WWII Museum spotlights iconic performer Bob Hope

As a teenager, Tommy Godchaux would tune into Bob Hope’s radio shows, sponsored by Woodbury Soap and Pepsodent toothpaste, which were broadcast from New York City on NBC. Hope’s popular musical variety show, featuring performers such as Jerry Colonna, Brenda and Cobina, Skinnay Ennis and His Orchestra and, later, Judy Garland and Doris Day, became the country’s No. 1 radio program.

“That was our weekend entertainment — never missed it,” recalled Godchaux, who enlisted in the Army during World War II and now volunteers at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

With support from the Bob & Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation, the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum exhibit “Bob Hope: An American Treasure,” a 15-themed exhibit, will open Saturday at The National WWII Museum and continue through Oct. 31. The exhibit will give visitors new insight into the iconic performer’s career. An opening reception attended by Miranda Hope, his granddaughter, will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday . The evening event is free and open to the public.

“An American Treasure” features reproductions of 200 photos, seven videos and more than 160 artifacts, including Hope’s Congressional Gold Medal, honorary Oscar statuette, Honorary Veterans citation and PGA if America money clip.

The traveling exhibit spans Hope’s life from his family’s 1908 emigration from England to his boyhood in Cleveland, his early stage career in vaudeville and on Broadway and success as a comedian in movies and on both radio and TV.

From the age of 12, he sang, danced and told jokes, busking for tips, sometimes on the Luna Park streetcar in Cleveland. Competing in amateur contests from a young age, he won a prize for his impersonation of Charlie Chaplin. Most important to visitors of the WWII Museum, Hope’s career was highlighted through six decades entertaining the troops.

Hope would land on aircraft carriers by helicopter and traveled to overseas military bases to perform in USO Shows before thousands of active servicemen and women. Wearing fatigues or the uniform of that branch of the military, he frequently carried a golf club onstage for an initial swing. Hope and other entertainers also visited wounded soldiers in hospitals.

“My grandfather discovered the greatness of the military audience in 1941,” Miranda Hope said. “At the time, he joked that they were ‘an audience so ready for laughter, it made what we did for a living feel like stealing money,’ ” she said.

The World War II generation will feel nostalgic viewing this exhibition, said Toni Kiser, the museum’s assistant director of collections and exhibitions, but visitors of all ages will enjoy learning more about Hope’s 60-year commitment to the military. Hope gave his final military performance during Desert Storm in 1991.

“Bob Hope was one of the most dedicated Americans of our generation,” said Libby Smith, 90, another WWII Museum volunteer who met and married a “tall, good-looking former paratrooper” when he was studying under the GI Bill at LSU.

“Hope traveled all over the world where we had men fighting for freedom. He brought humor, touches of life and touches of home to those men,” Smith said.

Hope’s self-deprecating sense of humor put him on the same plane as soldiers.

“One of the reasons he appealed to us was that he was a little risqué,” Godchaux said, adding, “risqué for that time.”

Tim Banfell, 54, a Slidell resident and lifelong Hope fan, has seen every Bob Hope “Road” movie, watched every TV show, collected radio programs and chased autographs.

“(Bob Hope) was girl-crazy and hardly ever got the girl. I could relate to that,” Banfell said.

“I know my dad would be proud to have his exhibit available to visitors at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, one of his favorite cities,” said Linda Hope, his daughter.

“The men and women who served during that war had a special place in his heart.”

Reservations to the Thursday opening night reception can be made by calling (504) 528-1944 ext. 226.

Access to the exhibit is included with the standard museum admission fee. For information, including photos about “Bob Hope: An American Treasure,” visit www.nationalww2museum.org.