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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
Bob Hope: The old pro
By Bob Chaundy
BBC's news profiles unit

Bob Hope performing in 1994
Bob Hope in performance mode

Veteran entertainer Bob Hope celebrates his 100th birthday - and many years in showbusiness - on Thursday.

In June 1994, BBC reporter Chris West and I were asked to make a news feature on Bob Hope as part of the BBC's coverage of the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

Hope had entertained American GIs in Europe during World War II, and 50 years later, he was to give a show to veterans returning to Normandy on board the QE2.

In the past, Bob Hope had posed something of a problem for me.

Throughout his career, he had put on shows for American forces in various theatres of battle. I was a student during the Vietnam War, a particularly nasty conflict against which I took part in several protest marches.

Bob Hope was very gung-ho about Vietnam, and pictures of him cosying up to Richard Nixon (or maybe it was the other way round) fixed Bob Hope as a "bad guy" in my mind.

He would be the subject of many of those chemically-driven 3am student conversations about whether one should laugh at a joke delivered by somebody you did not approve of even if you found it funny.

Hope performing in Vietnam
Hope was gung-ho over Vietnam
I guess Bernard Manning poses the same dilemma today.

Nevertheless, though my views on the Vietnam War have not changed, I have long since figured that, for those GIs, with an average age of 19 and being shot at by an unseen enemy in a leech-infested jungle a long way from home, a bit of cheering up by Uncle Bob was probably the least they deserved.

Dolores in charge

Accompanying Bob on his QE2 show was his wife, Dolores. We knew something about Dolores thanks to a recently published unauthorised biography written by Groucho Marx's son, Arthur.

She swept Bob off his feet when he saw her singing in a Manhattan nightclub in 1933. They have been married for nearly 70 years, one of the great Hollywood unions.

Except that Dolores had had to resign herself to her husband's seemingly endless infidelities. When he was abroad, his entertaining was not confined to the troops.

Bob Hope was now in his 90s, and long past philandering. He was completely reliant on his wife, both personally, and, as we were to discover, professionally as well.

Bob and Dolores Hope
Bob and Dolores - a real double act
With them was their daughter Linda who doubled as Bob Hope's manager. It was from her, therefore, that we needed permission for an interview.

Built like a rugby prop forward, she looked somewhat fearsome. But, as it turned out, she was delighted for her father to speak to the BBC.

Marx' autobiography told us that Linda was, in fact, the Hopes' first adopted child, Dolores being unable to conceive.

Linda had disappointed them when her marriage broke up, shocked them when she came out as a lesbian.

Ageing

The interview with Bob Hope came as something of a shock to me. The poor man had difficulty finishing a single answer and Dolores had to step in continually to help him.

This was just about all right for radio for which judicious editing could close all the gaps and give meaning to his sentences. But for TV, it was a write-off.

"What do you expect of someone in his 90s?" Chris West retorted to my expression of surprise at Bob Hope's signs of ageing.

Dolores and Bob Hope performing in 1994
Dolores helped Bob through the show
It was a fair point, except that we were about to go and watch him perform in front of hundreds of people.

I need not have worried. As the band struck up, Bob Hope clicked into performance mode. All those decades of entertaining were bearing fruit.

Led in the singing by Dolores, and helped by an audio-visual display that used old archive film to look back on some of the highlights of his career, Bob Hope delivered his one-liners with that same deftness that had become his trademark.

And he thanked his audience for the memories, as he had done a million times before.

His voice may have aged but he was still every bit the old pro.




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