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Book tells conversion stories of Bob Hope and other stars

Bob Hope, Lana Turner, and Gary Cooper

Wikipedia | Public Domain | Collage by Aleteia

John Touhey - published on 03/10/24

Aleteia talks to author Mary Claire Kendall about a new edition of her book 'Oasis.' It relates stories of many Hollywood stars who converted to Catholicism.

This year the Academy Awards will be hosted by comedian Jimmy Kimmel. It will be his fourth time hosting the ceremony, an impressive total – but he will have a hard time catching up to the greatest of all Academy Award hosts, Bob Hope, who emceed the Oscars a whopping 19 times.

Hope’s wry one-liners and deadpan quips made him a beloved figure on stage and screen, and especially at military bases all around the world. In between film shoots and radio appearances, the funnyman devoted much of his time entertaining overseas troops with the USO, often in combat zones.

For all his generosity, however, Hope was also a conflicted soul. His reputation as a penny-pincher may have been related to the harsh poverty he experienced as a child. Hope was also a womanizer, much to the dismay of his wife Dolores. It was her devout Catholic faith that ultimately kept the marriage together and that eventually led to Bob Hope’s conversion to Catholicism in the early 1990s.

Bob Hope at a USO appearance in 1984
Bob Hope at a USO appearance in 1984

Surprising stories

Bob Hope’s faith story is told in the wonderful book Oasis by Mary Claire Kendall. It shares the surprising conversion stories of 13 Hollywood celebrities, including Alfred Hitchcock, Gary Cooper, Lana Turner and a host of other stars. (You can read the story of John Wayne’s journey to the Catholic faith, parts of which were derived from Oasis, here.)

We were delighted to learn that Mary Claire Kendall has prepared a new edition of Oasis, which will also soon be available as an e-book. She tells Aleteia that the latest edition contains new information and corrections gleaned from her research. It restores “some of what I had to cut from the Mary Astor chapter,” and also “fills in more of Ann Sothern’s story.”

“Healing and recovery”

Years ago, Kendall found herself drawn to these stories of “healing and recovery.” As she explains in the preface to Oasis, she pitched the story of Gary Cooper’s conversion to a magazine publisher, but “(she) told me she was only interested in his ‘external life.’”

How absurd, I thought. What can be more fascinating than the story of a soul? It’s Billy Wilder’s classic Sunset Boulevard (1950) about a silent movie queen craving a return. It’s Barrymore (2011) about Jack, youngest of the theatrical royal family, eying a comeback, in between sips. It’s the arc of life, the ups and downs we all wrestle with, that complete the picture.

Kendall’s late mother eventually encouraged her to turn the stories into a book. She also credits her “dear friend” Fr. Charles John McCloskey III for “always sending me new stars to write about.” Sadly, he passed away last year.

"Oasis" by Mary Claire Kendall

A sequel in the works

It was Fr. McCloskey who suggested that Kendall write about Jack Lemmon’s turn to the Catholic faith – a story that will be told in the upcoming Oasis II, which will also share the faith journeys of Alec Guinness, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, and others. The book comes out this summer.

And what movie would she like to see take home an Academy Award this year? “Maestro, co-starring Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan, is my pick for Best Picture,” Kendall says. She also loved The Holdovers, “a classic dramatic comedy — and it will surely win an Oscar, perhaps Paul Giamatti for Best Actor.”

We’ll see if Mary Claire’s prediction is accurate in just a few hours…

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