Monday, September 15, 2008

The Hollywood Canteen

The Hollywood Canteen was a club that was created during World War II in Hollywood, California for servicemen, usually on their way overseas. It was created by actors Bette Davis and John Garfield and operated between October 3rd 1942 and November 22, 1945 (Thanksgiving Day). This club was offered food, dancing, and entertainment for servicemen totally free of charge.

Bette Davis served as President, with John Garfield as Vice President, along with Jules Stein who was president of Music Corporation of America, who headed up the finance committee.

The Hollywood Canteen was located at 1451 Cahuanga Blvd. off of Sunset Strip out of what was formally a livery stable and nightclub. Materials for restoration of the club and decorations, etc. were donated by members of the fourteen guilds and unions of the industry, which included the board of directors of the Hollywood Canteen. Artists and cartoonists also painted murals on the walls.

Chef Milano was in charge of food. Due to his energies, a great deal was donated by different organizations, but much they had to pay for by themselves. Their average weekly food bill was $3,000.

Even though the majority of visitors were US servicemen, the Canteen was also open to servicemen of all allied countries as well as women in all branches of the service. The only ticket for admission was the soldiers uniform and as I stated earlier, everything was free.

Bette Davis devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to the project while serving there as its president. The Canteens staff was completely operated by volunteers from the entertainment industry who included time and energy for labor and building renovations. By the time it opened its doors over 3000 stars, players, directors, producers, grips, dancers, musicians, singers, writers, technicians, wardrobe attendants, hair stylists, agents, stand ins, publicists, secretaries and allied craftsmen of radio and screen had registered as volunteers.

Glamorous stars volunteered to wait on tables, cook in the kitchen and clean up. On September 15, 1943, the on millionth guest walked through the door. The lucky soldier was Sgt. Carl Bell. In addition to other prizes, he won a kiss from Betty Grable.

A hall of Honor at the Hollywood Canteen had a wall of photos which honored the film actors who had served in the military.

In 1944 Warner Brothers made a film about the Canteen with a star studded cast and Bette Davis and John Garfield as well.

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