Gotta have Hope, Bob Hope: the weird truth about his marriages
For years, Erie has played the starring role in the tale of Bob Hope’s storybook wedding to his wife, Dolores. However, a new biography not only shows some holes in that famed story, but also how the legendary comedian never let the facts stand in the way of good story.
In “Hope: Entertainer of the Century” (Simon & Shuster, $30), Richard Zoglin confirms — as several writers have — that Hope wed in Erie on Jan. 25, 1933, in a “civil ceremony that was obviously meant to be kept quiet.” But Zoglin’s goes deeper than any other biographer has before about what happened to that marriage.
“I don’t know if anyone at the time questioned the story,” Zoglin says by telephone from his home in New York.
The marriage certificate Hope filed at the Erie County Courthouse listed himself as Leslie T. Hope (his real name) and his bride as Grace L. Troxell. Troxell was Hope’s vaudeville partner, Louise. For occupations, he wrote down “salesman” for his and “secretary” for hers.
However, Hope always maintained that he married his longtime wife Dolores (DeFina) Reade, a nightclub singer, in Erie, on Feb. 19,1934.
The couple’s publicists argued that Hope and Troxell never actually went through with the ceremony. Erie officials told Zoglin that the certificate would not exist if the ceremony did not happen.
In another biography, “Bob Hope â€“ A Life in Comedy” (Da Capo Press, 2003), author William Robert Faith claimed that “Hope had made a trip to Erie to make certain his marriage to Louise had been annulled.” However, no proof of an annulment was given by Faith.
Zoglin uncovered an answer as to what happened to Hope’s first marriage, and it was not an annulment. The information he found didn’t solve the marital mystery but deepened it.
“By accident, I found the divorce papers in Cleveland,” Zoglin says. “He (Hope) divorced his former vaudeville partner Louise Troxell in Sept. 4, 1934. That allows me to say he could not have been married to Dolores in February of 1934 unless he wants to admit to being a bigamist — which I kind of doubt.”
The divorce papers, Zoglin writes, show Hope accusing his new wife of “extreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty” and her “quarrelsome disposition” as the reasons for the split. Again, Hope went to great lengths to keep the marriage — and the divorce — a secret.
Stranger yet, Zoglin could not find a marriage license for Bob Hope and Dolores Reade.
“That license could be somewhere, but it’s just odd that Bob would not make a big deal about marrying a nightclub singer. He did not advertise that she was his wife for several years, and then, all of a sudden, she was his wife. I kind of assume they got married in a church but I can’t say for sure, “ Zoglin says.
Hope’s friend and fellow comedian Milton Berle told Hope biographer Arthur Marx that he attended the couple’s wedding in a small New York City church in either 1934 or 1935. Berle never indicated which church held the ceremony.
Despite an extensive search of New York records for the five years Hope was living in the city, and becoming a star on Broadway, Zoglin discovered no proof that a marriage took place. He did find an announcement of Bob Hope and Delores Reade’s engagement in the New York Herald-Tribune in August of 1934.
In 1958, Reade told a writer for the American Weekly magazine that they were married a year after they met. The two met in 1933 when Reade performed at a Manhattan nightclub.
Hope gives his wedding to Reade three sentences in his 1954 memoir “Have Tux, Will Travel” (Simon & Shuster). He writes: “We picked Erie, Pennsylvania, for our wedding. I can’t remember why. I was in a thick, pink fog anyway.”
As for the Feb. 19, 1934, date, Zoglin suspects the couple just made it up for reasons that will likely remain a mystery. Could the story have covered up something that the Hopes did not want the public to know about their relationship?
“I just don’t know for sure. I do know that some family members privately wonder if they were married at all,” Zoglin says. “It may be irrelevant because they did have a common-law marriage for 69 years. I also assume that Dolores, being a good Catholic, would have gotten Bob into a church at some point to exchange vows.”
Eighty years later, the Hopes maintaining the Erie wedding story continues to pop up time and again. It was reported as fact by the media at the time of Reade’s death in 2011, and her Wikipedia page still lists Erie as where they got married.
“Whenever he was asked why he had gotten married in Erie, Hope never had a good answer as to why. He’d toss it off as a joke like ‘we couldn’t wait until we got to a larger town,’” Zoglin says.
Faith wrote that if asked about it, Hope would tell reporters to ask Dolores, and she would tell them to ask Bob. The couple, however, always celebrated their anniversary on February 19th.
As for Troxell, she gave up show business and moved back to her hometown of Chicago after her divorce from Hope. He would occasionally visit when passing through on tour. In her later life, Hope secretly sent her money. She died in 1976 at the age of 65 in Las Vegas without ever making a public statement about her marriage to Hope.
Zoglin also uncovered one more piece of odd information pertaining to the couple. When Troxell’s daughter died of a drug overdose in 1998, the person who supplied information about the deceased “is listed, intriguingly, as ‘Dolores Hope — Godparent.’”
For his part, Hope never was particularly faithful to Reade during their marriage. Zoglin recounts many tales of Hope’s infidelities with numerous women including stars such as Marilyn Maxwell, Lucille Ball, Ethel Merman, Jane Russell and Dorothy Lamour. Comedy writers were even hired not to write jokes, but to keep Reade in the dark about the multiple affairs.
For whatever reason, the Erie wedding story is typical of Hope’s approach to his entire life. Zoglin points out time and again Hope’s talent for creating his own life story and sticking to it. In the book, he draws out the real Bob Hope. He helps reestablish the comedian’s rightful place as a ground-breaking performer despite his bad one-liners and tone-deaf support of the Vietnam War and President Richard Nixon during his later years.
“His career really defines 20th century American entertainment. He reached the top, or near the top, of every field in entertainment from vaudeville to Broadway to radio, movies, television and live concerts,” Zoglin says.
No matter what happened, Erie will always be a part of the Hope story. The city played a small part in his climb from an English-born immigrant boy, growing up in Cleveland, to one of the most important people in entertainment history, who died at the age of 102 in 2003.
Originally published at www.goerie.com on January 25, 2015.