by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
July 29. 2003
BOB HOPE: AND HE LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Because there is so much being said about Bob Hope, I wasn't going to add my thoughts, at least until I got an email sent to the family "loop" from our son, Tom.
"A long time ago," he wrote, "when I was in my early teens, I would say to Mom, 'Bob Hope died,' and she would believe me. I still remember the sad look she had on her face - until I told her I was only kidding. I also remember the 'How could you do that to me?' look she shot me afterwards. Today, however, it's no joke. Bob Hope died today at age 100."
Hope was part of my life, a household name, all my life. My parents laughed at his jokes; my brothers were entertained by him during WWII; I became aware of censorship the night the audience laughter during his radio program turned into dead air when the network pulled the plug on his show. Why? Because he told this joke:
Jerry Colonna: "Bob, since when are you wearing a girdle?"
Bob Hope: "Since my wife found it in the glove compartment?"
That was just not suitable for the listening audience. (It had to be explained to young me, and now that I think of it, today's kids would assume he was being "outed" as a transvestite - so he might as well keep wearing it.) Then, my children became fans, and their children in turn. His "Road" pictures are timeless.
He was always at the top of his game, well-dressed, not a hair out of place, and you could sense a clean, fragrant cologne about him - even in the muddy theaters of war as he introduced his pinup girls to the howling troops. They surrounded a makeshift stage, set close enough to hear bullets and battles raging, not too far from "harm's way,"
The troops loved him - they loved the "fact" of him, his being there, for them - a man who could be funny but was actually short on talent. He could sing, a little; he could dance, a little; he could act - like himself!
Whether he was playing The flamboyant mayor of New York, Jimmy Walker, or a spy in "My Favorite Brunette," he was always Bob Hope and never hesitated to turn toward the camera and speak to the audience - something like, "Wait 'til you see this," before executing a dance step. And the rest of us loved him.
Hope's experience with censors was ongoing and he paid fines and still crossed the line. He was never vulgar, never offended anyone but the censors themselves who had a job to do and a list of no-no's to listen for. When television came in, Bob Hope didn't have to use words to convey double-entendre, He could raise an eyebrow, look askance, tug his ear, or make any little gesture to get the audience involved in what he was really saying. He was so good at it.
My favorite Bob Hope movie was "The Paleface." He played a "painless" dentist who takes his practice West, where he meets buxom and beautiful Jane Russell. The movie involves outlaws, gunfights, hostile Indians and Jane Russell as the real troublemaker.
The dentist gets challenged to a gunfight and doesn't know where the trigger is, he's so inept. But everyone helps him. "Lean to the left," says one; "As you draw from the right," adds another. "Turn your feet" demonstrates still another, "While you bend your knees," chimes in a fourth.
The Paleface, Bob the dentist, is sweating as he heads for the shootout, repeating those instructions until he's bending, leaning, crouching, drawing and weaving like a drunk with a neurological disorder. It was soooo funny. But maybe you had to see it with the mind's eye we took to the movies in 1948.
His real name is Leslie Townes Hope, and "Les" for short; he became Bob so no one would ever list him as "Hope, Les." He was a genuinely nice guy. Is it any wonder he died with friends and family around him, the peaceful passing we all wish for ourselves one day?
It would be nice to think his life and death had cause and effect wrapped up in a neat package; that is, he lived well, did good, lived long and died peacefully. But, we know that many good die young and many scoundrels are around for an interminably long time. So we can't generalize - but we can tell a story:
Once upon a time a baby boy was born in England, and in no time at all, his family came to the United States, where the little boy wanted to make people happy. He sang, he danced, he told funny stories. He wanted to marry the beautiful girl who was singing in a show across the street - so he did marry the lovely Dolores, and she would always be with him, and they would have children and live happily ever after.
That's not a fairy tale. Bob was a living reminder that fairy tales can come true. As he sang, "It can happen to you, if you're young at heart."