A Hollywood sendoff for Bob Hope

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Aug. 28, 2003 at 2:53 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Hollywood glitter and old-fashioned patriotism filled the air in Los Angeles Wednesday as hundreds of colleagues and friends turned out for memorial services for legendary entertainer Bob Hope, one month after his death at 100.

The estimated 900 guests who attended a morning Mass for Hope included former President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, former first lady Nancy Reagan, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers. The congregation also included Hollywood stars such as Mickey Rooney, Raquel Welch and Tom Selleck.

Hope -- a star of vaudeville, Broadway, radio, movies and TV, who was named an honorary veteran in 1997 in recognition of more than 50 years of entertaining U.S. troops -- died July 27. He was buried on July 30 at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, following a private funeral service.

Wednesday's service at St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church featured an honor guard made up of representatives from the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. It ended with a Marine bugler blowing "Taps," and the church choir performing Hope's longtime theme song, "Thanks for the Memory."

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the principal celebrant of the Mass, said Hope's career was a "ministry," as much as it was a life in the theater.

"He was leading us to something deeper than laughter -- joy," said Mahony. "He was truly bringing a spiritual message to countless people."

An afternoon memorial at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences featured a less formal, frequently funny program -- including a few earthy references to Hope's long career in show business.

The common denominator at both services was the repeated emphasis on Hope's love for America. The printed program for the afternoon service featured a quote from Hope, in which he said he considered himself "a pretty lucky guy" for having a wonderful family and a knack for making people laugh.

"But I think the luckiest break I've had in my life," said the quote, "is to be an American."

The stage at the academy's Leonard Goldenson Theatre was adorned with a half dozen American flags, but it was dominated by a huge candid photograph of Hope -- wearing an open-collar shirt, a wide smile and a ballcap with the words "The Spirit of Bob Hope" embroidered on the crown.

Ushers -- docents from the Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon presidential libriaries -- wore the red, white and blue uniforms they routinely wear when guiding tourists at the Southern California facilities.

One of the few standing ovations of the afternoon was given to retired Army general William Westmoreland, best known as the commander of U.S. forces during the Vietnam conflict.

Gen. Myers -- one of the few speakers who addressed both memorial services on Wednesday -- called Hope one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century.

"Bob Hope was an American hero," said Myers, "a hero to America's heroes."

The invitation-only audience at the TV academy service included such entertainment industry veterans as Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, Dixie Carter, Norm Crosby, Rhonda Fleming, Hal Holbrook and Ed McMahon. Old-timers were so predominant, Buttons got a laugh when he began his remarks by calling the gathering a meeting of the local AARP chapter.

The group also included younger performers such as Marie Osmond and Brooke Shields, who reminisced about their USO tours with Hope, and cabaret singer Michael Feinstein, who performed "I Can't Get Started," a song that Hope sang on Broadway in 1936.

Speaker after speaker recalled Hope as a thorough professional, a generous colleague and a gentle man. Most singled out his wife of 69 years, Dolores, who sat at the front of the auditorium in a wheelchair with her children and grandchildren.

The day ended with a chorus of performers -- including Anita Bryant, Joey Heatherton and Loni Anderson -- leading the audience in singing new lyrics to "Thanks for the Memory," written especially for the occasion by Kathryn Stone.

"Thanks for a century/Of life out on the links/Of Oscar Night high jinx/Your salary from NBC/Delivered by a Brinks/Our thanks for the fun."

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