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Hollywood Canteen Photos & History - Part 2

The Hollywood Canteen Photos and History – Part 2

Once it was agreed that Hollywood needed its own Canteen, Bette Davis, John Garfield and Dr. Jules Stein said about the rigorous process of turning their dream into reality.

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Soliciting Support

One of the first tasks was to enlist the support of every guild, union, and craft organization affiliated with Hollywood's entertainment industry. They were met with a grand show of confidence as 42 guilds and unions unanimously agreed to sponsor the endeavor; later the number would increase to 46.

In early June, Bette and John called for a meeting of several people who were committed to getting the Hollywood Canteen off and running. They began appointing a board of directors and electing a slate of officers. The board members would be selected from representatives of the 42 guilds and unions. One of the most enthusiastic volunteers was Alfred Ybarra who was a set designer for MGM. Of course, the Hollywood Canteen needed a full time employee for which Jean Lewin filled the post. 

The Canteen’s newly elected officers and directors set up an agenda of what needed to be done -- from acquiring a building to establishing the basic structure of the organization. Bette Davis and John Garfield agreed to find the right property to house the new Canteen.

Everyone felt that the Canteen should be operated by and staffed with volunteers solely from the entertainment industry. Anyone affiliated with the studios and related guilds and unions would be welcomed -- and fingerprinted and photographed, as required by the FBI.

The Canteen was to be used exclusively by enlisted servicemen of the United States and allied nations. No military officers would be permitted on the floor at any time; civilians who were not connected with the entertainment business would also be prohibited.

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For Enlisted Servicemen Only

The Canteen's officers and directors believe that a service man's uniform was his ticket to admission. Everything at the canteen should be free to him, including food, beverages, (no alcohol allowed), and cigarettes. They would never be a charge for entertainment, either -- such as the music of top name bands and singers -- nor for celebrity autographs, or dancing with movie stars and hostesses. To provide the free food, drink, and cigarettes, donations would be sought from Southern California food distributors, which would be the responsibility of who ever became the chairman of the food committee.

Because the Canteen would be run by people with nine-to-five jobs, it's ours would be from 7 PM until midnight, in two shifts, Monday through Saturday, and on Sunday, from two in the afternoon until 8 PM.

The first two nightly shifts would work from 7 PM to 9:30 PM; the second from 9:30 PM to midnight. It was figured that approximately 300 volunteers would be needed nightly. These would include junior and senior hostesses, busboys, kitchen help, doorman, cloak room clerks, stage staff, band members, and celebrities who would hand out sandwiches and coffee as well as provide entertainment.

Some time in July 1942, Bob Taplinger approached Betty Davis and John Garfield about a fundraiser for the Canteen. The idea was to have a dinner at Ciro’s nightclub following the movie premiere of the movie, “Talk of the Town”. Each ticket would sell for five dollars, and all proceeds from the event, including the purchase of drinks for a dollar each, would go to the Hollywood Canteen.

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Canteen Fundraiser

The fundraiser was an enormous success. With so much grand entertainment and warm camaraderie, the guests didn't leave Ciro's to close to five in the morning. The fundraiser raised $6500 which would go to renting and renovating the building that soon would become the home of the Hollywood Canteen.

Finding a Building

After weeks of searching for a usable building, Bette Davis and John Garfield found a dilapidated place that had once been a barn right in the heart of Hollywood. Located at 1451 North Cahuenga Blvd., just south of Sunset Boulevard, the structure had been a series of ill-fated nightclubs. The last was a cabaret type theater called The Red Barn, where drinks and dinners were served, followed by floor-shows and stock melodramas.

The red barn closed its doors in late 1937. The building remained vacant for five years, until August 25, 1942, -- four days before the Canteen’s fundraiser -- when Bette Davis and John Garfield least it for $100 a month for the duration of the war, plus 6 months.   Bette Davis described the building “as “one step below an eyesore”. As soon as the ink was dry on the lease, the officers set the Canteen’s opening for October 3, 1942.

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Drawing Plans For the Canteen

On the evening of September 3, 1942, Davis headed a gathering of interested people who met by candlelight in the decrepit wooden building. Amidst broken crockery and lipstick stained cigarettes, the group, which included John Garfield and Al Ybarra, outlined their plans to convert the property into something suitable for serviceman. Their goal was to have a building completed in a month.

Among the hundreds of Hollywood Canteen photos on the hollywoodphotographs.com website, are photos of  Bette Davis, John Garfield, Dr. Jules Stein and Al Ybarra looking at a set of plans for the remodeling the building.

It fell to Ybarra, representing the screen set designers Guild, to draw up plans, make sketches, and supervise the construction so that the project could be done -- almost without cost -- in 30 days. To start things off, Bette and John persuaded 14 guilds and unions to donate their labor and materials.

Hollywood Canteen Photos

There are many vintage photographs of the Hollywood Canteen on the hollywoodphotographs.com website. All photos are available for purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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