Mail Call: Bob Hope and “Command Performance”

“While some high school letters are worn on sweaters, your letters are next to our hearts.”

In September 1944, Bob Hope received a letter from a hospitalized Private First Class Standridge, who served with the 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. The letter was addressed to Hope care of  Command Performance. The radio show Command Performance was a perfect vehicle for Bob Hope, to whom the idea of performing for those in service was central. Broadcast from 1942–1949 by the Armed Forces Radio Network (AFRS), Command Performance was transmitted with few exceptions only to troops overseas, not on domestic stations. The AFRS was a new division of the War Department formed to bring entertainment, information, and education to military personnel over the airwaves.

The first weekly half-hour show was broadcast on March 1, 1942. Originally recorded in New York, Command Performance later moved to Hollywood, where it was prerecorded in front of a live audience for later shortwave broadcast. The show functioned largely as a precursor to the call-in show, soliciting and honoring requests from troops. Radio producer Louis Cowan conceived of the show’s format considering that large numbers of American in uniform would appreciate giving commands instead of receiving orders. The requests were often musical ones like, “Can Judy Garland sing ‘Over the Rainbow?’” But sometimes they were very creative requests. On an October 1943 broadcast emceed by Hope, actress Carole Landis was asked to sigh into the microphone. In another 1943 broadcast, which was filmed, Lana Turner complied with a request by frying a steak on stage. The steak was presented on stage by armed guards to emphasize the point that this was precious rationed beef. Sometimes the requests were intensely personal, including one from a soldier who wanted to hear the bark of his dog back home. Command Performance used traveling audio engineers to make listeners’ dreams come true.

Bob Hope was emcee of the show numerous times, and his July 7, 1942, broadcast was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2005. His costars were Lena Horne, who sang “Just One of Those Things,” bandleader Les Brown, and actress Rosalind Russell. Hope closed the broadcast, stating “While some high school letters are worn on sweaters, your letters are next to our hearts.”


Kim Guise

Kimberly Guise holds a BA in German and Judaic Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also studied at the Universität Freiburg in Germany and holds a masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Louisiana State University. Kim is fluent in German, reads Yiddish, and specializes in the American prisoner-of-war experience in World War II.

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