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When entertainers inserted themselves into the world of politics, they risked alienating their fans. Bob Hope’s position on the Vietnam War put his comedy at risk. Newsweek reported that during Hope’s 1969 Christmas tour in Vietnam, soldiers booed when he relayed Nixon’s promise of “a solid plan for ending the war.” In later years, Hope wrote, “I realized they weren’t booing me or the jokes, but they knew the show was going to be seen at home and it was the only way they had of trying to let the country and the President know how they felt.” Hope’s status as a celebrity allowed him to serve as a conduit for soldiers in the field to send a message home to their leaders through press coverage of the event. When entertainers took on such politically influential roles, their actions invited controversy and, in many cases, confusion.

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.—Bob Hope, 1970


Honor America Day

During a period of contentiousness over the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, Bob Hope helped to coordinate a rally intended to “show Americans can have a good time together despite their differences.” On July 4, 1970, “Honor America Day” was held in Washington, D.C. The day was intended to be non-partisan but was interpreted by many as a pro-war rally and was marred by anti-war demonstrators. In the first letter shown here, President Nixon (1913–1994) thanks Hope for his work on the event and his great service to the country. The second letter, from the father of a soldier killed in Vietnam, expresses the hope that Honor America Day might help unify a nation torn by war.

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Dick Gregory and Honor America Day

Bob Hope helped coordinate an “Honor America Day” rally in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 1970 in an attempt to bring Americans together during contentious times. Responding to criticism that dissidents were excluded from participating, Hope tried to interest performers from the left but insisted, “We want to see entertainment that’s on the plus side. We don’t want anything political.” In this letter, comedian and activist Dick Gregory (b. 1932) graciously declined Hope’s offer and explained why he felt the event could not be “politically neutral.”

Letter from Dick Gregory to Bob Hope, July 1, 1970. Page 2, Page 3. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (134.03.00) [Digital ID # bhp0134_03]

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Hope for the Families of POWs

During the Vietnam War, Bob Hope received many letters from families of American POWs held in North Vietnamese prisons requesting his help in gaining their release. Although his meeting with a North Vietnamese official in Laos produced no results, POWs subsequently learned of Hope’s actions on their behalf and were deeply appreciative. To an audience of POWs at a White House dinner given in their honor upon their release in 1973, Hope joked about his efforts and their travails.

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Wife of a Future Vice Presidential Candidate Asks for Help

In this 1969 letter, Mrs. James Stockdale, co-founder of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, asked Bob Hope to speak out on his television shows about “Hanoi’s inhumane treatment” of POWs. Her husband (1923–2005), a POW from 1965 until 1973, later ran for vice-president as the running mate of Ross Perot (b. 1930). POWs learned of Hope’s actions on their behalf and were deeply appreciative.

Mrs. James Stockdale to Bob Hope, February 17, 1969. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (135.01.00) [Digital ID # bhp0135_01]

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The Entertainer as Diplomat

During his 1971 Christmas tour, Bob Hope flew to Laos to confer with Nguyen Van Tranh, first secretary of the North Vietnamese embassy. Wanting to negotiate the release of American POWs, Hope suggested that American children could raise money to benefit North Vietnamese children suffering because of the war. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had peace and you could come and entertain in Hanoi,” Hope reported Tranh as saying. The effort came to naught.

Bob Hope in Vientiane, Laos, with Nguyen Van Tranh (middle), and Rev. G. Edward Roffe (1905–2000, left), Christian Alliance Church minister and interpreter, December 23, 1971. Copyprint. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (133.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0133]

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Hope for the POWs

The Paris Peace Accords of January 1973 resulted in the release of American POWs from North Vietnamese prisons in exchange for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Days before his release, Captain Frederic Flom (b. 1941), a captive since 1966, wrote a letter of gratitude to Bob Hope that eloquently expressed his understanding of the influence celebrities can have on the nation. Hope later met Captain Flom at a White House gala to honor the returning POWs.

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Feiffer and the POWs

When POWs began returning home, speculation spread that they had been coached on what to say in press conferences. Nearly identical statements from a few POWs gave credence to the rumor. POWs and the Defense Department, however, vehemently denied the accusation. When a cartoon by Jules Feiffer (b. 1929) on the subject was published, he received letters of outrage, including one from a publisher who threatened to renegotiate his contract with Feiffer’s syndicate, provoking this pointed reply from Feiffer.

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  • Jules Feiffer. Cartoon with handwritten notes, March 18, 1973. Jules Feiffer Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (137.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0137]

  • Letter from Jules Feiffer to Robert Chambers, March 27, 1973. Jules Feiffer Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (138.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0138]

  • Jules Feiffer. Cartoon with handwritten notes, March 1973. Jules Feiffer Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (137.01.00) [Digital ID # bhp0137_01]

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Academy Awards Controversy

During the 1975 Academy Awards ceremonies, with the Vietnam War nearly over, Bert Schneider, accepting an award for the anti-war documentary Hearts and Minds, read a telegram from a Viet Cong diplomat thanking Americans for “the liberation of South Vietnam.” After receiving angry telegrams backstage, Bob Hope, a co-host with Frank Sinatra (1915–1998) and Shirley MacLaine (b. 1934), composed this draft disclaimer on the back of a telegram for Sinatra to read, over objections from MacLaine.

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"I Am Now for Gun Control"

Following the attempted assassination of President Reagan (1911–2004), Bob Hope announced that he was in favor of handgun registration. “I think the violence today is a concern of every citizen,” he stated, “and I am now for gun control.” In response, the National Rifle Association criticized Hope, while Senator Edward M. Kennedy (1932–2009) offered to work with him to generate public support. Hope urged President Reagan to support gun control legislation, but related, “He shies away from it.” Fans expressed both outrage and delight at Hope’s stance.

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Anita Bryant

In 1977, singer Anita Bryant (b. 1940), accusing the gay community of “trying to recruit our children,” campaigned successfully to repeal a Dade County, Florida, ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals. As her movement spread, Bob Hope satirized the situation, prompting Bryant supporters to cut up credit cards of Hope’s sponsor, Texaco. The company asked Hope to stop telling Bryant jokes and he agreed. In disgust, opponents of Bryant in turn cut up their Texaco cards.

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Utter Confusion

In March 1957, Jules Feiffer (b. 1929) published the first cartoon in a series that continued periodically throughout his career of a modern dancer celebrating the arrival of a new season or year. The cartoons commented wryly or caustically on changing times. At the end of 1991, Feiffer’s dancer graphically expressed the bewilderment of a time in which cold war verities had vanished in “a dance to utter confusion.”

Jules Feiffer. A Dance to the New Year, December 29, 1991. Reproduction of ink drawing on paper with paste-ons. Jules Feiffer Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (146.00.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca-24375] The Library of Congress does not have permission to show this image online.

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