Library of Congress’ Bob Hope Exhibit Showcases Political Activism More Than Comic’s Legacy

By Penny Starr | June 11, 2010 | 5:42 PM EDT

A photo of Bob Hope as a presidential candidate is the opening panel in a new exhibit at the Library of Congress, "Hope for America: Performers, Politics and Pop Culture," which opened today. ( Starr)

( – A new exhibit at the Library of Congress is dedicated to the memory of entertainer Bob Hope, but it focuses more on politics than it does on the legacy of a movie star who used his talents to support the U.S. military around the world.

The “Hope for America: Performers, Politics and Pop Culture” exhibit  in the library's Jefferson Building includes much of Hope’s private collection of photos, jokes, and correspondence spanning his decades-long career, which the Hope family donated to the Library of Congress in 1998.
But the overall theme of the exhibit highlights political protest and activism – something that, by all accounts, Hope avoided even as he became a regular at the White House over the course of 11 U.S. presidencies.

Comedian Steve Colbert narrates a short film that introduces the exhibition. The film included Colbert interviewing D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. ( Starr)

In an introductory film at the exhibit, narrator Stephen Colbert talks about Hope’s comedic career and U.S.O. tours. Colbert says politicians and entertainers have a “special attraction to one another,” cutting to an interview with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
“You helped write the federal sexual harassment guidelines during the Carter administration, correct?” Colbert asks Holmes Norton.
‘Indeed,” says Holmes Norton.
“Then why are you undressing me with your eyes now?” Colbert asks.
“You flatter yourself, sir,” Holmes Norton responds.
Colbert says Hollywood movies “draw the nation’s attention to matters of urgent importance,” with scenes shown from the pro-union film “Norma Rae” and the movie about homosexual Harvey Milk, a slain homosexual politician portrayed by Sean Penn.
“And I say, we have got to give them hope,” Milk says in a scene shown from the film.

Video footage of Jane Fonda visiting North Vietnam when the United States was at war with the country is included in the exhibit. ( Starr)

Under the title “Causes and Controversies,” exhibit highlights include video footage of Jane Fonda visiting North Vietnam, and Bill Maher in a 2004 television interview with George Carlin, who says American foreign policy is “rich old men protecting their property by sending young men out to die.”
A letter is on display written by feminists who claim they want to stage their own U.S.O. show.
“Since this is a counter-U.S.O. show, we think that the script should have none of the sexist scenes in it that Bob Hope specials have, dancing girls or any portrayal of Women (sic) being inferior to men (which they aren’t),” the letter states.
A brochure for the exhibit says politicians and entertainers are “increasingly entangled” and that it will “challenge visitors to draw their own conclusions regarding the synergy between politics and entertainment in American society and its consequences for the nation’s political culture.”
Alan Gevinson, curator of the exhibit, told that the exhibit’s theme fits with Hope’s career and legacy.
“Politics and civic activism seemed an apt topic for the new exhibition because Bob Hope was a pioneer in both,” said Gevinson.
“His topical humor broadcast nationally on a weekly basis, beginning in 1938, influenced many of the great monologists and hosts of late night comedy shows that came after him on television, such as Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Conan O’Brien,” he added.
“Bob Hope began to entertain armed forces personnel in May 1941 and continued throughout his lifetime,” Gevinson said.
“His dedication showed the importance of entertainment for causes of civic importance,” Gevinson said. “In 1944, Bob Hope established a relationship with the Washington political scene when he appeared at the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner attended by President Roosevelt.
“With regard to political protest, one aim of the exhibition was to reveal the intertwining of the worlds of politics and entertainment that increased as the twentieth century progressed,” Gevinson said. “Especially during the 1960s, many entertainers used their celebrity status to protest policies and issues of importance. As part of the history of American entertainment, we felt it was valid to reflect this.”
Gevinson said Hope’s daughter Linda and son Kelly have seen the exhibit and that the Hope family approved of it and helped during the preparation of the exhibit.
He also said conservatives are represented in the exhibit, including musicians Lee Greenwood and Pat Boone and musician-turned-lawmaker, the late Sonny Bono.
Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) is shown as a competitor in the television series “Dancing with Stars.”
Comedian and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is in the introductory film.
“It’s helpful to be funny,” Franken said in an appearance on “The David Letterman Show” when he was running for office. “Funny is a good thing.”

Actor Sean Penn ( Starr)

In an obituary in The New York Times on July 28, 2003, when Bob Hope died at age 100, the writer notes that Hope poked fun at politicians but kept his own politics to himself, and “only during the Vietnam war did he let his guard down a bit and permit his audiences to see his deep conservatism.”
A segment of the exhibit, “Blurring of the Lines,” quotes Bob Hope as saying in 1970, “I just hated to get involved in politics. It used to be considered corny to be too patriotic … like you are almost commercializing on patriotism. There was that danger. I stayed away from it until this past year, when I figured that it had to be pretty important.
“I got a very negative feeling that the country was getting very little support from the news media. And I felt that they were being unfair,” Hope added.
Hope, who acted in more than 50 films in addition to his many stage, radio and television appearances, was given 54 honorary degrees and the keys to 500 cities during his lifetime.

Politicians also honored him. Hope received the Medal of Merit from President Eisenhower, and in 1963, President John F. Kennedy presented him with the Presidential Gold Medal in recognition of the star's “services to his country and to the cause of world peace.”
He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – on display in the exhibit – by President George W. Bush and the Distinguished Service Medal from each branch of the armed forces.