With a crooked grin, scooped snoot and rapid-fire delivery, Bob Hope lightened the load for millions, whether in a theater on Broadway, a studio in Hollywood, an aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan or a foxhole in Korea.
Among his favorite playhouses, however, were golf courses, where he honed his handicap, teed off with biting one-liners, and raised millions for charity and the military.
"The only place where Bob felt more at home than on the stage was on the golf course," former president Bill Clinton says. "Those of us who had the pleasure to tee off alongside him saw him bring the same passion, wit and skill to golf that marked his comedy routine."
Beginning Saturday and running through 2009, the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., pays tribute to Hope's passion for golf in the exhibit Bob Hope: Shanks for the Memory, with the largest collection of Hope memorabilia placed in public display. It features sets designed to reflect locations significant in Hope's life, a sampling of his 54 honorary degrees and costumes from his TV shows.
The Bob Hope Theater will feature some of his best known golf skits and emphasize the more than 700-plus USO trips he took with stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and Marilyn Monroe to entertain troops, from World War II through the Gulf War.
"People will be astonished to see and realize just what Bob Hope meant to the world," says golf icon and good friend Arnold Palmer, who won the Hope Chrysler Classic a record five times and will host this year's 50th anniversary of the event. "What he meant to the country, to the troops, to comedy, to the game of golf. He was a true American."
Born Leslie Townes Hope in a London suburb in 1903, the former boxer, soda jerk and paper boy eventually played more than 2000 golf courses before he passed away in 2003. The golf bug bit Hope early, and he spent decades working on his game.
"Just when he would think he had his swing down, something would happen and he would be a basket case," says his daughter, Linda. "And part of Dad's challenge is he had too much good advice – and he listened to it all."
Some of that advice came from the game's greatest players, including Palmer, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. Hope also got an earful from Crosby on the many roads they traveled together.
Hope was a great ambassador for golf and did more to popularize the game than any non-professional golfer except perhaps former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Hope was friends with 11 presidents and played golf with six.
The most powerful foursome in the game's history teed off in 1995 in Hope's tourney, when former presidents Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford played with the PGA Tour's Scott Hoch.
Hope accompanied the group.
"Bob kept us laughing the whole time," Bush says. "He would drop a ball a short iron away from the green, hit it up, and then he hummed until we all holed out. He joked his way along. I loved the man.
"Bob's impact on this country is incalculable. He was bigger than life and universally revered."
Hope's love for the game was evident during his USO Tours to more than 40 countries. As he mocked his own vanities and cowardice throughout thousands of routines on ship decks, at supply depots and bomber bases, in hospital wards and foxholes, Hope's favorite prop was a 3-wood or driver.
"Hey, the USO has given me things that will stay with me the rest of my life ... so my doctor tells me," Hope once joked. "But I'm not complaining. How else would I get to travel with Carroll Baker, Jill St. John, Lana Turner, Ann-Margret, and Raquel Welch and have my wife wish me 'bon voyage'?"
Hope spent his holidays entertaining U.S. troops and was, for many soldiers, a wise-cracking Santa Claus who made laughter his greatest gift.
When told he was being sent to Vietnam for the first time, Hope said it was the Pentagon's idea. "They thought they'd try a new bomb," he said.
While Hope didn't bomb, in 1964 he was almost bombed when downtown Saigon took the brunt of a surprise attack. In a captured secret Viet Cong document, it was revealed that some Viet Cong leadership rebuked its Saigon terrorists for failing to kill Hope during that first visit to Vietnam. The bombs, according to the document, exploded 10 minutes before Hope and his troupe arrived.
In 1969, Hope and his entourage arrived off the coast of Vietnam on Vice Admiral Joseph Moorer's aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ranger. The memory remains vivid for Moorer, now 86 and living in Jacksonville.
Not only did Hope entertain 5,000 troops on Moorer's ship with a two-hour show, he took helicopters to a hospital ship 20 miles away for another show. He attended midnight mass on the ship, then watched NFL films into the wee hours. After three hours of sleep, he left the next morning for more shows in Vietnam.
"What a man," Moorer says. "His visits to the troops over all of those years meant so much to so many. Everyone admired Bob Hope."
His USO work won him a series of honors, including the Medal of Merit he received from Eisenhower in 1946, the Gold Medal of Freedom from former president John Kennedy in 1963, and the congressional designation signed by Clinton that named Hope an Honorary Veteran, the first such award granted in American history.
"Bob honored those who bravely served our country through three wars and six decades, bringing comedy to audiences who had very little to laugh about, and reminding them, and all the rest of us that even through war and despair, if there is laughter, there is hope," Clinton says.
And Hope brought home more than awards.Golf caps, golf balls, golf clubs, golf bags, sweaters and shoes all were accumulated during his time.
"He got souvenirs on all his USO visits. It's just a staggering amount of stuff from a staggering amount of places he visited from all the people he knew and all the people he touched.
"The hall of fame will provide a window to my Dad's life."