Bob Hope’s family rarely celebrated Christmas together on December 25. That’s because the legendary performer was almost always away visiting with American troops in a far-off land. “My dad’s return was always a great occasion,” his daughter Linda Hope exclusively tells Closer Weekly. “We usually had our big Christmas dinner sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day.”
Though he was born in London, Bob’s family moved to the United States when he was just a toddler. “He loved this country. I think he loved the opportunity that America represented,” Martha Bolton, the first woman to join Bob’s writing staff, reveals in Closer‘s latest issue, on newsstands now. Bob had an extra-special relationship with the American military, which coauthors Linda and Martha share in the new book Dear Bob … Bob Hope’s Wartime Correspondence with the G.I.s of World War II.
“These letters meant so much to him,” says Martha, who explains that Bob received as many as 38,000 letters a week and tried his best to answer as many as possible. “Handwritten letters were cherished,” adds Linda. She shares this vast collection of Bob’s personal correspondence for the first time in the book.
Bob recognized his deep and emotional connection with the United States’ men and women in uniform shortly after he was asked to do his first USO show in California during World War II. “It started at March Field on May 6, 1941,” says Martha. “Like any comic, at first he said, ‘I love this audience.’ But seeing the sacrifice and realizing the responsibility that he had toward [the soldiers], it just kept deepening his feelings.”
When it came to American servicemen and women, Bob didn’t see himself as just an entertainer. He strove to be a source of comfort, laughter and a reminder of home. Some of the most important and meaningful work he did was off stage, visiting wounded G.I.s in field hospitals, putting on small shows in the back of a Jeep for a company in the middle of nowhere, or ferrying a letter from the battlefield home to a soldier’s family. “Bob was the connection that saw a lot of people through the war,” says Martha. “He gave them reason to believe that there was another day ahead of them.”
Many times, the contents of the letters Bob received from soldiers were deeply personal, introspective and sincere. “This was not a fan/celebrity situation. Bob would call them his sons and daughters,” says Martha. “Soldiers would joke around with him as if he were a member of their family. And if somebody’s son or daughter got killed in action, their parents might write to Bob and tell him, especially if they had seen Bob’s show right before they died. Sometimes, Bob could hardly read these letters without crying.”
The star’s involvement with the military didn’t end with World War II. “He also championed veterans’ causes during peacetime. He went to VA hospitals and made sure those kids weren’t forgotten,” says Martha. “He never let them see him cry. His mission was always to bring a smile to their faces and cheer them up.”
Bob’s participation in the USO continued for 50 years and, sadly, several more wars. “I produced his last USO show during Operation Desert Storm,” says Linda. “He was 87 at the time. He and my mother, Dolores, who was his ‘girl singer’ on the show, were absolutely amazing.”