When the Laughter Stopped
Bob Hope's 100 years of radical politics.
A busy year for Bob, as he stages his first of many USO concerts in East Germany. Later, he makes his formal NBC TV debut on the Star Spangled Revue, co-sponsored by Frigidaire and Edmund Wilson. Bob's guests include Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Dinah Shore, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
On the steps of the Washington Monument, Bob declares: "Imagine, two hundred thousand people. This is the biggest march on Washington since the arrival of the Kennedy family. Not until all people see the Negro as equal under law will America achieve her true promise of liberty!"
Bob does his annual NBC Christmas special in drag in tribute to what he calls "his brothers and sisters in Stonewall." With special guest Bobby Seale, he sings "Death to the Honkies." Gloria Steinem stops by for a rail against the patriarchy, which Bob says he despises. "You know," he says, "I'm still chasing women these days, but only downhill, and then only to get them to donate to the Fund for the Feminist Majority."
"Hanoi Bob" does a USO show for the North Vietnamese, featuring Country Joe and the Fish, Joan Baez, and Soupy Sales. Jane Fonda begs off, calling Bob's politics "too extreme."
Incensed by the election of Ronald Reagan, whom he calls a "false friend," Bob moves to Nicaragua, where he opens the first in a series of "revolutionary golf orphanages." He declines six honorary doctorates until American universities stop engaging in weapons research. "My favorite subject was ancient history," he says. "Of course, when I went to school it was all about white males, which just goes to show you that history is written by the victors." He sends a Native American to receive his Presidential Medal of Freedom, which the Native American declines.
Bob spends the last half-hour of his final NBC special reading aloud passages from Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth with the University of Miami football team and Angie Dickinson.
Upon receiving word that Queen Elizabeth II would bestow upon him an honorary British knighthood, Bob says, "Not until that withered old bag dissolves the desiccated, corrupt, inbred British monarchy."
In Seattle, Bob burns himself in effigy and throws a rock through the window of a Burger King. Later, at the Smash the World Bank Rally for Atheism and Anarchy, he says, "You know you're getting old when the Black Bloc asks you if you were a busboy at the Last Supper."
Neal Pollack is the author of Alternadad. He lives in Los Angeles.
Illustration by Charlie Powell.