Bob Hope and Southern Methodist University share memories stretching back to the 1920s, when the young vaudevillian was performing at Dallas' Majestic Theatre. During that time, Hope met the late Bob O'Donnell, a theater chain executive and SMU supporter, who would become his lifelong friend and mentor. From that early friendship, Hope's connections to SMU grew to include key friendships with SMU presidents and trustees. He made frequent visits to the campus to perform, serve as a trustee, teach a course on comedy and crown the Homecoming Queen. Besides his friendship, his greatest legacy to the university is the Bob Hope Theatre.
"SMU mourns the loss of Bob Hope as a cherished member of our extended family," said R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University. "During a long relationship with SMU, he frequently performed on campus, taught a course on comedy, served on the Board of Trustees, and received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. He funded the Bob Hope Theatre in Meadows School of the Arts, which remains a major venue for teaching and performing. We will remember Bob Hope not only for the art of his comedy, but also for the impact he made on young people, whether boosting the morale of U.S. troops overseas or inspiring creativity among college students such as those at SMU."
Long before he became a major donor to SMU, Hope enjoyed a warm, affectionate relationship with SMU students. Always an enthusiastic Mustang sports fan, he invited SMU's football team to visit him at Paramount Studios when the team traveled to the 1936 Rose Bowl. In 1949 he was "kidnapped" from a show in Fort Worth by SMU students who took him to a giant pep rally in downtown Dallas preceding the SMU-Notre Dame football game. Hope quipped that an atheist was someone who didn't care who won when SMU played Notre Dame.
In 1952 the late Eugene McElvaney, a Dallas financier and then chairman of SMU's Board of Trustees, conceived a plan to increase the university's endowment with the formation of the Ponies Oil Company. One of the principals from whom the oil properties were purchased was Bob Hope; the other was Bing Crosby. This was Hope's first financial transaction with SMU.
Also during the early 1950s, Hope started performing on college campuses. His visits to SMU were always sold out. At one such event, Hope became the first person ever to arrive at SMU in a helicopter. He was the first man to be made an honorary member of the SMU sororities, and in 1968 he was crowned SMU's "Homecoming King." Other honors accorded him include an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, the Red Stallion Award from the Athletic Department and an honorary membership in the SMU Alumni Association. From 1968 to 1976, Hope served on the SMU Board of Trustees.
The Bob Hope Theatre, which opened in 1968, was built with gifts from the entertainer totaling more than $800,000. Shortly after it opened, as a benefit for the university, Hope performed in the theater in a nationally televised revival of his Broadway hit "Roberta." The show's glittering opening-night party in the Owen Fine Arts Center mixed Dallas power brokers with Hollywood stars.
In 1969, the Bob Hope Scholarship was created in honor of Bob Hope and is given each year to two graduate theatre students. Additionally, the Bob Hope Award, also given annually, is awarded to one senior majoring in theatre.
In 1984 the late G. William Jones, professor of cinema in SMU's Meadows School of the Arts and director of the Southwest Film/Video Archives, taught a cinema course titled "Bob Hope: On the Art of Cinema Comedy." Students became familiar with the famous comedian's career by reading his books and watching his films. As a climax to the semester, Hope himself taught the class for one week. He was honored by Meadows as a Distinguished Visiting Professor for Life.
Hope's last visit to the SMU campus was in April 1992, when he received the Medal of Distinction from SMU's Meadows School of the Arts at a black-tie gala. In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Hope said of the honor: "I'm proud of all of my awards, but let's face it, this one is sort of special."
"Bob Hope was a friend, a benefactor, and an inspiration to SMU and the Meadows School of the Arts for many, many years," said Carole Brandt, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts. "His generous legacy to us will endure with the exceptional Bob Hope Theatre and also with the Bob Hope Scholarship Fund and the Bob Hope Awards, which provide wonderful support for our very talented theatre students."
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