TOLUCA LAKE, Calif. – He's traveled all over the world, been a guest of 11 presidents in the Oval Office and has entertained millions of American GIs and civilians alike.
Bob Hope (search), America's most patriotic entertainer, celebrates his 100th birthday Thursday, May 29.
Hope is perhaps best known for his USO (search) performances dating back to World War II and continuing through to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He and his USO troupe of starlets -- such as Frances Langford, Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe (search) -- along with funnyman Jerry Colona, traveled to hotspots around the world, bringing some levity to an otherwise volatile environment for the U.S. armed forces.
"Growing up I thought the airport was part of the house," joked Linda Hope, Bob's daughter, who co-wrote the new book Bob Hope: My Life in Jokes with her father. "Some of us were confused as to whether he was coming or going because we were always waving either hello or goodbye."
Bob Hope was born May 29, 1903, the same year Henry Ford started Ford Motor Company and that Orville Wright piloted the first powered plane.
Hope began his career in Vaudeville and radio until Hollywood came calling in the 1930s. His star rose with movies like The Big Broadcast, in which he sang what became his signature tune, "Thanks for the Memory," and the Road To ... films with crooner Bing Crosby.
But it wasn't until the U.S. entered World War II (search) that he began a mission that would become his legacy.
"Dad was changed from the experience of seeing these young men and women, putting their lives on the line and still wanting to laugh," said Linda. "He was happy knowing he was bringing a bit of home to them."
R. Duke Blackwood, director of the Ronald Reagan Library, which is celebrating Hope's 100th birthday with the "Bob Hope: American Patriot" exhibit, said people can't help but get teary-eyed looking at the clips and items on display.
"It brings back those memories," Blackwood said, pointing out some of the items, including Hope's first USO identification card, the helmet he wore on a stage in Vietnam and the many commendations and awards Hope received for his efforts overseas.
The exhibit commemorates Hope's USO appearances as well as his long history of relationships with the nation's commanders in chief.
"Being the president of the United States is an incredible burden," said Blackwood, "and when Bob Hope visited the Oval Office they were able to laugh and take their minds off of that, and that's another great thing he did for this country."
Bob and Dolores Hope live in the same home they purchased together in 1939, in Toluca Lake, Calif. According to Linda, the main attraction for Bob was the home's close proximity to a golf course, but today the grounds on the seven-acre estate resemble a park, equipped with an in-ground pool, award-winning rose garden and a spacious putting green.
"Dad loves coming out on his balcony to get fresh air and to watch the birds," Linda said. "He looks wistfully at the putting green, and I know he'd love to be out there," she said.
Golf was one of Bob Hope's passions, when he wasn't performing. He started the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1960, attracting A-list celebrities and golf pros, and the tournament continues to attract big names today.
Hope fans can relive some of the memories Bob provided with a DVD collection of his USO Christmas television specials, Bob Hope: My Life in Jokes, the exhibit at the Reagan Library, and a Universal Studios film collection DVD.
"Dad would want his fans to know that his long love affair with them really made his life," said Linda. "Sharing the gift of laughter has kept him going to reach 100."
To that his many fans would say to Bob, "Thanks for the memories."