There was never anyone like Bob Hope.
He became as famous for entertaining America’s troops over the 50-year period between 1941 and 1991, as he was for sharing screen time with Bing Crosby in a series of Road movies.
Hope died at the age of 100 in 2003, after an 80-year comedy career that started in vaudeville.
Las Vegas Bob Hope impersonator Bill Johnson brings the comedian’s trademark rapid-fire wisecracking to life at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 in a Tribute to America’s Veterans program at State College of Florida’s Neel Performing Arts Center, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton. A show is also planned for 3 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Riverview Performing Arts Center, 1 Ram Way, Sarasota.
The two-hour program will be presented by the Stars and Stripes Foundation, established by the Military Officers Association of Sarasota and the Pops Orchestra of Bradenton and Sarasota. The foundation is a component fund of the Community Foundation of Sarasota.
Johnson, 59, began doing his Bob Hope impersonations out of his work in dinner theater in Las Vegas, which is perhaps better known for its Elvis impersonators.
“I have always been a musical theater guy. People would tell me I resembled Bob Hope on stage,” Johnson said.
When he got out there and realized what the troops were going through for the country, it captured his heart. He said he couldn’t look at himself in the mirror if he didn’t go.
He got his start as a Hope impersonator 13 years ago after a woman saw him perform comedy routines and asked if he could craft a Bob Hope show for a reunion of World War II veterans.
Although Johnson never saw Hope perform live, he found plenty of film and video to study and books to read about the man with the famous ski nose.
“There is a lot of history that’s kind of getting dim in our memory,” Johnson said of Hope’s shows during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and into the first Gulf War.
Hope made his first USO show at March Field in California in 1941 and quickly warmed to the idea of entertaining the troops, Johnson said.
“When he got out there and realized what the troops were going through for the country, it captured his heart,” Johnson said. “He said he couldn’t look at himself in the mirror if he didn’t go. You really didn’t know what the troops were going through.”
Even though Hope was known for his sometime spicy humor, and ever present golf club, his jokes were squeaky clean compared to many comedians today, he said.
“This is a show for the whole family, and it is a show that harkens back to another time,” Johnson said.
Like the original Bob Hope, Johnson will be joined by many others during the program, including the Pops Orchestra, and performers in the spirit of Marlene Dietrich, the Andrews Sisters, Marilyn Monroe and more.
In addition to the jokes, and comic patter, look for the show to close with Bob Hope’s trademark song, “Thanks for the Memories.”
This year is the 75th anniversary for not only the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, but for the establishment of the USO, and Hope’s first performance for the USO, Johnson said.
Tickets are available at thepopsorchestra.org or at the door the day of the performance. Ticket prices range from $25 for premium seating, to $20 for general admission. Veterans and their family members and students receive discounted admission, according to the starsandstripescelebration.com website.
A Tribute to America’s Veterans
- 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, at Riverview Performing Arts Center, 1 Ram Way, Sarasota.
- 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14 at SCF’s Neel Performing Arts Center, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton.
Tickets: $20-$25, available at the door or at thepopsorchestra.org.