"(For) six months the Marines had no entertainment," Hope has recalled about a show for soldiers on the South Pacific island of Pavuvu. "Hell, they didn't even have an airstrip. We'd have to land on roads."

Hope was always a master of the corner-of-the-mouth, vaudeville groaner - "Bing Crosby pays so much income tax, every time a Douglas bomber flies over his house it curtsies" - but it was the force of his personality, the visceral reminder of home he brought, that endeared him to the troops. And vice versa. Hope titled his 1944 wartime memoirs I Never Left Home, a tribute to the men and women who kept him and his traveling Gypsies from feeling homesick during long trips through those remote outposts.

Hope's success in entertaining the military was long lived, in part because he never stopped relating to the soldiers in the field. "Thanks to his vibrant aver-ageness, Hope is any healthy, cocky, capering American," wrote Time in 1943. "With his ski-slide nose and matching chin, he looks funny but he also looks normal, even personable."

During the contentious Vietnam War, Hope was criticized roundly for making nine Christmas trips to entertain in that country, sometimes hearing criticism from the troops themselves. But he didn't duck the issues, speaking to troops about home-front demonstrations and telling one group of G.I.'s, "I wanna tell you guys, the country's behind you 50 percent!"

"Vietnam was very difficult," says Hope's daughter, Linda, who now manages Hope Enterprises. "Some people called him a hawk and a war- monger, but the thing he used to say was, 'You know, I don't care if a guy wants to be there or not, the fact is, if they're there serving, putting their lives on the line, I want to reach out and support these people no matter what the politics are.' "