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Hollywood Canteen History & Photos - Part 4

Hollywood Canteen History & Photos – Part 4

Vintage Hollywood Canteen photos can be seen on the website.  All the photographs are available for purchase.

Hollywood Canteen Opens Its Doors

Excitement kept rising as each day brought the opening closer – not only among the Hollywood Canteen’s inner circles, but also within Hollywood at large. A vigorous publicity campaign, headed by publicist, Mack Millar, had been whetting appetites; above all, the boys on the military bases were kept in the know about all things “Canteen.”  Now word was out that several thousand servicemen might show up, along with hordes of civilians hoping to catch glimpses of their favorite movie stars. Of course private citizens could not be admitted inside the Canteen. But what about the unnerving prospect of having more servicemen than there was space? These boys who would have traveled so far to be part of the opening festivities must not be disappointed.

Historic Hollywood Canteen photos

Spectator Overflow

In anticipation of an overflow crowd, arrangements were made to rent Stoke McGraw’s Shell Gas Station next door, at the corner of Sunset Blvd.and Cahuenga Ave.. With its large parking area, the place was converted into an open-air dance pavilion. Here servicemen could jitterbug and foxtrot with hostesses to the music of bands which would alternate between the Canteen proper and the “annex.” Renting the gas station was a brilliant move, as the crush of servicemen was even greater than imagined.

            On Saturday, October 3rd, 1942, hours before the opening ceremonies were to start, streets near the Canteen had been jammed with star-seekers. Later, in the Canteen’s forecourt patio, the bleachers began filling up with celebrities and dignitaries, along with certain enlisted men and commissioned officers who were to be escorts for some of the actresses. Because the Canteen was for the exclusive use of enlisted men, the officers were asked to stay on the sidelines once they walked their dates inside. Hundreds of servicemen were also packing the forecourt…waiting…wondering…hoping. Then, finally, at 9:00 pm, it was “Showtime!”

Great Hollywood Canteen photo

Grand Opening   

With Eddie Cantor as Master of Ceremonies, the dedication program buzzed with a friendly informality, yet a respectful tone for the event’s significance was unmistakable; a Color Guard of men from all branches of the Armed Forces officially presented flags to Bette Davis. Thunderous cheers followed Davis’ brief speech in which she gave full credit to John Garfield for suggesting that Hollywood establish its own Canteen in the first place.

            “Tonight we see our dream come true,” Davis said to the servicemen. “This campaign represents an all-out partnership and has exceeded our expectations. I hope all you boys will enjoy yourselves and know that all of Hollywood is your host.” (1)

            A strong military presence to address the crowd was Colonel Harold E. Shannon, USMA, who commanded the Midway forces: “ I feel I speak for every leatherneck, gob, and buck private when I say we are thrilled at this expression of friendship from the men and women of Hollywood…these boys here tonight will be going out to our battlefronts, and in tough moments that may come, they will have a memory of the warm friendliness that is being shown by you folks.


As the lively M.C., Eddie Cantor cracked jokes and introduced Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, who got the guests laughing with their “Who’s On First?” routine. Ginny Simms sang “He’s My Guy,” and Rudy Valle’s Coast Guard Band played several numbers honoring various branches of the Armed Services.

Hollywood Canteen photos

Servicemen Enter The Hollywood Canteen

When the dedication ceremonies ended, two hundred uniformed men became the evening’s official hosts. They swung open the doors, and thousands of their comrades who had been crammed in the courtyard – and lined up for half a block each way on Cahuenga – entered their Canteen for the first time.

            The boys and other guests were instantly caught up into the dynamic atmosphere inside. They saw a huge, inviting wooden dance floor, heard music from the bands of Kay Kyser, Duke Ellington and Rudy Valle (all of which took turns going over to the “annex” to play for the overflow crowds of servicemen). The young men danced non-stop with a stream of smiling hostesses, and could barely believe their eyes when so many of their partners turned out to be gorgeous film stars.

            Show business household names, including a number of Hollywood’s most popular actors, seemed to have magically come down off the screen to hand the guys a sandwich or a cup of coffee in between signing thousands of autographs.

Old photo of the Hollywood Canteen photographs

Celebrities At The Hollywood Canteen

Just some of the celebrities who served as hosts and hostesses that night included: Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Jean Arthur, Anne Baxter, Joan Bennett, Jack Benny, Charles Boyer, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Olivia de Havilland, Irene Dunne, Deanna Durbin, Jean Gabin, John Garfield, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Cary Grant, Susan Hayward, Rita Hayworth, Marsha Hunt, Veronica Lake, Hedy Lamarr, Mervyn LeRoy, Joan Leslie, Fred MacMurray, Pat O’Brien, Edward G. Robinson, Mickey Rooney, Jane Russell, Randolph Scott, Ann Sheridan, Red Skelton, Robert Taylor, Gene Tierney, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, Jane Wyman, and Loretta Young.

            Entertainers, such as Eleanor Powell (who danced till she nearly collapsed), pulled out all the stops. Dinah Shore and Betty Hutton sang encore after encore, and Eddie Cantor delivered some of his most famous bits. The servicemen practically tore the place down with their boisterous appreciation.

            Although the Canteen was scheduled to close at midnight, the last of the guests and servicemen didn’t leave for two more hours. A squad of volunteer janitors – with no one more vigorous than Marlene Dietrich – had to fly into action readying things for the reopening at two o’clock Sunday afternoon.

            In addition to all the hostesses, musicians, entertainers, celebrities, and other volunteers, there were three to four thousand members of the Armed Forces who shared in the triumphant opening night of their new Hollywood Canteen.

Visit the website to see hundreds of Hollywood Canteen photos.



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