In 2021, the New-York Historical Society explored the life and career of the legendary entertainer Bob Hope with the special exhibitions So Ready for Laughter: Bob Hope and World War II and The Gift of Laughter. It goes without saying then that we're incredibly excited to welcome a number of new objects related to Hope into our collection, all recently donated by the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation.
This significant gift highlights Bob Hope’s roots as a young immigrant from England in the early 20th century; his career as a vaudevillian; and his rise as a Broadway star in plays such as Sidewalks of New York, Roberta, and Red, Hot and Blue. The items also document Hope's role as a comedian’s comedian, celebrated and roasted at the Friars Club; his pioneering acts on New York’s radio such as Woodbury Soap Hour and The Pepsodent Show; his decades-long tradition of entertaining American service members around the world; and his masterful Oscar hosting. Check out some highlights from the gift below.
Born Leslie Townes Hope in southeast London on May 29, 1903 Hope arrived to New York with his mother, Avis, and five brothers aboard the steamship Philadelphia. They were processed at the immigration station on Ellis Island on March 30, 1908. As Bob Hope would later put it “I left England at the age of four when I found out I couldn’t be king.” The family settled in Cleveland where his father, William arrived a year earlier in search of work as a stonemason. Hope became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1920 changing his name to Lester Hope. In the early 1920s, he worked as a newsboy, a butcher’s assistant, a shoe salesman, and an amateur boxer to scrape by. In the years that followed, Hope developed a dancing act and shaped his comedic timing on the vaudeville stages before landing his first gig on Broadway in Sidewalks of New York in 1927. He officially became known to audiences as Bob Hope in 1928, being of the opinion the name Bob felt "chummier."
Mort Künstler’s trilogy First View of the Lady; In The Great Hall of Ellis Island; and Freedom were displayed during the Gubernatorial ceremonies dedicating the reopening of the restored Statue of Liberty.
"Well here it is…the 4th of July…the big one…200 years ago we broke away from England and started driving on the wrong side of the road."
The Immigrant of the Century Statue of Liberty was presented to Bob Hope on October 28, 1986, honoring his efforts and dedication in the fundraising for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty for the centennial anniversary. Following a four-year multimillion dollars restoration, the Statue of Liberty was rededicated by President Ronald Reagan on July 4, 1986. Billed as the Liberty Weekend, the event was broadcast across the nation and included entertainment by Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine, Elizabeth Taylor, and Frank Sinatra, as well as a dramatic fireworks display.
Hope made his network radio debut in 1937 on NBC, the first major broadcast network in the United States. His first regular series for NBC was the Woodbury Soap Hour. In 1938, Hope signed up for The Pepsodent Hour. Airing until 1948, the show quickly became the number one radio show in the United States. Our library collection has been gifted two scripts from The Pepsodent Radio Show from the January 28, 1940 episode with Judy Garland and the January 5, 1943 with Frances Langford and guest Rita Hayworth.
Since 1986 the Ellis Island Medal of Honor has been awarded by the Ellis Island Honors Society to U.S. citizens, both native-born and naturalized. The recipients—presidents, Nobel prize winners, artists, educators, and activists— acknowledge “their debt to their ethnic heritage as they uphold the ideals and spirit of America.” Bob and Dolores Hope were among the first to receive the medal in 1986. Among the other recipients that year: Muhammad Ali, Corretta Scott King, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
I"f you’ve never been to one of these Friars affairs, this is how people in show business salute each other. In medicine, they call it open heart surgery."
On February 27, 1953, Hope was honored and received this trophy in a testimonial dinner organized by the Friars Club at the Waldorf-Astoria. Among the roasters and toasters: Ed Sullivan; New York’s Mayor, Vincent Impellitteri; and Milton Berle, who called Bob “America’s second funniest comedian.” The proceeds from the event ($50-a-plate) were donated to the USO, the Cerebral Palsy Fund and the Boy Scouts. The event, attended by 1,500 guests, made history by being broadcast on the NBC radio network.
This print—from a series of 410 impressions—is part of the Al Hirschfeld Signature Series, which consisted of Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Carol Channing, and David Copperfield. It was released in 1988, for the 50th anniversary of Bob Hope at NBC.
Written by Cristian Petru Panaite, curator of exhibitions