Bob Hope (1903 – 2003), born Leslie Townes Hope in England, was a popular comedian and actor whose active career spanned over six decades, from vaudeville, Broadway musicals and radio to television and movies. Hope's trademarks were his machine gun delivery of jokes, his theme song "Thanks for the Memory," and his distinctive profile; in 1977, when Hope guest starred on The Muppet Show episode 221, Gonzo expressed the opinion that were his nose not so small, Hope could have been a big star.
Hope and the Muppets
Bob Hope first met Kermit the Frog in the late 1950s. Hope posed for a newspaper photo with the abstract character and Paul Arnold, an entertainer described as the only human who appears on camera with the Muppets. The newspaper clipping was reproduced in a resource book for the Jim Henson's Fantastic World exhibit.
Hope's frequent collaborations with the Muppets were due to a shared respect between the old trooper and the puppet troupe, as recalled by gag writer Bob Mills:
“Hope and the Muppets enjoyed a mutual admiration that came across on the screen every time they appeared on one of our specials or he guested on their syndicated series. Throughout the seventies, they taped their weekly show at Elstree Studios near London and whenever we were in England to do a special, Hope was sure to drop in on them... His longtime friendship with them had to be the warmest comedian-puppet relationship since W. C. Fields and Charlie McCarthy.”
Hope and the Muppets also shared writers on occasion, such as Jack Rose and Jim Thurman. In Hope's Muppet Show episode, Kermit also alludes to such trademarks of Hope's act as "But I wanna tell you" or his habit of introducing himself as "Bob [Insert Gag] Hope." During The Muppet Show taping, Hope also recorded a skit with the Muppets for The Bob Hope All Star Christmas Comedy Special, airing that year, and served as host to the felt troupe on the Royal Variety Performance.
In 1978, Kermit and Miss Piggy appeared on NBC's Happy Birthday, Bob special, for his 75th birthday. Piggy in particular reveals her special affection for "Roberto" and sings "Secret Love" to reveal the special relationship existing between a man and a pig. They later talked sports with Bob on Bob Hope's Salute to the 75th Anniversary of the World Series.
Muppet Movie and Big Bird
In 1979, Hope was one of the many stars who played cameo roles in The Muppet Movie. He appears as an ice cream vendor who exhorts Fozzie Bear not to mix up his honey and dragonfly cones. Hope's film career began in 1934 and included such notable films as The Paleface, My Favorite Brunette, The Lemon Drop Kid (which introduced the song "Silver Bells"), and the Road pictures with Bing Crosby. However, The Muppet Movie would prove to be his penultimate appearance.
Hope also had a warm relationship with another Muppet Movie cameo guest star: Big Bird. In his book The Wisdom of Big Bird, Caroll Spinney spoke warmly of Hope, who he first encountered in the 1976 special Bob Hope's World of Comedy. As Spinney recalled, originally Kermit the Frog had been requested, to introduce a segment on animals, but since Jim Henson couldn't do it, Muppets Inc. offered Big Bird as a substitute. The script, prepared by Hope's staff writers, mostly contained typical jokes about Colonel Sanders and so on. Spinney thought he had a better opening. When Big Bird met Bob Hope during the warm-up, Spinney said "I thought *I* had a funny-looking beak." Hope guffawed and said "Open with those lines! They're funnier than our stuff."
To Spinney's surprise, in 1979, he heard Hope in a radio appearance say "I'm going to walk arm in arm down the main street of Beijing, Red China, with my old buddy Big Bird." So Big Bird joined Hope and other guest stars in Road to China. As Hope writer Bob Mills quipped, "Big Bird so totally captivated the kids, there's a whole generation over there now that's sworn off Peking duck." While the visit cemented the bond between Bob Hope and Big Bird (and Spinney), it also broke ground and set the precedent for Big Bird in China.
Hope slowed down in his later years, as his longevity netted increasing tributes from the media. Miss Piggy yet again paid her respects in the British special Bob Hope's Happy Birthday Homecoming, which aired on May 28, 1985. Hope was also inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987, along with Jim Henson, and continued to appear in annual specials through 1996, though health and age limited his own role to brief seated appearances. Hope made his final film appearance in John Landis' 1985 film Spies Like Us, in a cameo as himself (along with Frank Oz). In 1989, Hope appeared in "Miss Piggy's Hollywood," part of an episode in the series The Jim Henson Hour. Both the latter cameos played on Hope's propensity for golfing, a habit which inspired the PGA Tour to name the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in his honor.
Hope was also known for his many USO tours to entertain US troops during every military conflict from World War II through the Persian Gulf War; this facet was spoofed on Dinosaurs in 1992, with the character Bob Hack.
Kermit the Frog was later interviewed about Hope for the 2017 American Masters documentary, "This Is Bob Hope..."
- Several clips of Hope from My Favorite Brunette (1947) are used in the fifth season Muppet Babies episode "Muppets Not Included," during Piggy's "Celebrity Circles" game. At one point, Baby Animal bites Bob's finger.
- Mills, Bob. Hope Writer: My Life on the Road With Bob Hope. Chapter 7. Originally blogged April 2006, reposted in 2010
- Spinney, Caroll. The Wisdom of Big Bird. pgs. 75-77
- Bob Hope's ROAD TO BEIJING
- "The Bob Hope Show: Bob Hope's Happy Birthday Homecoming Special", listing on TV.com.