Bob Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, London, England, the fifth of seven sons. The family lived in Weston-super-Mare, then Whitehall and St George in Bristol, before moving to Cleveland, Ohio in 1908.
From the age of 12, he worked at a variety of odd jobs at a local boardwalk. He would busk, doing dance and comedy patter to make extra money. He entered many dancing and amateur talent contests and won prizes for his impersonation of Charlie Chaplin. He also boxed briefly and unsuccessfully under the name Packy East.
Silent film comedian Fatty Arbuckle saw one of his performances with his first partner, Lloyd "Lefty" Durbin, and in 1925 got the pair steady work with Hurley's Jolly Follies. Within a year, Hope had formed an act called the Dancemedians with George Byrne and the Hilton Sisters, conjoined twins who had a tap dancing routine. Hope and his partner George Byrne had an act as a pair of Siamese twins as well, and both danced and sang while wearing blackface, before friends advised Hope that he was funnier as himself. In 1929, he changed his first name to "Bob".
Hope, like other stage performers, made his first films in New York. Educational Pictures employed him in 1934 for a short-subject comedy, Going Spanish. Paramount Pictures signed Hope for the 1938 film The Big Broadcast of 1938. During a duet with Shirley Ross as accompanied by Shep Fields and his orchestra, Hope introduced the song later to become his trademark, "Thanks for the Memory", which became a major hit and was praised by critics. The sentimental, fluid nature of the music allowed Hope's writers to later invent endless variations of the song to fit specific circumstances, such as bidding farewell to troops while on tour. Hope became one of Paramount's biggest stars, and would remain with the studio through the 1950s. Hope's regular appearances in Hollywood films and radio made him one of the best known entertainers in North America, and at the height of his career he was also making a large income from live concert performances. As a movie star, he was best known for "My Favorite Brunette" and the highly successful "Road" movies in which he starred with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Although Hope was never nominated for an Oscar for his performances, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honoured him with four honorary awards, and in 1960, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Hope first appeared on television in 1932 during a test transmission from an experimental CBS studio in New York. His career in broadcasting spanned 64 years and included a long association with NBC. Hope's Christmas specials were popular favourites and often featured a performance of "Silver Bells" from his 1951 film The Lemon Drop Kid, done as a duet with an often much younger female guest star such as Olivia Newton-John, Barbara Eden, and Brooke Shields.
In October 1956, Hope appeared on an episode of the most-viewed program in America at the time, I Love Lucy. He said, upon receiving the script: "What? A script? I don't need one of these". Hope's 1970 and 1971 Christmas specials filmed in Vietnam in front of military audiences at the height of the war are on the list of the Top 30 U.S. Network Primetime Telecasts of All Time.
In 1992, Bob Hope made a guest appearance as himself on The Simpsons, in the episode "Lisa the Beauty Queen".
Hope performed his first United Service Organizations show on May 6, 1941, at March Field, California. He continued to travel and entertain troops for the rest of World War II and later during the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War. When overseas he almost always performed in Army fatigues as a show of support for his audience. Hope's USO career lasted half a century, during which he headlined approximately 60 tours. Hope appeared in so many theaters of war over the decades that it was often cracked that "Where there's death, there's Hope".
Hope was an avid golfer. He was introduced to the game in the 1930s, and eventually played to a four handicap. In 1978, he putted against a then two-year-old Tiger Woods in a television appearance on The Mike Douglas Show.
Hope's first wife was his vaudeville partner Grace Louise Troxell, whom he married in 1933. When the marriage record was unearthed some years later, Hope denied that the marriage had any substance and said they had quickly divorced. There were rumors that he fathered a daughter with Troxell and that he continued to send generous checks to her despite a widely documented reputation for frugality. In 1934 Bob Hope married Dolores Reade, and adopted four children - Linda, Anthony, Nora and Kelley. From them he had four grandchildren.
Hope celebrated his 100th birthday on May 29, 2003. To mark this event, the intersection of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles, California was named Bob Hope Square and his centennial was declared Bob Hope Day in 35 states. Hope spent the day privately in his Toluca Lake, Los Angeles home where he had lived since 1937.
Even at 100, Hope was said to have maintained his self-deprecating sense of humor, quipping, "I'm so old, they've canceled my blood type."
Beginning in 2000, Hope's health steadily declined and he was hospitalized several times before his death. On July 27, 2003, Bob Hope died at his home in Toluca Lake. According to one of Hope's daughters, when asked on his deathbed where he wanted to be buried, he told his wife, "Surprise me." He was interred in the Bob Hope Memorial Garden at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles, where his mother is also buried.
I grew up with six brothers. That's how I learned to dance - waiting for the bathroom.