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Hollywood Canteen Blog #2

HC

Hollywood Canteen

Most servicemen who came to the Canteen for the first time had a general idea of what to expect, as they had heard about it from fellow soldiers and read about it in movie magazines. The bounty was well known: dancing with glamorous stars, free food, fabulous live music -- and such general consistency was comforting. Yet there was nothing routine about the Canteen, and no night was ever the same as another.

In addition to the surprises inherent in mixtures of G.I .s, celebrities, pretty volunteers and varying entertainment, the Canteen offered unique events and specific celebrations.

Within a month of its opening, the Canteen was hosting almost 20,000 servicemen a week; in March, 1943, Seaman Wilham Rakowski of Chicago was feted as its 500,000th visitor. Granted a modern day Aladdin’s lamp, Rakowski wished for a two-day pass to visit a movie studio. Immediately, a telegram was sent to his Commanding Officer with an invitation for him to come to Warner Bros. – home studio of Bette Davis and many other dedicated stars of the Canteen.

On September 15, 1943, just a few weeks before its first birthday, the Canteen created an extravagant welcome for the arrival of its one-millionth uniformed guest. When Sergeant William E. W. Bell of Rising Star, Texas, walked through the doors, he stepped into the spotlight where the amazed young man’s arms were suddenly filled with expensive presents given by an honor guard of Marlene Dietrich, Lana Turner, and Deanna Durbin. Sergeant Bell, a member of an Army Company of Engineers, was overjoyed with his gifts, some of which included a gold wristwatch, a wardrobe suitcase, a toiletries case, a gift certificate for merchandise and a wallet. Everyone was treated to a huge cake that took Chef Milani two days to prepare. (The Millionth Man saga would later be fictionalized in the 1944 Warner Bros. movie, Hollywood Canteen.) Such timely celebrations could reward only one man, but the Canteen had another way of extending the possibilities for prizes. Twice every night, drawings were held to give lucky servicemen twenty-five dollar war bonds donated by the studios. Hollywoodphotographs.com has the largest collection of Hollywood Canteen photos and images.

HC

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