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Bob Hope’s best audiences were servicemen and women stationed far from home at military bases in the U.S. and abroad. Beginning in May 1941 and continuing for nearly fifty years, Hope brought his variety show to military camps and war zones to entertain troops with song, dance, comedy, attractive women, and people in the news. He discovered early on that audiences appreciated jokes about their locale and local elite. The strategy worked especially well when he teased soldiers about their bases and skewered their officers. Hope believed he gained more from the experience than he gave. “I hate war with all my guts,” Hope told a crowd in 1971, “but I admire the guys with guts enough to fight them when they have to be fought.”

Believe me when I say that laughter up at the front lines is a very precious thing—precious to those grand guys who are giving and taking the awful business that goes on there. . . . There’s a lump the size of Grant’s Tomb in your throat when they come up to you and shake your hand and mumble “Thanks.” Imagine those guys thanking me! Look what they’re doin’ for me. And for you.—Bob Hope, 1944


“The Sweetheart of the A.E.F.”

During World War I, vaudevillian and musical comedy star Elsie Janis (1889–1956) entertained American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F) soldiers, along with French, British, and Canadian troops throughout France in war zones and hospital wards, earning the nickname, “The Sweetheart of the A.E.F.” General Pershing (1860–1948) so valued her efforts that he assigned her an auto and chauffeur. In these letters from 1952, Janis volunteered to perform her most popular song among hospitalized soldiers on Bob Hope’s television show and later suggested that he instead feature some of the unknown talent who entertained the troops on the front lines.

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Hollywood Victory Caravan

Cary Grant, Joan Bennett, Claudette Colbert, Joan Blondell, Charles Boyer, James Cagney . . . It was really a tough trip . . . You were lucky if you could mention your own pictures once every half hour.—Bob Hope, 1942

On April 30, 1942, more than twenty Hollywood stars were invited to the White House by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt before opening their musical revue extravaganza that during the next two weeks played in fourteen cities and netted $800,000 for Army and Navy relief funds. The “Hollywood Victory Caravan,” traveled cross country in a special train, performing songs, dances, skits, playlets, operatic pieces, and spectacular ensemble numbers. The production, emceed by Bob Hope and Cary Grant, was considered by the New York Times to be “the most ambitious money-raising project ever staged by the theatrical world.”

Eleanor Roosevelt on White House lawn with “Hollywood Victory Caravan” entertainers (seated, from left) Oliver Hardy (1892–1957), Joan Blondell (1906–1979), Charlotte Greenwood (1890–1977), Charles Boyer (1899–1978), Risë Stevens (b. 1913), Desi Arnaz (1917–1986), Frank McHugh (1898–1981), writer Matt Brooks (1907–1990), James Cagney (1899–1986), Pat O’Brien (1899–1983), Juanita Stark, Alma Carroll; (standing, from left) Merle Oberon (1911–1979), Eleanor Powell (1912–1982), Arleen Whelan (1914–1993), Marie McDonald (1923–1965), Fay McKenzie (b. 1918), Katharine Booth, Mrs. Roosevelt (1884–1962), Frances Gifford (1920–1994), Frances Langford (1913–2005), Elyse Knox (b. 1917), Cary Grant (1904–1986), Claudette Colbert (1903–1996), Bob Hope (1903–2003), Ray Middleton (1907–1984), Joan Bennett (1910–1990), Bert Lahr (1895–1967), director Mark Sandrich (1900–1945), writer Jack Rose (1911–1995), Stan Laurel (1890–1965), Jerry Colonna (1904–1986), and Groucho Marx (1890–1977), April 30, 1942. Copyprint. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (124.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0124]

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Hollywood Canteen

There are few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of. The Hollywood Canteen is one of them.—Bette Davis, 1987

After learning of the success of New York’s Stage Door Canteen, Bette Davis (1908–1989), along with fellow Hollywood star John Garfield (1913–1952), established the Hollywood Canteen, where during World War II some 2,500 servicemen danced nightly with stars and volunteer hostesses, enjoyed top flight entertainment, and dined for free. Stars, such as Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992) and Basil Rathbone (1892–1967) served sandwiches, bussed tables, washed dishes, and manned the snack bar. To celebrate the canteen’s first birthday, Davis and Garfield paid tribute to the more than 6,000 members of the motion picture industry who had joined the armed forces by unveiling the Hollywood Hall of Honor.

Bette Davis pointing out the Hollywood Hall of Honor . . . to Marlene Dietrich and Bob Hope at the Hollywood Canteen during its first anniversary party, October 31, 1943, Acme Newspictures, Inc. Copyprint. New York World-Telegram and Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (110.00.00) [Digital ID# cph-3c12143]

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Bolstering Morale

Entertainment is always a national asset. Invaluable in time of peace, it is indispensable in wartime.—Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1943

The entertainment industry promoted two morale-boosting initiatives that achieved phenomenal success. On April 17, 1941, the USO (United Service Organizations) was formed by six prominent social service agencies with the approval of President Roosevelt, and was dedicated “to the maintenance of morale” of armed forces personnel. On April 30, Roosevelt bought the first U.S. Savings Bond in a campaign designed to offset the cost of the impending war and “strengthen the national morale” by allowing average citizens the opportunity to buy bonds. Many of Hollywood’s most popular stars promoted the sale of bonds on screen and at rallies. By war’s end, $185 billion had been raised through bonds and stamps, and USO Camp Shows had entertained 161 million soldiers in the U.S. and abroad.

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Cheering the Wounded

During his USO tours, Bob Hope made a point of visiting hospital wards. “A soldier stands in the twilight between his civilization and the raw savagery of war,” Hope explained to an audience in 1971. Wounded soldiers, Hope believed, “did not want sympathy, they wanted cheer.” Hope often greeted them flippantly: “Okay, fellas, Don’t get up.” On occasion, Hope collected greetings to loved ones.

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Bob Hope’s First George Foster Peabody Award

In recognition of his efforts at home and abroad to strengthen morale, Bob Hope was awarded a special George Foster Peabody award in May 1944. On issuing the award, representing outstanding achievement in broadcasting, the selection committee stated, “The joy and strengthened morale which he has given to the men and women of the armed forces can never be measured. The Peabody committee does not wish to overlook this superb contribution.” This was the first of three Peabody awards that Hope received in his lifetime.

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Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992) made two overseas USO tours. The first was to North Africa and Italy, where she became the first entertainer to reach rescued soldiers at Anzio. During her second tour, lasting eleven months, she entertained near the front in France and Germany. In this card to her friend Rouben Mamoulian (1897–1987), Dietrich remarks about being cold. She developed frostbite that winter and later received the Medal of Freedom.

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“I Love My Men”

Bob Hope and his USO troupe arrived in Sicily three days after the Seventh Army, led by General George S. Patton (1885–1945), took the key town of Messina. Patton asked Hope to tell his radio audience “that I love my men.” Hope learned afterwards that Patton had public relations concerns because he had slapped and verbally abused two legitimately hospitalized soldiers whom he accused of cowardice. Patton’s diary describes his desire to seem “amusing and human” during Hope’s visit.

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  • George S. Patton. Diary entry, August 21–22, 1943. George S. Patton Papers, Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (112.00.00 ) [Digital ID# bhp0112] Page 2.

  • Hal Block (1913–1981), Bob Hope (1903–2003), Barney Dean (1903–1954), General George S. Patton, Frances Langford (1913–2005), and Tony Romano (1915–2005) in Sicily, August 21, 1943. Copyprint. George S. Patton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (113.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0113]

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Airlifting Supplies and Entertainers

In 1948, as the relationship between the Soviet Union and the West deteriorated and plans for a separate West German state were announced, the Soviets blockaded Berlin. In response, Western fliers airlifted supplies into the city for nearly a year before the Soviets relented. At President Truman’s request, Bob Hope put together a Christmas show for fatigued airmen, the first of Hope’s annual Christmas tours that he joked “saved me a fortune in Christmas presents.”

The Air Lift “Christmas Caravan.” Photographs (A.S.A.F. and Wide World Photos) accompanying unidentified article by Jinx Falkenburg (1917–2003). Newspaper clipping, December 1948. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (116.01.00) [Digital ID# bhp0116_01]

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“In the Right Racket”

Bob Hope’s USO shows always had one of Hollywood’s current sex goddesses. In 1957, Jayne Mansfield (1933–1967), shown here in two playful photographs, prompted Hope to quip “I reminded the boys that Jayne was wearing a special dress for the occasion, made of two hundred yards of barbed wire.” Of that year’s show in Korea, Hope wrote, “when you see these combat troops squatting in the snow, hungry for any break in their drab routine, you feel like you’re in the right racket.”

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“The Last Few Hours of Happiness”

Bob Hope took his annual USO Christmas tour to Vietnam for nine consecutive years from 1964 to 1972. “The conditions are unbelievable,” Hope said in 1966, “but the emotional thrills you get out of doing those shows . . . nothing else you do gets to you that way.” In this eloquent letter, the mother of one of the soldiers Hope entertained in Vietnam hours before her son’s death expressed her gratitude to the performer for his efforts.

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“Bob Hope Truly Made Our Christmas a Little Merrier”

Bob Hope’s annual USO Christmas tours in Vietnam prompted many letters from family members of servicemen. In this letter, the wife of a soldier Hope entertained quotes her husband’s description of the Christmas show’s emotional concluding moments as GIs joined performers in the singing of “Silent Night.”

Letter from Linda Faulkner to Bob Hope, January 1, 1970. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (121.01.00) [Digital ID # bhp0121_01] Page 2, Page3 .

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“We Saw Our Boy”

In this letter, the parents of a soldier who attended Hope’s 1971 USO Christmas show quote their son’s letter and relate their own thrill “when we saw our boy” in the televised broadcast of the show.

Letter from George and Sally Hall and family to Bob Hope, January 21, 1972. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (121.02.00) [Digital ID # bhp0121_02] Page 2.

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Sammy Davis, Jr., in Vietnam

In July 1971, President Nixon (1913–1994) appointed Sammy Davis, Jr., (1925–1990) to his National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity. After Davis brought to Nixon’s attention the inequitable treatment of black soldiers in Vietnam for drug offenses, the president sent him to investigate. Davis won the confidence of skeptical soldiers through sincere discussions and performances without fanfare before large and small audiences. At Davis’s urging, Nixon ordered barbed wire and armed watchtowers removed from detoxification centers.

George Gibbons, photographer. Sammy Davis, Jr., talks with members of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam, February 1972. Copyprint. Courtesy of the National Archives Records Administration (126.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0126]

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Bob Hope’s Trademark Golf Club

I’ve had a lifelong love affair with the game. . . . Golf has been my real racket. Entertainment has just been a sideline. I tell jokes to pay my green fees. —Bob Hope, 1997

Bob Hope never stopped being a vaudevillian. Throughout his USO tours he carried on stage a symbol of his lifelong love of golf—a golf club—using it as a vaudeville song-and-dance man would use a cane. This is the wood Hope used on the 1969 World Tour.

Golf club that Bob Hope carried on stage during his 1969 USO tour. Courtesy of Bob Hope Archives (206.00.00) [Digital ID# 160]

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Presidential Medal of Freedom

When the time for recognition of service to the nation in wartime comes to be considered, Bob Hope should be high on the list. This man drives himself and is driven. It is impossible to see how he can do so much, can cover so much ground, can work so hard and be so effective. He works month after month at a pace that would kill most people.—John Steinbeck, 1943

On his last morning in office, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom to twenty individuals, including Bob Hope. Bob Hope’s citation noted that, “With his gifts of joy to all the American people, he has written his name large in the history of our times.”

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Sections: Political Humor | Causes and Controversies | Blurring of the Lines