Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zoglin

Hope: Entertainer of the Century
by Richard Zoglin
Simon & Schuster
Hardcover - ISBN: 9781439140277
576 pages
November 2014

Barnes and Noble
IndieBound (your independent bookstore)

"He was the most popular entertainer of the twentieth century; the only one who achieved success... in every major genre of mass entertainment in the modern era." - Richard Zoglin

Bob Hope's life was his work. If ever there was a man who was born to entertain it was him. The medium didn't matter. As long as there were funny jokes and an audience to laugh at them Bob Hope was happy.

"He transcended comedy; he was the nation's designated mood-lifter." - Richard Zoglin

Hope was born in England in 1903 but was considered an all-American entertainer. He went on to live for a century and much of his 100 years on earth was dedicated to his career. Hope started off in vaudeville at the time when that medium of entertainment was starting to die off. He had luck on his side and was successful in vaudeville even with the Depression rearing it's ugly head. Always being on the road and performing for live audiences gave him the early training for his long stretch of military tours later on. After vaudeville, Hope went on to Broadway, radio, movies and TV. He was a success in all three, especially TV. Nielsen ratings of his shows and specials broke records and his work hosting the Oscars set standards for future ceremonies. Hope was the father of stand-up comedy and the modern stand-up monologue.

"To survive the vaudeville grind you had to be resourceful, vigilant, watchful of money, always on the move. These were qualities Hope would never lose." - Richard Zoglin

During WWII, Bob Hope found his calling entertaining the troops. It became his mission to bring entertainment to American military troops around the world during times of war and peace. He worked tirelessly through WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. That last war would prove to be the most damaging to his career. The patriotism of WWII that drove him was notably absent during the Vietnam War with a nation protesting our involvement. (Hat tip to the author for mentioning America's invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. Bob Hope and Tuesday Weld went to the DR to perform for the troops. It's a little known piece of American and Caribbean history. My mother and her family lived through it and I was glad to see it at least get a mention somewhere).

"... no one else pursued his public-service mission so tirelessly or made it such an integral part of his image." - Richard Zoglin

Author Richard Zoglin is a journalist who writes for Time Magazine. He approaches this book very much as a journalist would and covers Hope's career in a very unbiased way. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. Altogether we see a complete portrait of Bob Hope, flaws and all.

Hope's biggest downfall was his longevity. Zoglin writes "Hope needed to keep performing because he couldn't stop believing that the audience needed him." Even when Hope was very old and frail he still wanted to work. And even when he was younger and in better health, he would still find himself working more than he should.

Did you know Bob Hope was loyal to NBC for over 50 years? It was a relationship that benefited both parties, Hope gave NBC great ratings and NBC in turn gave him many spotlights over the years.

This book truly is about Bob Hope's career more so than it is about a life of an entertainer. That's because you really can't separate Hope's career from his life. The two are inextricably intertwined. However, this means Hope as a person wasn't all that interesting. He didn't have a rich inner life and he had only one hobby: golf.

Zoglin does discuss Hope's relationship with his wife Dolores Hope. As you may have read elsewhere, it's revealed in the book that he and Dolores may not have been legally wed. This is despite the fact that Dolores Hope was very Catholic. Zoglin also reveals Hope's first very secret marriage to entertainer Louise Troxel which ended in divorce. There is some information about Hope's string of infidelities and a particularly lurid scene you will not be able to unread. No matter how hard you try! However, I wouldn't categorize this book as salacious. Dolores Hope is portrayed as the stabilizing influence in her husband's life. She sought affection from him but he was very distant. She couldn't conceive so they adopted several children. The Hope family always lived in the shadow of Hope's immense fame something that was more of a curse than a blessing.

So many entertainers are foolish with money. It's almost a cliche. Hope didn't drink, do drugs or gamble. He was frugal to a point and sometimes that meant he short-changed his employees. But overall, he made good investments in real estate, business ventures and in his production company Hope Enterprises.

The book is sprinkled with Hope's one-liners and dialogue from his skits and movies. We learn a lot about his comedy techniques (including some fascinating details about pacing), his staff of writers and his partnerships. Hope and Bing Crosby had chemistry on screen but off screen they weren't friends. Hope got a lot of flack for depending on cue cards and for not writing jokes himself. He always seemed to play the same character on screen what Zoglin refers to as "the wise-cracking, girl-chasing, blustering coward." However, no one can say Bob Hope didn't entertain. That he didn't make people laugh. Because he did and for a very long time.

Hope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zoglin was a terrific read. It's a long one and there will be some trudging to do especially during the Vietnam War era which is covered extensively in the book. The 500+ pages are well-worth the effort. You'll learn a lot and will be glad you did.

And don't you think that cover is so striking? Bob Hope's profile and ski-slope nose was so iconic! I love this line from Bob Hope:

"It's not true my nose is the way it is as a result of having been broken in an accident. It came the way it is from the manufacturer."

Each chapter of the book represents a different phase of Bob Hope's life and career. The last one entitled "Legend" is particularly difficult to read because of Hope's decline. Grab a tissue because you'll get a good cry at the very end. Zoglin leaves you with a very touching account of Bob Hope entertaining troops during WWII. It's like a one-two punch that will leave you a bit emotional at the end.

Thank you so much to TCM and Simon & Schuster for sending me a galley of this book to read!


  1. I truly enjoy your book reviews, and I always look forward to them!

    1. Sebina - Thank you so much for saying that. It means a lot to me! :-)


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