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Jewish World Review August 8, 2003/ 10 Menachem-Av, 5763

Jackie Mason & Raoul Felder

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Hope and life and life without Hope | Some serious thoughts about a funny subject. Where there's life there's hope but sadly now, where there's Hope there is no longer life. Bob Hope's hundred-year life lasted until shortly after the old century, awash with wars, semi-wars, tyranny, conflicts, suffering and starvation, came to an end. He brought the sunshine of humor to shine upon the blasted landscape of a planet engaged, for much of the century, in brutal self-destruction.

He was so funny for so long that we all became like Pavlov's dogs -- so conditioned by a lifetime of his humor that once he began his monologue, we laughed at almost anything he said. He was the first and longest running of political comedians. While he enjoyed unprecedented success in the movies -- listed among the Top 10 box office movie performers from 1941 through 1953 -- he was defined and set apart by his political activities. We hardly think of him as a political person but through four wars -- one of which was unpopular with Americans and two others that had varying degrees of support -- and all the time in between wars, to American service people stationed in contentious and G-d-forsaken places around the world, he brought the message that we at home cared enough to send them Hope.

More important than his jokes, he was their tenuous thread of connection to home and the thought that they were not forgotten -- that this was the same guy they saw on Saturday afternoon in the neighborhood theater or at the drive-in, acting exactly the same way they remembered him; that somewhere back there, thousands of miles away from the insanity of war or desperate loneliness, things were as they always were, that there was normalcy waiting for them at home. The laughter and the cheers were as much for his just being there as it was for the jokes.

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Bob Hope certainly could not have agreed with all of America's adventures in his three generations of performing for the troops, but his journeys to remote and often dangerous places to entertain them were themselves a silent political statement that spoke louder than so-called entertainers whose entire performance consisted of reading from someone else's script into a TV camera and making arrogant, cynical, wise-guy comments on the day's happenings, or standing unwashed and unshaven in a T-shirt at a microphone on a stage and spewing out the message in four letter words that "My country right or wrong is wrong" and that somehow the young people who were dispatched to carry out the country's decision should be placed in the same garbage heap as the politicians.

Hope's message to the troops was much simpler. "Why you are here is not the important thing to me, but the fact that you are here is important to all of us. Whether the country's policy makers are right or wrong, we support you and now let's make fun of the officers and the enemy." He understood the proper chords to be played. To the troops he resonated with the basic American psyche: independence, resentment towards authority and regimentation, fight those who threaten -- get the job done and go back home.

He was one of the last great entertainers who could achieve in silence what others could only aspire to do with volumes of verbiage. A raised eyebrow, the silent stare across the audience, a lecherous smile, the exquisite timing of the silent pause, all spoke more loudly that any words and represented a skill that is possessed by very few humorists today -- and completely unlearned by the under-forty comedy club wannabes.

Wherever Bob Hope is, there must be many -- too many -- soldiers. At least they can look forward to lots of laughs.

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© 2003, Jackie Mason & Raul Felder. A version of this column appeared at The American Prowler.