Taken From Writer’s Almanac.
Today is Bob Hope’s birthday, born (1903) in Eltham, near London. His family moved to the United States when he was four years old, and he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. His first successful show-biz venture came at the age of 10, when he won a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest. By 1940, after working in vaudeville, Broadway, and radio, he was one of America’s most popular comedians. His comedy was verbal, not physical, and he usually played unsympathetic characters that the audience could feel superior to.
He never won an Oscar for his acting – “Oscar Night at my house is called Passover,” he once quipped – but the Academy nevertheless honored him five times, with two honorary Oscars, two special awards, and a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The Guinness Book of World Records named him the most honored entertainer in the world, with 2,000 awards and citations, including 54 honorary doctorates and a knighthood from his native England.
In 1941, he performed his first show for soldiers, a group of airmen stationed in March Field, California. It was the beginning of nearly 60 years of shows at military bases at home and abroad. Congress unanimously passed Resolution 75 in 1997 to make him the nation’s first Honorary Veteran, and he considered this his highest achievement.
He wasn’t universally adored, however. A few days after Hope’s death, author and journalist Christopher Hitchens called him “paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny” in Slate. He skewered the comedian and his fans, saying, “This is comedy for people who have no sense of humor and who come determined to be entertained and laugh to show that they ‘get it.'” Hitchens closed his article by saying, “Hope was a fool, and nearly a clown, but he was never even remotely a comedian.”
Bob Hope died in 2003, two months after his 100th birthday.