Hope's file of jokes, kept in two large vaults, was immense, and covered everything from apples to zebras. The material fed not only his shows, but also his books and for many years a column for the Hearst newspaper chain.
During a one-hour show, he would use about 150 jokes and, except for television, never used cue cards. He constantly updated his material to suit the social and political climate of the day and the city or country in which he was performing.
Jokes came not only from his writers but also from friends and caddies, hotel bellmen and fans. "There's a straight line lying around in everyone's head," Hope liked to say. "All you've got to do is reach in and lift it."
As he grew older, he admittedly mellowed in his style and slowed slightly in the pace of his delivery, realizing that he didn't have to hammer a joke home anymore: "The audience and I know each other now. We've built up a relationship."
Even so, he never ceased updating and refining his material or watching the front rows to see who was laughing and who wasn't.
Hope's mastery of audiences never lessened over the years.
In an interview with Playboy Magazine in 1973, Hope was asked the secret of his comedy.
"Material has a lot to do with it, but the real secret is timing," Hope replied. "Not just of comedy but of life. It starts with life. Think of sports, even sex. Timing is the essence of life and definitely of comedy. There's a chemistry of timing between a comedian and an audience. If the chemistry is great, it's developed through the handling of the material, and the timing of it — how you get into the audience's head."
"The great ad-libbers are the ones with the best timing, like Don Rickles.... Timing shows more in ad-libs than anything else."
For his part, Rickles, who was on many of Hope's specials in the 1960s, recalled working with Hope as a lot of fun.
"He was also congenial but a real technician," Rickles told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. "When we did sketches they had to be exactly the way he thought of it. Of course, he was always right."
Hope called his success luck but couldn't help adding: "The harder I work, the luckier I get." His favorite joke, he used to say, was one on former President Ford: "I played golf with Ford today. He had a birdie, an eagle, an elk, a moose and a Mason."
And while older generations of Hope's fans stayed loyal to the end, over time a gap developed with younger audiences who might have been mystified at his enduring attraction.
In the biography "Bob Hope: A Life in Comedy," late night show host Conan O'Brien reflects on that gap.
"I don't think a lot of people in my generation saw his best work ..." O'Brien told author William Robert Faith. "If you go back and look at his movies ... like "Son of Paleface" or any of the Road movies, you're just amazed at his talent. He was so smooth and so precise."
O'Brien also noted that Hope's character development in these films was also unique.
"I think he was the first guy to master the fast-talking coward, the cowardly wise guy, the one who has a lot of bravado but when the tough guy sneaks up behind him, he's suddenly saying, 'Oh you've been working out, haven't you?' "
As fate would have it, Hope lived longer than all his great contemporaries — George Burns, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, Milton Berle and Jack Benny. He even lived longer than the congressman who announced his death prematurely on the floor of the House. He died Sunday on the 50th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.