Comedian, actor. Born Leslie Townes Hope, on May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England. Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, from the age of four, Hope began performing in vaudeville in the 1920s, performing what he called “songs, patter, and eccentric dancing.” He made his Broadway debut in 1933 with the musical Roberta, appeared in the 1935 production of the Ziegfeld Follies, and starred with the legendary chanteuse Ethel Merman in a production of Cole Porter’s Red Hot and Blue. In addition to his work on the stage, Hope landed a profitable stint hosting the popular Pepsodent Show on NBC Radio. His radio program would appear in some form or another from 1938 until the 1950s.
In 1938, Hope moved to Hollywood to pursue a film career. After making his first film appearance in The Big Broadcast of 1938, he co-starred in the 1940 film Road to Singapore, the first of seven “Road to…” movies he would make with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Hope was a huge hit in Hollywood, and remained one of the top 10 box office stars throughout the 1940s and 1950s. His other notable films included The Cat and the Canary (1939), The Ghost Breakers (1940), My Favorite Brunette, The Paleface (1948), Sorrowful Jones (1949), and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951).
Hope made his first appearance on television in 1947, when he headlined the inaugural broadcast of KTLA, the first TV station on the West Coast. In the early 1950s, he appeared frequently on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and alongside Lucille Ball, his good friend and frequent big screen co-star, on her hit sitcom I Love Lucy. Beginning in 1953, Hope hosted an annual Christmas television special, many of which were broadcast internationally for the sake of U.S. troops stationed around the world. During World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars and even in peacetime, Hope toured with a number of USO shows, entertaining U.S. troops and earning the title of “USO’s Ambassador of Good Will.”
Hope’s TV variety specials—often broadcast more than once a season—showcased his quick humor and witty monologues and included many musical numbers and appearances by the latest Hollywood stars. From 1963 to 1967, he hosted and performed in the anthology series Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. His annual Christmas specials aired every year from 1953 to 1994, and his film career continued into the 1970s. Over the course of his career, Hope (a frequent emcee of the Oscar ceremonies) received three honorary Academy Awards as well as the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award; he was cited by the Academy for his “contribution to the laughter of the world, his service to the motion picture industry, and his devotion to the American premise.” He won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite All-Around Male Entertainer from 1975 to 1979, and again in 1985. Also in 1985, he was awarded the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors for Lifetime Achievement.
Even in his later years, Hope continued his active contributions to American servicemen around the world. In 1971, he applied for a visa in order to go to Hanoi and attempt to negotiate the release of U.S. prisoners held there. Prior to the start of the Gulf War in the early 1990s, the almost 90-year-old Hope traveled to the Persian Gulf to visit U.S. troops. A favorite performer of a string of U.S. presidents beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hope received an honorary knighthood in 1998 from Elizabeth II, Queen of his native England.
Since 1934, Hope has been married to Dolores Reade, whom he met when they appeared together on Broadway in Roberta. Dolores Hope was a frequent guest on her husband’s beloved TV specials; she resumed her singing career in 1993, at the age of 83. The couple has four children. An avid golfer, Hope sponsors the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, a leading charity tournament.
In August 2001, Hope was admitted to a hospital, where he spent 11 days due to a case of pneumonia before being released. Doctors expected him to make a full recovery.
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