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Hollywood Canteen History & Photos - Part 1

Hollywood Canteen History & Photos- Part 1

The largest collection of Hollywood Canteen history and photos is on the website. There are more than 400 vintage Hollywood Canteen photographs.

It was the first full year of America at war, and 1942 found the country dancing to “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” listening to a new radio mystery called Suspense, and watching Walt Disney’s Bambi and Donald Gets Drafted in movie theatres. It brought shortages of metal and leather, and rationing of coffee, sugar, and gasoline.

Photo of Hollywood Canteen Organization        

But there was no shortage of fervor among Americans for supporting the war in any way that they could. From school children to their grandparents, through Victory Gardens and scrap metal drives, war aid flourished everywhere. One remarkable expression of solidarity that became famous all over the world began over lunch one day by two citizens of Hollywood.

         Two-time Academy Award winner Bette Davis was a respected artist, recognized as “the American screen’s most accomplished actress.” (1) She was also the quintessential movie star. Among the many classic films in which she lit up the screen, Now Voyager (1942) is particularly memorable. It’s such a Bette picture, full of dramatic physical and emotional transformations. Certainly it has one of the most romantic final scenes in all of movies. “Shall we just have a cigarette on it?” Paul Henreid says to Davis, agreeing to try to maintain their special territory of love. He puts two cigarettes in his mouth, lights them both, hands one to Davis. When he expresses his hope for their happiness, she replies, “Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars!”  Max Steiner’s music swells as the camera pans up through an open window to a shot of sparkling stars in the night sky. Fade Out. The End.    

Photo of Hollywood Canteen's grand opening

Davis & Garfield Meet

But as much of an asset as Now Voyager was for Davis’ career, it was something that went on behind the scenes that would lead to her greatest personal achievement. For it was while making Voyager at Warner Bros. in May, 1942, that Davis had lunch with John Garfield in the Green Room of the studio commissary.

         John Garfield, who was from the New York stage, had been nominated for an Oscar as a supporting actor in his first picture – Warners’ Four Daughters (1938). His naturalistic style of acting and brash, rebellious image would propel him to stardom in such intense films as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Humoresque (1946), and Body and Soul (1947).

         Though by 1942, John Garfield was on track professionally with over a dozen films to his credit, a major goal eluded him: to serve his country at war. A childhood bout with rheumatic fever had left him with a weak heart, rendering him 4-F – unfit for military duty. Fortunately, he channeled his frustration into a constructive action that would benefit millions. Impressed by the work of the Stage Door Canteen in New York City, Garfield saw the need for a similar – yet unique to Hollywood – enterprise on the West Coast.

Stage Door Canteen

The Stage Door Canteen opened on March 4, 1942, three months after the United States entered the war against the axis of Japan, Germany and Italy. Started by the American Theater Wing, it was located just off Broadway in the basement of the 44th Street Theater, whose owner, Lee Shubert, donated its use. Stage designers created the interior décor, while local merchants, caterers, and restaurateurs provided food and beverages.

Vintage Hollywood Canteen photograph 

Volunteers Sign Up        

Up to 1700 volunteers from New York’s theatrical industry offered their time as performers and service staff to keep this night club/soup kitchen open – even during blackouts and curfews. As many as 3,000 servicemen came to the Stage Door Canteen each night to sing, dance, eat, and be entertained.

Grand opening photo of Hollywood Canteen

When John Garfield sat down for that commissary lunch with Bette Davis, he told her about what he had seen in New York – and of his strong belief that Hollywood must have its own Canteen as soon as possible. There they were in the entertainment capitol of the world in a

time of war. They had all the best ingredients right at their fingertips to give the boys something they’d never forget.

Hollywood Canteen photograph        

As  Garfield outlined his concept of a Canteen to be run solely by members of Hollywood’s considerable show business community, Davis caught his excitement. When he asked her to become the Canteen’s chairman, she accepted with the vibrant determination for which she was known.

Hollywood Canteen Photos

Over 400 vintage Hollywood Canteen photos are on the website. All the photos are available for purchase.


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