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Presidents on occasion have called upon entertainers for assistance with speeches. Orson Welles helped FDR during the 1944 campaign. Actor Robert Montgomery spent a number of years as an unpaid advisor to President Eisenhower to improve his television technique. Senator John F. Kennedy told jokes provided by Mort Sahl during the 1960 campaign. President Ford obtained jokes and coaching from Don Penny, a standup comic, writer, actor, and television ad producer. Al Franken wrote material for President Clinton and Vice President Gore before leaving the entertainment world to make a successful run for the Senate. Although Bob Hope sent jokes to President Johnson during the 1964 campaign, he and his writers contributed the most material to Hope’s golfing buddy, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.

But I love President Nixon’s philosophy . . . “If you can’t say something nice about someone, let Agnew say it.”—Bob Hope, 1970


Spiro Agnew’s Gridiron Club Speech

Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (1918–1996) became newsworthy by criticizing the media, prompting CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite (1916–2009) to call Agnew’s rhetoric “an implied threat to freedom of speech.” When Agnew beaned a fellow golfer, Bob Hope quipped, “Now that Spiro’s got the bean-ball shot, he can’t wait to play with Walter Cronkite.” For Agnew’s speeches to the Gridiron Club, a Washington correspondents organization, Hope and his writers contributed self-mocking jokes satirizing Agnew’s rhetorical flourishes, his golf game, and his antagonistic relationship with the press.

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Jules Feiffer’s United Nations Plaza Speech

On November 13, 1969, Vice President Agnew (1918–1996)delivered a speech that all three television networks carried live, rescheduling their evening newscasts to do so. In the speech, Agnew castigated the networks for biased press coverage of a recent speech on Vietnam by President Nixon (1913–1994) and called on citizens to respond. The next day, Jules Feiffer (b. 1929), speaking at the United Nations Plaza prior to the November 15 anti-war Mobilization demonstrations, delivered this speech in barbed response.

Jules Feiffer. Notes for talk at United Nations Plaza, November 14, 1969. Jules Feiffer Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (157.00.00) [Digital ID# bhp0157] Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7, Page 8, Page 9, Page 10, Page 11, Page 12.

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