselves far better than is the case today. There was more-how shall I say it?-tolerance for folly, more appreciation of human nuttiness and contrariness. Nowadays, differences of viewpoint are commonly ascribed to evil and bigotry. I do not remember it so in the ’50s, when Bob’s sun still shone brightly.

Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Red Skelton, “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “The Life of Riley”…stop! How many have the slightest idea what I am talking about? Would you advance and be recognized?

The aforementioned comedians and shows, I started to say, dispensed merriment for its own sake, not for the sake of eviscerating an ideological opponent or wising up some Church Lady type on the second row with a string of obscenities or double-entendres.

The infirmities of age removed Bob Hope from the comedic circuit just about the time he would have been pronounced unspeakably out of date. It was perhaps as well for him. He lived on to be appreciated for what he had never thought would become necessary-the defense of American-ness.

Yes. Fine. Wonderful. Give a great patriot his due. Just so long as the tributes don’t cease there. Here’s the next step-I might almost say, in present context, a subversive one. Lay hands on some Bob Hope movies from the ’40s and ’50s-The Ghost Breakers, The Paleface, Alias Jesse James, and The Road to . . . anywhere. Pop ’em in the VCR. Proceed to laugh like crazy.

Bob Hope Career Highlights

  • 1903 — Born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England near London on May 29, 1903.
  • 1907 — Hope moved to the U.S. with his family at the age of four.
  • 1920 — He became a U.S. citizen.
  • 1934 — Hope married Delores Reade.
  • 1948 — Hope started his annual Christmas shows for American troops stationed overseas.
  • 1965 — The Palm Springs Golf Classic becomes the Bob Hope Golf Classic (now Bob Hope Chrysler Classic).
  • 1941-1990 — From World War II to the Gulf War in 1990, Hope traveled some 10-million miles to entertain U.S. troops abroad-from the jungles of Vietnam to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf.
  • 1963-1995 — Received the Medal of Merit from President Eisenhower, the Presidential Gold Medal from President Kennedy in 1963, the Medal of Freedom from President Johnson, and the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton in 1995.
  • 1997Guinness Book of World Records lists Hope as the most honored entertainer in history. Among his 2,000 awards, Hope has received 54 honorary degrees, five “special” Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a Peabody Award for his radio broadcasts, an Emmy, and a lifetime achievement award from the Kennedy Center.
  • 1997 — On Oct. 29, 1997, Congress bestowed the title of “honorary veteran of the United States Armed Forces” on Hope-the first American to receive this special recognition.
  • 1997 — Received Ronald Reagan Freedom Award from Nancy Reagan.
  • 1998 — Queen Elizabeth II bestowed an Honorary Knighthood (Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) on Hope.