The man, who it is calculated has been seen by more people than any other entertainer on earth during his more than seven decades in show business, has been declared a "a part of American folklore" by a Senate resolution. In just about every country people know the performer, whose rapid-fire comedy technique, flawless sense of timing and impeccable delivery have invaded their lands and touched a common chord in their humanity. His motion pictures exceed 50. His radio and television show are literally countless.
The great entertainer was born Leslie Townes Hope, the fifth of six sons of a stone mason in London. His father brought the family to Cleveland, Ohio, when Bob was 3. and the youngster received his education there at the Fairmont Grammar School and High School. He was given singing lessons by his mother, Agnes, who had been a Welsh concert singer. It has been said that he discovered the delight in making people laugh when his voice cracked one day while he was singing "The End of a Perfect Day" at a family gathering.
During his schooldays, young Hope earned money working in a shoe store, a pharmacy, in his older brother's meat market, and as a paper boy and golf caddy. He learned tap-dancing in high school and, when the instructor left for Hollywood, he took the classes for a time. At the age of 10, he had won a Charlie Chaplin imitation contest but did not return to comedy until, after striking out a boxing career, under the name Packy East, he learned that several acts were needed to fill out the bill of a Cleveland theater. He acquired a partner named George Byrne, and together they worked out a dance routine, calling themselves "Two Diamonds in the Rough." A vaudeville tour followed.
It was in Newcastle, Indiana, after appearances on Broadway in The Sidewalks of New York and Smiles, that Hope emerged as a monologist. In announcing a coming performance at the theater, he burlesqued the announcement and told Scotch jokes with such success that he decided to be a solo performer. His business card red "Bob Hope: Monology and Eccentric Dancing," and he played vaudeville theaters, including the Stratford Theatre in Chicago, and then formed his own company, which included Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
Hope made it back to Broadway, first with Ballyhoo, a 1932 musical, followed the next year by his starring role as Huckleberry Haines in Roberta with Fay Templeton and Sydney Greenstreet plus a young singer named Dolores Reade, whom he married at that time and with whom he has shared his life since.
In 1935, the year he appeared in Ziegfeld Follies with Fanny Brice and the year before his appearance with Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante in Red, Hot and Blue, Hope did his first radio show, "Atlantic Family." His own radio show was introduced in the fall of 1938. As a result of it, he was asked by Paramount Studios to appear with other radio performers in the film The Big Broadcast of 1938. Instead of utilizing his comedic talents, the producers assigned him to sing (with Shirley Ross) the song "Thanks for the Memory," which was to become his theme. Among a handful of films in which he subsequently appeared were College Swing, Thanks for the Memory, and, most importantly, The Cat and the Canary with Paulette Goddard in 1939.
A new phase of his career began in 1940 when he set out on the Road to Singapore, the first of the film "Roads" he was to travel with Bing Crosby, whom he had first met at New York's Capitol Theater eight years before, when Crosby was the featured singer and Hope was the emcee.
The seven blockbuster "Road" pictures, starting with Singapore and including Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio, Bali and sometime later, Hong Kong. At the time of Crosby's death in 1977, the two were plotting an eight "Road"--To the Fountain of Youth.
"There was a chemistry between us," says Hope. "I could feed Bing a great line and he could feed me a great line, then half the time we were robbing each other, trying to steal each other's lines, so it made for a great circus of gags."
Between "Road" trips, there were many other hit comedy films for Hope including Monsieur Beaucaire, My Favorite Blonde, My Favorite Brunette, My Favorite Spy, Casanova's Big Night, The Paleface, Sorrowful Jones, Fancy Pants, The Lemon Drop Kid, Seven Little Foys (in which he played his most dramatic role as Eddie Foy and for which he received critical praise) Beau James, The Facts of Life and Cancel My Reservation.
The television show "Star Spangled Revue," presented on Easter Sunday, 1950, marked the first of his myriad appearances on the then new medium. Among his innumerable awards are five special Oscars for humanitarian work. He has also created the USO international headquarters named after him.