Bob Hope's 100th birthday greeted with outpouring of good wishes

Friday, May 30th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Thousands of people the world over, from presidents and kings to common folk, took time to thank Bob Hope for nearly a century of memories on the enduring entertainer's 100th birthday.

``He can't believe that this is happening and that he's made it to his Big 100,'' son Kelly Hope said Thursday as the family gathered at Hope's estate in Toluca Lake.

``It's wonderful. It's a pot of gold. It's cherished,'' the son said as Hope's staff sorted through more than 2,000 letters and post cards and thousands more e-mails.

In Hollywood, the fabled intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street was renamed Bob Hope Square.

In Washington, President Bush marked the occasion by establishing the Bob Hope American Patriot Award, which may be granted annually to any civilian ``who has demonstrated extraordinary love of country and devotion to the personnel of the United States Armed Forces, in the form of true patriotism.''

In London, Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II sent Hope a private birthday card.

California Gov. Gray Davis saluted Hope for his many years of entertaining U.S. forces.

Hope, whose career spanned vaudeville, radio, film and television, traveled overseas to entertain U.S. troops during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, making his last trip when he was well into 80s.

``For more than 75 years, Bob Hope has shown the world compassion, goodwill, and a uniquely American patriotic spirit,'' Davis said in a proclamation.

Birthday parties were held in such far-flung locations as Eltham, England, where Leslie Townes Hope was born in 1903, and in Cleveland where he grew up.

But at Hope's Los Angeles home it was a day of quiet appreciation. Although too frail to take part in any of the public events, Hope was said to be alert and happy _ and overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection.

His family celebrated with a birthday meal of his favorites _ lamb, roasted potatoes and lemon meringue pie _ and birthday cake. His spokesman Ward Grant said the comic's wife, Dolores, who turned 94 on Tuesday, joked that the cake would have 100 candles ``and a fireman with an extinguisher standing by.''

Hope's staff planned to release 101 balloons, ``one for each year and one to grow on.''

At the Bob Hope Square ceremony in Hollywood there were reminiscences of Hope doing radio broadcasts from nearby Sunset and Vine, dining at the old Brown Derby restaurant, dropping in for Friday night fights at the American Legion hall, and paying after-hours visits to his bank.

``Bob always put money in. He never took any out,'' joked Johnny Grant, Hollywood's honorary mayor.

Well known in Los Angeles for his shrewd investments, Hope made a fortune in real estate.

Grant said people passing through the square in the future should ``take a moment to remember your favorite Bob Hope joke or story.''

Spectator Tony Nisel, 71, seemed to be doing just that.

``How can anybody not like Bob Hope, what he did for this country, for the troops ... it was unbelievable,'' said Nisel.