[FOUNTAIN]Thanks for the memoryWatching them now, I think that many of the motion pictures and the shows that Bob Hope performed in look childish. They do not differ much from the Korean comedy of Gu Bong-seo and Bae Sam-ryong in the time of black-and-white television. Nevertheless, high praise ― such as “great citizen” or “world’s best entertainer” follow his name. I think that is because he produced laughter at the time and the place where they were most needed.
Mr. Hope was born in an environment not familiar with laughter. When he was 4, family moved to United States from London because of poverty. As bricks replaced stone at that time, his father, a mason, lost his job and became a drunk. Born the fifth of seven sons and daughters, young Hope learned the ways of survival; he talked fast, he read others’ minds swiftly and he did not hesitate to use his fists. He joked that the reason he was good at tap dancing because he learned it while he waited at the bathroom door at home.
He poured laughter onto the American people during the World War II era. “The Road to Singapore,” the first of his famous “road” movies, was released in 1940. Six pictures with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour moved in location from Singapore to other areas of the world like Morocco and Bali, and made him a box-office star. The plots were always the same; he went through unending trouble in foreign lands to snare the beauty, Ms. Lamour, but the winner was always his rival, the handsome Mr. Crosby. In those movies, he showed a character who loved women and money, who talked big but was timid, snobbish but friendly ― traits that are familiar to ordinary Americans. Woody Allen said that Mr. Hope was everybody’s uncle next door. He opened a new era of comedy that was different from “clowns” like Charlie Chaplin.
He liked to visit troops on the front lines. He started his GI morale tours during World War II, then he moved his stage to Korea, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia, the latter during the first Gulf War. For 50 years, he relieved the soldiers’ fears of death with laughter. Because he visited GIs at war, he was often the target of anti-war groups. Marlon Brando said dismissively that Mr. Hope would go anywhere for applause.
For Americans still at war, his departure is sad. His theme song was “Thanks for the Memories.” He will be remembered by the American people as a special hero.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.