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The New-York Historical Society celebrates the golden age of comedy with Bob Hope exhibition
Bob Hope surrounded by Oscars at the 13th Academy Awards, 1941. Courtesy of the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation.

NEW YORK, NY.- The New-York Historical Society celebrates the golden age of comedy with So Ready for Laughter: Bob Hope and World War II, on view February 5–September 5, 2021. Organized by The National WWII Museum in New Orleans and supported by the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation, the special exhibition highlights the legendary performer and his unique role during World War II entertaining troops overseas. Coinciding with the 80th anniversary of the founding of the United Service Organizations (USO), the exhibition features artifacts, films, and rare photographs to illustrate how Hope helped lift spirits both abroad and on the home front with his USO and radio shows during a dark time in American history. A companion exhibition, The Gift of Laughter, delves into Hope’s varied career after World War II as a USO entertainer, television star, and Academy Award host demonstrating the many hats worn by comedians. His legacy will be brought to life with many items, including costumes from the Emmy Award-winning series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as well as objects related to other comedians—real and imagined—influenced by Hope.

“Bob Hope achieved so much during his decades-long career, but his work entertaining and cheering up World War II-era troops holds a special place in American history,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “This captivating, nostalgic exhibition looks at how Hope’s legacy lives on nearly 80 years later, and we are proud to partner with The National WWII Museum and the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation to bring this showcase to New York, the city that welcomed Hope when he first arrived in the U.S. and where his legendary career later flourished.”

“From the first time my father, Bob Hope, entertained the troops at California’s March Field in 1941, he knew he had discovered an audience of a lifetime,” said Linda Hope, chair and CEO of the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation. “He truly appreciated the men and women who were sacrificing to defend America. It was his honor, along with the entertainers who accompanied him on those arduous and often dangerous trips, to connect with our fighting men and women on the front lines and bring them a touch of home, and let them laugh—even if only for a brief moment. My father knew this was the ‘Greatest Generation’. In his memory, the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation is thrilled to sponsor So Ready for Laughter, an exhibition which celebrates my Dad’s spirit and honors the courageous men and women who served our country during the perilous time of World War II.”

Born in the U.K. in 1903, Bob Hope immigrated to the United States as a boy, entering the country through New York’s Ellis Island with his family. In the years that followed, Hope developed his act and shaped his comedic timing on the vaudeville stages before landing on Broadway. In 1933, he met Dolores Reade, a talented singer, in New York City; the couple married a year later. By the start of World War II, Hope was just emerging as one of America’s most popular radio and film stars, and when the nation went to war in 1941, Hollywood responded by entertaining troops, raising funds, and boosting morale. Hope took his wartime programs on the road to military camps and bases across the country, inspiring other entertainers to join him.

So Ready for Laughter explores Hope’s major USO tours and travels during World War II through some 50 artifacts, including rare and unpublished photographs of Hope; a World War II-era aircraft fragment, mess kit, and other relics engraved to Hope; videos of his traveling, wartime troupe; and Hollywood Victory Caravan programs and scrapbooks. Hope received countless letters from service members and families—in 1944 alone, he received an estimated 38,000 a week—and on display are samples of this wartime correspondence, including a coconut stamped with 17 cents of postage and mailed to Hope as well as a heartfelt letter from a mother thanking Hope for giving her son “two hours of fun” just before he was killed in battle in 1944. An original 11-minute documentary produced by award-winning filmmaker John Scheinfeld is also featured in the exhibition.

A companion exhibition, The Gift of Laughter, blends fact and fiction to illustrate Bob Hope’s wide-ranging career as USO entertainer, television star, and Academy Award host and the many roles comedians fill. Objects on view include an honorary Oscar presented to Hope in 1953 for “his contribution to the laughter of the world,” mementos from his later USO tours like a Viking helmet, awards and memorabilia including a NBC microphone and Friars Club Trophy, and the outfit worn for Bob Hope’s Bicentennial Star Spangled Spectacular.

Also on display is a recreation of a stage featuring costumes by Emmy Award-winning costume designer Donna Zakowska from the popular Amazon Prime Video series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, including a red, white, and blue dress worn by Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) during a stand-up routine for the troops in season three. Other Maisel costumes include the hat and dress worn by Moms Mabley (Wanda Sykes) during a scene set at the Apollo as well as Midge’s telethon performance dress from season two. Joining these items are the Glinda the Good Witch costume worn by Ellen DeGeneres when she hosted the 86th Academy Awards ceremony and record covers by New York comedians Lenny Bruce, Phyllis Diller, Moms Mabley, and Joan Rivers. Footage of Bob Hope and clips from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel provide context and an opportunity for levity.

World War II-themed family programs will take place via Zoom during the exhibition’s run. On February 10, Living History for families will explore the story of the USO and Black service members and discover the individual stories of Black women, in particular, who lifted the morale and spirits of service members at USO clubs across the U.S. and around the world. Every Tuesday and Friday in April, young children can take part in a silly edition of Little New-Yorkers with silly stories, dizzy dances, and comical crafts to do at home. Books for the month will include Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems, This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers, and more.

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