The legendary entertainer, Bob Hope, died in 2003, two months after his one hundredth birthday. Thirteen years earlier, he had written: “People ask me why I don’t retire and go fishing. I have one stock answer that sums it up.
“Fish don’t applaud.”
The world was Hope’s vaudeville circuit. And, Newfoundland applauded him on several occasions, including one memorable time in Botwood.
From 1919 to 1945, the seaport town enjoyed a lively and, at times, intense love affair with aviation. During those years, Botwood hosted a variety of visiting dignitaries and celebrities. Bob Hope and his troupe were stormbound there in 1943. His subsequent memories of his Newfoundland excursion are vintage Hope.
In the summer of 1943, Hope signed up to play the European Theatre of Operations for the new United Service Organizations. He recruited an old friend, Jack Pepper. They joined Frances Langford and Tony Romano on the first overseas trip of the Hope Gypsies. They were booked to open for American troops in England and North Africa.
They spent six anxious days in New York, awaiting word to leave. One clear, moonlit night, their Pan American Clipper was finally ready for takeoff.
The Clipper rose from Long Island Sound, circled eastward and passed over the Statue of Liberty.
Between seven and eight the next morning, their aerial bus made a breakfast stop in Nova Scotia.
It looks like a good time, Hope thought, to get some of that Nova Scotia salmon for breakfast.
Back in the air, he occupied himself by playing gin rummy.
They landed at Botwood to refuel. They were asked to do a show for 700 or 800 of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Coastal Command stationed in the town.
“Brave bunch of kids,” Hope wrote years later. “Great audience.”
As soon as their show was finished, they prepared to leave. But they remained immobile.
“The days up there are so short,” Hope wrote, “it turns dark faster than one of those new pennies. And the weather had closed in so badly it wasn’t safe to take off. So we played golf that afternoon. I found out that wasn’t safe either.”
In recounting his Botwood experience, Hope asked a rhetorical question, “Has anybody ever played golf at Botwood, Newfoundland?” The implied answer is “No.”
“Then let me tell you about it,” Hope continued. “The wind is so tough you’ve got to keep ducking your own drives. I played 18 holes and wound up about half a mile behind where I teed off.”
Carl Rose, the illustrator of Hope’s book, I Never Left Home, depicted the author’s Botwood golfing experience. The gallant golfer, facing into the wind, has just driven the ball from the teeing ground. The ball suddenly does an about turn, in response to the wind, and zooms like a boomerang back down the course to the surprised golfer.
The next morning, there was a brief delay in takeoff. Dashing over to the military hospital, Hope’s troupe put on a quick show, before leaving for the plane. It was a beautiful day as the craft lifted off.
“The wind that had whipped my golf ball all over the Northeast the day before,” Hope wrote, “turned out to have other and greater strength.”
The Clipper was only out over the Atlantic about an hour, when suddenly it seemed to be turning in a wide arc.
Hope called to a steward, “Hey, O’Toole, what’s cookin’?”
“We’re going back,” he answered.
“Going back. What makes you think so?”
“We’re turning around.”
“I was so busy making you a sandwich the Captain didn’t want to disturb me to explain.”
Hope asked the captain why they were returning to Newfoundland.
“The wind’s against us,” he responded tersely.
Hope informed the captain that the wind had been against him while he was playing golf at Botwood, but that didn’t cause him to give up.
Six more shows and a day or so later, the Clipper lifted off for Ireland.
The Hope Gypsies went on to fulfil their mission, in the next 11 days covering 1,306 miles and playing 48 American bases.
The Newfoundland incident was a brief episode in Hope’s life. But for some people in Botwood, the visit by the Hope troupe held special significance. According to one correspondent, it was “the first time we’d ever had live entertainment on the base.”