95 years of laughs and Hope Humanitarian: Near Memorial Day, we recognize the birthday of a comedian who never forgets our soldiers.

May 29, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Bob Hope is such a master of timing, he'd perfected the art even before he was born.

How else to explain a birthday so close to Memorial Day -- a day to remember the men and women who fought for this country, and a day when many of those soldiers remember the good times brought to them by a man named Hope?

Those USO performances, in venues from Europe and the Pacific during World War II to the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm, "told us that America was still behind us," World War II veteran Lee Morrow says from his Owings Mills home.

The man who is almost certainly the most beloved entertainer of the 20th century turns 95 today. And while age has slowed Bob Hope down, it hasn't stopped him. Just last week, he was in Washington to be feted at the Library of Congress, where his papers have become a permanent part of the collection, to be housed in the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment. And while illness kept him from attending a dinner held in his honor, he was well enough the next day for a brief fishing trip to Maryland's Eastern Shore, says his granddaughter, Melinda Hope.

"He's worked from the time he was 8 until the day he's 95; he hasn't stopped," Melinda Hope says from her home in Virginia. "He was tireless."

It would be hard to overstate Hope's accomplishments, as both an entertainer and a humanitarian. On stage, in the movies and on television, he's been keeping audiences laughing for more 70 years.

His timing, that ability to know both what to say and how to say it, has served as an inspiration to generations of comics; Woody Allen calls Hope one of his greatest influences. And his brand of topical humor, the knack for having fun with someone, rather than at their expense, is reflected in comedians from Mark Russell to David Letterman. But it's as a humanitarian that Hope shines brightest, and if people are still talking about him 50 years from now, that'll be why. For nearly half a century, Hope traveled the world, entertaining American troops overseas and bringing home a little closer. All one need do is listen to a veteran reflect on his days as a scared and lonely 19-year-old, to understand just how important Bob Hope was and will remain.

"I always thought to myself," Lee Morrow says, "that if things ever changed in Hollywood, and he really needed work, he'd have so much support from all the service people, he wouldn't have any trouble coming out and smelling like a rose."

Happy 95th, Mr. Hope.

Pub Date: 5/29/98

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