Although we were unable to interview Bob Hope, the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation generously founded our Bob Hope Comedy Collection. This collection includes interviews with many talented individuals who made their mark in television comedy -- including those who worked with Bob Hope himself.
ABOUT BOB HOPE
Bob Hope was one of television's most renown comedians and actors. He has also worked in vaudeville, radio, and film, and for the last eight decades has made audiences laugh at themselves, their contemporary culture and its foibles, their politics and politicians--and for his efforts he has received numerous awards and accolades. He is perhaps equally well-known, and certainly equally applauded for his efforts in entertaining American soldiers overseas.
Hope began his career in 1914 when he entered and won a Charlie Chaplin imitator contest. He then made his way into vaudeville in the 1920s and his Broadway acting and musical debut in 1933 when he appeared in Roberta. Hope moved to Hollywood in 1938 after appearing in several short films and on radio. He made his film acting debut in "The Big Broadcast of 1938" where he first sang his signature song Thanks for the Memorywith Shirley Ross. In 1940, Hope made the first of seven "Road" films, "The Road to Singapore," with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. He became a showbiz wizard by playing on his rapid-fire wisecracking technique in the "Road" films that followed. The best known and probably most televised of these films, "The Road to Utopia," was made in 1945. Hope regularly starred as a comic coward in caught in comic-adventurous situations, but he generally wound up winning the hand of the leading lady. In addition to the "Road" films, he also appeared in many others. He made his last "Road" film, "The Road to Hong Kong," in 1962 and his film career virtually ended in the early 1960s. Hope was one of the biggest names in show business when television began to develop. Unlike some of his fellow stars, Bob Hope jumped into the new medium making his debut on Easter Sunday, 1950. On a regular basis he was seen on two budget variety shows, Chesterfield Sound Off Time and The Colgate Comedy Hour. In 1953, NBC broadcast the first annual Bob Hope Christmas Special. These specials were usually filmed during his regular tour to entertain the troops overseas. He also began a series of comedy specials for NBC-TV where he became known for his marvelous comic timing, his stunning array of guest stars, and his ease with both studio audiences and the camera. His guests regularly included top stars from film, stage, television, and the music industry. As well, he was usually surrounded by Hollywood starlets and athletic figures. His humor poked gentle fun at the world of politics, usually leaning toward the conservative. He also made numerous guest appearances on various comedy shows such as I Love Lucy, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Jack Benny Show where he was applauded for his wise cracking ability to throw new comic wrenches into already hilarious situations. In most of these situations Hope simply played himself, and his appearance as a guest star was a guarantee of a larger audience. His ability to make both the audience and his co-stars feel at ease in his presence, eager for the wry comment that would put a new spin on any situation, was performance enough.
In commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of World War II, NBC broadcast an hour-long Bob Hope special that chronicles the comedian's camp tours during the war. Hope, at age 92, narrates Memories of World War II. The special was crafted from a video and CD collection originally produced for retail sales and adds an additional 20 minutes of Bob Hope and his wife, Dolores, talking with friends and co-workers such as Charlton Heston, Dorothy Lamour and Ed McMahon about special photos and remembrances about the war, the entertainment, and their efforts to build and maintain morale. Many scenes extol Hope's comic abilities, patriotism, and human compassion. The recollections range from outrageously funny to heartfelt to harrowing. Still, some critics saw the special as self-congratulatory, inept, and awkward. Mike Hughes, a critic for the Gannett News Service says simply, "This doesn't mean Hope isn't a fine person. It doesn't mean the war effort wasn't worthy. It simply means that bad is bad, no matter the motivation." By this point in his long career Hope seemed, at times, anachronistic, a reminder of a different world, a different sort of television.
In spite of such commentary, Bob Hope remains an American institution in the entertainment world, quick-witted, wise cracking, and a master of comic response. He will be remembered as one of the foundational figures of U.S. television in the network era, one of the kings of television comedy.
-Gayle Pohl for The Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television