Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Tarring Bob Hope With the Red Brush

In this day of “The Daily Show”, Stephen Colbert and late night talk show monologues, it’s hard to think anyone believed political humour would be too sensitive a subject for comedians. But that appears to have been the case in 1958, a time of stand-up yucks about mothers-in-law, women drivers and suburbia.

When you think of Bob Hope, a multitude of things come to mind. Road pictures with Bing Crosby. “Thanks for the Memories.” Old Ski Nose. Endless sojourns to entertain “the boys.” And, at the end, an old guy staring at corny jokes on cue cards during TV specials larded with marching bands, football teams and breasty women. But in his radio variety days, Hope tossed in one-line zingers at political figures. And like any good comedian, he picked on the foible, not the political party.

Leslie Townes Hope would be 110 today. Here’s a column from the Associated Press about how Hope learned that partisan political types take the attitude “If you ain’t for us, you’re against us.”


HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 23 (AP) – Is Bob Hope the only one left who can kid presidents?
This question arose again this week when old ski nose told political jokes at a luncheon for President Eisenhower during the latter’s political visit here. There was much laughter over Bob’s pointed political barbs. Many observers feel he is the only comic who can get away with it anymore.
These lamenters feel the age of political satire is past, that there are too many sacred cows now. You often hear the claim: Will Rogers couldn’t conduct his spoofing of politicos if he were alive today.
“Nonsense,” says Hope. I see no reason why Rogers couldn’t be doing his act today. One you build up certain trade marks, you can get away with more than the newcomer can. People expect me to kid politics; they’d be disappointed if I didn’t.”
But he admitted that political satire is increasingly hazardous.
“I guess it wouldn’t be wise for me to play Little Rock right now,” he sighed during a lunch break of “Alias Jesse James.” “I’ve been getting mail from Arkansas calling me all kinds of names.”
The reason was the Hope-ism: “President Eisenhower wanted to send the first man into space, but he couldn’t get Governor Faubus to make the trip.”
Hope recalled the time when he threw some quips in the direction of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The comedian drew a letter from a Wisconsin judge accusing him of being a Communist. Confirmed capitalist Hope set him straight in a return letter.
Hope knows his way around Washington, and so he can step on some friendly toes when he tosses out his witticisms. Richard Nixon’s “Checkers” speech was too fertile territory for him to resist, so he made some cracks about it.
“Wow, the mail I got from that!” he recalled. “I was worried, because Nixon is a good friend of mine. I sent him the letters and my explanation, just so he’d hear about it from me first.” During his summer run in “Roberta” in St. Louis, Hope cracked: “President Eisenhower is getting more distance out of his golf drivers now that he’s got Sherman Adams’ picture on the ball.”
Hope rattled it off for a quick laugh, but it was picked up by a national magazine. He felt bad about it, since Adams was a friend, too.
Unlike Rogers, who was an avowed partisan (“I don’t belong to an organized party—I’m a Democrat”), Hope has steered clear of active politicking. “I don’t think it’s fair to your sponsor,” he explained.
To prove his impartiality, he can cite the times he entertained before Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. He recalled with fondness a Washington dinner in 1944. Hope commented on the meeting of Roosevelt and Churchill to plan allied strategy:
“They didn’t discuss where we were going to attack or when. It was: How can we keep Eleanor out of the crossfire?”
Hope remembered that FDR lifted his cigarette holder into the air, threw back his head and laughed heartily. To a comedian, such a reaction is worth all the slings and arrows of outraged citizens.

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