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Bob Hope had a special affinity for presidents. He could make them laugh—at him, of course—but also at themselves. From FDR to Bill Clinton, Hope played the White House court jester, often poking pointed jabs at the high and mighty—Republicans and Democrats alike—though his satiric thrusts always were inflected with respect and often with affection. The key to joking with presidents, Hope found, was in “making an insult humorous so as to only dent the presidential ego, not damage it.” Presidents loved his ability to make them laugh. A White House request to Hope in 1956 to emcee a dinner put it well: “Your presence will make it possible for President Eisenhower to escape for several hours the onerous weight of his public burdens and cares.”

The first presidential joke I ever told was about George Washington: George told his father, “I cannot tell a lie.” I don’t know how he made it in politics! [Bob Hope, 1996]

Can you imagine if today’s press were around in Lincoln’s time? When he started out the Gettysburg address with the words “Four score and seven years ago,” the press would report it as “Lincoln says he scored four times in seven years.” [Bob Hope, September 3, 1992]

Well, this is the year we vote for President. . . . And President Roosevelt has finally decided to quit throwing his hat in the ring. . . . He’s just tied a string on it now and works it like a yo-yo. [Bob Hope, January 29, 1944]

Truman was in fine shape when he talked to Congress. . . . He was full of vim, vigor, and veto. [Bob Hope, January 10, 1950]

Ike spent his birthday on the golf course. . . . He knows what he’s doing. It’s his one chance to walk into the locker room and say “Sixty-eight today.” [Bob Hope, October 14, 1958]

President Kennedy is just winding up a non-political tour of the eleven states he lost in the last election. . . . It really is non-political. He just wants to see how they’re getting along without federal aid. [Bob Hope, October 5, 1963]

President Johnson couldn’t be here tonight. He’s busy. He’s placing a wreath on the tomb of the “unknown foreign policy.” [Bob Hope, January 21, 1967]

President Nixon wanted to be here tonight but he’s preparing his speech on the Watergate and he’s busy typing it. . . . Which is pretty tough to do with your fingers crossed. [Bob Hope, August 14, 1973]

Jerry Ford didn’t tape record anyone. He had the equipment but every time he threw the switch it hit someone. [Bob Hope, February 8, 1982]

Wasn’t Carter’s interview in Playboy something? He talks like Billy Graham and dreams like Sinatra. . . . Now we know what he’s always smiling about. [Bob Hope, October 7, 1976]

You all know that Reagan is our oldest chief executive. . . . Poli-Grip is now the official presidential seal. [Bob Hope, May 3, 1982]

George Bush told me to read his lips. While I had my eyes on his lips, he went for my wallet. [Bob Hope, July 19, 1990]

Clinton loves to make long speeches. In fact, this will be the first inaugural address with an intermission. [Bob Hope, 1993]

I’ve known eleven presidents about as intimately as a man can without being either a fellow politician or related. I’ve golfed with them, dined with them, told jokes with them. I’ve even had them steal my material. Laughter is nonpartisan—a great leveler. And maybe that’s the one thing all eleven presidents have in common. As long as it’s funny, you can say almost anything to them and get away with it.—Bob Hope, 1996


Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969)

At a White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in May 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower clapped vigorously after Bob Hope, recalling their 1943 meeting in Algiers, remarked, “That was when he was a four-star general and had some power.” Pictured here, Eisenhower presents Hope with the Army’s highest civilian decoration, the Medal of Merit, in appreciation of Hope’s wartime contributions to national morale. In this letter, Eisenhower, Hope’s hero, expressed a sentimental attachment to the comedian’s name.

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John F. Kennedy (1917–1963)

Receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in September 1963 from President John F. Kennedy, Bob Hope recalled that he had entertained troops in the South Pacific while Kennedy was stationed there during World War II. “He was a very gay, carefree young man at that time,” Hope quipped, “Of course, all he had to worry about then was the enemy.” Hope later wrote, “What set Kennedy apart from all other presidents was his ability to genuinely laugh at himself. He opened the floodgates for presidential humor, the likes of which had never been seen before.”

Bob Hope entertains President John F. Kennedy and Representative James Roosevelt (1907–1991) at Eleanor Roosevelt Cancer Foundation Dinner, May 30, 1961. Reprinted in “Bob Hope, Favorite Jester of the Western World.” American Weekly, April 14, 1963. Reproduction. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (160.01.00) [Digital ID # bhp0160_01]

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Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973)

In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson arrived unexpectedly at a USO dinner honoring Bob Hope. As Hope satirized the president, he “would time his stare at me,” Hope related. “It was as though he was timing his reaction to help me get a laugh.” The next day, Hope and Johnson cavorted on the White House putting green. The book referred to in the first letter, Five Women I Love, Bob Hope’s Vietnam Story, described this encounter. During Johnson’s 1964 campaign against Senator Barry Goldwater, he asked Hope for jokes to use in speeches. In the second letter, the president thanked Hope for the material.

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Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994)

During a 1970 vacation in San Clemente, California, President Richard Nixon finished work on the budget and then took a helicopter to Bob Hope’s Toluca Lake estate for a round of golf and to thank Hope for signing up servicemen in Vietnam for educational benefits. Four years later, as Nixon battled the Watergate special prosecutor over releasing White House tapes, Hope wrote to Nixon’s assistant to clarify comments a newspaper had quoted. The president replied in this letter.

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Gerald R. Ford (1913–2006)

“Of all the presidents,” Bob Hope wrote, Gerald Ford “is the one I can call a pal.” The day after Ford pardoned former President Nixon (1913–1994), Hope sent this telegram. “I am certain it was the right thing to do,” Ford replied, “and that time will prove it so.” He also thanked Hope for seeing his wife Betty (b. 1918) after her mastectomy for breast cancer, calling the visit “a bright spot during a very traumatic period in our lives.” Hope loved to kid Ford about his golf game. “His wife founded the Betty Ford Center, which can cure anything except Jerry’s slice,” he quipped. In the 1979 letter, Ford congratulated Hope on receiving an honorary degree, one of more than sixty awarded to Hope during his lifetime.

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Jimmy Carter (b. 1924)

On January 2, 1979, days before the Shah of Iran (1941–1979) abdicated, hundreds of Iranian students stormed the gates of his sister’s Beverly Hills mansion to protest a visit by the Shah’s ailing mother. President Jimmy Carter, whose administration pledged to deport Iranian visitors found guilty of violence, responds here to a telegram of concern from Bob Hope. Although Carter’s reply was curt, he later remarked, “In my opinion, Bob Hope is one of America’s greatest heroes.” After leaving office, Carter sent Hope a letter of regret at being unable to join Presidents Reagan (1911–2004) and Ford (1913–2006) at the opening of the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, California. As president, Carter hosted a White House reception to celebrate the comedian’s seventy-fifth birthday. After Carter’s presidency, Hope accepted his invitation to help build a house to support Habitat for Humanity. Carter later remarked, “In my opinion, Bob Hope is one of America’s greatest heroes.”

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Ronald Reagan (1911–2004)

Bob Hope strongly supported his acting colleague Ronald Reagan’s entry into politics. In October 1981, with the president in attendance, Hope joked about the recent purchase of expensive White House china by First Lady Nancy Reagan (b. 1921). “Reagan worked hard as a sportscaster, an actor, a governor, and now President,” Hope began. “He worked his way up, and all because Nancy had this certain dish pattern she wanted.” Ten days later, Reagan wrote a friendly letter in response. As commander-in-chief, Reagan thanked the eighty-four-year-old comedian for bringing a USO Christmas show to entertain armed forces personnel on duty in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War.

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George H. W. Bush (b. 1924)

After President George H. W. Bush dispatched Operation Desert Shield forces to the Persian Gulf in response to Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait and its threat to invade Saudi Arabia, Bob Hope, at age eighty-seven, entertained troops in Saudi Arabia at Christmas. “Bob was a unifier,” Bush remembered. “He got along with everybody. I think of him as a national treasure.” Following Bush’s launch of air strikes, Hope telephoned the president in support, prompting this reply. “George and Barbara Bush were like family,” Bob Hope once wrote. “I knew his father, Prescott, and played golf with him. During his eight years as Reagan’s vice president, I became very close to George and I played a lot of golf with him, too.” During that period, Bush sent a note of thanks following a visit by the Hopes.

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Bill Clinton (b. 1946)

As Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton joined Bob Hope onstage during two of the comedian’s appearances, prompting Hope to comment, “this man was all show biz.” Clinton later remarked, “When he makes fun of me or any other president, I think we know he’s doing it with a genuinely good heart and a good spirit and in a way that helps us to laugh at ourselves. And I think we all need to laugh at ourselves a little more.”

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Sections: Political Humor | Causes and Controversies | Blurring of the Lines