Stories of Faith: Bob Hope Finds Real Hope in Jesus
By Diane Howard, Contributing Writer
Bob Hope brought laughter and joy to troops from World War II to the Persian Gulf War.
However, while bringing laughs to audiences everywhere, he kept his philanthropy and faith quiet, according to an obit in the Catholic Register in 2003.
Father Maurice Chase, who tells of Bob Hope’s ministry to the homeless for decades, says “He helped many thousands of people here on skid row in Los Angeles.”
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles recognized that “the Hopes have contributed to the faith life of our Catholic community through donations to. . . many Catholic causes, often quietly and without public notice.”
Bob Hope would say of his wife, Dolores, a lifelong Catholic and daily communicant, “My wife, Dolores, does enough praying to take care of both of us.” However, eventually Dolores’ prayers were answered, and Bob was baptized into the church.
The Catholic Register in 2011 gives an overview of Hope’s life and says he was “the most honored entertainer ever, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, for his achievements in theater, radio, film, TV, philanthropy, and business, and an extraordinary record of service to country, with 199 USO shows around the globe.” The Catholic Register in 2011 then begins to detail Bob Hope’s life, service and faith journey.
Bob Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope on May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England, as the fifth of seven boys. Hope gave credit to his mother for his success. Hope telling of his mother in “Have Tux, Will Travel: Bob Hope’s Own Story” says, “Mom. . . after making sure we were clean and uncomfortably dressed. . . sent us off to Sunday school at the Euclid Avenue Presbyterian — a church dad had helped build.” As a child, Hope was rescued by his brother, when he got pinned under a pier and nearly drowned, but he was ultimately rescued by his mother, who, a singer herself, encouraged her young son’s theatrical talent. After winning a Charlie Chaplin contest in 1914, he headed for the theater, believing that being “on stage” was his true calling.
By 1929, now “Bob Hope,” he was becoming a well-known and liked comedian. He landed parts on Broadway. From there, his career took off in radio, film, and TV. In NYC he met and fell in love with a beautiful singer named Dolores Reade. They wed a few months later, which led to 69 years of marriage and a family of four adopted children: Linda, Anthony, Eleanora Avis “Nora,” and Kelly.
Starting in World War II, Hope began donating entertainment to cheer up the troops and then expanded his generous charity work to many other causes.
However, Bob Hope was a womanizer, which often left Dolores in tears.
“I’m no angel. I’ve known very few angels,” Hope wrote in “Have Tux, Will Travel.”
Ironically, Bob Hope’s signature song, “Thanks for the Memory” is about a couple contemplating divorce, and then they begin to reminisce about the wonderful times they’ve had, and decide to stay together. Dolores hung in there, knowing infidelity was Bob’s weakness.
Father Groeschel said, “Dolores. . . faithfully, prayerfully, patiently, and with a certain amount of suffering” endured these trials. Father Goreschel said the reason she was able to persevere was that “Dolores Hope was a great Christian,” and, through it all, she was praying for him.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick observed, “Basically, the agent of his conversion was his wife.” She was a daily communicant and prayed for him with a deep faith, asking others to pray for him as well. Longtime friend Virginia Zamboni said, “She took very good care of him.”
Father Groeschel told how the Hopes were both very friendly people, opening their large but comfortable home to guests. Groeschel said that from time to time Bob loved to tell a story to priests who visited, sometimes for retreats Dolores hosted, about a big Catholic event he attended where the priest who was introducing him told jokes. Then Bob got up, looked at the crowd “ as if warming up to tell his own set of jokes” and said, “Let us pray.” Father Groeschel said that was the real Bob Hope.
In Bob Hope’s last book, “My Life in Jokes,” he said, “I was offering time and laughs — the men and women fighting the war were offering up their lives. They taught me what sacrifice was all about.” It was during World War II, according to Cardinal McCarrick, that Bob became “very close” to New York Cardinal Francis Spellman. “They made all those rounds visiting the troops. And I really think that Bob was impressed by the faith of the men and women in the service he met.”
Hope had severe trouble with his eyes and often had to rest in a dark room after surgery, once for three weeks. Those periods gave Hope time for reflection. In his last 10 years, he finally settled down and began enjoying life with Dolores, attending church regularly with her.
Bob Hope died July 27, 2003, at the age of 100 at home near North Hollywood surrounded by his family. His wife of more than 69 years, Dolores, and a priest were at his bedside. After an early morning memorial service attended by the family at the Hopes’ parish church, St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood, Hope was buried at San Fernando Mission cemetery near Los Angeles. Largely due to the prayers and devotion of his wife, Bob Hope died with eternal hope.
Note: Diane Howard has a Ph.D. in Performance Studies, and can be reached at dianehoward.com.