“Hotel Hope”, a new film about the history of Will Rogers Memorial Hospital in Saranac Lake, where tuberculosis victims from the entertainment industry came for treatment, will premiere on Saturday at Saranac Village at Will Rogers.
Historic Saranac Lake contracted with Jim Griebsch to produce the documentary. Will Rogers Memorial Hospital historian Leslie Hoffman and Caroline Welsh, Director Emerita of the Adirondack Museum, both provided research assistance. The film features archival footage and contemporary interviews with former patients and employees of the hospital.
“It’s an incredible story,” Historic Saranac Lake Executive Director Amy Catania said in a statement announcing the premiere. “As a center for TB treatment and scientific research, Saranac Lake attracted tens of thousands of people from around the world with diverse talents. This film tells the fascinating story of the workers in the entertainment industry who suffered from tuberculosis.”
The Will Rogers Memorial Hospital was built in 1928-29 as the National Variety Artists Lodge. It was an offshoot of the efforts of the National Vaudeville Association’s (NVA) efforts to provide subsidized care to aging and unwell variety performers. In 1935, the NVA transferred the hospital to the newly established Will Rogers Memorial Commission, established after the death of the popular humorist, and broadened its services to all entertainers; funding was provided in part by nation-wide “Will Rogers audience collections.” In 1936, the institution was renamed as the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital. The hospital closed in 1974. It now operates as an independent living retirement community — Saranac Village at Will Rogers.
Although no longer connected to the former Will Rogers Hospital in Saranac Lake, the charitable Will Rogers organization continues, based out of Los Angeles. Today, Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers Foundation serves as a national charitable health program focused on research of debilitating lung disorders, medical school training fellowships, and distribution of free health education materials to the general public. It also operates the Pioneers Assistance Fund to help individuals from the motion picture community who are encountering an illness, injury or life-changing event.
The film will be shown at 7:30 pm with light refreshments to follow. A new exhibit honoring Will Rogers will be unveiled following the film. Admission is free of charge. In the spirit of the Will Rogers Foundation, a hat will be passed for donations to support Historic Saranac Lake and the Kollecker Film Project, which is digitizing historic films from the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library.
A major grant from the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers Foundation supported the production of the film as well as exhibit renovations made this year at Historic Saranac Lake’s Saranac Laboratory Museum. The grant supported creation of a new temporary exhibition of antique medical devices titled “Medical Marvels” that opened in the John Black Room in June. The exhibit features artifacts on loan from Ripley’s Entertainment and will be on display through the fall of 2016.
Founded in 1980, Historic Saranac Lake is a not-for-profit architectural preservation organization presents local history from their center at the Saranac Laboratory Museum.
Photo of the former National Variety Artists Lodge courtesy of Historic Saranac Lake.