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Bob Hope, entertainment titan, dies at 100

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   July 28, 2003 at 3:14 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, July 28 (UPI) -- Bob Hope, who died at the age of 100 Sunday evening at his home in Toluca Lake, Calif., was one of the most successful and beloved figures in the history of entertainment.

Hope died of pneumonia at 9:28 p.m., said a publicist for the versatile performer -- one of the last surviving entertainers who achieved stardom across the board in vaudeville, radio, Broadway, movies and TV.

Hope's 100th birthday, May 29, was celebrated throughout the United States and in his native England.

Hope -- one of the most decorated performers ever -- added to his list of honors when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce renamed the legendary intersection of Hollywood and Vine as Bob Hope Square, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors named Hope Citizen of the Century.

President George W. Bush mourned Hope's death in a statement issued as he was boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base.

"Bob Hope made us laugh, and he lifted our spirits," said Bush. "Bob Hope served our nation when he went to battlefields to entertain thousands of troops from different generations."

In Los Angeles, Nancy Reagan issued a statement calling Hope "one of our dearest friends for over sixty years -- losing him is like losing a member of the family. Ronnie always said that Bob was one of our finest ambassadors for America and for freedom, spending his lifetime entertaining servicemen and women away from home and overseas, especially in time of conflict."

Hope -- best known for rapid-fire one-liners, quips and gags -- tickled audiences during the dark days of the Depression and World War II and became a hero to millions of servicemen and women whom he entertained from World War II to the Persian Gulf.

He was nearly 90 when he went to the Gulf.His timely monologues on politics, politicians, economics and life in America made him a national institution.

His wife, Dolores, told United Press International in an interview in the mid-'90s that Hope's monologues provided a roadmap to American history over the second half of the 20th century.

A frequent and favorite emcee at the Academy Awards, Hope entertained -- and was entertained by -- presidents and foreign heads of state. He was an unofficial court jester of sorts to both Democrats and Republicans, visiting the White House during the administrations from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Bill Clinton -- all of whom were subject to his biting wit.

On June 1, 2000, three days after his 97th birthday, Hope underwent emergency medical treatment at a Rancho Mirage, Calif., hospital for an intestinal problem. Hope and wife Delores had just returned from a three-week trip to the East Coast, where he opened the Bob Hope Gallery Of Entertainment at the Library Of Congress and donated 88,000 pages of comedy material -- including many of his classic jokes. In 2001, a bout with bronchitis landed him in a hospital for several days.

During the summer of 1998, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives read an erroneous Internet report on the House floor that Hope had died. After a correction was made a few minutes later, Hope laughed it off.

Born Leslie Townes Hope May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England, the fifth of a stonemason's seven sons, he emigrated at age 4 with his family to Cleveland. He was educated in public schools and worked briefly as a clerk and fought for a short time as an amateur boxer under the name of Packy East.

As he put it, "In my third fight I hit the other man's hand so hard with my chin that I woke up in the dressing room. After that I quit."

Hope's debut as a performer was as part of a dance act with another youth, George Byrne, and a two-week engagement with Fatty Arbuckle when the silent screen star played a Cleveland theater. Hope changed his first name to Bob and did a blackface act in vaudeville with Byrne in Detroit, Pittsburgh and New York.

He became a single act in New Castle, Ind., when he was asked to introduce Marshall Walker and his Whiz Bang Revue. His quips had the audience roaring with laughter, enough to encourage him to become a comedian, playing small night clubs and stag parties.

It was a long, hard climb and for several years he barely eked out a living. Eventually he was signed by the Interstate Circuit, a vaudeville organization that took him to New York where he became a headliner with the RKO circuit. Gradually he made the transition from vaudeville to legitimate theater and by 1927 he was in his first Broadway show, "The Sidewalks Of New York."

Between 1928 and 1932 he traveled the nightclub and small-theater circuit as a stand-up comic. Later in 1932 he reached the Broadway stage in the musical comedy "Ballyhoo." His first big part came in 1933's "Roberta" and he began earning star salaries for "Ziegfeld Follies" and "Red Hot and Blue."

During the run of "Roberta," Hope met nightclub singer Delores Reade. They were married in 1934. They have four children, Linda, Tony, Nora and Kelly.

Hope first performed on radio in 1935 and three years later had his own show on a major network, joining such comedic giants as Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen. Hope surpassed them all with 1,145 broadcasts.

He made his movie debut in "The Big Broadcast Of 1938," a box-office hit that introduced the song "Thanks for the Memory," which became his theme song. He starred in more than 50 movies, including "The Cat and the Canary"

(1939),"Caught in the Draft" (1941), "My Favorite Blonde" (1942), "Louisiana Purchase" (1941), "The Paleface" (1948), "The Lemon Drop Kid" (1951), "The Seven Little Foys" (1955), "Alias Jesse James" (1959) and many more.

His most popular movies, however, were his "Road" pictures, mostly in the '40s, co-starring with longtime friends Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, starting with 1940's "The Road to Singapore." They were Paramount's most successful films of the '40s, and from 1941 to 1953, except for 1948, Hope ranked among the top 10 studio moneymakers.

Hope's final movie starring role came in 1972's "Cancel My Reservations" although he made several cameo appearances after that.

He was one of the first radio and screen stars to recognize the potential of television. Soon after the completion of the transcontinental coaxial cable, Hope began a weekly 60-minute television series. It continued well into the 1960s -- always at the top of the ratings -- when the demands on his time became too great. He reduced his workload to six specials a year.

Hope, who regularly employed eight gag writers at huge salaries to supply him with topical quips, was praised for his phenomenal memory of jokes.

"I can recall thousands of jokes but they usually come to mind in association with something else," Hope said. "But I've told so many jokes over the years there's no way that I can remember more than a fraction of them."

Hope was one of a handful of entertainers to be awarded four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one each for movies, radio, TV and theater.

A longtime host of the annual Academy Awards ceremonies, Hope never got an Oscar for acting but was given special Oscars or other honors five times -- in 1940, 1944, 1952, 1959 and 1965 -- for his humanitarianism and contributions to the film industry.

On Oct. 29, 1997, Congress honored Hope by naming him an honorary veteran.

"I've traveled all over the world and never met a better audience than this," he told Congress.

In 1998 he received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. "What an honor and what a surprise for a boy born in England, raised in Cleveland and schooled in vaudeville," he said.

On the night of May 29, 1983, Hope's 80th birthday, he was honored at Washington's Kennedy Center with a three-hour telecast that featured a score of celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, George Burns and Lucille Ball as well as stars who were not born when Hope became a household name.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s Hope came in for some criticism for his political leanings and support of U.S. involvement in foreign wars.

But honorary degrees from various universities around the country and his long-running romance with the public enabled him to weather the negative reaction.

Hope was an avid golfer. He sponsored a PGA golf tournament at Palm Springs each year, and had a small golf course built on the grounds of his Toluca Lake estate.

Hope was also a part owner of the Cleveland Indians baseball team at one time.

For years, Hope was one of the wealthiest men in America, with a personal fortune largely made up of real estate holdings.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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