MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Whatever last laugh Bob Hope had in 2003 after his 100 years on Earth, he left the world a hole-in-one gift of smiles, family honor, American pride, and class that will last forever.
The North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum will usher in summertime this Sunday by opening "Bob Hope: An American Treasure," an exhibit of more than 200 vintage photos, with seven video displays, in a collection created by the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., where he was inducted in 1983.
Jenean Neilsen Todd, the museum's founding director since its opening April 7, 2013, said landing this exhibit through August in its first East Coast stop capped off a quest begun two years ago. When her World Golf Hall of Fame contacts said the rental fee was $45,000, she was encouraged to check back for Bob and Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation grants aimed at helping small museums.
Todd said that after emailing an inquiry last year about grant hopes, she received word on Jan. 4, not only about the rental funding in full, but a window to host the exhibit, this summer for four months, a month extra because of "some time on both sides" of the tour schedule. So instead of opening on Memorial Day weekend, a May 1 start more than made Todd's day.
"It was just such a coup that I never expected," she said.
A $12,000 foundation grant and $7,500 from city of North Myrtle Beach Accommodations Tax funds paved the way for trucking the exhibit from the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver. The collection also has shined since 2011 in such venues as the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Gerald Ford Presidential Library in Grand Rapids, Mich., the Green Bay Packers Museum in Wisconsin, and in London, England – Hope's birthplace.
Todd said she shared the museum's "floor plan" as homework ahead of installation. This also required temporary shelving of the museum's own displays to make climate-controlled storage and display space for the borrowed Bob Hope goods packaged in 31 large crates. Tour officials also reassured Todd that this was "not their hardest installation," especially compared with its premiere on a cruise ship, The Queen Mary, a museum moored in Long Beach, Calif.
The collection takes visitors on Hope's lifelong journey, from his family's emigration to Cleveland – which he always would call his "hometown" – when he was 4 years old, and his career built on stage, radio, movies and television, along with the comedian's avid golf pastime, camaraderie with U.S. presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower through George W. Bush, and devotion to entertaining troops deployed in combat zones.
Fans of the former CBS drama "JAG" might remember some original Bob Hope footage near Vietnam incorporated into an episode that first aired in late 1999, "Ghosts of Christmas Past," in which he headlined a United Service Organizations stop aboard a Navy aircraft carrier, and told jokes, such as the rude reaction from officials with the "Hollywood draft board," how, after his physical, how "they burned my draft card."
Hope visited Grand Strand in mid-1970s
Preparing for this exhibit stoked Todd's radar for research.
"I found out Bob Hope visited Myrtle Beach in the mid-1970s," she said. "He flew into the airport in Windy Hill and was greeted by Myrtle Beach Mayor Bob Hirsch. Jack Thompson was on the scene to photograph event. ... Hope was driven to the Tennessee Ernie Ford Theater, near Pirateland, where he performed."
Todd said she also talked with Steven Thomas, assistant city manager for North Myrtle Beach, who saw Hope perform at that time and recalled that Hope's opening line was 'Welcome to Myrtle Beach, gateway to Loris.'"
Hope and his late wife's adoptions of all four of their children also impressed Todd.
Bringing up Hope's "Road To" series of movies to such places as Morocco, Utopia and Bali, Todd voiced hopes of showing some of those productions at the museum this summer.
"It would be nice to revive these kinds of things," she said, so future generations can see Hope's legacy.
Todd, who once headed the exhibit department of the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science in Wilmington, N.C., said she appreciated having "exhibits of this magnitude" there, but "we never had artifacts arrive in an 18-wheel, armored truck," a sight she never had seen until this Bob Hope exhibit components arrived in North Myrtle Beach, among the deliveries.
'Connections' made everywhere
Brodie Waters, senior director of institutional advancement at the World Golf Hall of Fame, said this exhibit follows through on the bridges Hope built in a lifetime, and the host sites reach out, requesting a visit.
"He had connections with so many places around the country, whether from military work or TV work," Waters said. "It's hard to go a place where he didn't have a key to the city."
The exhibit next will head to north to the Western Reserve Historical Society's Cleveland History Center, in University Circle, just a few miles east from two namesakes: Bob Hope Way/Memory Lane, on part of East 14th Street in the Playhouse Square district, and the Hope Memorial Bridge, connecting Carnegie and Lorain avenues over the Cuyahoga River, rebuilt in the early 1980s and named for the Hope family and its roots in masonry.
Waters said the exhibits inauguration at The Queen Mary was significant because in that ship's sailing days, that's where the USO took off, during World War II, with Hope among a crew eager to entertain service personnel overseas.
Despite anxiety from the ship's avoiding detection by enemy patrols, and lights being turned off for protection, Waters said, Hope overcame some hesitation and found a new way to use his talents: in performance to take people's minds off the heavy moments in wartime, and he committed the rest of his life to it, "so The Queen Mary had a really unique connection."
Waters said Hope was known for his love of golf, never mind his kidding about doing comedy to pay his greens fees.
"He really helped elevate the game in the United States because of his popularity," Waters said. "He always had a golf club in his hand."
This article was written by Steve Palisin from The Sun News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.