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When Bob Hope Used His Fame for Good

When Bob Hope Used His Fame for Good

When Bob Hope Used His Fame for Good

If you were to stick a pin in a timeline to find a key moment in Hollywood philanthropy, it could land on May 6, 1941. That’s the date Bob Hope took to a stage at an Army Air Corps Base in Riverside, California, and opened the curtains on the very first USO Camp Show.

The United Service Organization had been launched that year — at the suggestion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and through the combined efforts of the YMCA, YWCA, Salvation Army, Jewish Welfare Board, Catholic Community Charities and Travelers Aid Society — as a non-governmental agency designed to provide relief and recreation to swelling numbers of U.S. troops who would soon find themselves dispatched overseas to fight during World War II. It was an unprecedented partnership in volunteerism and in many ways laid the track for how many philanthropic organizations operate today.

But it was Hope who turned the USO into a literal cause célèbre, kicking off a decades-long tradition of stars entertaining GIs on far-flung military bases across the globe. From Marilyn Monroe to Scarlett Johansson and Frank Sinatra to Jon Stewart, thousands of singers, dancers, actors and comedians over the past 83 years have schlepped to war zones in places like Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan, doing their patriotic best to bring a bit of Hollywood glamour to the front lines.

After that first show in Riverside, Hope continued visiting troops for the next 50 years, twirling his beloved golf putter as he spread his inimitable cornball cheer (“To give you an idea of how long these guys have been at sea,” he cracked during a show on an aircraft carrier in 1967, “they just made Phyllis Diller their pinup girl”).

His final tour was in 1990, in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, during the Gulf War in Iraq. Hope — or “G.I. Bob,” as the troops nicknamed him — was 87 at the time. He died in July 2003 at the age of 100.

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This story first appeared in the July 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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