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Hollywood Canteen Photos & History - Part 1

The Hollywood Canteen Photos and History - Part 1

The Hollywood Canteen was where the greatest generation danced with the most beautiful girls in the world. That was the title of the popular book, “The Hollywood Canteen.”

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Joan Leslie

Actress, Joan Leslie, wrote the foreword to the book, which is as follows;

“There is a little spot on a side street in Hollywood where magic used to happen every night during world war two. A plain old barn like Café was turned into a glamorous star-studded nightclub -- a welcoming place for every soldier, sailor and Marine on furlough. And, along with her right hand man, John Garfield, Bette Davis made it happen. With her fabulous drive, she persuaded all the studio executives to support it and to promise that their stars would appear there regularly. She also cajoled the guild and union memberships to transform the old barn into an entertainment center that was like their own clubhouse. It was Hollywood's very own Canteen.

Evenings at the Hollywood Canteen

Tuesday night was Warner Bros. night, and my dad always drove me over to the Canteen directly from the studio when movie making shooting was over for the day. He dropped me off at the stage door entrance on Cole Place, for I would be checked in by the officer of the day.

Once it was Hoagie Carmichael, who gave me a bear hug that I'll never forget. I would be assigned to handing out baloney and cheese sandwiches, coffee and cake that the servicemen wolfed down. Then I would sit at a table with the group of boys and ask about their hometowns and families, while they would ask me what it was like to kiss Gary Cooper! I would sign autographs on menus, caps, snapshots, shirts, dollar bills -- whatever they gave me. I dance with the boys, too - somewhat with disastrous results to my elaborate hairdos.

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Entertaining

And the shows! The crowd went wild when Marlene Dietrich would take the microphone, when Bob Hope took over the stage to deliver one of his fabulous monologues. Bing Crosby would perform with his sons. I remember one Christmas show when not Crosby Quartet saying Christmas carols that the boys requested. All the big bands of the day made an appearance. Betty Hutton and the Andrews sisters belted out popular songs over jitterbugging soldiers. Those guys were the most appreciative audience a performer could ever wish for!

When I remember the Canteen, most of all, I remember the faces of the servicemen: young men thrilled at this glimpse of Hollywood glamour, deliriously happy on liberty, and yet willing to be set out the next day to the other side of the world. When I think about those boys, so willing to fight for our country's honor, and if what they did for us, how could we not do our best for them? We may have stayed to close up for the night, but every volunteer’s part in the Hollywood Canteen went out the door with those men. I'm so proud I was a part of it.”

World War II opened a new chapter in the lives of depression – weary Americans. As husbands and fathers, sons and brothers shipped out to fight in Europe and the Pacific, citizens who remained at home were galvanized in support of a common goal: to actively maintain the home front. Millions of women marched into factories, offices, and military bases to work in the paying jobs formerly held by men in peace-time.

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Volunteers

One of the greatest contributors to the war effort was Hollywood's entertainment industry; no other single group gave so much of its time, talent, energy, and enthusiasm. Hollywood film and radio stars, movie and studio employees, actors and actresses of varying degrees of fame, as well as screenwriters, directors, and producers, rolled up their sleeves to sell war bonds, traveled far and wide to perform for troops, and cheered up wounded servicemen on hospital tours.

But if there was one operation in which all the celebrated elements of Hollywood’s wartime generosity met, it was the Hollywood Canteen.

For three years, the best nightclub in the world welcomed over 3 million servicemen to a unique haven in a converted stable –cum-playhouse in the heart of Hollywood. It was a magical combination of a dazzling glamour spot and a comfy home away from home.

Under its western style roof, young men in uniform away from their families for the first time and about to ship out - some never to return - could actually dance with Betty Grable! They could laugh at Bob Hope, teller troubles to motherly character actor, Beulah Bondi, be handed a sandwich by Rita Hayworth, and have a letter to their girl written by a sympathetic studio secretary.

Most of all, as the boys went off to face unseen dangers in unknown lands, they knew, beyond a shadow of the doubt, how much they were appreciated. They left the Hollywood Canteen armed with the kinds of hope and encouragement that would help them win a war.

It should be pointed out, that during the Canteen’s three-year existence, scores of photographers were allowed in to take photos of the nightly activities. One of the most frequent photographers to visit the Hollywood Canteen was Joseph Jasgur. He took more photos than any other photographer. Many of his great photographs are on the hollywoodphotograph.com website. There are more than 9000 photos on the website, of which 350 are vintage photographs of the Hollywood Canteen. All photos, in the collection, are available for purchase.

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