At the Packard Campus, whether you are sitting in our theater, walking down the halls or, of course, digging deep into one of our collections, you never know who you are going to bump into. Nor do you ever know where that meet-up will take you.
Archivist Frances Allshouse recently had an encounter like this. Since she was hired in 2018, Allshouse has been excavating the massive Bob Hope Collection. Gifted to the LC by Hope Enterprises in two sections—the first in the 1990s, the second in the mid-2000s—the collection covers the broad expanse of Hope’s legendary career, from his early days on the vaudeville stage up through the outpouring of tributes and memorials that flowed in after Hope’s passing, at age 100, in 2003.
As befits a career as long and legendary as Hope’s, the Bob Hope Collection is MASSIVE. How big is it? It contains over 7,000 items spread over 3,396 containers. The collection includes films, stills, scripts, audio, correspondence, and that fascinating catch-all category we call “ephemera.” The collection even includes some of Hope’s family home movies! We have three great finding aids online for the Bob Hope Collection, one for manuscripts, one for film and video (this is the one Frances prepared), and a third for sheet music.
As part of that finding aid, Frances worked through a pallet of items from the collection’s second section. This subset is mainly VHS tapes featuring Hope in his various personal appearances and TV guest spots. And one of them she came across was of special interest.
In 1989, iconic entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. celebrated his 60th year in show business. And that was all legendary TV producer George Schlatter needed to know to throw Davis a star-studded, on-air party. Taking part in the two-hour special that night was a who’s who of Hollywood: Whitney Houston, Debbie Allen, Gregory Hines, Clint Eastwood, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Diahann Carroll and Goldie Hawn, among others. Also appearing were then President George Bush and, offering his best wishes, Bob Hope.
In the collection, Frances found a VHS of this special with a note stuck to it. It looked like it read: “Love, Sammy Davis, Jr.”
But, Sammy, is that really you?
Was this a gift? Sent from Sammy to Bob that Davis decided to autograph? Frances went to the internet to look up examples of Sammy’s signature. Similar, yes, but the real deal?
She took the issue beyond herself, knowing that there were some LC colleagues who LIVE for this sort of thing! And among those colleagues was me, the snoopiest snoop the Packard currently has.
Energized and mobilized, I did my own Google search and began to research Davis’ estate. His heirs would probably be able to confirm his John Hancock.
Sammy Davis, Jr., who died in 1990, had four children. Sadly, daughter Tracey passed away in 2020; but his three sons, Mark, Manny and Jeff, are all alive and well. Manny, son of Sammy and Davis’ third wife, Altovise, has the most distinct name so was, therefore, the best to try to ferret out on the internet.
Manny is actually on Facebook. And so am I. Friend request sent! Which was immediately followed with a message: “Hi Mr. Davis: Greetings from the Library of Congress. We just came across….”
Never one to be patient, however, I then Googled Manny’s name, thinking I could find an employer or even a home phone number. (Yes, I’ve done this before. How do you think those mystery photos get solved?)
But what I stumbled on instead was a website devoted to Sammy Davis, Jr. (You have to be a true LEGEND to still have an official website 32 years after your passing.) But though a luxe-looking thing, loaded with Rat Pack glamour, it was hard to tell if the site was still active. Still, I found the “contact” option and sent the pic and my message, and then wondered if I’d ever hear back.
Well, I did. Two days later, Matthew Schmitz, the archivist for the Davis Estate, replied and confirmed, “That is indeed Sammy’s signature.”
So a little mystery solved. And another unique feature in an already remarkable collection.