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During the Cold War, Bob Hope represented the United States abroad in initiatives designed to ease global tensions. Following a State Department-sponsored trip to Moscow in 1958, Hope received the George Foster Peabody Award for his contribution to international understanding. In his television special about the trip, Hope included some of Russia’s top performers, prompting critic Jack Gould to write, “It was Mr. Hope who penetrated the Iron Curtain and brought to a large mass American audience a new awareness of the country that is uppermost in our national concern.” Two decades later, when Hope traveled to Communist China, a Chinese sleight-of-hand artist conveyed the desired aim of cultural diplomacy when she displayed a banner reading, “Long live the friendship between the Chinese and American people.” In 1963, President Kennedy deemed Hope “America’s most prized ‘Ambassador of Good Will’ throughout the world” as he presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal.

The State Department was glad to have me come here because I’m cooperative, I’m personable, I’m charming, and expendable.—Bob Hope, 1958


Hope in Japan: “Bobba Hopa”

When Bob Hope brought a troupe of forty to entertain United Nations forces in Korea a few months after fighting had broken out, he stopped first in occupied Japan where he entertained Army, Air Force, and Navy personnel. Japanese fans greeted him as “Bobba Hopa.” In Osaka, at Hope’s request, Japanese were admitted to an Army show for the first time, and in Kyoto and Tokyo Hope made surprise appearances at local theaters.

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Hope in Russia

On January 27, 1958, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed their first accord after the end of World War II—a two-year agreement to exchange persons in cultural, scientific, technical, and educational fields, as well as individuals featured in motion pictures, radio, and television broadcasts. Two months later, Bob Hope traveled to Moscow to take advantage of the new initiative. Critic Jack Gould (1914-1993) observed that the trip “in effect marked the opening of the long-discussed television cultural exchange program.”

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Hope’s Debt to Russia

Before Bob Hope left Moscow, Soviet officials suggested that some of the satirical barbs from his monologue should be cut from the television broadcast. Hope explained he had no intention “to defame Russia or proclaim it. Our business was comedy. All we wanted was to do a good show.” The Soviets relented but unexpectedly charged Hope for production and lab costs. The title of Hope’s account of the trip, I Owe Russia $1200, references his unpaid debt.

Bob Hope. I Owe Russia $1200. New York: Doubleday,1963. Courtesy of Alan Gevinson (178.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0178]

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“You Bring Happiness”

Two days after returning from Moscow, Bob Hope entertained reporters’ questions. Hope related the Russian infatuation with American popular culture, noting that they enjoyed Elvis Presley (1935–1977) and Louis Armstrong (1901–1971) recordings, and that Russian bands played arrangements by Les Brown (1912–2001) and Glenn Miller (1904–1944). A minister of culture, he recalled, contrasted Hope’s globetrotting with that of a more traditional cold war diplomat, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (1888–1959), noting, “You fly for a different reason, you bring happiness.”

Transcript of Bob Hope’s press conference at NBC Burbank studios, March 24, 1958. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (177.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0177] Page 2.

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"Mr. United States"

After his trip to Russia, Bob Hope was cited as a symbol of the nation—“Mr. United States”—as he received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Television Award “for his Outstanding Contribution to International Understanding.”

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Hope and Mrs. Nina Khrushchev

Bob Hope was one of several hundred Hollywood “leaders and creators” invited to meet Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) for a luncheon at Twentieth Century-Fox studios in September 1959. Khrushchev’s visit, the first to the U.S. by a Soviet leader, signaled a potential thaw in cold war relations. Seated next to Mrs. Nina Khrushchev (1923–1971), Hope and Frank Sinatra (1915–1998) encouraged her to visit Disneyland but lack of adequate security prevented the trip, provoking the premier to ridicule his hosts.

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  • Telegram from Eric Johnston (1896–1963) to Bob Hope, September 8, 1959. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (183.01.00) [Digital ID# bhp0183_01]

  • Bob Hope, Mrs. Khrushchev, and Frank Sinatra. I Owe Russia $1200. New York: Doubleday, 1963. General Collections, Library of Congress (179.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0179]

  • John M. McSweeney. “Khrushchev Visit.” State Department memo, September 1959. Robert Helyer Thayer Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (180.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0180]

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Khrushchev and the Can-Can

The visit by Premier Khrushchev (1894–1971) to Los Angeles was considered a low point of the trip. During the studio luncheon, Khrushchev and Twentieth Century-Fox president Spyros Skouras (1893–1971) heckled each other, after which the premier visited the set of the movie Can-Can, where Frank Sinatra (1915–1998), Maurice Chevalier (1888–1972), Shirley MacLaine (b. 1934), and scantily-clad dancers performed. Khrushchev later commented, “It was immoral. Humanity’s face is more beautiful than her backside.” Bob Hope, in this National Press Club talk, satirized Khrushchev’s reaction.

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  • Bruce Cox, photographer. Premier Nikita Khrushchev at Twentieth Century-Fox studios. Also in picture, Motion Picture Association of America president Eric Johnston (1896–1963, standing behind Khrushchev), American ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (1902–1985, standing to Johnston’s right), Sergei Khrushchev (b. 1935, standing at far left), and Mrs. Khrushchev (1923–1971, second from right), September 19, 1959. Copyprint. Courtesy of Los Angeles Times (182.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0182]

  • Transcript of Bob Hope’s National Press Club talk, January 30, 1960. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (181.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0181]

  • Thomas M. Pryor. “Khrushchev’s 20th-Fox Matinee” in Variety, September 23, 1959. Newspaper. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (180.01.00) [Digital ID # bhp0180_01]

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Hope Returns to Moscow

American ambassador to the Soviet Union Thomas J. Watson, Jr. (1914–1993), wrote to Bob Hope in March 1980 to encourage him to entertain embassy staff at a time when tensions between the two countries had worsened dramatically. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, President Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) ended détente and intensified the cold war. The embassy consequently became “a very isolated post,” Watson wrote, and a visit from Hope, he suggested, would raise morale. In his reply to the ambassador, Hope offered to do just that.

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The Road to China

On January 1, 1979, the U.S. and China signed a joint communiqué beginning a normalization of relations that included establishing embassies, trade, and cultural exchange. With letters of support from former Presidents Nixon (1913–1994) and Ford (1913–2006), Henry Kissinger (b. 1923), and businessmen with interests in China, Bob Hope became the first American permitted to perform there. Bob Hope on the Road to China, a three-hour telecast, gave viewers like these letter writers the opportunity to see China’s people close-up and to appreciate Hope as “an ambassador of friendship.”

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