Bob Hope: A Century of Laughter

May 29, 1903

Leslie Townes Hope is born near London, England, the fifth of seven sons of a stonemason and a former Welsh concert singer. When Hope is four, the family immigrates to the United States. He shows talent for the stage early on, and at the age of 10 wins a Charlie Chaplin imitation contest.


During his youth in Cleveland, Ohio, Hope works as a delivery boy, a soda fountain clerk and a shoe salesman. On December 20, by virtue of his father's naturalization, the newly named Bob and his six brothers become U.S. citizens.


Hope earns enough money to take dancing lessons. In 1922, he takes over the classes for one of his teachers. He also tries amateur boxing, and works briefly as a newspaper reporter.


Hope joins with George Byrne to form a vaudeville act. They break out with the Broadway musical The Sidewalks of New York. After the run ends, they open a new act in Pennsylvania. Hope is asked to announce another group for the following week. He is so funny and well received that he works out a new act. Byrne and Hope split and Hope begins to perform on his own.


The "single" vaudeville acts continue in Chicago until he finally hits New York with some substantial roles: The musical Roberta in 1933, Say When in 1934, Ziegfield Follies in 1935, and Red, Hot and Blue in 1936.

February 19, 1934

Hope marries Dolores Reade, a singer introduced to him by a friend during the run of Roberta.


Hope is given his own radio show on NBC, where the popularity of his satirical radio monologues wins him a part in the film The Big Broadcast of 1938. In the movie, he sings what is to become his signature song, "Thanks for the Memory."


Hope begins his Road movie series with The Road to Singapore, creating a comic persona with his brash "everyman" attitude mixed with a sly humor. Six more Road pictures follow in the next 22 years, all co-starring Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. He also begins receiving a string of special humanitarian service Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


In May, Hope begins a series of almost 400 radio programs from 1941 to 1948 that he records from Navy, Army and Air Force bases.


Bob Hope has the top-rated program on American radio. He receives his second honorary Oscar.


Hope begins a Christmas custom when he travels to Berlin to put on several shows for the GIs involved in the airlift. This is the start of a long tradition of Bob Hope Christmas specials.


Hope takes a troupe of Hollywood performers to entertain GIs in Alaska.


Hope makes his television debut. This year, the Christmas special for the GIs is in the Pacific.


Hope gets an honorary Oscar for "his contribution to the laughter of the world, his service to the motion picture industry, and his devotion to the American premise."


Hope is awarded the Ambassador of Good Will Golden Globe.


The Academy gives Hope another honor, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He also wins a Trustees' Emmy "for bringing the great gift of laughter to all peoples of all nations."


Hope receives the Congressional Gold Medal from President Kennedy. He says, "I feel very humble, but I think I have the strength of character to fight it."


Hope is awarded a lifetime achievement honor by the Screen Actors Guild. The following year, he wins a fifth Academy award.


At the finish of his 22nd overseas show for the GIs (after traveling to the Pacific, to England, Iceland, Alaska, the Orient, Europe, the Caribbean, Newfoundland, Greenland, the Far East and North Africa over 20-something years), Hope informs the world that this will be his last Christmas show.


Hope gathers a troupe to do Christmas shows in veterans hospitals, breaking his vow from the year before.


Bob Hope is back, entertaining troops in Beirut, Lebanon.


The Kennedy Center hosts a lifetime achievement honors ceremony for Hope.


On Christmas day, Hope entertains Marines serving in the Persian Gulf. He and his wife Dolores, go on to entertain the troops serving in Operation Desert Storm.


On Easter, Bob and Dolores Hope host a "Yellow Ribbon Welcome Home Party" for 350 Marines and their families with a special show and special guests, food and gifts.


President Clinton presents Hope with a National Medal of Arts


Resolution 75 is passed unanimously by members of both houses, making Bob Hope an "Honorary Veteran," the first individual so honored in the history of the United States. Hope also ends his association with NBC, which had earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest contract with a single network.


Hope is awarded an honorary British knighthood. He announces the donation of his archive of jokes, radio broadcasts, video master tapes, film and radio scripts, photographs and clippings books to the Library of Congress. Later that year, a television station mistakenly reports his death.


Hope travels to Washington, D.C., with his family to help open the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment in the Library of Congress, created from the material he donated in 1998. He does not attend the press opening, but views the collection privately.