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Hollywood Canteen History & Photos - Part 7

Hollywood Canteen Hostory & Photos – Part 7

Hostess Committee – Doris Stein

Without a doubt, some of the brightest jewels in the Hollywood Canteen’s crown were its faithful hostesses. Between 150 to 200 of them were needed nightly to keep the Canteen running; it also took an exceptional person to run the hostesses.

That woman was Doris Stein, “the leader of the pack.” (1)  She was the wife of Jules Stein, the MCA founder who had been so helpful to Bette Davis with the Canteen startup. As the spouse of such a powerful Hollywood figure, Doris herself became an important presence in the company town. Before the opening of the Canteen, it was Doris, as head of the Hostess Committee, who sounded the call for volunteers throughout the industry, which was met with great enthusiasm.

Once the Canteen was on its feet, Doris, assisted by Florence C. Cadrez, had to be certain that there would be enough hostesses on hand every single night. This meant making numerous phone calls on a continuing basis to various studios, guilds and unions to recruit everyone. Doris also had to set a nightly schedule whereby two different gentlemen – one for each shift – would be available as Officers of the Day. These were usually studio executives who agreed to come to the Canteen to greet the servicemen and generally oversee the night’s activities.

The hostesses, grouped into junior and senior categories, included actresses, studio secretaries, wardrobe ladies and other female film industry employees. Junior hostesses were typically in their late teens and early twenties, with vivacious, friendly personalities. It was their job to dance and chat with the servicemen, show them where to get their food and drinks, and keep the welcoming, upbeat rhythm of the Canteen perking along.

Linda Darnell at Hollywood Canteen photo

Junior Hostesses

The junior hostesses themselves were split into two groups, each with a captain. Some of the captains included such young film actresses as Bonita Granville, Evelyn Keyes, Marsha Hunt, Fay McKenzie, Martha O’Driscoll, Frances Rafferty, and Anne Shirley.

Senior hostesses were there to greet servicemen, see them to seats, serve them food at the ever-popular snack bar, and help the junior hostesses with any problems that might arise. They would also try to help ease possible awkwardness or shyness between the girls and the servicemen. According to the flow of the night, there would sometimes be crossovers, when senior hostesses and other female celebrities took on the role of the juniors and danced with the guys.

While all of the volunteers were carefully selected, particular attention was paid to choosing the dancing hostesses, as they would have the closest contact with the servicemen. As per FBI requirements, every hostess, in fact, everyone, from movie star volunteers to salaried office employees, had to be fingerprinted, photographed and issued an identification card – a practice that would continue throughout the Canteen years. (The I.D. card was similar to a latter- day California driver’s license, as it bore one’s name, address, physical description and color photograph, but in addition to a fingerprint, there was a statement of union and/or guild affiliation.) The junior hostesses were also given shoulder bags and a red cloth armband with “HC” written in blue piping. Wearing either item wasn’t really mandatory; the purse soon disappeared and eventually the armband was seldom worn at all.

Historic photo of Hollywood Canteen

Hollywood Canteen Rules

Canteen general rules applied to all volunteers, but hostesses had to follow additional specific guidelines. The young women were strictly prohibited from leaving the Canteen premises with servicemen at any time. Nor were they allowed to give out their telephone numbers. But there was one acceptable way that a contract actress could respond to a serviceman’s request to reach her. Actress Jean Porter, who had been a junior hostess while under contract to MGM, remembers carrying pre-printed slips of paper in her pocket that had the studio’s address on them. She and MGM pal, Donna Reed, handed the papers to happy soldiers, sailors and Marines who left the Canteen with hope, knowing they could have some kind of future contact with these enchanting creatures – especially getting their autographed pictures. “Donna and I found that many we met on those nights kept in touch by mail from all over the world; some from hospitals and even some from after they got back home. That made us really connected.” 

No hostess was ever to meet a serviceman beyond the Canteen. The rule against leaving the building with a young man in uniform was easy to enforce; the one about meeting him someplace after hours was harder, so the Canteen relied on the honor system, which, for the most part, worked very well.

Once in a while, there was a hostess who felt that a particular serviceman was so special she couldn’t resist seeing more of him. One young woman named Meg Nisbet did just that on a winter night in 1942 when she met Woody Cole, “ a tall blond air cadet” as Glen Miller’s music filled the room.

Meg, who was working in the Messenger Department of RKO Studios, had already crossed the line when she had a second dance with Woody, as she knew that dancing more than once with the same partner was discouraged by the Canteen.

Historic photo of Hollywood Canteen volunteers

Later that evening, after the Canteen had closed, Meg “broke Bette Davis’ cardinal rule about dating” and “met that fresh young cadet at the corner of Sunset and Vine and changed my life forever.” On Easter Sunday in April of 1943, Meg and Woody were married, but had precious little time together before Woody was sent overseas. On January 12, 1944, after performing heroic action, Woody Cole was killed. Later, in a ceremony for war widows at March Field, the former Canteen junior hostess was handed a number of her husband’s medals, including the Purple Heart. (3)

When the Canteen first opened its doors, over 3,000 stars, players, directors, producers, designers, grips, dancers, musicians, singers, writers, technicians, wardrobe attendants, hairstylists, stand-ins, agents, publicists, secretaries, and allied craftsmen of radio and screen had officially registered as volunteers. By the time the Canteen closed in 1945, this number would swell to almost 6,000.Upon acceptance, and after being fingerprinted and photographed, each volunteer was issued a list of rules:

1) Scrupulous politeness at all times of all men in uniform is demanded. If there is any difficulty with a serviceman, please report this immediately to the Officer of          the Day, who will deal with him. You must not attempt to handle this yourself.

2) Stay in your own department. By doing this, you will not tread on anyone’s toes. If anyone asks about working in a department, other than your own, refer them to the chairman of the department they wish information about.

            3) No hostess is to leave, at any time, under any circumstances, with a  serviceman– or to meet him outside the vicinity of the Canteen. We are responsible, not only to ourselves and to the Hollywood Canteen, but also to the name of the entire Motion Picture Industry.

            4) If you, personally, do not appear for three (3) consecutive times on the shift specifically assigned to you, you must, unless you get a special suspension or send an alternate to take your place, relinquish your right as a permanent member of the Canteen and return your identification card to your Chairman.

            5) All Committee Chairmen and Captains must make sure that the individual rules pertaining to the particular department are understood and enforced. Arrangements must also be made to replace any last minute emergency dropouts.

            6) All volunteer workers, hostesses, hosts, entertainers, musicians, name people, etc., must enter through the Cole St. door. There will be a light there at all times.

            7) All workers must register in and out. A registry book will be at the Cole St.entrance. This is most important. Report to your Captain or Committee Chairman after registering.

            8) The Officer of the Day is the only person in the Canteen who has the authority  to deal with any questions, emergencies, criticisms. Report all such to him.

            9) Do not high-pressure anyone for anything.

            10) Try to be on time at all times.

These were the rules established at the Canteen’s outset; over the years there would be changes here and there as real life dictated the need for some modifications or additions. website Photos

The largest collection of Hollywood Canteen photos is on the website. All the photos are available for purchase.



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