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Hollywood Canteen Photos & History - Part 5

The Hollywood Canteen Photo and History – Part 5

Operating The Canteen

Efforts to get everything ready for the nightly onslaught of over 2500 servicemen had to be as well coordinated as military maneuvers. It took about 300 volunteers each night to operate the Hollywood Canteen. There were hostesses, kitchen volunteers, snack-bar servers and entertainers that volunteered their time to make the Canteen a success. The Hollywood Canteen was located on Cahuenga Ave.


Amount of Canteen Food

Each month the soldiers consumed an estimated 4000 loaves of bread, 400 pounds of butter, 1500 pounds of coffee, 50,000 half pints of milk, 30,000 gallons of punch, 1000 pounds of three varieties of cheeses, 2500 pounds of assorted meats, 20,000 oranges, 100,000 pieces of cake, more than 150,000 sandwiches and hot dogs, 800 pounds of potato chips, 300 dozen doughnuts, 300 gallons of ice cream, thousands of boxes of raisins, plus cases of jellies, relishes, pickles, mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise.

Food Preparation

Preparing and serving the food and beverages was left to the kitchen and snack bar crews. Supervised by a committee had, Mary Ford, the first shift of volunteers arrived at noon. In addition to such routine work as making thousands of sandwiches and cutting cakes into hundreds of small pieces, they had to finish washing the previous nights dishes. Later in the afternoon, more volunteers showed up to make the coffee and stocked the snack bar with candy, raisins, cigarettes and similar items. While all of this was going on, others were sweeping the floors, washing tables, and setting the stage for that night's activities. Mary Ford, wife of Academy Award winning director, John Ford, was at the Canteen every day early in the morning to be sure that her committee would be on top of things. And she was never above scrubbing tables herself.


Chef Milani

Given the number of servicemen expected every night, securing a continuing supply of food and drinks was no easy task. It fell to Italian immigrant chef Joseph Leopold Milani, who had established himself in Hollywood as a celebrity chef. It was on his popular radio show called Chef Milani, that Bette Davis had appeared as a guest in August 1942. When she told Milani of her plans for the Canteen and asked him to direct its food program, he heartily agreed, feeling that it was the least he could do to support the war effort.

The many Southern California food distributors that Milani contacted were extremely generous with their donations. But because of rationing, which the Office of Price Administrations instituted after the start of the war, certain food products were in short supply. As me was a rationed item, and Chef Milani knew he had to have that stuff, he went to the OPA and begged for their help. When nothing came of his pleading, the energetic chef shot but telegram to Pres. Roosevelt. He stated that the Canteen would not be able to provide the necessary amount of meat for the servicemen unless we are able to secure an allotment exception permit immediately. He pleaded, will you please help us secure this permit by directing this wire to the proper authorities. He signed the letter, simply, Chef Milani. Almost immediately, the Hollywood Canteen had all the neat it needed.

Over 50% of the Canteen’s food and supplies was donated by 35 benevolent companies in Southern California. The remaining 50% was purchased outright or acquired with ration points. According to Bette Davis, the Canteen had a $3000 weekly food bill.

It would not be Hollywood hyperbole to say that angels help pay that bill. Since civilians not affiliated with the entertainment industry were barred from the Canteen, a lot of people were left wishing that they too, could witness the heady mixture of celebrities and servicemen. Wasn't there a way to match their wishes to the Canteen’s need in one fell swoop?


Angel’s Table

And so was born the Angels Table, at which for people each paid $25 for the privilege to sit and watch the goings on inside the Canteen. Located on a raised dais in the southeast corner in the back of the main room, and covered with a gold fringed cloth, the table was sold out every night for weeks in advance. Ouida Rathbone, wife of basil Rathbone, was a tireless volunteer who sold more seats for the Angels Table than anyone else.

The idea was so popular that a second table was added, which allowed another for people to enjoy the evening's activities --- and brought in a next her $100 a night. On average, the Angels tables generated about $6000 a month and was one of the best sources of revenue for meeting the Canteen’s operating expenses.

Because the canteen was for the exclusive use of enlisted servicemen, visiting officers and their guest were relegated to a small room on the second floor where they could look through a window to watch the night's entertainment.

Besides having to cover 50% of the food budget, reliable income was also needed to maintain a full time staff of nine people --- the canteens only paid employees. Occupying an office on the first floor, this group of committed workers, headed by a the Canteen’s executive secretary, Jean Lewin, took care of all the office details, from writing checks to various vendors to putting together and printing the Canteen’s weekly publication, called “Chatter.”


Hollywood Victory Committee

One of the only confrontations, regarding the Hollywood Canteen, took place when the Hollywood Victory Committee informed Bette Davis that the canteen could not call celebrities directly in order to have them entertain at the Canteen. The committee stated that all calls had to be funneled through them. Bette Davis appeared in front of the committee and told them that if the canteen could not contact celebrities directly, she would be forced to close the Canteen. She also stated that she would contact the 42 guilds and unions and inform them of the committee”s arbitrary decision. She also said she would contact the press if the committee did not change their mind. It was obvious to the members of the committee that Betty Davis meant business.

At 6 o'clock the next morning, Bette Davis received a call telling her that the committee, which had met all night, agreed to let the Canteen continue calling stars directly. Betty could breathe again.


Vintage Hollywood Canteen Photos

The website has hundreds of photos showing all activities that took place at the Hollywood canteen. It is the largest collection of Hollywood Canteen photographs.

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