Last November I was fortunate enough to win a copy of Hope by Richard Zoglin from Aurora at Once Upon a Screen. I spent the next six months slowly consuming the book. (This has nothing to do with the writing, which is superb. I'm just a busy gal during the school year.) I was hoping the biography would grant a peek behind Hope's comedic mask, perhaps uncovering what made him tick, what dreams may have gone unrealized, what inner demons plagued him, and what served as his daily inspiration. None of this was revealed, but not through the author's fault. If Hope had deeper aspects of his persona, he kept them well hidden from his closest friends and family. With Hope, what you saw is what you got: an entertainer through and through. He was on the go 24/7, the poster child of workalcoholics.
But oh what a poster child! Hope worked hard to achieve success, and successful he was--in every medium he touched. Therefore, Zoglin's biography becomes a study on the evolution of entertainment over the last century. Hope worked his way up through vaudeville, landing on Broadway. While on stage, he began dabbling in radio where his show would eventually reach first place in the Hooper ratings. On the silver screen, his movies were box-office hits regardless of the strength of the material. He wrote several books, finding himself on the bestseller list multiple times. In television, his specials would garner record-breaking Nielsen ratings year after year.
Part of Hope's success can be attributed to his revolutionary vision, which Zoglin details throughout the biography. Hope was the first to hire a team of writers devoted to developing his material--a common practice now but unheard of in the 1930s. He had the foresight to research the locale of upcoming venues (via his writers, whom he would send ahead of time), so his jokes would be relatable to the audience. He took "Thanks for the Memories," the song he performed in The Big Broadcast of 1938, and turned it into a "branding tool" by reworking the lyrics to fit his radio and USO appearances, forever bonding his name with the tune. He pioneered breaking the fourth wall in films, a comedic device that made the audience feel a special connection with the comedian--like they were in on the joke with him. And this was the other part of Hope's success: his ability to create a pseudo intimate relationship with his viewers and listeners (and I'm not talking about his many extra-martial dalliances which Zoglin also objectively covers).
At the cost of his family life--he likened his stays at home to "doing another personal appearance, only with meals" (198)--Hope remained accessible to the public. If someone requested his presence at a charity event, he was there regardless of the organization's prestige. (Zoglin reports that Hope entertained at 562 benefits during two years in the early 1940s. Age did not slow Hope down: he made 174 appearances in 1983.) If a fan wrote him a letter, more than likely he answered it. Per Zoglin, "He replied to an amazingly high proportion of his fan letters--with the help of a battery of assistants, to be sure, but with the kind of care and personal detail that only he could have supplied" (10). He entertained the troops through numerous wars--from World War II to the Persian Gulf, in an attempt to raise the soldiers' morale and bring them a slice of home. His success during the early wars led to a loyal fan base. (Vietnam was not a shining moment for Hope, who was on the wrong side of the generation gap.) All this took time, but Hope valued his fans. Zoglin quotes Hope:
Never make 'em think you don't care. Your time's not your own. You owe 'em. (486)
Entertainment was not just a job for Hope. Entertainment was his life.
Zoglin, Richard. Hope: Entertainer of the Century. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. Print.
Interested in learning more about Bob and Bing's relationship? Read my Dueling Divas post which cites info from Zoglin's biography.