(This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post on 12/28/17.)
With a career that spanned nearly 80 years and a legacy that promises to be eternal, Bob Hope is a bona fide American legend. As a comedian, Hope became famous for his comedic timing, specializing in his trademark one-liners and his rapid-fire delivery of jokes. But while humor seemingly colored every aspect of Hope’s life, the star was far more than just a funny guy. As a comedian, vaudevillian, movie actor, singer, dancer, athlete, author, and philanthropist (Whew!), he was a multi-hyphenate in every sense of the word— both in the showbiz world and beyond. Television, however, seemed to be Hope’s ideal— and ultimately, most enduring— medium. The younger generations, in fact, probably know him best for his famous TV specials, The Academy Awards (Hope hosted the Awards nineteen times, more than any other celeb…), and his USO shows, for which he made 57 tours between 1941 and 1991. In 1997, Hope was declared an honorary veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Dedicated Bob Hope devotees of all generations and potential new fans alike will soon have a chance to learn even more about the man who was born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903. A new documentary, American Masters: This is Bob Hope…, makes its national debut on PBS on Friday, December 29. Written, directed and produced by John Scheinfeld, the new film includes many fascinating audio and video tidbits from Hope’s expansive career, including highlights from his numerous TV specials, radio shows, movies, and live performances. American Masters: This is Bob Hope… also features new interviews with a stunning array of celebrity guests, both human and amphibian: Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, Margaret Cho, Conan O’Brien, Tom Selleck, Brooke Shields, Connie Stevens, film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, Richard Zoglin, author of Hope: Entertainer of the Century, and Kermit the Frog.
Another face we’ll see in Scheinfeld’s documentary is someone who knows the performer best of all: Linda Hope, the eldest daughter of Bob and Delores Hope. Through the years, Ms. Hope has worked closely with her father on many of his television shows as a producer and writer. Her resume has included such TV specials such as Bob Hope: The First 90 Years in 1993 and 100 Years of Hope and Humor in 2003. Also in 2003, she co-authored the book Bob Hope: My Life in Jokes. As 2018 approaches, Ms. Hope is more dedicated than ever to keep her father’s awe-inspiring legacy alive for the next 100 years— and beyond!
Many people forgot or never even knew that Mr. Hope, a true American icon, was himself an immigrant who was born in England and arrived in the United States with his family at the age of four. Linda Hope believes that the new opportunities available in her father’s adopted country inspired his enduring dedication to America. She tells me:
He felt very strongly about that. I think that’s one of the reasons why he wanted to give back to the troops who were protecting his adopted county— the country that gave him the opportunity to get to where he ended up. It was something that was always front and center. He’d been back and forth across the country hundreds of times, but he was in his 80’s when he finally got his own plane. I’ll never forget the time when I was flying with him. I was sitting in the back, and he was sitting in the front with my mother across from him. He called me up to where he was sitting and said, “Look down there. Do you know what’s there? That’s Chicago. Do you know what happened there?” I said, “No, Dad. What?” He said, “When I was a young guy just starting out, I was starving. I remember looking through this big picture window of a restaurant, and saw these people dining and dressed up nice and all of that. And here I am now— in a plane that I own, that I was able to buy. Only in this country could that happen! It’s such a blessing. Never forget it.” That kind of brings it all around full circle.
Linda Hope took the time to speak to me about the upcoming film American Masters: This is Bob Hope… and about her father’s gifts to American culture.
JR: Hello Ms. Hope. Thank you for speaking with me! Congratulations on the release of This Is Bob Hope…, the new documentary about your father.
LH: Yes! I’m very excited about it. I think that it is going to give people a chance to take another look at Dad and what he’s contributed to comedy in the United States.
JR: Not just comedy… American entertainment in general!
JR: Through the years, you have been personally involved in so many projects that celebrated Bob Hope’s talents and also honored his many contributions to show business. What makes you most excited about this new film?
LH: I think that this particular film really focuses on his comedy: his work as a comedian and as an entertainer. It focuses on some of the innovations that he was responsible for, which people just sort of take for granted as the way things were done. But until he started doing it, it really hadn’t been done yet.
JR: He was definitely a pioneer in so many ways. When I was a kid and a Bob Hope special came on, it wasn’t just a show. It was a family viewing event that was suitable for everybody, regardless of age. Everybody could enjoy it. His work had an appeal that could transcend generations.
LH: It did. That’s what I’m excited about— that people might re-define Dad and what he did. It will bring back some nice memories. We have already gotten some nice letters from people who have seen this program— or at least a form of it. The whole entire film will be on PBS stations all around the country on December 29th. We had used a shorter version of it as a fundraising vehicle… but this will be the first time people will get to see the entire two hour film. I was very happy that the director John Scheinfeld had been able to find some new material. I’m pretty familiar with most of the stuff that’s available, and have used it myself in other projects over the years. To come up with new material is pretty exciting!
JR: I can imagine! Scheinfeld has been quoted as saying “Even in the longer cut, I barely scratched the surface of his huge impact and influence.” Would you agree with that?
LH: I would absolutely agree with that. That’s a well-thought out comment— and something that he came up with as a result of looking through literally hundreds of hours of material.
JR: What I know about Bob Hope comes from what I remember seeing on TV, and what I read in magazines and newspapers when I was growing up— plus what I have seen more recently thanks to the modern-day phenomenons of the Internet, YouTube, and DVD’s. But your father also had talents and had achieved so many things that even his biggest fans may not even know about.
LH: Yes! For me, another thing that’s exciting is that today, young people can take a look at his humor and see how the jokes were so well-crafted. The men— there were women writers, but mostly the writers were men— had the knowledge of how to craft a joke. Then, with Dad’s delivery, it really made the material come to life. People will be able to see how jokes that he did years ago with regard to Republicans, or Democrats, or the Presidents, or a Congressman here or a Senator there— well, just plug in a name today and so much of it still works. I think that people today will learn a little bit more about what’s involved in crafting a joke and making it work. There was also the fact that he had such a long career, and was privy to so many changes in the world. When you think about how he was born in 1903 and lived 100 years… What changes he must have seen! When he went to entertain, particularly when men were fighting in World War II in Europe and the South Pacific later on, it took a long time to fly in these little prop planes to get to some of these locations, like Guam and the Philippines. Imagine what communications were like back then. People serving today pretty much have access on the spot to be able to communicate with their loved ones via computer and all the different technologies that are available. In those days, a letter sometimes took a month to go from the States to somebody in the South Pacific or in Africa. I think that if we put ourselves into that time frame, it gives a different perspective of what was entailed.
JR: Many people may not have realized that he also put his own life at risk when he traveled to entertain during wartime.
LH: He did that many times. One of his writers who went with him on most of the Vietnam show was a man named Mort Lachman, who ended up producing All in the Family for many years. He had said that Dad was one of the most brave men he ever encountered. I think that seeing all of this laid out as it is, you do get that sense. Ironically, the kind of character that he played in the movies— particularly in the early films— is a kind of bumbling coward who wanted to get the girl, but didn’t know what to do with her once he got her. (Both laugh) It was that kind of persona that Woody Allen speaks to, and many people thought that it was Woody Allen’s creation. But Allen admitted that he had gotten that notion from Dad. I think it’s very enlightening and also entertaining.
JR: No doubt! So, you mentioned about how Bob Hope had seen so many changes in the entertainment business through the decades, especially with the advent of the internet. In fact, the whole idea and concept of “celebrity” itself has changed. What did your father think about these changes in the later years of his life?
LH: Actually, he did go online. NBC did have some kind of internet presence at the very end of his career. He found it fascinating. I think he was very challenged by it. Had he been a younger man, I’m sure he would have been into it in a much more serious kind of way— and probably in a somewhat innovative way as well. He saw things change from the days of barely having electricity. People used to have to put coins in to get electricity to get the lights on in their apartment for a short period of time! It was the same thing with flights and other transportation. 1903 was the year the Wright brothers did their first flight. Dad lived to do programs from Cape Canaveral and with the astronauts and all that. So, imagine people going from walking, to taking horseback, to going across the country in a few hours. All of those innovations happened in those 100 years. He witnessed all of that— and commented on all of that!
JR: (Laughs) I can imagine how he’d feel about how we’ve gone from going to the theater to see a movie on a big screen, to…
LH: …Staying home and watching a film on your computer! Or binge watching, or doing whatever you want! (Laughs) But certainly, viewing patterns have changed tremendously.
JR: Your father has certainly cemented his status in American pop culture. He is entertainment royalty. But what would surprise most people to know about him, both personally and professionally?
LH: He was really a very genuine, simple guy who had a great sense of humor and who really enjoyed being with people. There was little that he found more enjoyable than spending time on the golf course with friends, trading jokes and stories. He was really kind of a regular guy, and I think that people really related to him in that kind of way. He was such a part of the lives of these people: from when he entertained them while they were in the military, to when they came home and they’d go to his movies, and then finally when they watch him on TV or listen to his radio shows. I traveled with him a lot, and he would go on a commercial flight and go through the airport. There was no big entourage or lots of bodyguards. Of course, things have changed now and people need all of that protection. But he’d just go by himself, or with one assistant. People would come up to him and say, Hey Bob, I saw you at the Ohio State Fair in such-and-such a year… or Bob, I saw you in Vietnam or in the South Pacific in World War II. They would just engage with him, and he’d chat with them. That was a very important part of Dad’s life. He enjoyed that communication with his fans. And he always signed autographs. Always. Now, unfortunately, people are not allowed to really do that, and so many celebrities don’t sign autographs. There’s not that interpersonal connection. They can’t, because there are just too many nutcases running around. Not that there weren’t any during his time, but it’s a different deal.
JR: In an interview you did with Larry King a few years ago, you spoke about how your father may have been away a lot, but that he valued quality over quantity when it came to spending time with his family— and that growing up with him was never dull! (Laughs)
LH: That’s for sure. I think that my poor mother had her hands full. She thought she had four children, but she actually had five! She’d be trying to teach us proper table manners and that sort of thing, and all of a sudden we’d be sitting at the table and a napkin would come zinging by and would hit one of us. He was just fun.
JR: I could imagine. You also said that sometimes, the relationship was more like two friends, or like two kids, rather than parent and child.
JR: Earlier, you touched upon your father’s influence on the newer comedians when it came to delivering jokes and creating comedy. What else does the new generation of performers have to learn from Bob Hope?
LH: I think that each one will take away whatever applies to them and do what they’re going for. I heard many years ago from a man named Bob Bacchia, who used to run The Paley Center for Media, which has a collection of television shows from the very beginning. People can go in, sit down, and watch any television show they want. Today, that’s not very unique, because you can get a lot of that online one way or another. Bob Bacchia said that many people, including comedian Chris Rock, used to come in and watch Bob Hope— to study him and learn from him. Dad loved to do stand-up. He loved the personal relationship between a performer and the audience. He loved it, in fact, almost to the detriment of his television shows. I produced those for many years, and I would talk to him on the road. I’d say, “Dad, when are you coming home? We have to get some rehearsals going, and get people booked for the shows…” and all that. He’d say, “Don’t worry about it. I’m at the Oklahoma State Fair”— or whatever it was! He’d say, “I’ll be home in a couple of days and we’ll get into it.” His priority was his live audience. I think he got a lot of energy and certainly an enormous amount of satisfaction from the laughter that he was able to elicit from his audience. Also, he was always respectful and mindful of his fans. He was always ready and willing to interact with them, whether it would be an autograph or a few seconds of conversation.
JR: Nowadays, it would be a selfie with him with their phone! So, as we approach 2018, do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
LH: Oh, my gosh! (Laughs) I don’t know. I think I’m getting past the point of making resolutions! But, I’m looking forward to carrying on my Dad’s legacy. He left the sale of all his properties to his Foundation, and we’ve been trying to carry on his legacy by supporting veterans and people who need help: people who life hasn’t been so good to. We’ve got things we’re going to be doing this coming year. Hopefully, the film will excite some people who will then go on to do whatever they can do to make a difference. That was always Dad’s message: You don’t have to be a comedian or an entertainer. Everybody can give back and help people who need a hand. He believed in that very strongly.
JR: The first thing that people can do is watch the documentary and learn more about Bob Hope— and hopefully get inspired! Thank you for speaking with me, Ms. Hope.
American Masters: This is Bob Hope…, the Unabridged Director’s Cut, premieres nationally on Friday, December 29, on PBS. (Check local listings.) It will also be available on DVD January 9, 2018, from PBS Distribution, and is also available as part of Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection DVD box set on November 14 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Visit here for more information.