When the Laughter Stopped
Bob Hope's 100 years of radical politics.
When Bob Hope was born 100 years ago today, the world was a substantially different place. Coal had not yet been discovered. Some people still walked on their hands. Most important, there was a void in the world that didn't allow human laughter. Before Bob Hope, the world was a pit of human sorrow. Now, laughter is everywhere.
John Steinbeck once wrote of Bob, "There is a man. There really is a man." Sadly, though, little else has been written about him, and even less has been understood. In this piece I intend to reveal the truth about the real Bob, which has been covered up by media titans throughout the decades. They've had good reason. Bob Hope is perhaps our country's leading subversive, its most strident political radical. As the following timeline will indicate, if Bob had gotten his way over the years, America would have been a different place. Actually, if he'd really gotten his way, it would have been turned over to the Cherokee.
Happy Birthday, Bob!
His livelihood crushed by a union lockout at United Stone and Steel, a British mason named William Henry Hope moves his family to Cleveland, Ohio, to seek a better life. The fifth of his seven children is Leslie Townes Hope, who becomes the Bob we adore. Bob later jokes, "I left England at the age of 4 after my father's dreams were crushed by the cruel machinery of capitalist enterprise."
Bob begins amateur boxing as "The Battling Suffragette." He quits after dropping a bout to Emma Goldman.
With vaudeville partner George Byrne, Bob debuts on Broadway in the revue Arise, Ye Children of Oppression. The show closes when Ruby Keeler breaks an ankle during the Potemkin dance. "I used to struggle to make ends meet," Bob later said. "I wouldn't have had anything to eat if it wasn't for the stuff the audience threw at me. That just shows you how a political system based on class stratification degrades the working man."
Bob's first major career break comes when he's cast as the wisecracking union organizer Huckleberry Haines in the Broadway musical Roberta. That same year, at a Eugene Debs fund-raiser at the Vogue Club on 57th Street, he meets a young singer named Dolores, whose passionate anti-fascist speeches cause him to swoon with love.
Fresh off his successful movie debut in The Big Broadcast of 1938, where he first sings his signature hit, "Thanks for the Memories, O Red Brigade Martyrs of Spain," Bob gets asked by Pepsodent to do his own radio show on NBC. He refuses the offer until the company agrees to stop selling toothpaste to the Nazis.
After a vicious battle with the studio, a duet between Bob and Dorothy Lamour that decries the injustice of purdah is cut from The Road to Morocco. Hope tells Daily Variety, "Crosby is a dangerous reactionary."
Bob gives his legendary USO concert during the battle of Stalingrad. He tells the troops, "Look at me, fellas, these are the kinds of clothes you'd be wearing if you lived in America." He quickly adds, "But you wouldn't want to live in America because it's a bourgeois democracy."
Neal Pollack is the author of Alternadad. He lives in Los Angeles.
Illustration by Charlie Powell.