Miranda Hope remembers the time in 1987 she witnessed firsthand the impact her legendary grandfather had on the morale of American service members overseas.
Bob Hope was 84 during that trip to the Persian Gulf. His granddaughter was 17. She helped hold his cue cards during shows, assisted with costumes and was fortunate enough to witness one of the 20th century’s best-loved entertainers, better known to her as grandpa, do his work.
“One week, seven days. I had never been more exhausted in my life. I slept for two days,” she said, rattling off the list of military installations the Hopes visited – the Philippines, Diego Garcia, Oman, Bahrain, northern Italy, Spain and the Azores.
On Thursday, Miranda Hope traveled to New Orleans, where she spoke at the National World War II Museum, to help unveil a new traveling exhibit dedicated to Hope and his history, particularly his five decades of service entertaining the men and women of the military in USO shows. The exhibit, “Bob Hope: An American Treasure,” opens Saturday and runs through October 31.
At an opening reception Thursday night, Miranda Hope eloquently offered her own personal reflections on the impact of her grandfather’s military shows, which she said she still hears about some 70 years later, from the children and grandchildren of troops he entertained.
“I get goosebumps,” she said. “I think it’s one of the most profound things I’ve ever been blessed to experience. They’ll say, ‘My uncle saw your grandfather in Vietnam’ or ‘My father saw your grandfather in Germany.’”
As an audience member pointed out, Hope literally gave hope to the men and women he entertained, thousands of miles from their families back home.
Miranda Hope said that when her grandfather first performed on a military base, in Riverside, California in 1941, he joked that the audience was so starved for entertainment, he felt a little guilty about the ease of the work.
“They were an audience so ready for laughter, it made what we did for a living feel like stealing money,” Bob Hope joked at the time.
But traveling throughout Europe and the Pacific during World War II, and later Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East during times of war was “terrifying dangerous and heartbreaking work,” Miranda Hope said.
It wasn’t long before her grandfather came to relish with pride the role he developed as a humanitarian and goodwill ambassador, she said.
“I think it was for that reason that he left the comfort of his North Hollywood living room to fly into some of the darkest corners of the globe, and bring the light and bring home to these needy hearts,” she said.
Upstairs in the exhibit, Bob Hope expresses the same sentiment, in words inscribed on one of the walls of the display.
“I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.”
The well-designed exhibit, created with support from the Bob & Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation, contains more than 160 artifacts, 200 photos and film clips representing all facets of the comedian’s life and career, not just his military service.
It’s a production of the World Golf Hall of Fame, so Hope’s golf game gets prominent billing. Other displays focus on his early stage and radio career and his later friendships with U.S. presidents.
You’ll laugh at the film clips playing on video monitors and chuckle at some of Hope’s one-liners, inscribed on the walls of the displays:
“It’s great for a comedian to be honored in Washington. If there was ever a city that knew how to get laughs.”
“After all, golf is my real profession. Entertainment is just the sideline. I tell jokes to pay my greens fees.”
“My secret for staying young is good food, plenty of rest and a makeup man with a spray gun.”
Hope’s 50-plus movies are highlighted on one giant display of posters, including some from his famous “Road” pictures with Bing Crosby and New Orleans native Dorothy Lamour in her famous sarong.
One of Hope’s five honorary Oscar statues is on display – along with an explanation of the fact that he never won an Oscar outright. “I would have won the Academy Award if it weren’t for one thing – my pictures,” he joked.
Another highlight is his Congressional Gold Medal. Presented by President Kennedy in 1962, it gleams inside a display case, featuring Hope’s familiar face (and nose) in profile, and the words “Humorist. Humanitarian. Patriot.”
Besides celebrating Hope’s heroism and dedication, Thursday’s opening reception also provided some insight into the legendary comedian’s daily work routine, fun for film and comedy buffs to hear.
“Every day he would be handed a stack of jokes and he would put his glasses on and he’d go through them and if it made him laugh, he’d circle it,” his granddaughter remembered him doing on the 1987 trip. “Then he’d go through again and if it made him laugh, he’d put a check mark. And then with the third reading, if he was still chuckling, he put a star next to it and said, ‘This one goes in the show.’”
Speaking of, Hope, unlike some comedians, always gave credit to his writers, and as you first enter the exhibit some of those writers are honored as well, with a plaque listing their names.
Some of the discussion Thursday night also shifted to talk of Hope the father and grandfather, with stories of his beloved wife Dolores, their four children and four grandchildren. Miranda Hope said that she remembered her grandfather joking with the kids at the dinner table, but other times he would quietly take notes on funny lines or jokes others shared – more studious than goofy, she said.
In 1973, audience members reminded her, Hope’s travels brought him to New Orleans, where he reigned as Bacchus. When Miranda Hope said she was unaware of her grandfather’s reign, an audience member quickly produced a digital photograph of Hope, in costume as Bacchus V.
“Okay, maybe he was a little goofy,” she joked, to great applause.
Other audience members remembered some of Hope’s other trips to New Orleans, including an appearance at the 1984 World’s Fair. The exhibit features a display of some New Orleans-themed Hope memorabilia, including a hard hat from a shipyard ceremony for the USNS Bob Hope at Avondale. In the same display case is a photo of Hope with Archbishop Philip Hannan, a signed note from Hope wishing the longtime church leader a happy birthday, as well as proclamations from former mayors Dutch Morial and Moon Landrieu.
Since Hope died in 2003, at the age of 100, and much of his career harkens back to another entertainment era, one audience member lamented the fact that many young people might not even know the name Bob Hope. But then a 19-year-old stood up and offered hope for the next generation, saying she had learned to appreciate Hope and his contemporaries.
“They're alive. It's not lost, I promise,” she said.
Stepping inside the World War II Museum for this special exhibit, it’s easy to see why Hope never should be forgotten.
"Bob Hope: An American Treasure" is on view at the National World War II Museum, 945 Magazine Street, from August 3 through October 31. Access to the exhibit is included with standard museum admission. For more information, visit www.nationalww2museum.org or call 504-528-1944.