U.S. servicemen and women always had Hope

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With so many veterans living in Mesquite with dates of service spanning more than half a century, I’m sure many of you former servicemen and women saw Bob Hope during one of his many USO tours, which date back to World War II. If you did see Hope perform in one of those combat zone shows drop a line to the MLN.

Hope’s birthday is May 29 (He was born in 1903). That’s a Thursday. I’d like to publish some of your recollections of his performances and what it meant to you as a young soldier, sailor, airman or woman in the Armed Services.

Of course we’re all older now. Getting older was something Hope, who lived to be 100, liked to lampoon.

I enjoyed these one-liners attributed to Hope on getting older.

On turning 70: “I still chase women, but only downhill.”

On turning 80: “That’s the time of your life when even your birthday suit needs pressing.”

On turning 90: “You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.”

And on turning 100: “I don’t feel old. In fact, I don’t feel anything until noon. Then it’s time for my nap.”

Nor did Hope fear dying. On going to Heaven, he said, “I’ve done benefits for all religions. I’d hate to blow the hereafter on a technicality.”

Hope died July 27, 2003.

Hope’s patriotism and service to the troops earned him many honors, according to his online biography.

In May 1997 the Navy named a new heavy vehicle convoy ship after him. And a month later the Air Force dedicated a C-17 transport as the “Spirit of Bob Hope.”

The U.S. Congress honored Hope five times. But in October 1997 he received a unique honor. Both houses of Congress unanimously approved making Hope an honorary veteran — the only time any civilian in the history of the nation has been given that honor.

Maybe Hope’s patriotism sprang from being a naturalized citizen.

Hope was born in Elthan, England. He was the fifth of seven sons born to his English, stonemason father, and Welsh mother who hoped to be a concert singer. In 1907, the family immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio. In 1920, Hope’s father became a naturalized citizen, and the privilege also was extended to his sons.

Hope later said, “I left England at the age of four when I found out I couldn’t be king.”

But Hope didn’t get the royal treatment in America, either. The family had some lean years. He once said, “Four of us slept in the one bed. When it got cold, mother threw on another brother.”

But he did hold some all-American jobs. He delivered newspapers for his spending money and held down later jobs as a soda jerk and shoe salesman. He even worked for a while as a newspaper reporter.

His biographer notes he had an early interest in entertainment and frequently entered amateur talent contests and not always successfully.

Of those early years he said, “I would not have had anything to eat if it wasn’t for the stuff the audience threw at me.”

He also was a pool hustler for a while and needed to learn to defend himself.

For a time, Hope boxed under the name “Packy East.” But he eventually gave up the sport. “I ruined my hands in the ring,” he said, adding, “The referee kept stepping on them.”

During his high school years he took lessons from professional dancers and eventually even taught some of their classes

At 18, he and a girlfriend danced on the stage at vaudeville houses and were planning on taking their act on the road, until her mother learned of the plans and Hope became a solo act again.

He then teamed up with a friend, Lloyd “Lefty” Durbin, for a two-man act.

One of their early breaks was working in the Bandbox Theater in Cleveland as a “cheap act” for the Fatty Arbuckle Show. Arbuckle was a former silent screen actor whose career had been ruined in a sex scandal.

He still performed on the vaudeville stage and the Hope and Durbin team did well until Durbin fell ill and eventually died.

Lawrence Quirk in “The Road Well-Traveled” wasn’t kind to Hope in describing these early days, saying he manipulated his girlfriend and was more concerned about his career opportunities than Durbin’s health.

But if Hope did exhibit some selfishness in those early days, it’s likely safe to say he worked through any humanitarian debt he may have owed when the war years arrived.

Getting to that point still was a struggle for Hope. He and his new partner did well enough on the circuit. But during a three-day gig in a tiny theater in New Castle, Pa., Hope’s career took a new turn.

He was asked to fill in to announce the acts for the audience. The audience loved his style and the manager asked him to expand his openings to five minutes. He did. At the end of the three days, Hope embarked on a solo career.

That career took him to Broadway and into radio. His big break came in 1933 when he was cast in “Roberta” where he met his future wife, Dolores Reade. As a song-and-dance man, Hope appeared in “Say When” (1934) and the 1936 edition of the “Ziegfeld Follies.” Later that year he performed with Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante in “Red, Hot and Blue.”

Paramount Pictures was impressed and hired him to star in “The Big Broadcast of 1938.” Hope already was a radio standard and he continued his weekly broadcasts as he developed his film credits.

Hope is likely best known for the series of “Road Show” movies he did with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.

But he never personally won as Oscar, noting, “Welcome to the Academy Awards or, as it’s called at my home, ‘Passover’.”

But his theme song, “Thanks for the Memories” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” won an Oscar for the top tune of the year.

However, 1938 is remembered for more than Hope’s first big movie. On Oct. 1. Adolf Hilter’s army marched into Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland heralding the beginning of the aggression that exploded into World War II.

There was little mood in America then to get into a foreign war and life went on until Dec. 7, 1941.

But Hope already was entertaining the country’s men and women at arms.

In May 1941, with a group of his steady radio performers, he traveled to March Field, a California air base, where he broadcast the radio show in front of an audience of airmen.

It became an instant tradition. Throughout the war, with only two exceptions, all of Hope’s weekly radio shows were broadcast from military bases and facilities.

In 1943 Hope took his first trip into combat areas with his USO troupe. They performed in front of military personnel in England, Ireland, Sicily and Africa. Later in the war he performed in the South Pacific.

After World War II but in the early years of the Cold War, 1948, then Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington asked Hope and his wife Dolores to travel to West Germany at Christmas time to entertain the troops involved in the Berlin Airlift. It was the beginning of a new tradition for Hope with Christmas shows wherever his adopted nation had troops who could use a morale booster

By 1972 as the Vietnam conflict wound down, Hope announced his holiday trip would be his “last Christmas show,” but successive holiday seasons found him on military bases or veterans’ hospitals still doing what no one else has ever done better.

In 1983, Hope was in Beirut. In 1987 he flew around the world entertaining our service people stationed in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans and in the Persian Gulf.

His biographer noted his goodwill tour of May 1990 entertained military personnel stationed in England, Russia and Germany. At Christmas that year, Hope and his wife Dolores were in Saudi Arabia to the delight of the personnel in “Operation Desert Storm.”

In June 1994 he returned to his native England for a personal appearance tour to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Not forgetting the Commander in Chief, Hope published a collection of presidential humor in 1996 called “Dear Prez, I Wanna Tell Ya.”

He once told an audience, “I have performed for 12 presidents and entertained only six.”

That November he aired his 284th television special for NBC, “Bob Hope Laughing with the Presidents.” The show featured appearances by President  Bill and Hillary Clinton, President George H.W. and Laura Bush, President Gerald and Betty Ford, Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower.

Hope made people laugh from the lowliest private to the hardened sergeants, to the young officers and top brass all the way to the White House — and a lot of civilians in the bargain.

But certainly among the large number of veterans, veteran spouses and service brats who live in Mesquite, many have seen Hope in action where they were in action. I’d appreciate hearing from you. Or as Hope would croon, “Thanks for the Memories.”

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