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Bob Hope and D-Day: an unconventional season finale

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The following is a guest post by David Jackson, Archivist, Bob Hope Collection, Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation.

Recently I began the task of processing the papers for the Bob Hope Collection, held in the Recorded Sound Section, at the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia. The papers complement the moving image and sound recording components in the collection, and support the Hope for America exhibit in the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C. They include scripts for Bob Hope’s films, radio and TV shows, and personal appearances; thousands of photographs covering Hope’s career; and the comedian’s complete joke file.

Amongst the material I’ve been processing these past weeks are two sets of files related to Bob Hope’s highly-rated NBC radio series, the Pepsodent Show, which ran from 1938-1948. One file contains the scripts used during the show’s Tuesday night broadcasts, and the other file contains various sketch segments submitted by the writing staff. The anniversary of the D-Day invasion earlier this week inspired me to look up the material for the episode that would have followed that event. I discovered that the Pepsodent Show not only broadcast the evening of Tuesday, June 6, 1944, but that it was also scheduled to be the finale of the show’s sixth season.

Pepsodent Cast on tour, 1940s. Back row: Vera Vague, Skinnay Ennis, Bob Hope, Frances Langford. Middle row: unidentified man, Jerry Colonna, unidentified man. Library of Congress, MBRS Division, Bob Hope Collection.
Pepsodent Cast on tour, 1940s. Back row: Vera Vague, Skinnay Ennis, Bob Hope, Frances Langford. Middle row: unidentified man, Jerry Colonna, unidentified man. Library of Congress, Recorded Sound Section, Bob Hope Collection.

As he had for much of the previous three seasons, Bob would broadcast this show from a United States military base, in this case Van Nuys Army Airfield, where P-38 fighter pilots received training.  His writing staff prepared the usual mix of comedy sketches, various skits with cast members such as singer Frances Langford, comedians Jerry Colonna and Vera Vague, and bandleader Stan Kenton, and customized lyrics for Hope’s theme song, “Thanks for the Memory”.  The gags included a sketch called “Hope Dreams” wherein Bob is comically assailed by his conscience over all the bad jokes he’s told over the course of the season.

All this changed when news of the Allied invasion reached the home front. D-Day commenced in the early hours of the morning in Normandy, but on California time the news broke late the previous night. The NBC broadcast schedule for Tuesday evening would be significantly altered: most of the regular half-hour comedy programs would be trimmed down to 15 minutes apiece and the balance of the time would be filled with news, speeches, and musical interludes. Bob Hope’s show would scrap the comedy for the evening, and replace it with segments that struck an appropriate patriotic and sentimental tone.

Bob opened the show with a newly-written monologue, which began:

Monologue from Pepsodent show, June 6, 1944. Library of Congress, MBRS Division, bob Hope Collection
Monologue from Pepsodent show, June 6, 1944. Library of Congress, Recorded Sound Section, Bob Hope Collection.

“Folks, this is Bob Hope speaking from a P-38 air field near Van Nuys, California. We’ve looked forward to being with these men, and doing our regular show here, but of course nobody feels like getting up and being funny on a night like this. But we did want to go through with our plans and visit these fellows because these are the same kind of boys that are flying those eleven thousand planes in our big effort. What’s happened during these last few hours not one of us will ever forget. How could you forget? You sat up all night by the radio and heard the bulletins, the flashes, the voices coming across from England, the commentators, the pilots returning from their greatest of all missions…newsboys yelling on the street…and it seemed that one world was ending and a new world beginning…that history was closing one book and opening a new one, and somehow we knew it had to be a better one.”

Following this, Frances Langford and Stan Kenton’s orchestra alternated with various music segments, Frances singing “Ave Maria” and “Goodnight Wherever You Are”, and Kenton’s band playing renditions of “Over There” and “I Know That You Know”. The entire cast then led the audience in singing the “Air Corps Song” (aka “Off we go into the wild blue yonder”…). After some brief closing remarks from Hope, the show ended with a new version of Hope’s theme song:

Bob Hope monologue for June 6, 1944 show. Library of Congress, MBRS, Bob Hope Collection
Lyrics to “Thanks for the Memory” for June 6, 1944 show. Library of Congress, Recorded Sound Section, Bob Hope Collection.

“Thanks for the memory

Of D-Day over there

On land, on sea, in air,

Our boys tonight defending right of freedom everywhere

And we thank them so much.”

The Library’s NBC Radio Collection holds a copy of this broadcast.  Anyone interested in listening should contact the Recorded Sound Research Center for more information and to make a listening appointment.

Discoveries like this underscore the impact of Hope’s contributions to the worlds of comedy, charity, and civic morale. I hope to share many more such examples with you over the coming months as I delve further into this rich collection.

Comments (5)

  1. Thank you, David Jackson, for providing us with such a fascinating slice of history that we normally don’t get to see. I was born 3 years and 3 days after D-Day. My father and mother’s brother were in Europe serving in the U.S. Army that dramatic day. I know it had a profound impact on them and all the folks at home because they made references to it all through my youth. It is hard for us today to imagine our country so unified in a cause. What you write reminds us of our parents’ generation’s great spirit, from Bob Hope at home to the battlefields thousands of miles away!

  2. Lovely post! These little pieces of our history – the everyday parts of life that aren’t “everyday” for us anymore…we need to remember and teach. Thank you so much!

  3. In this tech-saturated, self absorbed world, we can easily forget all the events that lead us to this moment, this time in American history. We forget the sacrifices, and can never really understand the horror of an entire world at war. These events should be taught from high school through college to ground the new generations and let them realize the historical cost of letting them live their 21st century lives.

  4. Most if not all of Bob Hope’s D-Day broadcast is available on a CD that Hope Enterprises issued in 1995 that’s entitled “This Is Bob ‘On the Air” Hope. I don’t know for sure, but possibly copies can be found on the internet.

    It is an amazing broadcast, and I can’t help but be moved whenever I listen to it. This was one instance in which Bob very much let his emotions show, and I think it’s safe to say that just about all other Americans were feeling the same things he was talking about. Thanks very much for highlighting this.

  5. A good moment.

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