HOPE, LESLIE TOWNES (BOB) (May 29, 1903-July 27, 2003) was a popular actor and comedian who appeared in vaudeville, radio, film, and television, and was also known for the prominent role he undertook in United Service Organization (USO) tours to entertain American troops. Hope was the fifth of seven sons, born in Eltham, England, a London suburb, to stonemason William Henry Hope and aspiring concert singer Avis Townes Hope. Hope spent the first few years of his life in England before moving with his family to Cleveland in March 1908. The family settled in the DOAN'S CORNERS neighborhood, first living at Standiforth Court on EUCLID AVENUE and East 105th Street (the family would later occupy residences at 1913 East 105th and 2029 East 105th). Hope attended Fairmount Elementary School before moving on to Fairmount Junior High and East High School, leaving school at the age of sixteen. The family, though originally Anglican, attended the Presbyterian CHURCH OF THE COVENANT on Euclid Avenue, the site of William Hope's first stonemasonry job in the Cleveland area (Hope would convert to Catholicism in his later years). Hope's father also worked on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge and helped to carve the Guardians of Traffic figures (see HOPE MEMORIAL BRIDGE).
As a child, Hope displayed an aptitude for music and dance, singing in the choir at the Church of the Covenant and winning several Charlie Chaplin imitation contests. Hope took dancing lessons at Sojack's Dance Academy on Central Avenue, proving to be so talented that he soon was teaching classes. During his Cleveland childhood, Hope held a wide variety of jobs, including selling newspapers for the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, serving as delivery boy for Heisey's Bakery and Standard Drugstore, working as a taffy puller at Humphrey's store, selling shoes at Taylor's Department Store (see WILLIAM TAYLOR SON & CO.) and flowers at LUNA PARK, and working at his brother Fred's stall at the CENTRAL MARKET. Hope also filled out stock orders at CHANDLER-CLEVELAND MOTORS CORP. and worked as a lineman for the Cleveland Illuminating Company. During these years, he changed his name from Leslie to "Lester," tired of jokes about his first name.
When his father was naturalized in December 1920, Hope became a United States citizen. Upon leaving high school, he briefly pursued a career in boxing (under the name Packy East), quitting after his defeat in the semifinals of the Ohio Novice Championships. In 1922, Hope convinced then girlfriend Mildred Rosequist to become his dance partner, and the pair enjoyed some success on the local vaudeville circuit. After Rosequist's mother refused to allow her daughter to participate in an out of state tour, Hope recruited friend Lloyd "Lefty" Durbin as his new partner. Hope and Durbin performed at the St. Clair and Bandbox Theaters and made their professional stage debut in a Fatty Arbuckle show in Cleveland before joining a touring vaudeville company. After Durbin's unexpected death, Hope toured with George Byrne for several years. The pair appeared on Broadway in the musical "Sidewalks of New York," starring Ruby Keeler.
In 1928, Hope reinvented himself as a solo act and officially changed his first name to "Bob," stating that it had more "hiya fellas" in it. He continued to enjoy success as a dancer, singer, and comedian on the vaudeville circuit, branching out into radio and film during the 1930s. Hope made his radio debut on the Capital Family Hour in 1932 and guest starred on several shows before beginning The Bob Hope Show, sponsored by Pepsodent, on NBC in 1938. On Broadway, Hope appeared in the shows "Ballyhoo," "Roberta," "Say When," and the 1936 Ziegfield "Follies" before achieving critical success in "Red, Hot and Blue!" with Jimmy Durante and Ethel Merman.
Hope made his first movie appearance in 1934, in a short entitled "Going Spanish." His first major movie appearance was in "The Big Broadcast of 1938," in which he sang the song "Thanks for the Memory," which would remain associated with him throughout his career. Hope went on to appear in a series of mystery spoofs, comedies, westerns, and biographical pictures, including "The Cat and the Canary," "My Favorite Blonde," "My Favorite Brunette," "The Paleface," "The Princess and the Pirate," "Beau James," "The Lemon Drop Kid," as well as the popular "Road" movies with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.
Hope's first television appearance was in the "Star Spangled Revue," which aired on Easter Sunday in 1950. He soon after signed a long-term television contract with NBC. His popular television specials, beginning in 1954, would air regularly until 1996.
After entertaining American troops at March Field in Riverside, California in 1941, Hope joined the USO and began leading groups of Hollywood stars to entertain U.S. servicemen. He brought his radio show overseas in 1943 and created the first of his popular Christmas shows in 1948. Hope remained actively involved with entertaining the armed forces, flying around the world to perform for troops during the KOREAN WAR, VIETNAM, and the PERSIAN GULF WAR. The U.S. military named Hope a "Four Star Hero" in 1992 and awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal (from all four military branches) in 1995. The U.S. House of Representatives recognized Hope's service in 1997 by naming him the first civilian honorary veteran of the armed forces.
Another lifetime interest of Hope's was golf, which he first played in 1927 at the Highland Park Golf Course in HIGHLAND HILLS VILLAGE. He became actively interested in the game three years later while touring on the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit. Hope established the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1961, a charity golf tournament that raised money for medical research. He also participated in charity tournaments nationwide and held events to benefit other philanthropic causes, including Bob Hope House and Hope Academy, founded in 1962, which taught children with learning and behavioral problems (the academy is now administered by the Children's Home of Cincinnati, Ohio).
Though Hope's career kept him in California for the majority of the time, he maintained close ties to Cleveland throughout his life. Hope went into business with his older brother Ivor, founding Hope Metals Products (1814 East 40th Street) in 1940, and was one of ten investors who purchased the CLEVELAND INDIANS in 1946. He performed at CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM in honor of Cleveland's 175th Anniversary in 1971, sang "Thanks for the Memory" at the last baseball game played at Municipal Stadium in October 1993, and served as Grand Marshal of Cleveland's Bicentennial Parade (Parade of Lights) in 1996. Hope received the key to the City of Cleveland from Mayor Ralph J. Perk (see PERK, RALPH J.) in 1973, and in honor of his 100th birthday (2003), the city renamed the theater district section of East 14th Street as Bob Hope Way/Memory Lane.
Hope was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences several times throughout his career as well as by several U.S. presidents, receiving a Medal of Merit from Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Presidential Gold Medal from John Kennedy, and a National Medal of Arts from Bill Clinton. The French government awarded Hope the Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honor) in 1989 and the Queen of England made Hope a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1998. Locally, Hope received honorary degrees from several Ohio universities, including Bowling Green State University, Miami University, the University of Cincinnati, and JOHN CARROLL UNIVERSITY. In 2000, Hope was honored in an exhibit at the Library of Congress entitled "Bob Hope and American Variety," which featured his donated "joke file," containing nearly 500,000 jokes written over the course of his career.
Hope died on July 27, 2003 at his home in Toluca Lake, California. His funeral was held at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church (in North Hollywood, California) and he was buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, California. He was survived by his wife, singer Dolores Reade (married February 19, 1934) and his four adopted children: Linda, Anthony (Tony), Nora, and Kelly.