One of the best ways to see how Bob Hope was seen as such a pure American is
to remember that he wasn't, at least not at first: he was born in Great Britain
and emigrated here at a young enough age to adopt an enthusiastically American
You could make an argument that he is one of the last, if not the last, great
men of World War II. Eisenhower, Bradley, McArthur and Patton were among
the heavyweights who prosecuted that war, but Hope was relentless in his efforts
to bring good cheer to the American fighting man. This was a time,
remember, when the contrast between good and evil was stark and undeniable, and
the pressures of war were bound to be overwhelming. We see it now in
newsreels, mostly, except for those of us old enough to see it in our mind's eye
- Hope goofing on stage with the sex kittens of the day, popping off one-liners,
bringing humor to people who came into the stadium most likely wondering how
long they would live.
Humor might seem like a small point, but look at how America responded to the
Axis: with broad-based ridicule. Everyone from Disney, the Marx Brothers,
and Charlie Chaplin (another Brit but widely beloved by Americans) to Bugs Bunny
took turns poking fun at the bully boys. More than anyone, Hope took humor
to the soldiers in the field, and, notably, didn't really make as many jokes
about Hitler as he did about more mundane things. Needless to say, the
G.I.'s loved him.
And he kept on doing it, for decades, giving of himself, going on tour in
various places of conflict and tension.
You got the feeling from Hope that while he was a guy who muttered about his
life under his breath a bit, he also could turn that off, smile, and then just
charm the pants off of anyone. He played that role brilliantly.
We were really hoping that when his time came, the United States would honor
him by allowing him to lie in state in the Capitol Building. We realize
that's an honor reserved for presidents and great leaders and the like, and
while he could never become President, Hope had his finger on American culture
and our values in a way that even most native-born citizens never quite
manage. He came here, built a brilliant life, and never looked
back. In many ways, you might say his life is the ultimate
expression of the American Dream: he came here with little more than a
dream, created huge success, and then spent the rest of his life expressing his
gratitude towards, and love for, his adopted land. He was a remarkable
guy, a brilliant comedian, and immensely decent. We're poorer without him.