Leslie Townes Hope, better known as Bob Hope, was born on May 29, 1903, in Eltham, near London, England. He spent his early years there, where his father worked as a stonemason. The family moved to the United States, to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1907. Hope had six brothers and his family struggled financially. In an effort to relieve some of the burden, he worked various jobs including working as a shoe salesman and an amateur boxer, before moving on to pursue a career in entertainment.
His first significant role in a feature film was in The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938). It was in this film that he first sang his trademark song, “Thanks for the Memory” with Shirley Ross. The next year, he starred in a horror-film spoof called The Cat and the Canary, the first of many films in which Hope would play his signature character type – a smart aleck coward with false bravado. Hope performed the character type so well that he became one of few actors to become successful by playing unlikeable characters. This film also starred Paulette Goddard who would work with Hope again in another horror-film spoof called The Ghost Breakers in 1940.
It was also in 1940 that Hope joined with the Bing Crosby in The Road to Singapore, the first of seven “Road” films in which the two lifelong friends would perform together. The most well-received of those films were Road to Morocco (1942) and Road to Utopia (1946). All of the films featured a brazen style of comedy that was popular during the 1940s. Hope starred in numerous other films during this time as well and became one of the top film stars of the 1940s. He introduced hit songs such as “Buttons and Bows” and “Silver Bells.” During this time, he was also invited to host the Academy Awards, though he never actually won an Academy Award for acting himself.
He did, however, win an Emmy Award for one of his Christmas specials in 1966, having turned his attention to television in the 1950s. His first special was on NBC in 1950. These shows would continue to bring in high ratings for forty years, though he would face some criticism in the 1960s and 1970s, both due to his politics and due to the prevailing opinion that his comedic style had become clichéd. Members of the counterculture movement considered Hope to be part of the “Establishment.” However, he was restored to popularity by the late 1970s, thanks to directors such as Woody Allen who remembered his work from the 1940s and 1950s.
Hope was also known for his support of the American troops, beginning in World War II when he started traveling overseas to entertain them. During times of war, his radio shows were often broadcast from military bases all over the world. The first of these was at a California air base in 1941. He wrote a book called I Never Left Home which detailed his experiences during the war. He and his wife Dolores often spent Christmas overseas with the troops, especially during the Vietnam War. As a result of his efforts, he received numerous honors, such as having his name on ships and planes. In 1997, the United States Congress named him the first ever “Honorary Veteran.” Other honors included Commander of the Order of the British Empire, an honorary British Knighthood, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In addition to these honors, Hope also received more than fifty honorary degrees as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center, and was named entertainer of the century multiple times. On May of 2003, he celebrated his one-hundredth birthday at his Toluca Lake home. He died there of pneumonia on July 27, 2003; however, his legacy continues as the only performer to master all of the major forms of entertainment media, which includes stage, film, radio, and television.