Comedy duos dominated the movie marquees in the 1940s. On any given night, you could see Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein or Laurel and Hardy accidentally uncover German spies. But for wiseasses—or anyone with a crush on actress Dorothy Lamour—there was only one combo that mattered: Crosby and Hope.
Between 1940 and 1962, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope starred in seven Road to… movies—e.g., Road to Singapore, Road to Zanzibar, and Road to Utopia—which received rave reviews and made box office bank. Even today, that franchise is remembered as "curiously modern"—the granddaddy of meta comedy. The A.V. Club once proclaimed that "any time a comedian or musician winks at the camera or pretends to be too cool for the room, the Hope and Crosby estates should get a nickel."
Outside of their film franchise, Crosby and Hope are remembered fondly for their contributions to the schmaltzy Christmas music canon and TV emcee industry, respectively. Crosby's recording of "White Christmas" remains the best-selling single of all time, with an estimated 50 million copies sold worldwide. And do you know who holds the record for Oscar hosting gigs? Bob Hope, with an insane 19 stints.
In other words, across the board, Crosby and Hope were adored by the so-called Greatest Generation. It's just too bad that there was nothing slaphappy or delightful about either of these men in real life.
Born within weeks of each other in 1903, Crosby and Hope were on very different trajectories when they partnered up. Crosby was already a successful singer and actor whose career was at a bit of a crossroads. Hope was a rising comedian just hitting his stride. The two had performed together once on stage at New York's Capitol Theater in 1932, but it wasn't until they rehashed their bits in front of a Paramount bigwig six years later that they landed their first joint movie, Road to Singapore. It was such a hit that four sequels (Road to Zanzibar, Road to Morocco, Road to Utopia, and Road to Rio) were made within the 1940s alone.
While Paramount was busy brainstorming exotic new locales for its comedy dream team, Hope was busy chasing any woman who wasn't his wife, Dolores. Hope's lifelong penchant for chorus girls was an open industry secret. In an unauthorized Bob Hope biography, Groucho Marx's son Arthur wrote, "It's believed Bob Hope made love to more beautiful women than Errol Flynn, my Uncle Chico, and Bing Crosby combined." Some of these women were girlfriends, like Marilyn Maxwell, who was around so often that people called her "Mrs. Hope." Others were just one-night flings. But keeping everyone happy, paid off, and out of the press was one of the chief responsibilities for Hope's publicity team. His agent Louis Shurr put it bluntly: "Our mission in life is to keep all news about fucking and sucking away from Dolores."
Hope might've kept his affairs to himself, but he freely shared his messed-up attitudes towards women. In the fall of 1970, NBC aired an hour-long special called "Bob Hope Looks at Women's Lib." In it, a new lady network chief dusts furniture and cancels the Indianapolis 500—because this was how Hope imagined a woman in power. The perennial emcee also shared some misogynistic hot takes during the 1970 Miss World beauty pageant. Hope had already opened the evening with some casually gross comments comparing women to cows, but he got downright despicable after feminist protesters threw stink bombs in the middle of proceedings. Later that night, Hope told reporters, "You'll notice about the women in liberation movements, none of them are pretty, because pretty women don't have those problems."
Reporters had also started to question Hope about his stance on the Vietnam War around this time. Hope performed USO shows for over 50 years, so it didn't surprise anyone when he toured Vietnam. But he quickly alienated soldiers by espousing his buddy Richard Nixon's foolproof plan to win the war. The troops reportedly booed him—and he lost younger audiences when he returned home and continued to serve as Nixon's mouthpiece. (For a blatant example of this see: Academy Awards 1975.)
An eighth Road to… movie was planned shortly after Hope's sexist Miss World hijinks and Vietnam gaffes. It was called Road to the Fountain of Youth, and it had a script and a producer by 1977. This movie never made it to production, however, because Crosby died of a heart attack that same year.
Speaking of Crosby, you might've noticed his absence in this discussion of Hope's misadventures. That's not because he was a squeaky clean choir boy with an unfortunate business partner. It's because Crosby's dirty laundry wasn't aired until 1983, when his son Gary published the memoir Going My Own Way. The autobiography claimed that Bing was an emotionally and physically abusive monster who called his kids names like "Satchel Ass" and "Bucket Butt"—Gary had, in his own words, "a big broad ass on me as a kid that used to annoy the hell out of my father"—and beat them mercilessly. He used whatever weapons were available—any belt, cane, or plank would do. He also found fun, creative ways to humiliate the boys for neglecting their chores. If one of them left underwear on the floor, he'd have to wear it around his neck for the rest of the night. Bing proudly called this the "Crosby lavalier."
Gary's brothers had mixed reactions to the book, but even its most vocal opponent, Phillip, confirmed his dad's firm belief in corporal punishment. You know what else Crosby believed in? Infidelity. Arthur Marx invoked Crosby's name in that earlier bed-notch comparison because the guy also slept around. In fact, Crosby's friends gossiped about his affairs so openly that the kids overheard tales of their father cheating on their mother. On Christmas, just as the famous caroler would've wanted.
While Crosby's legacy was crumbling posthumously, Hope was continuing to swing a sledgehammer at his own. In the 1980s, he amped up his homophobic side by making an AIDS joke about the Statue of Liberty and dropping a gay slur on The Tonight Show. GLAAD did get an apology out of him for the latter incident, but by that point, Hope had firmly established himself as an old, out-of-touch bigot. Not that it mattered to his most ardent admirers. Hope still got a gallery in the Library of Congress a couple years later.
Hope lived well past his sadistic buddy Crosby, all the way to the ripe age of 100. Before he died, the comedian observed, "I"m no angel. I've known very few angels." With friends like these, it's easy to see why.