Before Stephen Colbert, There Was Bob Hope

From Franklin D. Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, there was one man who spoofed and satirized 11 United States presidents on a national stage -- Bob Hope.

Sharp but never too pointed in his criticisms, he always got big laughs.

Now, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., is celebrating Hope's humor and his unique way with the White House in an exhibit called "Hope for America: Performers, Politics & Pop Culture."

Through the years, Hope was often the one to get the president's ear.

"Normally I don't go for too many political jokes," quipped Hope. "Too many of them are getting elected."

Hope also loved taking shots at America's political system. He famously once said, "No one party can fool all of the people all of the time. That's why we have two parties."

Hope was always asked the inevitable question -- would he consider running for office? He once told Johnny Carson he wouldn't because "The money's not right. And I wouldn't want to be president because [Hope's wife] Dolores wouldn't want to move into a house that's smaller."

Alan Gevinson, the exhibition's curator, explains Hope's affable relationship with the Commanders-in-Chief he teased on a nightly basis by saying, "The Presidents felt comfortable with his manner of joke."

Also known for his self-deprecating humor, Hope's jokes were often at his own expense.

After seeing his image on a medal presented to him by President Kennedy, Hope remarked, "I told Senator Simon I should have had a nose job. But he said there would've been less gold."

The exhibit replaces a previous one that ran for 10 years called, "Bob Hope and American Variety," which focused on Hope and vaudeville.

Now, for the first time, the Library is publicly displaying 85,000 pages of Hope's joke files. He died in 2003 at the age of 100, but donated his recordings and collection to the Library.

The exhibition also features personal papers, radio broadcasts, TV appearances, and films from the Bob Hope Collection donated to the Library by the Hope family in 1998. Visitors can view the documents on digital kiosks in the exhibit.

Also on display are Hope's Presidential Medal of Freedom and his famous golf club.

The humanitarian side of Hope is also highlighted, including his commitment to entertaining American troops stationed abroad. He began making the trademark trips in 1941 and continued to do so throughout his life.

While Hope is the focus of the exhibition, it also traces the evolution of 20th century political humor and explores the 1960s surge of mainstream political satire through entertainers like Elaine May and George Carlin.

The exhibit observes that "For better or worse, politicians and entertainers have dominated the public life in America for much of the 20th century." And into the 21th century, the exhibit shows with clips of Sarah Palin and Tina Fey.

The exhibition begins with a video tribute from the comedian who now delivers many of the political punches, Stephen Colbert.

Colbert sums up Hope's contribution to comedy, politics, and the American consciousness by saying, "No entertainer did more than Bob Hope."

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