Independence Day. A day to honor great Americans. As the Bible says, let us now praise famous men (Ecclesiastes). So, today, I'd like to salute one of the greatest.
He was born in England but he's as American as ketchup.
He never led 100,000 men to their deaths, but he's one of the most beloved military figures of all time. A great general once said he was worth 20 divisions to his country.
He ranks in public esteem somewhere between Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and jelly beans. Mention his name and people smile. His whole life has been a requited love affair with America.
He's America's drugstore cowboy. He elevated the art of the wisecrack to literature. He is a man without malice, an artist without temperament.
He has played shows in freezing rain, tropical heat. He has crash-landed planes, rode asthmatic buses over mountain passes, he has given unstintingly of himself for causes great and small.
He has played the Palace, Broadway's and Buckingham's, but he has also played lodge hall benefits for burned-out buddies you never heard of. The phrase, "Have tux, will travel," was invented for him.
But if there is one thing in life Leslie Townes Hope would have been besides America's most beloved comedian, it's a world-class athlete. He may be America's No. 1 sports Walter Mitty.
He tried prizefighting (under the nom du ring , "Packy East") but likes to boast he was the only fighter they had to carry in as well as out of the ring. He was a knockout artist. No one was any better than he at getting knocked out.
He couldn't play for a big league baseball team--so he bought one. He couldn't coach a pro football team, so he bought into one of those, too. He always said the greatest regret of his life was not buying the Rams outright when he had the chance 25 years ago.
But the really great sports passion of Bob Hope's life is golf. I don't suppose anybody alive has ever done more for the game, not Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, not anybody, except possibly the Scotsman who invented it in the first place.
The Scots invented it, but Hope and Bing Crosby popularized it. When they used to do their wartime fund-raising tours, the game was popularly believed to be the private reserve of guys who ran railroads or owned oil wells.
It was restricted to posh country clubs the average Joe got into only for school dances.
Hope changed all that. He brought the game down to the level of the common man. If Hope could play it, anybody could.
Although he was, no one ever thought of Bob Hope as a rich man. Because he never acted like one.
He lived in the same house in Hollywood for 45 years because it was near a golf course. He was never in it, anyway.
For more than 50 years, Bob Hope has been either on a tee or on a stage or an airplane. His standard joke was his kids thought his name was, "Goodby Daddy."
Hope always thought life was an easy little par-three where he got a stroke, anyway, and he lived it accordingly.
Hope has slept in the White House, dined with kings, golfed with presidents, but he has never once in 82 years taken himself seriously.
He will die with a quip, you can make book on that. Bob Hope doesn't play Bob Hope. Bob Hope is Bob Hope.
And, where there's Hope, there's golf. Bob has collected his golf experiences in a tome titled, "Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker," subtitled "My Lifelong Love Affair With Golf."
It's as relaxed as a Saturday morning round with your brother-in-law, as much fun as a birdie.
It is filled with the nostalgia of 50 years in the sun. Hope, happily, never got too good at the game. Being Bob Hope, he wouldn't want to. A comedian, to be great, must be loved.
Some of the stories are well-worn but still funny. For Bob, the game was a daily sitcom with a friendly cast of characters. Like:
President Ford--"The man who made golf a contact sport. There are over 50 golf courses in Palm Springs, and Jerry Ford never knows which one he's playing till he tees off. His cart is the one with the Red Cross painted on top. I try to make it a foursome when I play with him--the President, myself, a paramedic and a faith healer. The only man who can play four courses simultaneously."
Billy Graham--"How would you like to play 18 holes and have it raining just on you?"
Ex-ballplayer Joe Garagiola--"When Joe was playing ball, he could never hit a curve. Well, he can now."
Crooner Perry Como--"We were all complimenting Perry for keeping his head down until we realized he'd fallen asleep."
On blind golfer Charley Boswell--"Charley tells me I've got the worst swing he's ever heard."
Where there was golf, there was Hope. Bob figures he was lucky it was around for him. A lot of people figure it was the other way round.
If, on this Fourth of July, we are to praise our famous, let us begin with him.
He will never be a statue in the park on horseback or a face on a mountain. That's all right with Hope. He'd rather be a ball washer on a par-three at Lakeside, anyway.