Despite – or because of – the fact that Bob Hope is one of the most recognizable people of the 20th century, he has mainly fallen into two categories: You either loved or hated the man. While some consider him an “underrated” comic genius, others find him abrasive and downright sexist. But one thing most people can agree on is this: He is one of the most influential people in American popular culture.
Sure, the stand-up comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, and author with an eight-decade career made millions smile with his performances. But he also had a less loveable side, with his womanizing, conceit, and his reliance on brown-nosing employees. So, whether or not you found the man who lived to 100 to be funny and loveable, you might be interested to see his life in a series of facts and stories. Who knows, maybe you’ll change your mind…
It was John D. Rockefeller who gave Hope his first important piece of career advice when he was 12 years old. In an effort to help out with his struggling family’s income, Bob (born Leslie Townes Hope, aka “Les”) sold newspapers on the streets of Cleveland. One night, a limousine stopped in front of him, and a well-dressed older gentleman asked to buy a penny paper with a dime.
Lacking the proper coins in change, Bob asked the wealthy man if he could run to a store to get some change. The man waited for the boy to return, but once he did, he gave young Bob an invaluable piece of advice…
The businessman told Bob: “If you want to be a business success, trust nobody. Never give credit and always keep change on hand. That way you won’t miss any customers while you’re going for it.” After he got back into his car and was driven away, a bystander informed Bob that he had been talking to the founder of Standard Oil.
This tale happened to be one of Hope’s favorite anecdotes. While some may blow it off as a fake story, author Richard Zoglin (who wrote his biography, Hope: Entertainer of the Century) said it’s actually quite plausible. Old man Rockefeller really did make his rounds in Cleveland and enjoyed chatting with and dispensing wisdom to the “simple” people he encountered on his drives.
Bob Hope spent time in a reform school, which was something he kept hidden for the rest of his life. It’s funny, considering you would think the comedian would have exploited his time in such a place for comedy material. But it turns out he never publicly mentioned the experience; he only hinted at how traumatic the time was.
According to records, 15-year-old Hope committed an offense (unknown yet likely shoplifting), which led to being judged a delinquent. He was then sent to the Boys Industrial School in Lancaster, Ohio. He was released after a few months, but he ended up violating his parole terms, which ultimately led to being readmitted for another full year.
While Bob was touring the prestigious Keith-Orpheum vaudeville circuit in 1930, he did a screen test for the French film production company Pathé at Culver City in California. He performed his act for the cameras and even received a warm reception. He was encouraged by the chuckles of the crew, and so he braced himself for a future of stardom.
Later, Bob came to refer to the test as “the accident.” Despite the laughter he heard, no one called with job offers. Finally, Bob called William Perlberg, a Hollywood agent, to set up a viewing. “You really want to see it?” he asked Bob. Bob later recalled, “I’d never seen anything so awful. I looked like a cross between a mongoose and a turtle. I couldn’t wait to get out.” It took about a decade before Hope was able to strike up the nerve to try the whole movie thing again.
Bob Hope’s famous “Thanks for the Memory” number in 1938’s The Big Broadcast was recorded live on the set. In the scene that made him a star, he sings a lovely yet heartbreaking duet with Shirley Ross. It was unlike the typical pre-recording method of musical numbers.
Mitchell Leisen, who directed Bob’s film debut, wanted to capture the intimacy by recording it on the soundstage. Bob and Shirley Ross sang the unforgettable tune — one that would become Bob’s theme song — for the cameras, along with an off-screen orchestra. Rumor has it there wasn’t a dry eye in sight. That number won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in a film, by the way.
Bob had a tendency to use racy language and make quips that got him bleeped on the radio. It turns out Bob Hope was getting bleeped long before rappers and edgy comedians ever did. Those were the days when censors would basically have a nervous breakdown if Clark Gable even said the word “damn.”
Still, Bob wasn’t just a rebel – he was willing to be controversial, and he had the guts to do it. In his heyday, the brazen comedian was anything but bland – nothing like the boring old-timer that people may have deemed him in his later television specials. Back in his day, he would defy the censors with dirty jokes. He became a target for Catholic reformers (and we all know that only happens when you’re onto something good).
Bob’s rhythm and timing happened to impress his idol, Charlie Chaplin. In 1915, when Bob was 12, he entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest. Now, depending on who you ask, he came in either first or second place. Later, in 1939, when working on The Cat and the Canary, Bob got to meet his childhood idol, who was married to the film’s star Paulette Goddard.
Chaplin saw a few takes of the film that Bob was working on and gave him a compliment on his delivery. He said to the still young entertainer: “I want you to know that you are one of the best timers of comedy I’ve ever seen.” That’s something any comedian would love to hear – from Charlie Chaplin himself no less!
It’s true: Bob Hope risked his life to entertain the troops during World War II. You’ve probably seen the pictures of a slightly unkempt Bob standing at a microphone in front of all the men in uniform. But people may underestimate just how tough it was to get him there. On a flight to a performance in Alaska one night, the small plane Bob was on barely made the landing.
In fact, the pilots even instructed Bob and his troupe to say their prayers. Another time, while driving through North Africa, Bob and singer Frances Langford trembled in a ditch and narrowly escaped the burning debris falling from the sky of crashing German bomber planes.
In Algiers, regardless of the fact that General Eisenhower’s assured them of their safety, Bob and Langford found themselves huddling together in a wine cellar as enemy aircraft bombed their hotel. But what might have been the riskiest visits of all was when he was in Palermo during a middle-of-the-night air raid.
Caught by surprise in his hotel room, Bob wasn’t able to make it to a bomb shelter fast enough. And so, he watched helplessly as bullets just barely missed his window. Bob remembered it as “the most frightening experience of my life.” Despite these near-death experiences, Bob continued to entertain troops for the rest of World War II, and later during the Korean War, Vietnam War, and other wars in the Middle East.
Did you know that Bob Hope came up with Tony Bennett’s stage name and even gave the famous singer his first big break? In 1950, Bob started a vaudeville-style tour, bringing with him a rising Italian-American crooner then known as Joe Barry. When Bob saw Barry singing at Pearl Bailey’s nightclub in Greenwich, he was impressed.
But the comedian felt that the singer’s phony stage name was holding the young singer back. Bob thought that Barry should change it to something more akin to his birth name (Anthony Benedetto), and so he pitched the idea for the name Tony Bennett. Once Bob took him to perform in LA, Bennett recalled, “It was the first time I ever sang in front of a huge crowd.”
Bob Hope was a star of many mediums, including vaudeville, Broadway, radio, movies, TV and decades of USO tours around the world. The man also had one of the longest show-biz marriages on record. He was married to Dolores Reade Hope for 69 years, up until his death in 2003 at the age of 100.
But Zoglin’s book (Hope: Entertainer of the Century) casts doubt on whether Hope was ever legally married to her. “No marriage license for Bob and Dolores Hope has ever turned up,’’ Zoglin wrote. He explained that a lack of any record of the Hopes’ marriage (there wasn’t even a wedding photo) led to some speculation, even on behalf of Hope family members themselves.
One of the things Bob Hope was famous for was his constant womanizing. Zoglin quoted writer Sherwood Schwartz on Bob’s womanizing during the late 1930s: “We’d go to a hotel, I swear to you, outside his room were three, four, five young, beautiful girls, waiting to be picked by him to come in… He was a star enjoying his stardom.’’
Bob was one to enjoy one-night stands with showgirls and beauty queens while avoiding romantic flings with his female co-stars in films. Even though there were rumors of flings with actresses such as Lucille Ball, Jane Russell, Madeleine Carroll, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine and Dorothy Lamour. While he was married to Dolores, he, indeed, became involved in some rather noteworthy affairs…
It isn’t widely documented but apparently Bob claimed to a friend of his that he and the one and only Doris Day once had a brief romantic fling. It supposedly happened when they were touring together to raise funds for the March of Dimes in 1949, according to Zoglin. When the two stars returned home to Burbank, Bob’s wife Dolores was at the airport, waiting to greet them.
She gave Bob a flashy welcome-home hug. Doris saw the gesture as his wife’s symbolic marking of her territory. It was then and there that their fling ended. Doris never publicly commented on the alleged affair.
Fun fact: Bob would refer to Doris as “JB” on his radio show. She acknowledged in her autobiography that the initials stood for “jut-butt” – something she claimed didn’t bother her.
Barbara Payton, the blonde femme fatale, who starred in films like Bad Blonde and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, had a relationship with Bob that began in the spring of 1949 and lasted for a few months, according to Zoglin. Barbara’s biographer explained that “She followed Hope around the country, moved into a furnished apartment that he rented for her in Hollywood, and when the affair ended in August, was paid off by Hope to keep quiet about it.”
But apparently that didn’t stop her from selling her story to Confidential magazine in 1956. It turned out to be a rare breach in the shell of secrecy that surrounded Bob’s private life. Sadly, Barbara turned to drugs and prostitution, eventually drinking herself to death at the age of 39 in 1967.
The womanly actress-singer Marilyn Maxwell was Bob’s girlfriend between 1950 and 1954, co-starring with him in the movies The Lemon Drop Kid and Off Limits. She also toured with his vaudeville act and USO shows. This relationship wasn’t secretive like the others and was well-known to most of the people who worked with him.
Zoglin noted that while he was on the road for a military-camp show, publicist Frank Liberman saw Bob and Marilyn check in for the night at “a cheap motel.” In fact, the two were together so often that the crew on the Paramount lot started referring to her as Mrs. Hope.’ Married three times, Marilyn later died of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 50.
After he crowned the Welsh beauty queen with the title of Miss World in 1961, Bob took Rosemarie Frankland on his Christmas trip that year to the Arctic. He also supported her when she decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue a film career and even gave her a small role in his 1965 movie I’ll Take Sweden. Publicist Liberman told Zoglin that their affair lasted the longest of all – they went on for “nearly 30 years.”
Bob considered Rosemarie to be “the great love of his life.’’ She later died of an overdose in 2000. Unfortunately Bob’s mistresses seemed to have followed a certain path of downward spirals. Another woman on the side was Ursula Halloran, a member of his publicity staff, who went with him on a trip to Russia in 1958. She, too, died an overdose, in 1963.
Bob’s last girlfriend was someone who hung around in his later years. Sandy Vinger was a writer who worked on his California Federal Savings commercials, and Zoglin reported that she “was his frequent companion in the 1980s,’’ when Bob was in his 70s. Sandy later brought a breach-of-contract suit against Bob in 1994, when he was already 91.
She claimed that he agreed to support her for her entire life. The case was settled out of court and Vinger is likely keeping her part of the bargain since she hasn’t discussed it publically. (Some say that the “best mistresses are the ones you don’t hear about.)
But aside from all the extramarital affairs, there’s one woman Bob shared most of his life with…
Zoglin wrote that Dolores Hope, the devout Catholic who adopted four children with Bob, was “almost certainly’’ aware of all his affairs. When she was asked by a reporter in 1978 if she thought her husband was “one hundred percent true-blue,’’ her response was, “I doubt it. I think he’s perfectly human and average and all that.’’
Hope’s daughter Linda was quoted as saying, “I’m sure my mother knew what was going on. And she just decided that he was worth going through whatever she had to go through, to have the life and be Mrs. Bob Hope. But I don’t think any of the other women had the significance to him that she did and the family did.’’
Dolores Hope, the singer, philanthropist and wife of the late comedian died in 2011 at the age of 102. She was singing at the Vogue Club in Manhattan under the name Dolores Reade when she was introduced to Bob. As Bob used to describe it, it was “love at first song.” Dolores went with Bob on many of his USO trips, usually closing the show with a performance of Silent Night.
She ultimately put her singing career on hold to be a wife and mother. But it’s never too late: At the age of 83, she recorded several albums and even performed with Rosemary Clooney in New York for several weeks.
Bob and Dolores adopted four children: Linda (in 1939), Tony (in 1940), Kelly (in 1946), and Eleanora aka Nora (in 1946). When Bob rose to stardom in the late ‘30s, fame meant that he had to travel a lot, which kept him from his children. His nephew Tom Malatesta told Zoglin, “Everything else in his life was not as important as what he was doing for a living.”
It was difficult for his children; they felt his absence. When he was home, “it felt like a star visiting, rather than a loving father.” As Zoglin described it, Bob was “always emotionally detached and insular,” and rarely said sorry. Fame and travel made him even more distant.
Bob Hope was one of the first comedians to openly credit his writers. He kept a meticulous collection of jokes, gags, and wisecracks, all indexed by subject, in a fireproof vault in his house. It goes to show just how precious a comedian’s material is. On stage, a good routine can last years, and on the radio, a year’s vaudeville material could be used as one week’s broadcast.
With an eight-decade career, Bob collected countless pages of material which he used not only for his weekly radio series, but for the live charity appearances he would make each week. In the beginning of his career, Bob wrote his own material, but over the course of his career, he employed over 100 writers.
His comedy writers would create material for his famous topical monologues. For instance, in his radio programs, Bob engaged a number of writers, divided them into teams, and had each team complete an entire script. Bob would then select the best jokes from each script and piece them together to make a final script.
The jokes in that final script, as well as those not used, were categorized by subject and filed in the cabinets in his fire- and theft-proof walk-in vault. Yes, Bob Hope took his material seriously. Whenever he needed to, he would consult his “Joke File,” which eventually consisted of more than 85,000 pages.
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were one of the most popular movie comedy teams ever, especially in the 1940s. They would appear on each other’s radio shows and TV specials. However, their partnership behind the scenes wasn’t as amicable as it may have seemed to their fans. It eventually came out that Bing and Bob weren’t such fans of each other.
They were never close friends and hardly ever socialized together. Bob once told a friend he simply didn’t like Bing and even “detested him” at times. Still, when Bing died in 1977, it saddened Bob greatly. “The shock and the sorrow were so overwhelming I couldn’t describe it,” Bob stated. Upon hearing the news, he had Alan King do the show for him in New Jersey and flew back to California that same night.
One of Bob’s earliest successful show biz gigs was the one when he danced with the famous conjoined twins, Violet and Daisy Hilton. For those who have seen Tod Browning’s famous horror film Freaks from 1932, you might remember the cheerful pair of conjoined twins. Years before their famous movie appearance, the twins were a major attraction in the vaudeville circuit.
Spectators would literally line up around the block to see them. The sisters wowed audiences by playing a saxophone duet and performing a dance number with two partners. For a long period of time, Hope was one of the partners. “At first it was a funny sensation to dance with a Siamese twin. They danced back to back to back, but they were wonderful girls and it got to be very enjoyable—in an unusual sort of way,” Bob recalled.
In 1998, five years before he passed away, the Associated Press accidentally released a prepared obituary for Bob Hope. The result was that his death was announced on the floor of the US House of Representatives, despite the fact that the man was still alive, albeit 95 years old.
Bob actually remained in relatively good health until late in his life, although he was frail in his last few years. In June 2000, he spent a week in a hospital being treated for gastrointestinal bleeding. In August 2001, he spent two weeks in a hospital recovering from pneumonia. Then, on the morning of July 27, 2003, he died of pneumonia at the age of 100. He was in his home in Toluca Lake, California.
The legendary comedian traveled the world (and risked his life) to put on USO shows. It was a longtime collaboration that forever linked the names “Bob Hope” and “the USO.” But why did he do it? What made him so dedicated? According to his daughter, Linda, it was simple: “I think it has to do with laughter.”
From his first show in 1941 at March Field in Riverside, California to his final USO tour in 1990, Bob Hope just loved makin’ ‘em laugh. Although he started his career in the ‘20s as a vaudeville comedian, he brought laughter to a different crowd. He was able to lighten the mood in deadly serious situations, and he just so happened to thrive on the crowd’s response.
Linda recalled the audiences being “just amazing…with their courage and their love of laughter and humor. It was always something he felt compelled to do.” Part of Bob’s schtick at these USO shows was to poke fun at the unit’s own military brass. It was a technique that always worked. Linda explained how her father would find out who the officers were and the situation at various bases.
He would then build his monologues around those particular things. That way, he got a real connection with the guys who were serving there. He also loved to joke about sex and women – two things soldiers (and men in general) never get bored of hearing (right, fellas?).
Bob had many tactics on stage. He didn’t just tease the military base; he poked fun at himself, too: “Working in a war zone is great for a comedian. You can always blame the bombs on the enemy.” He once said that he and the USO had a wonderful relationship over the years. “In fact, from the South Pacific I still get Christmas cards from old diseases!”
Christmas was a time Bob would typically spend with the men serving overseas, which meant that his family was dad-less during a time of the year when families are meant to be together. But for the Hope family, Christmas in Toluca Lake, California, meant one thing: Dad was gone. For the Hope kids, the holidays took on a new meaning.
When she was younger, Linda would always say things like, “Why does Dad always have to be away? All these other families have their dads home for Christmas.” But Dolores would always put it in perspective for Linda and the other kids. She would tell them, “No, not all have them are home for Christmas. Think of boys and girls who don’t have their dads for years and years because they are serving overseas.”
She reminded her children that there are boys and girls whose fathers might never come back. For Linda, it changed the way she thought about it. Linda said that whenever a holiday came around, it was an event for the Hope kids to say goodbye to their dad as he headed off on tour.
Linda got a taste firsthand of USO tours when she started producing her father’s TV specials. It was something she did for the last 20 years of his shows. In 1990, she went on his last USO tour to Saudi Arabia. By then, her father was already in his late 80s. Seeing him on the backs of trucks, doing shows, climbing on crates and getting in and out of helicopters, was “really inspiring for me,” she said.
“He had the same caring attitude,” and even though there was 60 or 70 years between the young men and women there who were serving and himself, he still managed to bring topical material and the same kind of feeling to the show.