Beloved comedian Bob Hope’s legacy has gotten new legs with the opening of the Library of Congress exhibition “Hope for America: Performers, Politics & Pop Culture.” An online preview is available here.
“Hope for America” explores the special relationship between comedians and politicians and the way it changed in the century that encompassed Hope’s life and the years since his passing in 2003.
While powerful men have been letting funny foils lace their laughter with zingers since at least Shakespeare’s day (think King Lear and The Fool), Bob Hope, who was born in England, turned the free speech available on these shores into a veritable Zing-o-Matic. Presidents were a favorite target, and he was a favorite of at least 11 of those chief executives.
As the exhibition shows, he led the way for a tradition of U.S. political humor that continues even today, which has witnessed such phenomena as candidacies by comedians, some of whom have gone on to hold public office.
This new exhibition replaces a previous one in the same space, which focused on the history of vaudeville in the United States, the springboard for Hope’s own career.
“Hope for America” will draw from the treasured Bob Hope Collection, which was donated to the Library by the Hope family in 1998. On display will be Hope’s personal papers, joke files, films and radio and television broadcasts, along with other materials from the Library’s vast collections.
The exhibition also will examine entertainers’ involvement in a wide range of causes and campaigns, especially as leaders in supporting and entertaining American troops abroad. Hope’s commitment to public service for nearly 50 years on behalf of the men and women in the armed forces earned him many honors, including the U. S. Congressional Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Hope for America: Performers, Politics & Pop Culture” is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday in the Library’s Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St., S.E. in Washington, D.C.