When Bob Hope broadcast live from Fort Lewis
Jun 23, 2023, 11:09 AM | Updated: 1:32 pm
“Yes, sir, how do you do, ladies and gentlemen?” said the well-known radio comedian in the opening minutes of his live broadcast on Sept. 22, 1942. “This is Bob ‘Army-Camp-Near-Seattle’ Hope, telling you to always use Pepsodent, and your teeth will be strong as a fort and they’ll never come ‘Lewis.’”
A new exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society about Bob Hope’s devotion to entertaining the troops was all the excuse All Over The Map needed to revisit vintage audio of dusty old jokes recorded at Fort Lewis way back in 1942 during World War II.
The exhibit in Portland is a traveling show from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans called “So Ready for Laughter: The Legacy of Bob Hope.” It has artifacts and rare film footage, as well as interactive elements.
It’s hard to estimate what percentage of Americans alive in 2023 know that Bob Hope was a big star from the late 1930s until the 1990s, mastering vaudeville, radio, films (often paired with Northwest native Bing Crosby) and, eventually, television. Hope also, perhaps more than anyone, was known for entertaining the troops at home and overseas during wartime – from World War II to the Korean War, to the Vietnam War, and up through the first Gulf War in 1990. Hope died in July 2003 at age 100.
Kerry Tymchuk is the executive director of the Oregon Historical Society. He told KIRO Newsradio that the exhibit is perfect for all ages – even if someone might be too young to remember Bob Hope, the story of what the comedian did to support American troops are captivating and memorable.
Tymchuk also says it’s important to understand that Bob Hope didn’t just fly to a military base and do a stage show and then get out.
“The story is told that he’d get to a base to perform and then somebody would happen to mention, ‘Gosh, there were these 60 soldiers who were going to be here but they couldn’t because they’re on assignment 60 or 70 miles away,’” Tymchuck said. “He would get into a Jeep and go entertain them.
“What a trooper he was during that time,” Tymchuk said.
During World War II, Hope hosted a live weekly radio show sponsored by Pepsodent – once a major American toothpaste brand – which was heard Tuesday nights in Seattle at 7 p.m. Pacific Time over the NBC Red Network and what was then KOMO.
Before Pearl Harbor, Tymchuk says Hope started taking that show around the country to do live remote broadcasts from military bases – and he kept on doing that throughout the war. Hope’s first show of the new season in September 1942 originated from Fort Lewis. It’s one of the few episodes from that season for which at least some audio was preserved. While Hope was in town, he also appeared at Victory Square, the gathering place for war bond sales on University Street in downtown Seattle.
Some of the jokes Hope tells in the opening segment are generic and would’ve been appropriate anywhere, but at least a few get into some local specifics – about rain, Boeing, shipyards, and the difficulty of finding housing in Seattle, which was booming with workers drawn from around the country to wartime defense plants operating around the clock.
Here are a few choice bits of vintage humor from Hope’s Fort Lewis broadcast.
“What a welcome I got in Seattle. When I got off the train, a wild cheer went up. But nobody joined in with me, so I stopped.”
“The mayor couldn’t come down to the station to meet me. He was on the swing shift at Boeing.”
“They had a parade down Main Street and the mayor kept telling me what wonderful weather they have up here. But I couldn’t listen. It was my turn to row.”
“Seattle is a wonderful city. It’s really a boom town now with all the defense industries and shipyards here. And boy, is it crowded. I stopped one guy on the street and said, ‘How do you get a room here?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know. I’m the mayor, and I live in Tacoma.’”
“All the girls in Seattle working in the shipyards – you’d be surprised how that seems to influence their figures. The girls who work on submarines are slim and long, and the girls who work on the destroyers are short and thin. The girl I was out with last night must have been building a cattle boat.”
As the old tape proves, Hope got a lot a laughs from the Fort Lewis audience 81 years ago. And some of the lines are still so chuckle-worthy all these years later, you may be tempted to start using Pepsodent.
The exhibit is called “So Ready for Laughter: The Legacy of Bob Hope.” It’s on display now through August 18 at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland.
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.