I was going through Gazette archives this week for a story I’m working on, and bumped into a piece in the newspaper about an event held the week of the Rose Bowl when Iowa was about to play UCLA on Jan. 1, 1986.
It was about a Big Ten Club party at the Hollywood Palladium. The list of entertainers was strictly D-list except for the headliner. That was one of America’s most-popular show business figures of the 20th century, comedian Bob Hope.
Among the speakers at the event were Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, University of Iowa president James Freedman, and Hawkeyes football head coach Hayden Fry. After they spoke they heard Hope say this in his stand-up routine:
“You guys be careful here in California, the land of the fruits and the nuts. Hollywood Boulevard is a gay little street. Even the crosswalks say ‘Skip’ and ‘Don’t Skip.’ If you’re walking down Hollywood Boulevard and feel some guy’s hand in your pocket, you’d better hope he’s after your money.”
This was just 35 years ago, not ancient history. But saying such things now would be career suicide, and should be.
This wasn’t some clown doing five minutes on amateur night at Giggle’s in Grand Rapids. This was Bob Hope, a revered figure to many, a star in movies and television. He had the nation’s respect and gratitude for going overseas during Christmastime year after year to entertain U.S. troops in war zones and elsewhere.
And these homophobic jokes were OK to him and, one assumes, to his audience.
But, as current events hammer home, what was once acceptable to many isn’t necessarily acceptable. We’re supposed to get smarter, be smarter, open our minds wider, keep our minds more open.