Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Thanks for the Memory

I recently finished reading Richard Zoglin's biography of Bob Hope. I think Hope's life provides some useful lessons for all of us to consider as we travel our own path in life.

Practice- Many know Hope for his movies, NBC specials and USO tours but Hope honed his entertainment skills over many thousands of hours on vaudeville stages before he ever got his first break in a Broadway show. It was on those small stages in many small towns that he honed his comedic timing, acting, singing and dancing skills. He eventually made his way to New York and got a couple of Broadway shows that also brought him to the attention of radio. Hope did not get his first film role in Hollywood until he was age 35. However, he was fully prepared to make the most of it. Within several years he was one the biggest stars on radio and in films.

Hard Work- No one in Hollywood worked harder than Bob Hope. He did a weekly radio show beginning in 1937 that lasted into the 1950's. At the same time, at the height of his career he was making 2-3 movies a year and he sometimes did 150 personal stage appearances per year for charities or with his own road show. In addition, he did his famous USO Tours for troops around the world beginning in World War II and continuing in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Many of these tours were over the Christmas holidays. He later leveraged these shows into specials on NBC that were always among the highest rated shows of the year. He also hosted the Academy Awards 18 times including the first televised Oscar ceremony in 1953. No one else has hosted more than 8 times.

Keep It Relevant- One of the hallmarks of Hope's comedic success was the fact that he always strived to make his comedy routine relevant to his audience. Hope was the first comedian to build his routines around the "events of the day". Wherever he performed he would always sent an advance team of his writers out to the locale to get "local color" to build into his act. He did this even on his USO tours where he would build jokes about the local scene or the Commanding Officer. If he was on a university campus, and he did many college shows, he did the same. Hope knew that people laughed at what they were most familiar with and what was relevant to them.

Staying Active- I grew up watching those Bob Hope specials and he always seemed ageless to me. He was still going strong on TV well into his 80's with four NBC specials per year. He did his last USO show in the Persian Gulf at age 87 over the Christmas holidays. Staying active as long as he did he undoubtedly had something to do with the fact that Hope live to the ripe old age of 100.

Understanding the Brand- Hope was a very thoughtful man when considering his brand and his audience. He worked hard to respond to almost every note he got from a fan. He was one of the first entertainers to understand the power of cross-marketing across different medias. His radio show helped promote his personal appearances. He was a tough negotiator with NBC to insure that his specials were heavily promoted to insure good ratings. He kept several full time PR people on retainer to promote his brand and seek awards. For example, one of Hope's biggest awards was the Presidential Medal of Freedom that was bestowed on him in 1969. However, Hope had his people lobbying for this award for years before he finally received it. Hope knew that, first and foremost, he had to promote his brand. He could not rely on anyone else to be as focused on his success as he was.

Still Only a Human- Despite the giant of a man Hope was, he was still human. His hectic work schedule and frequent travel made him somewhat aloof from his family of four adopted children. As much as he was "on" when he got on stage he was usually withdrawn at home. He lacked work=life balance in his life. He also was a notorious womanizer who cheated consistently on his wife, Dolores, who he was married to for 69 years. Those PR people helped him in other ways during his career in keeping a lid on most of his dalliances over the years.

Bob Hope...a true American legend (although he was born in England and did not immigrate to the United States until he was 5 year of age). There are a lot of life lessons in looking at the life of Bob Hope.

Here is a link to Bob Hope and Shirley Ross singing "Thanks for the Memory" that became Hope's signature song. It is from his first feature film, "The Big Broadcast of 1938." The song, written by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1938.

Bob Hope...thanks for the memory (and memories).

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