Once when he was a little boy in England, Leslie Hope (He later renamed himself Bob after a race car driver he idolized) wanted to pick an apple off a tree. Symbolic of his career, he didn’t want just any apple but the highest one possible. He lost his balance, fell and permanently changed the shape of his nose.
His big break in Hollywood was getting the part Jack Benny turned down in the Paramount film “The Big Broadcast Of 1938”. The director Mitchell Leisen could not stand the star of the film, the ornery WC Fields, who would run off the movie set and come back too soused to do the required scenes, flub his lines and scream for his lawyer. Liesen found Hope much more cooperative, although he was a nervous ham in front of the camera. Desperate to be a more traditional leading man like Fred Macmurray, Hope begged Paramount to pay for a nose job but they refused. It was in this film he got to sing “Thanks For The Memories” which along with his ski nose became Hope’s trademarks.
For his radio show when Hope found out that Jack Benny hired two writers for $1,000 a week, he in turn hired ten writers for $100 a week each and hated paying. At times he would gather the staff at the bottom of a stairwell and toss their paychecks down as paper airplanes. Other times Hope would interrupt his scribes intimacy with their wives by calling their houses very late at night to go over new material. For their part, the writers created the Hope movie character, egomaniacal, womanizing and cowardly, all but the last trait were true.
Hope’s relationship with Bing Crosby was love-hate. In one of their early road movies Paramount Studios filmed two endings in which each of the boys ended up with Dorothy Lamour, to see which result audiences preferred. They overwhelmingly chose Bing which annoyed Hope, who got his costar back by constantly reminding him that he wore a toupee. In one scene both had to lie on the same bed together (innocently, they were resting) and Bing refused to take his hat off. No amount of coaxing from Paramount executives could get Crosby to change his mind, he did not want to hear Bob’s toupee barbs. Hope later said the greatest acting performance he ever gave was smiling when Bing won his academy award for Going My Way (1944).
His frequent leading lady, Lucille Ball, was an even match for Hope in the ambition department. She lobbied the comedian to hire her little-known band leader husband Desi Arnaz for his radio show. She later regretted it when Desi slept with every showgirl who applied for a job, with rumors flying about Hope ending up with his second choices. Delores Hope was as long suffering as Lucy was. One time she was among a crowd waiting backstage for him after a live show. A reporter asked her,”Are you connected to Bob Hope in some way Miss?” “No, I’m just his wife.”
In the late 30s, Hope made fun of veterans on his radio show. Performing at army bases was a way to bring up ratings. Then came World War II with Hope and a number of other stars recruited by the government for a war bond selling, victory caravan tour. Unlike many of the pampered celebrities who complained about the cramped quarters on their shared train, the ex-vaudevillian Hope was exhilarated by the travel. It was no problem for him to go overseas to entertain the troops.
At first Hope found America’s homesick young fighting men to be the easiest audience he ever faced. Jokes that would die in the states would get uproarious laughter from the troops. In the beginning Hope stayed out of combat areas, but then he reasoned that those in actual battles needed him the most. Hope became addicted to the to the danger of flying in planes that might get shot down or performing in places that had recently been attacked. But he was greatly moved by the injuries he saw in hospital wards, and quietly help set up several of the soldiers he met in their own businesses after the war ended. Later he could not understand the Vietnam situation, getting in trouble when he repeatedly suggested we should bomb the enemy into submission. Hope’s love for the troops stayed constant, even in Nam when they booed him.
Hope got along great with all the Presidents he met, whether he agreed with them or not. He once said that Roosevelt laughed so hard at his jokes he almost voted democratic. He loved telling the story about a marine in World War II who was disappointed that he had not killed a Japanese soldier. At the edge of a jungle he tried to smoke them out, by shouting,” To hell with Hirohito!” It worked, a Japanese soldier came out and shouted,” To hell with Roosevelt!” But the marine lowered his weapon,” Darn it, I can’t shoot a fellow Republican.”