Los Angeles--A team of archeologists from U.C.L.A., U.C. Berkley, and Columbia University have made a startling discovery: Figure Bob Hope might have been used by early 20th century Americans for comedy. "It's groundbreaking," says Dr. Marvin Hastings, lead archeologist on the project. "Something like this comes along and completely runs against our convention understanding of what Bob Hope was."
For decades that conventional wisdom said the Bob Hope was notable for being the nation's most flamboyant and richest drill sergeant, and there are some in the archeological community who aren't ready to give up on that theory yet. "If you look at the weight of evidence," says Albert Grable, a historian who has written two books about Bob Hope, "it's hard to say this man wasn't a very wealthy, Liberace-like sergeant, colonel or something between a corporal and general in the early U.S. Army."
Grable points to the dozens of daguerreotypes and early drawings that show hope sashaying in front of hundreds of troops, or threatening troops with golf clubs and pipes. "These pictures are worth thousands of words. What else is there to say, really?" Grable asks.
Hastings answers there is plenty else to say. "The pictures certainly suggest one explanation, but they are only a part of our data." For instance, he points to records found in old U.S. archives that say Bob Hope's appearance before troops was often scheduled as "USO Comedy Review with Bob Hope." Also, Hastings's team discovered letters written by long-dead service men who mentioned seeing a comedian on days when the Bob Hope was in camp. "These [written records] provide a more complete picture," says Hastings. "We're not saying Bob Hope wasn't a flamboyant, Thurston Howellian military figure. He might have been. But we know from other records that people at the time described him primarily as a comedic figure." And Hastings's team believes that evidence is strong enough to be definitive.
Despite differences of opinion, there is one area where all experts are in agreement. "Of course, what's still missing is an example of a Bob Hope joke," Hastings concedes. Gable adds, "If he was a known comedian, how come no one has ever come up with an example of him saying something particularly funny?"
It seems there is still some work for archeologists to do before modern-day people know what Bob Hope really was or how he was used.