Bob Hope was eulogized Wednesday as one of the legendary figures of the past century during a memorial Mass that drew Hollywood stars, politicians and generals.
“He knew how to use laughter to bring us joy,” Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger M. Mahony told mourners including Hope’s widow, Dolores, at St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood.
The 900 guests included former President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, former first lady Nancy Reagan, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Hope, who entertained Americans through vaudeville, radio, movies and television, and boosted the morale of U.S. soldiers over 50 years of wars, died July 27 at age 100 and was entombed at San Fernando Mission Cemetery on July 30.
Mahony said Hope was often at St. Charles to help raise money for a school and other facilities, and the cardinal said he urged the comedian, who was raised Episcopalian, to become a Catholic. He said Hope replied: “I don’t need to be a Catholic — Dolores (a Catholic) does enough praying for both of us.”
The service began with an honor guard bearing the flags of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, representing the men and women Hope entertained during his many USO tours.
A portrait of Hope in his later years, a sly half-smile on his lips, stood near the altar.
“He was one of the truly legendary figures of the 20th century,” Feinstein said in her eulogy.
She reminded the audience of a telegram from Hope which Harry Truman kept under the glass of his Oval Office desk after his surprise victory over Thomas Dewey in the 1948 presidential race. The telegram contained one word: “Unpack.”
“Vietnam was not a popular war with a lot of people,” Myers said in his eulogy, “but Bob always stood by the service men and women despite the vituperation he received from anti-war demonstrators.”
Humorist Larry Gelbart, a Hope writer for four years, said, “Bob defied you to take your eyes off him — or your ears.”
Gelbart recalled asking Hope why he didn’t take time off, perhaps to go fishing. Hope replied: “Fish don’t applaud.”
The service ended with a Marine bugler playing “Taps” and a choir softly humming “Thanks for the Memory,” Hope’s theme song.
Outside church before the Mass, Barbara Eden said her memories of Hope were “happiness and laughter” along with the image of him hitting golf balls off decks of aircraft carriers on USO tours.
“He was very businesslike, but he had a calmness about him that made everyone else’s talent come through,” she said.
“He was a tremendous force on Earth,” Connie Stevens said.
“He was so special because he gave so much to everyone besides his humor,” said Loni Anderson.
Tom Selleck recalled how Hope recruited him to appear on some of his shows. “Bob always called personally when he wanted you to work with him. It meant a lot and it made it hard to say no,” Selleck said.
Other guests included Mickey Rooney, Dixie Carter, Hal Holbrook, Raquel Welch, Julie Newmar, Marie Osmond, Phyllis Diller, Ed McMahon, Gary Owens, Norm Crosby, retired Gen. William Westmoreland, former California Gov. Pete Wilson, and businessman Lee Iacocca.