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Lawrences Quirk's biographies include Bette Davis, James Stewart, Joan Crawford, and Cher.
Premature tabloid accounts of his death notwithstanding, Bob Hope remains a beloved American icon. But as Quirk (Bette Davis), a celebrity biographer who has known Hope since 1950, makes clear in this sharply written biography, it has been a long road to the top. Rising from poverty in England and Cleveland, Ohio, Hope clawed his way to the apex of five entertainment fields successively: vaudeville, the Broadway theater, Hollywood movies, radio and television. Along the way he accumulated not only millions of fans but also friends and enemies among show business professionals, probably more of the latter, according to Quirk. Indeed, Quirk is at pains on every page to present a balanced portrait of Hope, whom he deems ruthlessly self-involved but nonetheless worthy of some admiration. Little is known about Hope's private life beyond his having been married to the same woman for 64 years and their having adopted four children. But on the basis of sources close to Hope, some unnamed, Quirk declares that the performer committed "countless" infidelities and neglected his children. At the same time, he was making sacrifices to entertain U.S. servicemen, whom he called "my boys," all over the world. The government always paid for these trips, Quirk contends, and by Vietnam, Hope's routines had grown thin and become synonymous with the "war machine." In the final chapter, one is left with an image of Hope, at 95, clinging pathetically to his old shtick as his body and marriage collapse, but whose vast sums of money and great popular success were the fulfillment of his own highest aspirations. Includes filmography, bibliography and more than 30 photos. (Oct.)
If, as this biography suggests, Bob Hope ultimately is a crude vaudevillian who cannot resist a chance to shill for a buck, then it is also true that author Quirk hasn't escaped the tabloid trappings of his legacy. The spirit of Quirk's uncle, James, a renowned fan magazine editor during Hollywood's Golden Age, is palpable here in anecdotes that reek of "he said/she said" tell-alls. Yet Quirk proffers a political edge to seemingly frivolous movie-making hijinks and distinguishes between Hope's much-lauded wartime morale boosting and his later made-for-TV ballyhoos. The comedian's alleged sadistic streak and boorish charm are tempered by a humanitarian side; ultimately, he emerges as a hopelessly anachronistic figure (though his longevity makes him an easy target). Because Quirk not only met his subject and many of the stars in Hope's cosmos, this seasoned film biographer cannot be dismissed as less than authoritative. A hatchet job, but a wickedly riveting one. Recommended.‘Jayne Plymale, Stamford, CT