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Posted: 5/26/2003 12:29:19 PM EDT
Even though Bob Hope doesn't perform anymore, I still regard him as a super-patriotic American. For this and other stories on Bob Hope click on the link: [url=http://www.sgvtribune.com/Stories/0,1413,205~28187~,00.html]100 years of Hope[/url] =================================================== San Gabriel Valley Tribune As always, Hope kept the troops going in wartime By Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer Sunday, May 25, 2003 - Not long before the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima, Sgt. Charlie Moon sat with 25,000 Marines in front of a makeshift USO stage in Hawaii as comedian Bob Hope wisecracked nonstop. Moon, then 21, remembers the surge of electricity as Hope dashed across the stage, his eyes glittering with every punch line. "Overwhelming," Moon, now 80 and living in Simi Valley, recalled recently. "He come out and done his jokes. I tell ya ... everybody stood up and hollered and clapped. I remember all the laughin' and hollerin' going on. "It give you a feeling like the cause wasn't lost, fightin' for somethin', and along comes a man who lifted your hopes and give (you) the strength to do what you had to do. "I think he was the best USO entertainer that ever went on the road." During the week of Hope's 100th birthday, veterans, residents and entertainers are paying tribute to the man who, beginning in 1941, boosted the morale of an estimated 10 million servicemen and servicewomen for decades. Whether it was on the "tank docks" of Honolulu, in the jungles of Vietnam, or aboard an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, Hope and his entourage of Hollywood entertainers volunteered for United Service Organization tours. For many, Hope is the patriot without peer. "He's one of the greatest heroes of all time because he's done so much -- and he didn't have to do it," said retired Army Gen. Mike Teilmann, executive director of the Bob Hope Hollywood USO at Los Angeles International Airport. "He was the bright spot of light in our lives." For fellow entertainers, Hope was a juggernaut of gung-ho spirit. Touring with him was often a life-changing experience. During the more than 30 years she toured with Hope, actress Connie Stevens said, she grew from a coddled young starlet to a full-fledged entertainer. "He taught me a lot," said Stevens, whose daughters, Joely and Tricia Fisher, also participated in USO tours. "(He taught me) that you had to serve your country in whatever way you can, that no bad times are forever ... and that the way to live life is head-on, with a laugh." Hope began entertaining the troops in May 1941, when he and a group of entertainers performed a radio show at March Air Force Base near Riverside. The tour expanded rapidly, and, by 1943, Hope and his entourage were entertaining in combat zones in Europe, Northern Africa and, later, the South Pacific. He began his now-famous Christmas shows in 1948 and, for more than 40 years, spent every Christmas entertaining the troops at military bases and installations around the world. Hope's legendary shows were simple. Military brass escorted the comic onstage, where he opened with a flinty-eyed monologue, segued into a musical number with curvaceous actresses or beauty queens, then performed a skit or other vaudeville-style gag with room for each entertainer to step out alone. He closed by hoofing with the likes of Phyllis Diller, Stevens, Barbara Eden, Jayne Mansfield, Raquel Welch, Frances Langford, Brooke Shields or Neile Adams. The troops adored him. Three weeks before each Hope appearance, up went the posters, followed by a flurry of letters back to the states to ballyhoo "GI Bob" to moms and dads everywhere. By the time the proverbial curtain rose on Hope's first rapid-fire riff, many of his khaki-clad fans had endured long marches, jarring truck rides and three- to four-hour waits in the rain for the chance to guffaw from atop ammo boxes and makeshift seats. Hope's was not only the holiday event of the year for servicemen overseas; for some, it was the last show they ever saw. Johnny Grant, honorary Mayor of Hollywood, met Hope in 1943, while conducting an Army recruitment rally at Grand Central Station in New York. Hope praised the young entertainer with a pat on the back -- and a few one-liners for his act. Since then, Grant has stood by Hope on numerous USO stages in Korea, Vietnam, Bahrain and beyond. "There would be no USO if it wasn't for Bob Hope," Grant, now 80, said from his Hollywood office. "He was like the morale doctor. He would come in with a prescription. He would know what to do, what to say, what to make jokes about. "He did it in a way that all the GIs knew he was their friend." During one Hope show in Vietnam, Grant dropped down toward the stage inside a whirling helicopter as he eavesdropped on the comedian addressing his fans over Armed Services Radio. "Get that helicopter outta here," Hope screamed from the stage. "It's ruining my punch line. That had better be a five-star general in there." Hope performed as many as five acts in a day, pushing his fellow performers to the edge. His secret to managing the whirlwind tour was a massage before and after each gig. "He was so smart; he would have a massage before rehearsals and after rehearsals. I didn't know how beneficial that was," said Neile Adams, who, with her then-husband, actor Steve McQueen, joined Hope for a USO tour of military bases in Alaska in 1959. "I think that's how he has lived such a long life." Barbara Eden, star of "I Dream of Jeannie," said her grueling tour with Hope and Stevens was one of the best experiences of her life. She recalled being on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, surrounded by a flotilla of Navy ships, and how the deck erupted with the roar of 10,000 sailors hanging from every railing. "I was so proud of them, so proud. They were so clean-cut and earnest," Eden said. "I was filled with joy." She described Hope on tour as being like a child, with enthusiasm for all things new. "He had this gift of making everyone feel better, not just good. I feel I was more than fortunate to have been able to work with him." Whether it was in a busy airport or a jungle combat zone, Hope always stopped to give an autograph to a U.S. serviceman. To the wounded in their hospital beds, he'd say, "Were you sick before or after you saw my show?" shouting the words to cover up the lump in his throat, said longtime publicist Ward Grant. "Don't cry; you're here to entertain," Hope warned his fellow stars before they visited the hospital wards. "You're here to take their minds off what's wrong." One tearful veteran in Long Beach was so overcome when the 6-foot-tall comedian stopped beside his bed, he pounded the covers, unable to say a word. "I'll be back," Hope vowed. "I'll be back." And he kept his promise, Grant said. After the Battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945, when one in three U.S. Marines was killed or wounded during the assault on a volcanic atoll south of Japan, Hope surprised the survivors with a USO spectacle. "When you started listening to him, it was like another world," said Hank Sims, 84, of Reseda, who was a Navy 1st Class Seaman on a troop ship during the invasion. "That guy was one that just nobody will ever forget." --- Staff Writer Carol Rock contributed to this report.
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