Bob Hope, vaudeville actor, film actor, recurring master of ceremonies for the Academy Awards, song-and-dance man, and comedian, would have been 113 years old on May 29, 2016, the day before Memorial Day. An early champion for The United Service Organizations (USO), Bob Hope spent countless hours performing for the troops and recruiting his own family members to help out with putting on shows.
A specific chapter of the USO, with four locations, is named in Bob Hope’s honor. Bob Hope USO took the time to honor their namesake this 2016 Memorial Day weekend in a Facebook post, on what would have been his birthday.
Bob Hope’s tenure with the USO began in May 1941, when Hope performed his very first USO show. Bob Hope performed various USO shows for the United States military’s men and women in uniform for the rest of the Second World War, through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and during various conflicts thereafter, finally retiring at the incredible age of 87 with a final USO performance in January 1991, during Operation Desert Shield, the preliminary phase of the First Gulf War (the combat phase is known as Operation Desert Storm).
Bob Hope headlined 57 USO tours in an extraordinary 50 years. He spent 48 Christmases overseas entertaining the troops.
Bob Hope, born in London as Leslie Townes Hope, began his legendary career in vaudeville and then branched out into Broadway theater. He also began performing on the radio in 1934, finding great success with The Pepsodent Show starring Bob Hope, for which he signed a 10-year contract. Sponsored by Pepsodent toothpaste, the comedy radio broadcast featured early appearances by Judy Garland and Desi Arnaz.
When television became the medium to define the Baby Boomer generation in the 1950s, Bob Hope quickly became one of its earliest stars. The Bob Hope Show, one of the first variety television shows, ran for 114 episodes from 1952 until 1977. He also hosted popular Christmas specials, though they never stopped him from spending Christmas Day with the troops. He was Master of Ceremonies for the Academy Awards 19 times, more than any other host, and is a commonly chosen favorite to this day.
Bob Hope also managed a massive film career. Bob Hope starred in many shorts and mostly comedy feature films, and was known for “the Road series,” a series of seven musical comedy films he made with Bing Crosby, the titles of which began with Road to… He was never actually nominated for an Oscar, but he did receive four honorary awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over the years.
In 2009, comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert performed with the USO for a week, taping some of the shows for The Colbert Report — a show he hosted on the cable station Comedy Central from 2005 through 2014 — to remind his viewers to be grateful to the troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom. To pay tribute to Bob Hope, Colbert carried a golf club on stage. Hope loved golf, and played in at least 150 charity golf tournaments.
Bob Hope was posthumously honored by the United States Congress in 1997, when the legislative body declared him the “first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces.” Bob Hope died of pneumonia in 2003 at the age of 100. According to Bob Hope biographer William Faith, Hope flew thousands of miles to entertain the troops during both wartime and peacetime.
Bob Hope was married to singer Dolores Hope (née DeFina) from 1934 until his death in 2003. They had four children. Dolores Hope sang on some of her husband’s USO tours. Bob Hope received the 1968 Sylvanus Thayer Award at West Point, for his outstanding civilian contributions to the United States military.
[Image courtesy of Getty Images]