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Hollywood Canteen Food

Hollywood Canteen Food   

The old saying, “After ecstasy, the laundry!” certainly applied to the Hollywood Canteen as the glamour of opening night gave way to the reality of daily preparations. Efforts to get everything ready for the nightly onslaughts of over 2500 servicemen had to be as well coordinated as military maneuvers.

         Each month the soldiers consumed an estimated 4000 loaves of bread, 400 pounds of butter, 1500 pounds of coffee, 50,000 half-pints of milk, 30,000 gallons of punch, 1000 pounds of three varieties of cheeses, 2500 pounds of assorted meats, 20,000 oranges, 100,000 pieces of cake, more than 150,000 sandwiches and hot dogs, 800 pounds of potato chips, 300 dozen doughnuts, 300 gallons of ice cream (for Sundays only), thousands of boxes of raisins, plus cases of jellies, relishes, pickles, mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise.

Mary Ford         

Preparing and serving the food and beverages was left to the Kitchen and Snack Bar crews.  Supervised by committee head, Mary Ford, the first shift of volunteers arrived at noon. In addition to such routine work as making thousands of sandwiches and cutting cakes into hundreds of small pieces, they had to finish washing the previous night’s dishes. Later in the afternoon, more volunteers showed up to make the coffee and stock the snack bar with candy, raisins, cigarettes (smoking was permitted outside), and similar items. While all of this was going on, others were sweeping the floors, washing tables, and setting the stage for that night’s activities. Mary Ford, wife of Academy Award-winning director, John Ford, was at the Canteen

every day early in the morning to be sure that her committee would be on top of things. And she was never above scrubbing tables herself.

Chef Joseph Milani         

Given the number of servicemen expected every night, securing a continuing supply of food and drinks was no easy task. It fell to Italian immigrant, Chef Joseph Leopold Milani, who had established himself in Hollywood as a “celebrity chef.” It was on his popular radio show, “Chef Milani” (where he gave cooking instructions to housewives), that Bette Davis had appeared as a guest in August, 1942. When she told Milani of her plans for the Canteen and asked him to direct its food program, he heartily agreed, feeling that it was the least he could do to support the war effort.

         The many Southern California food distributors that Milani contacted were extremely generous with their donations. But because of rationing, which the Office of Price Administrations (OPA) instituted after the start of the war, certain food products were in short supply. As meat was a rationed item, and Chef Milani knew he had “to have that stuff” to feed the boys, he went to the OPA and begged for their help. When nothing came of his pleading, the energetic chef shot a telegram to President Roosevelt: “…the Hollywood Canteen will not be able to provide the necessary amount of meat for the servicemen unless we are able to secure an allotment exception permit immediately. Will you please help us secure this permit by directing this wire to the proper authorities with your O.K.? God bless you.” He signed it simply, “Chef Milani.” Almost immediately, the Hollywood Canteen had all the meat it needed.

            Over fifty percent of the Canteen’s food and supplies was donated by thirty-five benevolent companies in Southern California. The remaining fifty percent was purchased outright or acquired with ration points. According to Bette Davis’ commentary in Mother Goddam, the Canteen had a $3,000 week

More than 300 Hollywood Canteen photos can be seen on the web site.

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