Remembering Bob Hope
From a National Catholic Register essay
By Steven D. Greydanus
According to Leonard Maltin, he was perhaps "the most popular entertainer in the history of Western civilization." A star of vaudeville, radio, cinematic shorts and feature films, and television, his claims to fame also include his tireless dedication to entertaining American troops abroad and his humanitarian efforts.
Seven years ago, after nearly six decades of marriage to an active Roman Catholic, Bob Hope was received into the Catholic Church, and became a frequent communicant. His funeral Mass was celebrated on July 30 at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood, and on Sunday, August 3, he was remembered at a memorial Mass celebrated by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C. at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
For decades, Hope resisted baptism and Church membership, though he often attended Mass both with and without his wife, Dolores, and offered financial support to Church endeavors. An online acquaintance of my wife’s remembers attending daily Masses with Dolores Hope at St. Charles Borromeo and asking her, "Is Mr. Hope going to become Catholic soon?" — to which Dolores would reply: "Keep those rosaries coming, sweetheart." Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles has stated that Hope used to joke that Dolores did "enough praying to take care of both of us" — but in the end the prayers she and others offered on his behalf finally won out.
On the screen, Hope generally played rather antiheroic characters, vain, self-absorbed, cowardly, and womanizing — flaws that allegedly weren’t wholly absent from his life off the screen. In some cases these qualities overcome other aspects of the film. For example, the otherwise enjoyable comedy Where There’s Life ends on a sour note by not giving us the Hope character’s long-deferred wedding to his long-suffering fiancée (whom he apparently loves, and who apparently loves and even trusts him), instead closing with Hope kissing another woman.
In his better pictures, however, his character’s foibles are kept in perspective, sometimes even partially redeemed. And while his films are sometimes slightly naughty, they’re never dirty or lascivious. In 1969, asked by the Catholic Herald of Milwaukee about the increasing use of sex and nudity in entertainment, Hope spoke disparagingly both about "those who are doing it and those who are watching… I like jokes and stories. But when you see some of this stuff, it’s too much."