Another Puzzling Reference to a Celebrity; This Time, Bob Hope

Bob Hope performing at Georgia State University in 1943 (courtesy Georgia State University Library).

A couple of interesting veins I wanted to tap while blogging about Babe’s letters so far have turned into dead-ends.

First, there was the oblique reference to Jack Benny’s broadcast scribbled on the outside of the envelope of his May 5, 1943, letter to his parents. It seemed to have some significance to him and he wanted to make sure his parents found someone who heard the broadcast. But if it’s more than an inside joke, I can’t figure it out.

Now, there’s a letter to his brother Bob (whom he called Bib) that says, “Bob Hope and his gang were here last night, but we couldn’t see him and, although I tried, I couldn’t pick him up over my radio. We stayed out until 11:30 last night. Did you hear his broadcast?”

Babe dated that letter May 26, 1943. He was based at Camp Wheeler, near Macon, Ga. So when he says “Bob Hope was here last night,” wouldn’t you think that on the evening of May 25, 1943, the comedian would have been somewhere in Georgia?

Well, he wasn’t. He was nowhere near Georgia.

According to multiple accounts online, including a snatch of video on YouTube, Bob Hope was doing a show at the Stockton Air Field in California for a large group of Army Air Corps cadets. The show included a bit with his brother George, a staff sergeant at the base.

“Remember, George, you’re my brother,” Hope said at one point in the routine. “My success is your success. Anything you need, name it. You can have anything under the sun.”

“How about 5?”

“Cloudy day, isn’t it?” the comedian deadpanned.

In fact, Bob Hope did perform at Camp Wheeler, but more than a year after Babe sent the letter. He did a show broadcast on Oct. 18, 1944. According to the intro of the broadcast, “The Bob Hope program with Frances Langford and Jerry Colonna, in a special rebroadcast scheduled expressly at this hour for the fighting men of the united nations by the special service division of the War Department of the United States.”

That suggests the show was taped at another time, but I don’t have any idea when. Hope makes reference to spending a couple of weeks in Atlanta and to the looming start of cotton-picking season, which would have started around September and been in its peek in October.

So this is not likely the broadcast Babe was referring to, is it? So what the hell was he talking about?

7 thoughts on “Another Puzzling Reference to a Celebrity; This Time, Bob Hope

  1. Hello Kurt – Just found your blog, fascinating stuff. I’m writing because I may be able to help a little with the question about the puzzling reference to a Bob Hope show which according to your uncle happened on May 25, 1943, – which as you point out does not seem possible.

    Sometime back I inherited my father’s WWII footlocker, which contained hundreds of letters both by my father, Anton Pritchard, and to him from during and after the war. My father had a younger brother Leon, also in the Army during WWII, and an older sister Elsa, who was married and at home in Providence, RI. Leon was stationed at Fort Wheeler for a while, but left in August 1942. During part of Leon’s time at Wheeler my father was stationed at Fort Benning, GA, and visited Leon at least once.

    On May 25, 1943, Elsa wrote a letter to Anton, then at Camp Cooke, CA, which contains the following paragraph:

    “Bob Hope was at Camp Wheeler tonight and he told several tales about the place. One which made me think of Leon and you was about a soldier who received a three day pass. He spent 1/2 day getting to Macon, 2 days in the Dempsey lobby waiting for a room and 1/2 to get back to camp. He said that the boys who took Tunis and Bizerte trained for it by fighting their way to Macon on a Sat. nite.”

    So it seems that there was a radio broadcast on May 25, 1943, of a show that Bob Hope did at Camp Wheeler, although it also seems that it was a recording of the live show, rather than the actual live show as Elsa appears to believe. Tunis and Bizerte both fell to allied forces on May 7, 1943, so the show can’t have been before that date – giving us a window of eighteen days during which the show might have happened. It is interesting, by the way, that in the show of October 18, 1944, Hope uses both of the same jokes that Elsa quotes, although he has updated them – He doesn’t mention Tunis and Bizerte, which by then would have been old news.

    So it would appear that your uncle might have gotten the date of the show slightly wrong. I will try to make some time to look into this further.

    I’d be interested to know if all this makes sense to you.

    I was also interested to see that your uncle was from Mt. Kisco – I grew up in Waccabuc, NY (part of the town of Lewisboro) about ten miles away.

    Best wishes,

    Arnie Pritchard
    New Haven, CT


  2. Arnie, I’m so thrilled that you took the time to respond to this blog post with such care and detail. I’m humbled, truly. Your accounting does make sense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the dates were off.

    I’m waaaaay behind on maintaining this blog; I have many more letters to transcribe and blog about, so your post may inspire me to get back to it. Thank you, indeed, Arnie, for caring enough to add your thoughts.


  3. Hello. My name is Bob Watson. I live in Cochran, GA, which is about 35 miles south of Macon, GA, where Camp Wheeler was located. One of my interests is old time radio shows. I hope that I can add a little more clarity to the Bob Hope broadcast you mention here.

    Bob Hope DID appear at Camp Wheeler on May 25, 1943. The broadcast was not a recording, but live, which is how your Aunt in RI was able to hear it. There were no NBC radio affiliates in Macon, which means Babe had to DX in order to pick up NBC. Depending on conditions, he might not have been able to tune in the broadcast. The Oct 18, 1944 broadcast is the recording. It was made specifically for the Armed Forces Radio Service for broadcast at a later time to troups overseas. These recordings were usually edited to eliminate commercials and other subject matter which may have become irrelevant by the time of rebroadcast. It would appear that the cast may have rerecorded some of the material especially for AFRS to eliminate topical material. Or maybe it was simply edited out. He may also have added material to coincide with the season of the year.

    I noticed the pic of his broadcast from Georgia State University, which at that time was Georgia State College for Women, which he references in the broadcast as having appeared the previous week. I have long tried to find copies of the network versions of these broadcasts, but have been unsuccessful. The Georgia College show appears to be entirely lost, while the Camp Wheeler broadcast only exists in AFRS form.

    Hope this helps.

    Bob Watson


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