Outside View: Hope restored my faith

By CHERYL FELICIA RHOADS, A UPI Outside View commentary  |  Aug. 4, 2003 at 4:26 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- William Faith, the author of "Bob Hope: My Life in Comedy," was being interviewed on The Today Show the other day. A former press agent, Faith accompanied Hope on those tours to entertain U.S. troops. Show biz press agents are the entertainment industry equivalent of John the Baptist in that they prepare the masses for the arrival of a star, albeit not the one from Bethlehem. I was moved as it occurred to me that in a war zone, Hope had been preceded by Faith.

Bob Hope was an Englishman who epitomized the archetype American personality! He was the everyman of "The Greatest Generation," whom he entertained both as GI'S and as fans of radio and road films. Furthermore, Hope was unique in the Hollywood culture, as he was known to be a Republican. Still, he didn't shove his politics down anyone's throat. He was at ease and respectful in his disrespect with Presidents of both parties.

I wish today's Hollywood celebrities would be as neutral.

As an actress, writer and political conservative I'm often at odds with my community. While not in uniform, I have always felt like I've been at war trying to thrive personally and professionally with right of center principles in a left of center entertainment industry. Everytime I passed by the Hope homestead, however, it somehow bolstered my faith that I was in the right place at the right time.

I live in Hope's town of Toluca Lake. Each Sunday, I walk by his house on my way to church, where, incidentally, I often spot Dolores Hope in the pews. When I first moved here 16 years ago, a date and I were driving around one evening and I was bemoaning the fact that I didn't fit in with the Hollywood crowd and I was torn about pursuing my career. Also, my mother often called wanting me to come home. I finally declared that I was going to move back to Western Springs, Ill. We had just passed Hope's house and my friend, a native of Hope's other hometown, Cleveland, admonished me, "Cheryl...Western Springs doesn't have Bob Hope's garbage cans!"

He had a point. Here, even the garbage cans had glamour. (Hope's receptacles happened to be next to the garbage cans of Jonathan Winters, another comic genius!) But seriously, I was being reminded that here, I at least had the opportunity to make a difference.

I had long felt a unique kinship with Bob Hope. I remember arguing with a classmate in the 1970's about Hope's pilgrimages each Christmas during the Vietnam War. The doves were angry at what was felt to be Hope's hawkish support of the soldiers. Ironically, when I was only four years old, I already admired those who entertained the troops. I'd seen the "Saturday Night at the Movies" program on NBC. It featured Susan Hayward as singer Jane Froman in "With a Song in My Heart." Froman leaves on a European tour... but her plane crashes and she is partially crippled. Unable to walk without crutches, she nevertheless goes on to entertain the allies in World War II. It was seeing this story at that young age that inspired me to be an actress.

As for Hope, my family never missed his overseas holiday television specials. And when it came to singing to soldiers, there's never been a more poignant rendition of "Silent Night" than that sung by my fellow parishioner, Dolores Hope.

Shortly after my "garbage can epiphany," my mom came to California for a visit. One of the highlights was her sending a note to Hope backstage, when he was appearing on a local TV show. My mother's aunt had known the comedian during his radio days. Hope graciously came out front to see my mom. The two chatted pleasantly as my mother recalled that she also had seen him perform in vaudeville. Then later on during the show there was a mild debate between Hope and Armand Hammer about Ronald Reagan's foreign policy. Mom and I delighted to Hope's good-natured jabs at the more liberal Hammer.

That was truly a memory my mother cherished until her own death two years ago. Plus, the encounter with Hope may have eased her mind and maybe my own that, though far away from home, perhaps I was on the right path after all. Hope was a Republican and he was in show biz...why couldn't I be?

Faith must accompany hope in all of life's battles. While others say "Thanks for the memories"...I thank Bob Hope for the future. He helped in making it safer for not only the country in cheering the spirits of those in uniform...but for my own hopes of surviving in a uniformly group-think profession.

Hope leaves us all his legacy of laughter, patriotism and the courage to do what's right, especially when it's not popular. He was not a war enthusiast, but rather one who faced what was and did what he could to help others to endure. Hope always had perfect timing. Perhaps, like his fellow countryman Tony Blair, it takes someone not born here to put a spotlight on our strengths as a nation.

In endless national self-deprecation and political correctness, we forget about that. Somehow, the passing of Bob Hope may stir this country's own memory as to who we Americans were...and as individuals who we are supposed to be.

-- Cheryl Rhoads is an actress and writer living and working in Hollywood.

-- "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.

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