Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hope: Entertainer of the Century

Author:  Richard Zoglin
Genre:  Biography

Five Stars
The first definitive biography of Bob Hope, featuring exclusive and extensive reporting that makes the persuasive case that he was most important entertainer of the twentieth century.

Born in 1903, and until his death in 2003, Bob Hope was the only entertainer to achieve top-rated success in every major mass-entertainment medium, from vaudeville to television and everything in between. He virtually invented modern stand-up comedy. His tours to entertain US troops and patriotic radio broadcasts, along with his all-American, brash-but-cowardly movie character, helped to ease the nation’s jitters during the stressful days of World War II. He helped redefine the very notion of what it means to be a star: a savvy businessman, pioneer of the brand extension (churning out books, writing a newspaper column, hosting a golf tournament), and public-spirited entertainer whose Christmas military tours and tireless work for charity set the standard for public service in Hollywood. But he became a polarizing figure during the Vietnam War, and the book sheds new light on his close relationship with President Richard Nixon during those embattled years.

Bob Hope is a household name. However, as Richard Zoglin shows in this revelatory biography, there is still much to be learned about this most public of figures, from his secret first marriage and his stint in reform school, to his indiscriminate womanizing and his ambivalent relationship with Bing Crosby and Johnny Carson. Hope could be cold, self-centered, tight with a buck, and perhaps the least introspective man in Hollywood. But he was also a dogged worker, gracious with fans, and generous with friends.

Hope is both a celebration of an entertainer whose vast contribution has never been properly appreciated, and a complex portrait of a gifted but flawed man, who, unlike many Hollywood stars, truly loved being famous, appreciated its responsibilities, and handled celebrity with extraordinary grace.
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There are three people that come to mind as being for the masses, and for the ages:  John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart...and Bob Hope.  Having read the definitive John Wayne, still waiting for the Humphrey Bogart; I turned my attention to the soon-to-be-released biography Hope.  It is a volumnious work, nearly 500 pages, and the most thorough account of Bob Hope's life and career.

He was not an easy man to know; it isn't even clear whether he knew himself or not.  For it appears that Bob Hope was a creation, someone he imagined himself to be and became.  He was not a perfect human being: he took advantage of his wife, was rarely in his childrens' lives, and treated his employees with the consideration of since he was paying them, he owned them.  His worse offense was his womanizing:  of all the things he was adept at, this was one of his best.  I mean that in the sense that he was able to keep it out of the public eye for so many years that no one would have believed it.  He seemed such a consummate role model for a long and happy marriage that no one could have thought it true.  Yet it was, and went on until his own frailness deemed it impossible anymore.

Yet here was a man who gave his all for the public:  his very life.  Everything he did was for his audience, whoever they may be.  He was tireless in his efforts, doing something every minute of every day; and he expected no less from those who worked with him, calling them day and night.  He gave years of service to the Armed Services, literally hundreds of shows, many of them at Christmas, giving up his own holidays for those in uniform.

From his beginnings in vaudeville he moved to radio, with a weekly show for years, and to the movies, garnering an impressive career, many of his works still timeless today.  Simultanously working in radio and film, he moved into television, drawing some of the highest viewing records ever.  In between he managed to host an unparalleled number of Academy Award shows as host; fill charity seats and gather awards, including the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

Bob Hope is an icon for the times.  Watching his earlier movies you can see his comic timing, his expressive eyes, his play off the other actors.  His jokes were always top-notch; he knew exactly when to hit a punch line, when to wait for the laughter.  He knew how to market himself - he knew what needed to be done, how to do it, what would work best.  There will never be another like him; no one with such boundless energy, such comic timing, a sense that he belonged not to himself, but to us, the world.  Bob Hope's greatest feat (and gift to the world) was Bob Hope: the man who created himself.

In this biography,  Mr. Zoglin has gathered together all the pieces of the man and put them in one place as not only an excellent profile of Bob Hope, but the definitive one as well.  Highly recommended.

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