Birthday greetings to Bob Hope, who was born on May 29, 1903. So, no, this blog isn’t exactly going to be cutting edge stuff. Hope, America’s comedian and in his day the true king of all media, was sadly irrelevant by the time of the turbulent 1960s. His association with Richard Nixon, his hawkish stance during the Vietnam War, those lame TV specials and even worse movies such as “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number,” left him far behind the times that generated a new generation of unconventional, envelope-pushing and taboo-breaking satirists and comedians such as Lenny Bruce, Elaine May and Mike Nichols, Bob Newhart, George Carlin and Woody Allen.
Hope, who died at age 100 in 2003, is not forgotten, exactly. He’s just not part of the conversation, and considering the sheer longevity and epic scope of his career (he was a reigning star of vaudeville, Broadway, radio, television, and movies) attention should be paid, whether you are of a certain age to have witnessed him in his prime, or even a young comedy geek.
All topical comedians owe a little something to Hope, who, in lacking a standup persona like Jack Benny’s cheapskate, instead turned to the news and current events for inspiration. In Bill Murray’s earlier films, you see a glint of Hope’s wisecracking persona. Woody Allen paid more explicit homage in “Love and Death” as a brash, but cowardly inadvertent war hero, who folds at the first sign of danger. Judd Apatow’s films have much of the loose, improvisatory spirit of Hope’s classic “Road” films opposite Bing Crosby.
Last year, Hope, arguably the towering comedian and entertainer of the 20th century, was finally given his due with a definitive biography, “Hope: Entertainer of the Century” by Richard Zoglin.I strongly recommend it. Then hit the “Roads” (“Utopia,” “Morocco” and “Bali” are best), or “Monsieur Beaucaire,” “My Favorite Blonde” or “The Ghost Breakers.” Or check out some of his Oscar monologues (he hosted a staggering 18 times) on YouTube. The jokes may be dated, but Hope's timing and masterful stage presence are the gold standard.
Happy birthday, Bob, and—yes—thanks for the memories.