NEW ORLEANS - Bob Hope entertained 11 presidents at the White House, hosted the Academy Awards 19 times and told thousands of jokes to some 10 million U.S. troops over the course of four wars.
Now the long life and legacy of the beloved actor and comedian, who died 10 years ago at age 100, is being celebrated at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, where the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum has brought the "Bob Hope: An American Treasure" traveling exhibition.
More than 160 mementos from Hope's life capture his passion for golf, relationships with presidents, pride in his country and appreciation for military service. The exhibit officially opens to the public Saturday, though a soft opening will be held Friday during regular museum hours.
The exhibit includes vintage photographs of Hope entertaining troops at USO shows overseas, an honorary Oscar statuette and PGA of America money clip. But the highlight is Hope's jokes, which are printed on displays and included in video clips throughout the exhibit.
"It was important to make it funny," said Jack Peter, senior vice president of the World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum, who was in New Orleans for the opening. "That was one of the requests of the family."
And funny it is.
"I left England when I found out I couldn't be king" is the Hope quote in the section of the exhibit about his immigration to America from England as a young boy.
"He was very proud to be an American immigrant, that he was able to come here and succeed, and he wanted to give something back," said Anthony "Tony" Montalto, Hope's longtime accountant, who over the decades became a good friend and remains a trustee of Hope's estate.
There are pictures and jokes of Hope's time spent playing golf with presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and others.
"He's played golf with more presidents than just about anybody," Peter said.
The exhibit also includes a plaque of Hope's induction into the U.S. Blind Golf Association Hall of Fame and his name tag proclaiming him an "active member."
"When I miss a shot, I just think what a beautiful day it is ... then I take a deep breath. I have to do that. That's what gives me the strength to break the club," Hope is quoted as saying.
Jokes aside, the exhibit also captures Hope's appreciation for military service. There are pictures of him shaking hands with injured troops, some who had lost limbs but had smiles on their faces. There are pictures and video of Hope entertaining on stage during World War II, Vietnam and other wars.
"This brings another aspect of the war that we're not always able to tell through our permanent exhibits," said Toni Kiser, the National WWII Museum's curator who put the exhibit together. "It was really important to the troops to get rest and relaxation, and not only did they love to be entertained with music and comedy, it was necessary for them to have that down time, to not be in fight mode the entire time."
Hope, it seemed, knew that.
"I have seen what a laugh can do," he is quoted as saying, in the exhibit space with pictures of him with wounded troops. "It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful."
The exhibit will remain on display in New Orleans through Oct. 31.