Hailing "a distinguished group of Americans who have lived their lives as builders," President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday presented the nation's most prestigious arts and humanities awards to entertainer Bob Hope, Southern California arts patrons B. Gerald and Iris Cantor and 15 other recipients.
Hope, one of 13 recipients of the National Medal of the Arts, was recognized for his lifetime achievements as a comedian, actor and legendary fund-raiser for charitable causes. In presenting the award, Clinton called Hope "the most honored entertainer in the world."
Accompanied at the awards ceremony by his wife, Delores, Hope used the opportunity to thank Clinton for participating in last year's Bob Hope golf tournament, which raised $1.4 million for charity.
The Cantors of Beverly Hills received a medal for their support of museums nationwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Gallery and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Cantors own the world's largest collection of Auguste Rodin works, having assembled more than 730 sculptures, prints, drawings and photographs by the late 19th-Century French artist best known for his sculpture "The Thinker."
Iris Cantor accepted the award on behalf of her husband, who was unable to attend.
Winners of the National Medal of the Arts were selected by the President from a list of finalists recommended by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The President and First Lady also awarded the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities to five recipients nominated by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Before introducing her "sometimes musician" husband, Mrs. Clinton called attention to Republican-led efforts to reducing funding for the two national endowments.
Comparing the fiscal climate in Congress to Hurricane Opal, she said that "just like the forces of nature that sometimes cause disruption . . . we will in Florida and elsewhere recover and go on and will continue to support arts and culture in this country no matter what the climate might be."
Another prominent recipient of the National Medal of the Arts is Roy Lichtenstein, famous for his paintings resembling enlarged comic strips.
The awards ceremony, attended by more than 500, was held under a tent on the South Lawn because of sporadic rain.
Other medal winners are Licia Albanese, a New York opera singer; Gwendolyn Brooks, poet; Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, actors; David Diamond, composer; James Ingo Freed, architect; Arthur Mitchell, dancer and choreographer; Bill Monroe, bluegrass musician, and Urban Gateways, an arts education organization.
Winners of the Charles Frankel Prize are William R. Ferris, scholar and director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture; Charles Kuralt, CBS correspondent and author; David Macaulay, author and illustrator; David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Bernice Johnson Reagon, performer and museum curator.
The arts awards, first given out by former President Ronald Reagan, were established 11 years ago to bestow the government's highest honor to artists and supporters in America.
The Charles Frankel Humanities Prize, established six years ago, is named after the late assistant secretary of state for cultural affairs and the first director of the Humanities Center.
The honorees were to attend a White House dinner Thursday night.