Friday, February 21, 2014

Bob Hope's Radio Program on Tour

Bob Hope, radio comedian
Enshrined in the minds of servicemen of World War II, Bob Hope became a comedic legend; not for the humor he provided on stage, but for the audience he played to. Prompted by patriotism, and perhaps vaudevillian wanderlust, on the evening of May 6, 1941, months before the U.S. entry into WWII, Bob Hope's popular Pepsodent radio program was broadcast not from the NBC Studios in Hollywood, but from the March Army Air Force Field in Riverside, California. This was the first remote broadcast of Hope's coast-to-coast radio program and became the first of hundreds over a period of many years. Broadcasting in front of a live audience of soldiers and gearing the subject matter of the monolog to the troops, Hope fashioned a very successful variant on the radio comedy variety format. World War II-era stateside radio audiences, as well as the troops, appreciated Hope's soldier-directed monologs, which provided home audiences with a special affinity with the soldiers' lives and their contributions to the country. Soon, other radio comedians began following his lead: Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen and Ed Gardner to name a few. But for the soldiers who watched the comedian at work on stage before, during and after the broadcast, Bob Hope was immortalized.

"I sensed I was getting older last week when a Boy Scout helped me across the street -- and it was George Burns."

"I wanna tell you that baseball is the only game you spend eight months of the year on grass and not get busted."

"Long dresses on women don't bother me -- I've got a good memory."

Everyone knows Bob Hope's devotion to entertain for American servicemen goes unchallenged. Armed with Frances Langford and Jerry Colonna, Hope provided a sight recalled with affection by millions. If the natives on the islands did not laugh at the jokes because they did not understand, someone came out on stage to dance and the natives smiled. When Frances Langford stretched her vocal chords, the audience joined in. During the radio season (September to June), Bob Hope and his crew performed for troops stationed on military bases across the country. During the summer, they travelled abroad on USO tours, returning in time for the grand opening of the next radio season. That's right, Bob Hope entertained troops 52 weeks a year.

Bob Hope
After the war, Hope continued touring across the country, performing at various auditoriums in an effort to help raise money for community and recreational centers that helped establish stronger ties within the community, and prevent juvenile delinquency by giving kids something to do rather than hang around in the streets. His devotion never changed, even when the venues did.

Just for fun, take a quick look at the list below, the 1942-43 radio season of The Pepsodent Show, and grasp an idea of just how far he traveled in a given year. It’s one thing to hear about the comedian’s devotion, and know he dedicated his time to entertain for the soldiers – it’s another thing to see an example first-hand. And keep in mind this is just for one radio season!

The 1942 – 1943 Season
Season regulars: Frances Langford, Skinny Ennis, Jerry Colonna.
Beginning with this season, Vera Vague (Barbara Jo Allen) was added as a regular member of the cast.
Six Hits and a Miss were the weekly vocalists.
Wendell Niles, announcer.
The program was broadcast each week from service camps around the country before an audience of Servicemen or Servicewomen.

Broadcast of September 22, 1942
Broadcast originated from Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Washington.
Guest: Howard Duff, theater actor in Seattle, Washington, who entered the military and was assigned to the U.S. Army Air Force’s Radio Service (AFRS). Duff would later become a radio actor himself, but was a serviceman at the time of this broadcast.

Broadcast of September 29, 1942
Broadcast originated from the Naval Air Station in Seattle, Washington.
Guest: Sailor Rollie Ellis

Broadcast of October 6, 1942
Broadcast originated from Presideo, San Francisco.
Guest: Pvt. Charles Heinrichs
(Bob Hope just returned from Alaska, which is why the last two broadcasts originated from Washington.)

Broadcast of October 13, 1942
Broadcast originated from the Stage Door Canteen, Hollywood, California.
Guests: Bette Davis (chairman of the Stage Door Canteen), and Yeoman Wilbur Johnson
Stage Door Canteen premiered as a radio program in July of 1942 and Bette Davis’ appearance on this program helped promote the CBS radio program, as well as the efforts of the Stage Door Canteen.

Broadcast of October 20, 1942
Broadcast originated from the Marine Barracks, San Diego, California.
Guest: First Class Private Bernard Allen

Broadcast of October 27, 1942
Broadcast originated from Terminal Island Naval Air Station, Los Angeles, California.
Guest: Basil Walker, Photographer’s Mate

Broadcast of November 3, 1942
Broadcast originated from Mather Field, Sacramento, California.
Guest: Corp. Haskell Winestein

Broadcast of November 10, 1942
Broadcast originated from Fort Sill, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Guests: Princess Vivian Sonkey and Sgt. John Cuffey
Princess Sonkey was an Indian who made Bob Hope honorary Chief Eagle Beak. She gave him a War Bonnet.

Broadcast of November 17, 1942
Broadcast originated from Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri.
Guest: Pvt. Richard Vick

Broadcast of November 24, 1942
Broadcast originated from Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio.
Guest: Mess Sgt. Thomas Farrell

Broadcast of December 1, 1942
Broadcast originated from Camp Atterbury, near Indianapolis, Indiana.

Broadcast of December 8, 1942
Broadcast originated from Fort Des Moines, Iowa.
WAAC’s camp salute to Betty Seeley

Broadcast of December 15, 1942
Broadcast originated from Lowery Field, Denver, Colorado.

Broadcast of December 22, 1942
Broadcast originated from Camp Haan, Riverside, California.

Broadcast of December 29, 1942
Broadcast originated from Ferry Command, Long Beach, California.

Broadcast of January 5, 1943
Broadcast originated from Camp Young, Palm Springs, California.

Broadcast of January 12, 1943
Broadcast originated from Camp Pendleton, California.

Broadcast of January 19, 1943
Broadcast originated from Navy Base, Terminal Island, San Pedro, California.
This episode was broadcast from 10:05 to 10:30 p.m., following an announcement about the Casablanca Conference being held in Morocco. 

Broadcast of January 26, 1943
Broadcast originated from Luke Field, Phoenix, Arizona.

Broadcast of February 2, 1943
Broadcast originated from Las Vegas Air Gunnery School, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Broadcast of February 9, 1943
Broadcast originated from the Ordnance Training Center, California.

Broadcast of February 16, 1943
Broadcast originated from Filmarte Theater, Hollywood, California.

Broadcast of February 23, 1943
Broadcast originated from the Marine Base, Santa Barbara, California.

Broadcast of March 2, 1943
Broadcast originated from Camp Cook, California.

Broadcast of March 9, 1943
Broadcast originated from Gardner Field, California.

Broadcast of March 16, 1943
Broadcast originated from Camp Callan, San Diego, California.

Broadcast of March 23, 1943
Broadcast originated from the Naval Base, Catalina Island, California.

Broadcast of March 30, 1943
Broadcast originated from the Naval Reserve Air Station, Los Alamitos, California.

Broadcast of April 6, 1943
Broadcast originated from the Globe Theatre, San Diego, California.
Bob Hope and cast entertain nurses and WAVES of the San Diego Naval Hospital. 

Broadcast of April 13, 1943
Broadcast originated from Kingman Field, Arizona (Gunnery School).

Broadcast of April 20, 1943
Broadcast originated from Fort Hood, Texas.

Broadcast of April 27, 1943
Broadcast originated from Air Corps Navigators School, Selman Field, Monroe, Louisiana.

Broadcast of May 4, 1943
Broadcast originated from he Air Base (Naval) Pensacola, Florida.

Broadcast of May 11, 1943
Broadcast originated from Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama.

Broadcast of May 18, 1943
Broadcast originated from a WAVE Camp, Georgia State Women’s College, Milledgeville, Georgia.
This was the final broadcast for Skinny Ennis, orchestra leader, who went into service and became a Sergeant. He would be a guest on the November 2, 1943 broadcast. Beginning with next week’s broadcast, the orchestra was led by a guest conductor. 

Broadcast of May 25, 1943
Broadcast originated from Camp Wheeler, an Army base near Macon, Georgia.
Guest: General of the Army Tony Romano, directs the orchestra for this broadcast.

Broadcast June 1, 1943
Broadcast originated from Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina.
Guest: Governor of South Carolina, Olin Johnston
Bob Allen directs the orchestra for this broadcast.

Broadcast of June 8, 1943
Broadcast originated from Camp Peary, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Guest: Bob Chester directs the orchestra for this broadcast.

Broadcast of June 15, 1943
Broadcast originated from Camp Perry, Port Clinton, Ohio.
Guest: Johnny Mercer

Bob Hope
Johnny Mercer was a guest on the final broadcast of the season, influenced by the sponsor, Pepsodent, continuing sponsorship for the summer time slot with Johnny Mercer’s Music Shop. Stan Kenton directs the orchestra for the final broadcast of the season. Kenton would supply the orchestra music on a weekly basis when the radio program returned in the fall, beginning September 21. Jerry Colonna was a guest on Mercer’s program on July 6, 1943.

Within a week-and-a-half, Bob Hope and Frances Langford left for England and Africa to entertain troops. Hope’s five-week tour of the battlefronts under the auspices of USO Camp Shows, Inc., ended shortly before the new season of radio broadcasts on September 21, 1943.

It is surprising that the U.S. Government has yet to dedicate a calendar day to Bob Hope. I vote for May 6, in honor of the first radio broadcast dedicated to the entertainment of U.S. soldiers.

"I wanna tell you I could have retired years ago but I have a government to support."