When comedian, film star, soft-shoe hoofer, and presidential-golfing buddy Bob Hope ascended to that big country club in the sky at the age of 100 (!) in 2003, his earthly send-off wasn’t all that he might have, well, hoped. The fulsome obituary notices lauded the breadth of his fame and achievements. His landmark status in entertainment history was undisputed. But the praise was threaded with sighs of regret that Hope had outlived his era and then some.
His Republican conservatism, his chumminess with business tycoons, generals, and politicians, the impersonal ticker-tape rat-a-tat of his punch lines as he scanned the cue cards on his later NBC specials—they had dated his appeal terribly, reducing him to a wax relic of the jaunty cutlass he had once been. Even a sympathetic mourner such as the critic Wilfrid Sheed lamented that Hope’s tireless, endless touring to entertain our men and women in uniform “turned America’s military commitments into a species of vaudeville circuit” and eclipsed the gleaming originality of his screen career. For posterity to give Movie Bob his just due, wrote Sheed, “Saint Bob of the Army Bases” must recede in memory.