Remembering Bob Hope, the Legendary Comedian and Star of Radio, TV and Movies That Time Has Forgotten

Back in 1991, the Roseanne episode “Tolerate Thy Neighbor” aired, which looked at the title character’s continuing fight with Kathy Bowman, who lives across the street. In the show, Kathy’s house is robbed and Roseanne jokes with the cops that the culprit looked like Bob Hope. In the episode’s tag, the actual Bob Hope found himself in a police lineup. Nearly 30 years ago, the audience roared. Watching the episode for the first time today in reruns, they simply don’t get the joke or who this guy is. And they should.

“We should remember him in 2020, because of his enormous contribution to and effect on culture for much of the 20th Century,” opines Wesley Hyatt, author of Bob Hope on TV: Thanks for the Video Memories. “He was a top star from the ’40s to the ’90s, and was even fairly well known before that in the ’30s. It’s a long time to have a successful career and to be at the top of your field. At the same time, he was one of the leaders of encouraging celebrities to make charitable contributions back to their country, starting, of course, with his work for the USO during World War II and going on from there.”

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Reflecting on Bob’s history, Wesley points out, “He started in vaudeville back in the earlier part of the 20th century when it was flourishing, and went from there to Broadway and from there into movies and radio kind of simultaneously. By the time television rolled around, he went into it basically because everyone else was going into it — but also because he got an offer to do an Easter special in 1950 that would pay him, I believe, the highest amount of any guest performer up until that time. He even says on the special, ‘Well, it looks like they finally got me.’”

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bob didn’t have his own regular weekly series, which was purposely the case as he feared burning himself out. As a result, during the 1950s he primarily alternated once every three or four weeks as host of the Colgate Comedy Hour. “Then,” Wesley explains, “he started doing what you could call ‘floating specials’ from the 1950s, but his presence was enough that he always had high ratings. He never had to worry about that at all; he just had to worry about timing his exposure and making sure he wasn’t worn out on the medium.”

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