I didn't needs to see the photograph of beautiful Hollywood actress Raquel Welch to describe the mini-skirt she wore several decades ago when I saw her perform during a stop at the military post where I served during the Vietnam War. I remembered it as a blue knit skirt with a white stripe just above the thigh-high hemline.
When the photograph was later showed to me after I had described her outfit, the owner of the picture knew I had been there in the audience when Raquel danced across the stage with legendary entertainer Bob Hope. Showing me the photograph which prompted my reminiscences of the touring Bob Hope entertainers was Bob Hope jr., great nephew of the star.
We were in his home in Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland. The photograph was one of thousands of items Bob Hope Jr. had collected and inherited from his family treasures. "My grandfather gave me a box of pictures and said, 'Hey! You organizes these," said Hope Jr. That was several years ago and the great nephew of the entertainer has a home filled with memorabilia.
Entertainer Bob Hope grew up in Cleveland, having immigrated to the city at the age of 3 when his parents moved from England. As a youngster, the son sold newspapers on the Cleveland East side. Bored with high school, he dropped out, took dance lesson, and eventually found a spot in vaudeville. The son was named Leslie Townes Hope, but he eventually changed it to Bob, feeling more people would chat easily with someone named Bob as opposed to Leslie.
Eventually, in the 1930s, Hope's jokes and friendly patter was so successful, Hollywood called and he found spots in comic bits on the silver screen. All along the way, there were items and props he used in his repertoir of comedy, movies, and radio. The family in Cleveland -- Hope's parents and six brothers -- collected the items. Eventually, they got passed down to Bob Hope Jr., who carefully handles derby and straw hats once worn by his great uncle.
The nephew is the grandson of Hope's brother, but got his name directly from the entertainer himself. "My dad was taking him to the Cleveland airport," said Hope, "and my mother was pregnant with me, so Bob said, 'If it's a boy, I'll take credit for that." Bob Hope Jr. was born.
Throughout the Chagrin Falls home, there are references to the great entertainer who starred on stage, screen, and television. He also made a personal commitment to entertaining American military servicemen and women. His first entertainment show was at a military post in California in 1941 before the U.S. was propelled into World War II by the end of that year.
From that point, Hope entertained troops, showing up on military installations, usually with a group of beautiful Hollywood starlets who danced across stages for wide-eyed soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen. "I brought a little bit of home with me," Hope would say introducing the women to the hollers of the men.
Throughout World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East, Hope entertained troops. During the peacetimes, he was still there, usually missing Christmas Day in his own home. It was always for the troops. "The chances he took flying over Vietnam and some of the zones where he could hav been blown to bits with everybody on board," said Matt Blowers, a songwriting friend of Hope Jr. who helps tell the story of the entertainer through song and written articles.
That was how I remembered seeing Bob Hope on a Vietnam hillside near Pleiku, South Vietnam. The date was December, 1967, and I was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division. Bob Hope brought Raquel, singer Barbara McNair, and several others stars with him. As Hope reminded us, it was a bit of home. We soldiers shouted and screamed at the sights of the women in sexy dresses dancing across a makeshift stage and talking to us guys.
For an hour or so, the war had stopped for us. Really, it hadn't stopped, but our minds drifted across the stage with the songs of the women and the jokes and friendly patter of the great comedian. To this day, every time I think of Bob Hope, I recall that day.
Years later, in 1993, when the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium saw its last Indians baseball game, it was Bob Hope who came to give it a good sendoff. He sang his signature theme song, "Thanks for the Memories." I watched in awe at the aging entertainer, whose voice did not have the resonance it had had years before. Time had taken its toll. But the spirit was still there and still strong.
In the home of Bob Hope Jr. all those memories came rushing forth about the man who lived 100 years and entertained most of them.
The collection in the home is a private one. But there is a public collection of Bob Hope memorabilia at the Western Reserve Historical Society of the Cleveland History Center. It will be displayed through June 30, 2017. That exhibit is at 10825 East Boulevard in Cleveland's University Circle neighborhood.
Thanks for letting me write about a great entertainer who knew how to touch my heart and bring with him a bit of home when I was serving in a far-away country in a war zone. For Bob Hope, I can only say "thanks for the memories."