This unabashedly ambitious book also makes much of Hope as inspiration, public citizen and inventor of the stand-up comedy monologue, the kind he delivered when hosting the Academy Awards, which he did more than anyone else has. “No one ever looked better in a tuxedo,” Mr. Zoglin hyperbolizes about that.
Why, then, is Mr. Hope so seldom thanked for all he contributed to American life? Why do stand-up comics forget to mention him as the great pioneer?
The answer, it seems, is that Hope became tragically out of step with the times during his later life, which turned the general public off greatly.
If he had ended his career before Vietnam he would have been a beloved American hero. But Hope lived past his 100th birthday and kept performing long past the point at which he could be funny. His vehement, conservative politics were held against him by angry protesters during the Vietnam era, and his efforts to acknowledge the differences between that war and World War II fell flat: From then on, he became unfunny and out of touch. On Woodstock: “Since the dawn of man, that’s the most dandruff that was ever in one place.” On AIDS: “Have you heard? The Statue of Liberty has AIDS. Nobody knows if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Ferry.”
Hope’s story is an interesting case study in legacies. We often ask one another, “what do you want to be remembered for?” but our answers rarely have anything to do with our personal foibles; and yet none of us are saints. So what makes one person a legend and another a forgotten yet impactful force?