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» Monday, July 28, 2003
Childhood is made up of voices.
There are the obvious ones: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, close neighbors, best friends, schoolmates and teachers.
Then there are the ones that become beloved from a lifetime of listening to the ever-present media. In my own time there was Salty Brine, the RI media personality everyone knew (especially when he announced the "no school" reports in the morning); the late Jack Comley, irritating and endearing talk show host–and the greater voices, those of national fame: Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, Murrow.
Some of these great voices belonged to classic entertainers. You knew just where you stood when these guys came on; you were in for a good time–Jack Benny with his cheap routine, George Burns listening with one eyebrow cocked while Gracie Allen nattered on about her brother, Bing Crosby and Perry Como singing mellow and comforting music.
And then there was Bob Hope. He did it all, from vaudeville to radio to movies to television to live performances. While he could essay dramatic roles, I, like most people, remembered him as the vocal wiseguy, with a ready quip for everyone from a general to a recalcitrant camel to the President of the United States. (Oh, most of his best routines were written for him, but his delivery was part of the magic and the laughter. No one could wag his eyebrows suggestively or grin as wickedly as Hope, and oh, that wounded face when someone one-upped him–or he lost that Oscar yet one more time!) What a dream come true it would have been to think of ripostes as quickly as Hope, to toss them as carelessly and effortlessly as the blowing clocks of the dandelion blossom!
If the voice and the antics of Bob Hope were a beloved constant of a child, they were even more welcome to a needier group of people. For decades Bob Hope and his volunteer "troop" went to outlandish, ungodly, and even dangerous places to entertain service men and women stationed all over the world. He brought a bit of light and laughter to homesick GIs and clerical workers and top brass with crawling insects below and bombs booming overhead, in snow and sleet and monsoon rainstorms to guys who had camped out in the muck for hours just to see him. For a little while they were away from screaming deserts and damp permafrost and steaming jungles; Bob Hope took them Home.
To Bob who sold Pepsodent and wangled with Colonna,
who tap danced with James Cagney
and who crossed the sands with Bing,
who sang "Silver Bells" to millions,
who ribbed Presidents of the United States and just plain joes...
thanks, Bob, for the memories...