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The song of Hope has ended.

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While there is a strong connection, I'd be hard-pressed to explain my fascination -- make that fetishistic obsession -- with Bob and Dolores Hope. In such films as The Lemon Drop Kid, The Road to Morocco, and especially Frank Tashlin's consummate western parody Son of Paleface, Bob built his reputation as a yellow-bellied Everyman capable of igniting moments of inspired insanity.

Fortunately, I didn't get around to those pictures until my late-teens and early-'20s. First impressions of Bob came via cinematic roadkill like Call Me Bwana or Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number and his post-'60's, cue card-powered work for NBC. Long before the concept of continuity errors cemented in my brain, I detected something askew about Bob 'For Chrysler' Hope's network extravaganzas. Nothing matched! The sniggering closeup cutaways to Bob, as he waited for canned-laughter to validate the cleverness of his latest rib-tickler, never jibed with the master shots.

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How's this for violently insane continuity? Godard learned from the best!

Even as a child, this momentary displacement proved funnier than any of Bob's topical material. It wasn't until years later, and the dead-on SCTV parody of The Bob Hope Desert Open, with its precise mimicry of the jarring editing rhythms, that my long journey down the road of Hope officially began. The average Hope special was a delightfully uneasy mix of sports, Republicanism, skit-comedy, war-mongering, teleprompters, song and dance routines, religious holidays, and crass commercialism. As it is loosely-foretold in Romans 12:12, Rejoice in Hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer, and always trust your car to the man who wears the Texaco star.

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Behind every great man: Dolores looks on as Bob accepts the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Kennedy.

Dolores DeFina was born in Harlem and began her professional singing career, under the name Dolores Reade in the '30's. She met Bob in 1933, and a year later the two wed. Instead of forming a celebrity power-couple along the lines of Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, Roy and Dale, Steve 'n Eydie, or Jack Douglas and Reiko, Dolores was content to put her career on ice.

By all accounts, when the cameras stopped rolling, the coward you saw on-screen was anything but timid with the ladies. It was definitely the road Dolores chose -- spending Christmas with their four children while her selfless husband was off entertaining the troops (and countless starlets) only to return home and transform war into ratings gold -- but I still can't help feeling a little sorry for her.

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Hopes for the Holidays.

She eventually became a fixture on the NBC specials, the chanteuse permitted to momentarily re-emerge, take to the stage (generally towards the end of each program) and warble a standard. My guess is it was philandering Bob's way of throwing the "little woman" a bonus. "Dolores has a black-belt in shopping," was a regular joke in the Hope repertoire. Her elaborate garments contained enough taffeta and crinoline to drape a bay window, the only exposed flesh coming from above the neck and below the wrists.

I used to joke that Dolores had a singing voice that only dogs could hear until a friend pointed out the fact that canines react strongly to high-pitch sounds. Her husky contralto tones are actually pleasant and quite soothing to the ears. I ought to know. Every other Sunday, I dine with a couple upon whom my mania has rubbed off. Dinner wouldn't be complete without the sounds of Dolores' CDs Somewhere in Time: The Songs and Spirit of WWII or Now and Then on the Victrola accompanying every forkful. And don't forget the greatest Christmas gift of all, Hopes for the Holidays. Drunk or sober, my impersonation of Dolores crooning It Had to Be You rivals even Dave Thomas' sterling riff on Bob.

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Joining Bob for a duet of Silver Bells.

I make my way to Burbank several times a year to visit my buddy, Rick, who happens to live minutes away from the secluded Hope compound in Toluca Lake where Dolores passed away on Monday at the age of 102. Perhaps it was a way of bringing us luck on our various writing gigs, or the power of Hope that compels us, but I have not spent one day in Burbank without driving past Ground Zero. (All urges to roll down the window, lean on the horn, and scream out, "HEY, DOLORES!" were suppressed.)

Dolores outlived Bob who only managed to make it to 100. Hey, how 'bout that Ponce de Leon spiking the Toluca Lake water supply, huh?

Sunday evening, my friends and I will once again gather, this time for the yearly airing of the Chabad Telethon, a show whose entertainment value has long surpassed that of The (Former) Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Rest assured, her voice will be heard as we gnaw our way through the turkey wings. I would love to listen in as Dolores joins former cast-members Helen O'Connell, Maggie Whiting, and Martha 'Big Mouth' Raye on their heavenly tour of Four Girls Four.

R.I.P., sweetie, and thank you for the memories.

[Thanks to Rob "Colonna" from Ft. Wayne, IN for the videos!]

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Comments

Colonna Sept. 21, 2011 @ 11:05 a.m.

Back in 1991, I caught up with a HS friend who served in Operation Desert Shield. He served in an infantry unit who marched many long miles across the Kuwaiti desert before Desert Shield became Desert Storm.

One particular day, he was ordered to a remote spot in the desert. There before him was Bob Hope, who was helicoptered into the field with Johnny Bench, Aaron Tippin (country singer), and Dolores Hope.

My friend and his comrades all baked in the noontime desert sun for what amounted to be a made-for-Hope-TV moment that lasted around 1 hour.

TRIVIA: Dolores Hope was the first female entertainer to perform in that region with the USO.

As Dolores sang the song, many of the comments from my friend's Army buddies ranged from bewilderment ("Where's Marie Osmond?") to disappointed ("Her singing will help the Scud missles pinpoint our location...") to raunchy (can't print it here, folks).

When she finished, most were clapping because Dolores was finished and they were able to get out of the hot sun. The helicopter flew in and the USO troupe was whisked away for a quick 40 minute flight to their next destination.

Dolores in Chinaland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSD7vF48yls

Dolores around the world with the USO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dnVtvZ1e_o

RIP Dolores... somewhere she's tracking down Marilyn Maxwell because her lipstick matched the one on Bob's collar.

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