The following article was published on April 17, 2003, as part of Variety’s Legends and Groundbreakers series.
Just as Jerry Lewis became the poster boy for muscular dystrophy, Bob Hope became the king of foxhole humor. As a tireless trouper for the USO, he took his unique brand of comedy to every corner of the nation and many parts of the world, often in the company of a comely starlet or beauty pageant queen.
As the single most visible entertainer to American GIs in peace and wartime, he functioned as a clownhero from WWII through Desert Storm. His Christmas shows performed for the U.S. troops overseas became an annual tradition. In the process, Hope developed personal relationships with every president from FDR to Bill Clinton.
During WWII, Hope’s commitment was no less than heroic. In summer 1944, he hopped from island to island in the South Pacific to entertain the troops — an emotional, as well as dangerous, journey for Hope and his colleagues. He logged over 30,000 miles and gave more than 150 performances.
His toughest stint as ambassadorial jester was during the Vietnam War. Politics had always become a staple of Hope’s comedy. Now, however, he sandwiched political commentary between jokes about hippies and antiwar demonstrators, denouncing peace activists as “antis” and the “lunatic fringe.”
A military entertainment coordinator said he was “out of tune” with the troops he entertained, a remark the official later disavowed.
In 1970 he helped coordinate a rally intended to “show Americans can have a good time together despite their differences.” “Honor America Day,” which was disrupted by demonstrators, was held in Washington, D.C., on July 4.
Despite all the brouhaha, Hope would become truly identified with the soldier; it has become the most enduring image of his life.