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Dolores Hope, 102, singer, wife of comedian Bob Hope

Dolores Hope worked as a model, Ziegfeld showgirl, and nightclub singer before she married Bob Hope. Dolores Hope worked as a model, Ziegfeld showgirl, and nightclub singer before she married Bob Hope. (Associated Press/File 1955)
By Bob Thomas
Associated Press / September 20, 2011

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LOS ANGELES - Dolores Hope, the sultry-voiced songstress who was married to Bob Hope for 69 years and sometimes sang on his shows for US troops and on his television specials, has died at age 102.

Family spokesman Harlan Boll said Mrs. Hope died yesterday of natural causes at home in Los Angeles. Bob Hope died at age 100 on July 27, 2003.

At her 100th birthday party, Dolores Hope appeared little changed: Her white hair was richly coiffed, her skin smooth, and her voice deep and warm. She was brought to the party in a wheelchair but was alert and happy as she greeted old friends and posed for photographs.

Mrs. Hope mused, “I thought it was going to be just another birthday.’’

In 1933, when Bob Hope was appearing in his first Broadway show, “Roberta,’’ his friend and fellow cast member George Murphy persuaded him to visit the Vogue Club to “hear a pretty girl sing.’’ She was Dolores Reade, a dark beauty whose singing of “It’s Only a Paper Moon’’ entranced the young comedian.

“I’ll never forget what a wonderful singer she was,’’ said Rip Taylor. “In fact, that’s how Bob and Dolores met. It seems to me that they were always laughing.’’

Bob Hope returned every night and soon he was escorting her to her hotel after her shows. They married Feb. 19, 1934, and she quit nightclubs to join his vaudeville act. Then she retired.

“Bob was the hot thing in New York then,’’ she recalled in 1997. “I thought I’d better stay home and take care of Bob.’’

When they moved to Hollywood in 1938 for the beginning of his film career, Dolores stayed home and devoted her time to raising the four children the Hopes adopted: Linda, Anthony, Kelly, and Nora.

“I had such a huge admiration for both of them,’’ said Julie Newmar. “The quality it takes to get just one year older, says a lot about that fact that she lived to 102.’’

She continued singing at parties, and in the 1940s she began accompanying her husband on his Christmas trips to entertain US troops. In 1966 she sang “Silent Night’’ to thousands of GIs who then rose and gave her a thunderous ovation, many with tears in their eyes.

In 1990, Mrs. Hope accompanied Bob on his last Christmas visit to American forces, visiting troops who were in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm. Marie Osmond, Ann Jillian, and the Pointer Sisters did not perform, to avoid offending Saudi sensibilities about women entertainers. But Dolores Hope was approved and sang “White Christmas’’ to a rapt audience. “She was the first lady of the USO,’’ said Carol Channing. “They didn’t come any more patriotic, caring, or talented than Dolores.’’

She was born Dolores DeFina in 1909 in New York’s Harlem to an Italian father and Irish mother, and grew up in the Bronx. Her diction faintly echoed the Bronx upbringing. “My father died when I was very young, and there was just my mother, my sister, and me,’’ she remarked in 1982. “Were we a needy family? I always like what General Eisenhower said: ‘We were poor and didn’t know it.’ ’’

She began singing early, also working as a model and a Ziegfeld showgirl, and at 20 sang with George Olson’s band. She adopted the name Dolores Reade, borrowed from stage actress Florence Reed. In her 80s, Mrs. Hope revived her singing career, recording three albums of standards and appearing at New York’s Rainbow and Stars as guest with Rosemary Clooney.

Aside from overseeing two homes - a mansion in North Hollywood and a hilltop home in Palm Springs - Mrs. Hope worked indefatigably for numerous charities. From 1969 to 1976 she served as president of the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Desert, Calif., then becoming chairwoman.

In 1982, she explained her philosophy: “I like being with people, but I also need to have my time alone. I think it’s terribly important to have some time during the day when you stop and take all the energy that you have given out and pull it back in, find the source of your energy. Then you work from there.’’