Thursday, May 29, 2003

HOPE'S DIAMOND: Back in the fall of 1997, I opened up a Dead Pool among my friends to predict the order of passing of three legends seemingly on the brink of death: Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope.

Obviously, of the three, only one is no longer with us. This, despite the fact that I made "Bob Hope's not dead yet?" my recurrent shtick on Randy Cohen's NewsQuiz on for quite some time (see examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), because, face it, dude's been near-embalmed for quite some time.

But today, Leslie Townes Hope turns 100 years old, and given all the abuse I've flung I think the karma police would want me to acknowledge it in a polite way.

For my generation, Bob Hope was a fairly regular television presence, if not the mega-star he was in the -and-Crosby years. He was the one who introduced the college football All-Americans each year. He had the seasonal specials with the stars. He told well-timed jokes with knowing asides to the audience. He visited the troops. A lot.

What we didn't appreciate, however, was his influence on American comedy. We didn't understand how innovative he was in fourth-wall-breaking in his films, in the creation of the Hope "character" with such confident swagger but romantic bumbling, in opening the comedic space for snark to prevail.

So on his 100th birthday, let's not think of Hope as a tired, repetitive comic; a serial adulterer or a Vietnam apologist who refuses to die. Let's remember the innovator, the only man Congress ever named an honorary veteran of the United States Armed Forces, a true legendary entertainer. Thanks for the memories, Bob, and may you celebrate your remaining years in peace and good health.

Articles to read: Jerry Nachman's remembrance in the SF Chronicle, USA Today's List of 100 Hope Highlights, and the CNN and BBC tributes.

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