Legendary funnyman Bob Hope — whose exceptional career spanned seven decades and encompassed vaudeville, radio, stage, television and film — died Sunday night of pneumonia at his home in Toluca Lake, Calif., just two months after his 100th birthday. From backstage to the battlefield, Hope's Hollywood friends and co-stars recall a real trouper.
Raquel Welch traveled to Vietnam with Hope in 1967 to visit the troops at Christmas.
"Everywhere he went, the guys would jump to their feet with tears streaming down their faces. When we went to the hospitals, he always had a joke and the ball scores handy. We'd take down names and call their families afterward, and let them know they were getting good care. That was Bob's idea."
Ed McMahon first saw Hope perform back when he was an aviation cadet stationed in Athens, Ga., during World War II.
"The servicemen were away from home, so Hope brought home to them. A guy in the Marine Corps on an island somewhere wants to see somebody beautiful, so [Hope] always surrounded himself with beautiful women — Miss America or Marilyn Monroe or the newest heartthrob. But he was also able to make a joke about the commanding general and get away with it."
Tom Brokaw met Hope during his early days as a journalist in the '70s.
"I had a local Sunday afternoon talk show. Jesse Jackson cancelled at the last minute. I was pretty friendly with Bob, and I knew he was getting ready for another tour in Vietnam. I called and said I'd send a car, but he said, 'Don't worry about [it], kid.' Later, when I walked him to his car, I told him I was really impressed that he'd do this local show. And he said, 'Well, kid, you got me. I really thought I was being set up for This Is Your Life. I didn't think anybody would have the nerve to call me the day I'm leaving.'"
Barbara Eden recalls doing a 1959 show with Hope at Madison Square Garden.
"I did a sketch with Bob and Bing [Crosby] in a boxing ring. Bob's eye was bothering him" — he suffered a blood clot in 1958 and had continuing problems with hemorrhaging — "and he couldn't see the cue cards very well, so Bing would whisper the cues to him. It was wonderful how supportive they were of each other."
Tony Bennett credits Hope with giving him his first big singing break — and his stage name!
"I was either 21 or 22. I was playing in [Greenwich Village] with Pearl Bailey. One night, Bob said, 'You're coming with me to the Paramount.' He said Joe Bari" — Bennett's stage name at the time — "was 'too affected. What's your real name?' I told him Anthony Dominick Benedetto, and he said, 'That won't fit on the marquee.' Then, he goes out and introduces me: 'Here's a wonderful new singer we found in the Village. His name is Tony Bennett.' Then, he took me on the road with him. I still use the techniques he told me. He said, 'Don't worry, the audience is friendly.'"
Michelle Lee (Knots Landing) appeared in the 1969 TV version of Hope's hit 1933 Broadway show, Roberta.
"I told him I was nervous, and he showed me this little soft-shoe step. It became this thing between us. He'd catch my eye and do it. It was his way of saying, 'Don't worry, be happy. Keep it simple.' I still do it every once in a while when I find myself nervous. It was ingrained by this great performer."
Loni Anderson guest-starred on a dozen of Hope's TV specials.
"Everybody teased him about always having a sketch where he got to kiss all the women in his show. It's probably the secret to his long life and success. I have more pictures of me kissing Bob Hope than I do of any other person.'
Donny Osmond debuted on a Hope special with the Osmond Brothers at 17.
"He was a master at his looks, like Jack Benny and Jerry Lewis. I put together a tape of the best from The Donny & Marie Show, and invariably, I'd just use the clips where he said nothing. One skit had him dressed like Carmen Miranda. He worked it for all it was worth."
Brooke Shields appeared on numerous Hope TV specials and accompanied him twice to visit troops in the Persian Gulf.
"Bob really taught me to appreciate comedy and the beauty in it. He was constantly thinking of what would be funny in that moment, no matter where you were. We were in a cargo carrier plane at four o'clock in the morning [to watch] a midair fueling, and he was making jokes."
Kathryn Crosby and Bing, her husband of 20 years, were longtime friends of Hope and his wife, Dolores.
"I met Bob when I was 18 and under contract to Paramount. We got close when [our families] shared a country house in England in 1962, while Bing and Bob were shooting On the Road to Hong Kong. Those three months were the closest thing to heaven. Bob would let Kelly [his youngest son] have the punch line when he told jokes... He spent his 90th birthday with us at the Crosby golf tournament. He had hurt his arm the night before, falling over [his poodle] Baxter's dog fence. He still showed up and wouldn't wear his sling, so he could sign autographs. The next year, I rode around in the golf cart with him, and everybody would applaud at everything he did. He said, 'Imagine what they'd do if I hit a good one.'" — Compiled by Susan Stewart and Ty Holland