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Hollywood Canteen Photos & History Part 4

The Hollywood Canteen Photos & History – Part 4

The 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 the 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 prospects of having more servicemen then there was space? These boys who would have traveled so far to be part of the opening festivities must not be disappointed.

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In anticipation of an overflow crowd, arrangements were made to rent Stoke MacGraw's Shell Gas Station next door, at the corner of sunset and Cahuenga Avenue.. 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. There are many Hollywood Canteen photos on the hollywoodphotographs.com website.

Grand Opening

On Saturday, October 3, 1942, hours before the opening ceremonies were to start, streets near the canteen had been jammed with star seekers. Later, in the canteens forecourt patio, the bleachers began filling up with celebrities and dignitaries, along with certain in listed men and commissioned officers who were to be escorts for some of the actresses. Because the canteen was for the exclusive use of enlisted man, 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 PM, it was “showtime.”

With Eddie Cantor as master of ceremonies, the dedication program buzzed with a friendly informality, yet a respectable tone for the events 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.

A strong military presence to address the crowd was Col. Harold D. Shannon, USMC, 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 battle fronts, 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., Cantor cracked jokes and introduced blood Abbott and Lou Costello, who got the guest laughing with their, “who's on first?” Ginny Smith sang and Rudy Vallee’s Coast Guard band played several numbers honoring various branches of the armed services.

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Servicemen Enter The Hollywood Canteen

When the dedication ceremonies ended, 200 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 guest were instantly caught up into the dynamic atmosphere inside. They saw a huge, inviting wouldn't dance floor, heard music from the bands of Kay Kyser, Duke Ellington and Rudy Vallee (all of which took turns going over to the annex to play for the overflow crowd of servicemen.) The young man danced nonstop 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, seem 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.

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Hollywood Canteen Entertainers

Just some of the celebrities who served as host 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, and scores of popular celebrities.

Entertainers, such as Eleanor Powell, pulled out all the stops. Dinah Shore and Betty Hutton sang encore after encore, and Eddie Cantor delivered some of the 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 guest 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 2 o'clock Sunday afternoon.

In addition to all the hostesses, musicians, entertainers, celebrities, and other volunteers, there were 300 to 400 members of the armed forces who shared in the triumphant opening night of their new Hollywood Canteen.

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Vintage Hollywood Photos

The largest collection of Hollywood Canteen photos is on the hollywoodphotographs.com website.

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