I have been a working actress and writer for 40 years. Fifteen years ago, I left Los Angeles and relocated to Northern Virginia, where I now head up an acting school for all ages just outside of Washington D.C. I try to pass along the baton to my students. That baton is not only about acting, but the faith and hope that is required to live a good life and to use their talents to be of service.
The other day, I revisited an article I wrote 18 years ago in 2003 when I was still living in Hollywood. I remembered that back then, comedian and entertainment icon Bob Hope had just died, and,William Faith, the author of “Bob Hope: My Life in Comedy,” was being interviewed on The TODAY Show. A former press agent, Faith accompanied Hope on those tours to entertain U.S. troops.
Show biz press agents are the entertainment industry equivalent of John the Baptist in that they prepare the masses for the arrival of a star, albeit not the one from Bethlehem. I was moved as it occurred to me that in a war zone, Hope had been preceded by Faith.
Bob Hope was an Englishman who epitomized the archetype American personality! He was the everyman of “The Greatest Generation,” whom he entertained both as GIs and as fans of radio and movies. Furthermore, Hope was unique in the Hollywood culture, as he was known to be a Republican. Still, he didn’t shove his politics down anyone’s throat. He was at ease and respectful in his disrespect with presidents of both parties. I said in 2003, that I wished Hollywood celebrities would be as neutral. And now in 2021, it has become even worse. Now, one is not allowed to disagree, or one is canceled.
But, I had seen it coming, I have been at odds with my community my entire career. While not in uniform, I have always felt like I’ve been at war trying to thrive personally and professionally with right of center principles in a left of center entertainment industry. Eighteen years ago, I lived in Toluca Lake, California not far from Bob Hope. And every time I passed by the Hope homestead, it somehow bolstered my faith that I was in the right place at the right time. Each Sunday, I’d walk by his house on my way to church, where, incidentally, I often spotted his wife, Dolores in the pews.
Back in the1980’s, a date and I were driving around one evening. That night, I was bemoaning the fact that I didn’t fit in with the Hollywood crowd and so I was torn about pursuing my career there. Also, my mother often called wanting me to come home. I finally declared that I was going to move back to Western Springs, Ill. Well, we had just passed Hope’s house and my friend, a native of Hope’s other hometown, Cleveland, admonished me, “Cheryl…Western Springs doesn’t have Bob Hope’s garbage cans!”
He had a point. In tinsel town, even the garbage cans had glamour. (Hope’s receptacles happened to be next to the garbage cans of Jonathan Winters, another comic genius!) But seriously, I was being reminded that in the show business environment, I at least had the opportunity to make my mark.
Ironically, now due to the pandemic and lock downs in LA and New York…there are internet opportunities in the entertainment field that have popped up everywhere, so that has been an upside of these challenging times.
The other day, a young man told me that he felt the Pandemic and the environment it has created must be like World War II was. And so now thinking of the comedian, who was so popular in that era seems appropriate.
See, I also must say that I had long felt a unique kinship with Bob Hope. I remember arguing with a classmate in the 1970’s about Hope’s pilgrimages each Christmas during the Vietnam War. The doves were angry at what was felt to be Hope’s hawkish support of the soldiers. Ironically, when I was only four years old, I already admired those who entertained the troops.
I’d seen the “Saturday Night at the Movies” program on NBC. It featured Susan Hayward as singer Jane Froman in “With a Song in My Heart.” Froman leaves on a European tour… but her plane crashes, and she is partially crippled. Unable to walk without crutches, she nevertheless goes on to entertain the allies in World War II. It was seeing this story at that young age that inspired me to be an actress.
As for Hope, my family never missed his overseas holiday television specials. And when it came to singing to soldiers, there’s never been a more poignant rendition of “Silent Night” than that sung by my fellow parishioner, Dolores Hope.
Shortly after my “garbage can epiphany,” my mom came to California for a visit. One of the highlights was her sending a note to Hope backstage, when he was appearing on a local TV show. My mother’s aunt had known the comedian during his radio days. Hope graciously came out front to see my mom. The two chatted pleasantly as my mother recalled that she also had seen him perform in vaudeville. Then later on during the show, there was a mild debate between Hope and Armand Hammer about Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy.
Mom and I delighted to Hope’s good-natured jabs at the more liberal Hammer. That was truly a memory my mother cherished until her own death. Plus, the encounter with Hope may have eased her mind and maybe my own that, though far away from home, perhaps I was on the right path after all. Hope was a Republican, and he was in show biz…why couldn’t I be?
Much has changed since that time. My mother is gone. Dolores Hope too. And just last month, even the date that pointed out Bob Hope’s garbage can – he had left this earthly plane as well.
I am grateful that friend convinced me to stay in Hollywood back then. In fact, he and I wound up playing Mother Goose and her faithful side-kick, Bertram The Goose, for children’s videos. So, my friend was right, I had more to accomplish on the Left coast and in addition to many other roles, I went on to do a TV series that included the likes of Ben Affleck. And all those credits enabled me to have the artistic credibility to inspire others and carry on the battles that I still fight today.
Even so, today the skirmishes are even fiercer. The America of Bob Hope’s era is mostly unknown to today’s woke generation. I take the same stands, but in a different locale. I have faith that I am in the right place, and while the unbelievers and radicals toss out the same propaganda, I don’t need Hollywood garbage cans to point out how to deflect the “garbage” to those I work with today.
Faith must accompany hope in all of life’s battles. While at the time of his passing, others repeated Hope’s then famous phrase “Thanks for the memories”…
Then and now, I thank Bob Hope for the future. He inspired me and people like fellow Baby Boomer, Gary Sinise to carry the baton, each in our own way. In his day, Mr. Hope helped in making it safer for not only the country in cheering the spirits of those in uniform…but for my own hopes of surviving in a uniformly group-think profession.
Hope left us all his legacy of laughter, patriotism and the courage to do what’s right, especially when it’s not popular. He was not a war enthusiast, but one who faced what was and did what he could to help others to endure. We must not give up Hope!
Meanwhile, the entertainer, Bob Hope always had perfect timing. And in his day, perhaps, it took someone not born here to put a spotlight on our strengths as a nation. In endless national self-deprecation and political correctness, we still forget about that.
And though Bob Hope sang, “Thanks For The Memories” it is like we don’t remember, and we have a generational Alzheimers. Perhaps with this patriotic pandemic we need another kind of vaccine that includes a living therapy with a truly inclusive and honest education about the greatness of our spiritual and patriotic past.
Somehow, the good seems to come with the crises. Just like 9/11 and now the passing of the greatest generation and their hero, Bob Hope, now new heroes must arise. For men like Bob Hope and those troops he entertained fought too hard. They stirred this country’s own memory as to who we Americans were…and as individuals who we are supposed to be.
Time is growing short, but I have faith, and so I have hope that we can remember who we are, and pass the baton…before it is too late.
Editor’s Note: Cheryl Felicia Rhoads is CEO of The Cheryl Felicia Rhoads Northern Virginia Acting School
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