Bob Hope Lights Up a Century

Looking back at a comedic life honed in '20s vaudeville and honored in '00s websites, Bob Hope once told this newspaper: "If I had my life to live over again, I wouldn't have the time."

It was the type of rapid-fire wisecrack that made him an American treasure of quips (even if he was born in England). He was a firehose of one-liners but, long after the jokes were forgotten, he left audiences with a smile and, well, hope. No wonder his theme song was "Thanks for the Memory."

He was born the year the Wright brothers took flight, and during a century of wars, Hope helped hundreds of thousands of soldiers fly over their frontline fears by winging them one gag after another.

His humor touched four generations of fans, although his type of soft-elbowing ridicule barely survived the rise of bitter, razor-like comedians after the '60s - many of whom owe him thanks for inventing the monologue that taps current topics.

But even into the '80s, Hope's TV shows and reruns of the '40s "Road" movies with Bing Crosby brought families together to enjoy his sassy and playful comedy. (By then he was wealthy enough to give millions to charity, usually for children.)

While he was a friend of presidents from FDR on, Hope won the gratitude and hearts of foot soldiers and others. He lit up the world with a kind of laughter that never needs to end.

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