With the pomp and circumstance usually preserved for heads of state, plus a lot of laughs, the family of Bob Hope and the show business community on Wednesday honored the legendary entertainer with two precisely planned, by-invitation-only memorials.
The day-long tributes to Hope, who died July 27 at the age of 100, began with a 10 a.m. mass celebrated before about 500 people and conducted by the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Toluca Lake, near the Hopes’ seven-acre residential compound.
Besides the family of the late, English-born comedian, including his wife of nearly 70 years, Dolores, guests included Nancy Reagan, Gerald and Betty Ford, Gen. William Westmoreland, former California Gov. Pete Wilson, Kathryn Crosby (widow of Bing), and a roster of names worthy of a Bob Hope TV special: Mickey Rooney, Kelsey Grammer, Tom Selleck, Barbara Eden, Loni Anderson, Phyllis Diller, Joey Heatherton and Raquel Welch.
Citing the many fundraisers Bob did for the church (while Dolores is a devout Catholic, Hope always said his religion was comedy), Cardinal Mahony recalled that he once asked, “Bob, why don’t you become a Catholic?” Hope’s reply: “I don’t need to, because Dolores does enough praying for both of us.”
Among the four eulogists were U.S. California Senator Diane Feinstein, who said that President Harry Truman always kept on his desk a one-word telegram that Hope sent him after Truman’s surprise re-election over his Republican opponent, Tom Dewey. The one word: “Unpack.”
In other eulogies, General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, personalized Hope’s enormous contributions to military morale with his shows for people in the service; writer Larry Gelbart recalled Hope’s two-word telegram to his secretary on her wedding night (“Act Surprised”); and son Tony Hope, one of Bob’s four adopted children, earned the applause of the congregation when he closed by saying of his father: “He’s not gone. He’s just gone on ahead, and someday we’ll all catch up. See ya, Dad.”
Following a lunch at Lakeside Country Club, again near the Hope home (starting at dawn, police barricades shut down San Fernando Valley streets to accommodate guests), the tribute moved on to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
With musical accompaniment from the Les Brown Band, which had been with Hope since his radio days, guest speakers included Brooke Shields, who spoke sweetly of her constant desire to win “Mr. Hope’s approval,” and veteran comic Sid Caesar, who stopped the show — and earned a standing ovation – by speaking absolute gibberish in four different languages, all in tribute to his fellow master comic.
But it was Hope’s longtime writer Mort Lachman who movingly summed up Bob Hope when he turned to the giant photo of his former employer that hung over the stage and said, “Good night, sweet prince. You succeeded in doing what no other Englishman has ever done – conquered America.”