A contributing editor and theater critic for Time weighs in with what will immediately become the definitive biography of the legendary comedian, born Leslie Townes Hope (1903-2003).
Born in England at a time when movies were new—and talkies were still decades away—Hope, whose family immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1908, lived to see moon landings and the Internet. Zoglin (Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America, 2008) credits Hope for a number of things (including stand-up comedy itself), and he writes at times in jaw-dropped amazement at how Hope succeeded in, even dominated, every medium available to him: Broadway, vaudeville, movies, radio, TV and live appearances of all varieties. He wrote best-sellers and popular newspaper columns as well—though, as Zoglin points out continually, after success began to arrive, Hope had a large team of writers. The author notes that Hope had a quick wit, impeccable timing and, later, the ability to read cue cards, which became his preferred performance aid (he did not like teleprompters). Zoglin’s presentation is generally chronological, but with Hope’s many activities—tours to military zones, TV specials, “Road” movies with Bing Crosby—the author sometimes groups things thematically. Those who knew Hope only in his later cue-card–reading days will be surprised to learn about his grace as a dancer, his cool (not warm) relationship with Crosby, his myriads of sexual escapades (despite a marriage of nearly 70 years), his temper, his ferocious work ethic and his vast real estate holdings in California. Older readers will once again live through Hope’s public support of the Vietnam War, his friendship with alpha Republicans and his post-Vietnam return to his well-earned status as an American institution.
In this rich and entertaining work, Zoglin pulls no punches but also remains an astonished admirer.