Richard Zoglin has written HOPE: ENTERTAINER OF THE CENTURY. I have a strong interest in Bob Hope because he plays a cameo role in my third mystery (due out next year). So I’ve read several biographies of the man, plus several of his own autobiographies, and I usually stop when I get to the point around 1925, which is when my books are set. I don’t want to be influenced too much by the person he became, which was very different from the person he was as a young man.
Some things don’t jibe with how we think of Bob Hope: the amateur boxing, his work as a chicken plucker, a shameless womanizer, and the shoplifting that got him sent to reform school. As my own fictional character, Jessie, was a shoplifter during her young years in vaudeville, she had that in common with Bob Hope. (Who, in those days, went by Leslie Hope or Les Hope, his real name.) Bob and his dance partner did a vaudeville act where the two men danced with Siamese-twin sisters, something we would deplore today as a freak show, but it was popular and gave the sisters a way to make a living. He wasn’t much of an entertainer in 1925, still trying to find his niche. It would be some years before comedy beat out dancing, but he never really left the dancing, did he? In all those silly “road” pictures, he and Bing Crosby usually do a soft-shoe routine.
On the whole, I admire Bob Hope–not everything about him; he was flawed like all of us. I hope I’ve given him a fair shake in my portrayal of him in his younger years in vaudeville.