The Old Will Rogers Hospital Lives On

Hotel Hope

Last Fall, Historic Saranac Lake released a new film titled “Hotel Hope” about the history of Will Rogers Memorial Hospital, where tuberculosis victims from the entertainment industry came for treatment. The film premiered at Saranac Village at Will Rogers to a filled auditorium with standing room only.

Historic Saranac Lake commissioned filmmaker Jim Griebsch to produce the historical film and bring this historic building to life. Originally planned to be a short film of under fifteen minutes, the project grew during the shoot. It features original film footage and contemporary interviews with former patients and employees of the hospital.

“It’s an incredible story,” said Historic Saranac Lake Executive Director Amy Catania. “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.”

As the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation history shows, the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital completed construction in 1929 and was originally known as the National Variety Artists Lodge. It was an offshoot of the efforts of the National Vaudeville Association (NVA) 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, formed after Will’s death, 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 and remained as such for the next nearly four decades until the hospital closed in 1974. It now operates as an independent living retirement community — Saranac Village at Will Rogers.

A major grant from the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers Foundation supported the production of the film as well as extensive 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, Inc.